Observing Students

Today I was reminded of the importance of taking a step back to observe students. Yetta Goodman calls it kid watching. Others may call it listening in. Whatever you call it make sure to take a few minutes every day to observe and record your observations while students are working and interacting with each other. You will discover things you had not noticed before and you will get insights that will help your teaching go more smoothly giving you the perspective you need to be a better teacher.

Today I watched my class interacting with our artist-in-residence. I was particularly interested in one student who often has a difficult time controlling his responses when we are working in a whole group setting. I rarely get to finish what I am saying before this child will interrupt with a comment of his own. Often these comments are funny or silly and they don’t contribute to our collective learning process. When he is not interrupting, he is off to the side seemingly withdrawn. Today as I watched I noticed how this child’s attention was controlled by his own running commentary on everything the artist was saying. These comments were often accompanied by gestures and sounds that oddly enough did not distract the rest of the class from focusing on the artist’s lesson.

After the children sat down this student was able to complete the art assignment as well as anybody else in the class. The artist, who has worked at our school for a number of years, commented that he thought this child was a good artist despite a comment early on by him that his illustration was “terrible”.

Later in the day I decided to ignore the interruptions of my student and to keep going with the lesson. Surprise! Everyone was focused on what we were doing and I wasn’t distracted by correcting this child every two minutes. In the end, he did no better and no worse than anybody else in the practice part of the lesson. I also noticed how focused he is during our writing workshop. He can stay with one story over a few days and is always proud of what he has done.

Although I know that ignoring isn’t always the best solution, and certainly not the only solution with this child, I have learned that his interruptions may be his way of dealing with school. There are times when my student is focused and on task and produces wonderful work. This was important for me to affirm since I have been focusing too much on the negatives and not enough on the positives.

After the children had gone home and a colleague asked me how my day had gone I could honestly say, “Great!”

2 thoughts on “Observing Students

  1. Anonymous says:

    Maybe you should try some CPS . It is not a magic bullet , it is a process that in time if you have the patience will solve the problem in a durable. Most approaches only deal with adult concerns and expectations. We need to address the child's concerns and drilling down to find them is not easy

    check http://livesinthebalance.org for video clips on how to do CPS in the classroom. There is a radio talk every monday which can be downloaded as well. If you want me to discuss it further a good place would be on the facebook discussions on http://thinkkids.org

    The late Ted Sizer said – when a kid is giving us a hard time , we should ask what does he need from us.

    It is not easy


  2. Hi Allan,
    Thanks for your comments. I just bought Ross Greene's book, Lost at School, precisely because I was thinking of my little guy at the time. I liked that Alfie Kohn endorsed Dr. Greene's work. I haven't had a chance to read the book yet but I've skimmed some of it and like what I've read. Unfortunately, Dr. Greene was in Calgary recently but I was unable to attend his session. I recently posted the comment by Ted Sizer you mention in your post as a Tweet. I think it's so true.

    Thank you for the resources you suggest. I have looked into all of them.


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