Wednesday, February 24, 2010


You can observe a lot just by watching. ~Yogi Berra

I've just begun my field experience for this semester. I'm lucky enough to have the chance to observe a Kindergarten class. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but the most interesting part of this student teaching observation is that I have the chance to observe. Mindfully so. How much does this come up in life, that you can just sit quietly and watch it all happen?

Even in these usual circumstances, I don't sit much. I'm constitutionally unable to sit while others are working, so I figure out something useful to do in the classroom I'm visiting and I do it. Even so, there are moments when I really don't have a job, and all I can do is watch.

When I'm simply watching in a classroom, instead of being either a teacher or a student, I see things I wouldn't otherwise see. For example, I used to know a teacher (not the current teacher I'm observing, who is absolutely lovely, by the way) who didn't like to be kept waiting when she called on a child whose hand was raised. She would say the child's name, and if he or she took a long pause before speaking, she was say, "Too long!" and move on to another raised hand. This teacher had a lot of great qualities, and no doubt she picked up this technique somewhere as a means to teach children to think through their responses before they raised their hands.

But I wonder if she would have kept using this technique if she saw what I saw. She was busy, thinking about several things and trying to deliver content at the same time. But I was just observing, so my eye could linger on one little boy who had just received a "Too long!" His face sagged inward, he slumped his small shoulders, and he looked down at the carpet. Did he learn the intended lesson, that he needed to think through his responses before he raised his hand? I don't know. But through watching him, I could gather that he learned that raising his hand is not something he planned to do again anytime soon.

What else would I learn if I had the chance to sit and observe my own classroom? It's a great argument for videotaping class sessions, and going back over them later, to pick up the small cues that I missed in the moment. Does anyone do this? What did you find out?


  1. I do have the opportunity to observe classrooms often and it is not an easy thing to do because like you, I love to stay busy and involved. On my recent opportunity to observe a classroom, I observed a dad bring his child into the classroom and the child began to cling to his side. There were two very young teachers in the classroom and neither of them stood up or moved towards the door to offer a hello or any assistance. The father looked lost, the child looked forlorn, and the teachers seemed awkward and unsure of what to do. I was wondering as I observed this awkward exchange....

    "Who is in charge of this classroom?"
    "What happened to giving a warm and inviting welcome to the child and parent?"
    "Is this not happening because the teachers lack people skills, confidence, training, or experience?"
    "How would I feel if I were the parent right now?"

  2. Deborah, what an insightful comment--thank you. I love this example of the important need to warmly greet parents and children, and how obvious this can be if you have the opportunity to study faces and body language.

    I expect to be teaching in public school, where sometimes, I feel, parents are not made to feel welcome. I'm thinking of hanging a sign on my classroom door that says, "Parents welcome here!" and then following up that claim in my words and actions when they walk through the door.

  3. Launa, I think by recognizing the value of observations now you will be so much more successful in the classroom. It is so easy to get into a routine and so confident as a teacher that you can really think that everything is going great and there is no need for observation. But taking the time to observe always teaches us something new about our teaching style and the needs of our students.

  4. I feel like I understand the need for observation now, Deborah, but no doubt this is one of those truths I'll need to rediscover periodically as I'm in the thick of it.

  5. I'm like you Launa, I have a hard time observing when I'm in the midst of the kids. Frankly, part of the way I get paid is I get to play with them!!!

    I've had one-way mirrors installed in the classroom doors so I can remove myself from time to time and just observe. If I leave the door cracked a bit, I can usually hear as well. Yesterday, I got to watch a table of 2's spontaneously working on their cooperative play skills, something that I don't notice very often when I'm right in the middle of things.

    I'm agitating for webcams to be installed at our school. I'm assuming there's some way I could use those to record . . .

    I love this post!

  6. One-way mirrors, awesome, Tom! Sometimes, when I'm sitting in one of my classes and we're discussing a hypothetical child in a hypothetical classroom, I wish we had an on-site early childhood classroom lab, equipped with a whole viewing room on the other side of one-way mirrors. Well, a girl can dream.

  7. When you observe (or one observes) we are learning more about ourselves than the teacher. The moment when you saw that child's spirit wilt after the forceful "too long!", or the other day when a teacher I worked with spontaneously read the children (pre-K) a story about the wind while playing a recording of the wind, and then bundled all 20 of them up, and took them outside in that fierce wind, with scarves and fabric...she told me about their faces, their awe. These are the observations that shape our values and our practice. While a videotape would be fascinating, working closely with other teachers can also be a mirror.

  8. Such a great point, Marla. I intend to keep watching and learning from my fellow teachers long after I've got my mitts on my teaching license. This is just the beginning.

    What a glorious use for windy weather! Hurray!

  9. We use audiorecorders and video regularly- and it is such a wonderful learning tool. I can't believe I say the things I do sometimes! And the things that get missed....we have a parent site where they can log on and watch classroom clips - it is really lovely. But it is all very time consuming...

  10. Ah, time consuming. There's the rub.