“Let them observe, lead their pupils to observe, and render themselves and their pupils conscious of their observations”
Friedrich Froebel (German Pedagogue, April 21, 1782 – June 21, 1852)
It was through observation of how pupils would use his specifically targeted toys, that Froebel expected teachers to be able to assess pupils’ ability to conquer specific knowledge of knowing –how based on their developmental stage. Nowadays, all those involved in the educational procedure have come to accept that observation provides them with valuable information not only on the evolution of their acquiring specific knowledge but on the whole profile of their students. Observation is considered one of the milestones of the educational procedure. It provides educators with information on the character of their students, their innate talents, their skills, their way of learning, their pace of progress within a learning, interactive environment, and their psychological background, to name but a few. Last but not least, observation contributes to educators themselves being assessed and evaluating their educational procedure. It works as a mirror reflecting all the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ images created throughout the educational procedure.
As a part of my project and study on Play Observation I was given the opportunity to attend a friend’s language class consisting of students older than my own and the first impressions and reflections deriving from my experience are what you will be presented with. The target group is at the age of 6-8 years old and they are taught English as a foreign language since they are speakers of other languages. Julie, the child who the Play observation emphasized on, is a new student, from Greece, coming to their school for the first year. Last week it was the students’ first introductory lesson and Julie’s first day at school as well. There are eight (8) students, three (3) of which are girls. Julie is a brunette well-mannered girl, pretty attractive at first sight with big blue eyes and a hesitant smile addressed to the ones approaching her. She is the kind of child trying to stay at the backstage and not wanting to draw attention. On the day the Play observation took place she wore a short –sleeved light blue dress.
The objective of the first lesson was to teach children how to introduce themselves and use the verb ‘to be’ in affirmative, using the methods of role playing, singing and painting. The aim was to break the ice and create a relaxing learning atmosphere in class.
Their first activity was role playing. Each one stood up following the example set by their teacher saying ‘Hello. My name is.’. When Julie’s turn came she followed the example set by the others but her voice was too low to be heard. The second activity they were given was a game of assembling. Pieces of paper with words on them written in color were given to each student on his/her desk to join them and make a phrase. For example the phrase ‘I am blue’ was separated in three pieces of paper, ‘I’, ‘am’, ‘blue’. All these words were written in blue color. Then the words ‘You’, ‘are’ ‘red’ written in red color were given to another student and so on. The goal was for students to glue the pieces of paper in order on a carton and present their phrase clear and loud in class. Julie put the pieces of paper in order and made a correct phrase but turned red when she stood up to present the result of her work to others. She worked with patience looking absorbed in her task without being carried away by the noise caused by the questions of some others. She used the glue cautiously showing skills in her fingers as well.
The last activity was for each one to paint on his/her own one of his fellow students and write ‘Hello. I am ..’ asking from the others in class to guess, based on the picture the name of the person. This was an activity emphasizing not only on the learning outcome, spelling and expression of the introducing yourself phrase but on exploring the students’ social skills and ways of interpreting the reality of their environment. Julie showed great difficulty in performing the painting. She wrote the phrase without having finished the picture which came out to be a very raw drawing causing great difficulty to others to recognize the person drawn. Standing up and showing feelings of great despair, the teacher decided to help her get out of the difficult spot she found herself in, pretending to have understood her painting. He pointed at me calling my name and giving her an encouraging smile. Without showing to have conscious of the interplay performed, she nodded in relief, having found a way out of her despair.
The above mentioned Play observation provided me with valuable reflections. It was a very intriguing experience since it was a Play observation constructed in three activities which engaged students of older age - compared to my own who are younger – in the learning procedure, using three differentiated kinds of game activities, role playing, assembling and painting. Special attention was given on my behalf to Julie since she comes from a socio-cultural environment of high interest. Julie comes from an environment which has been under great pressure due to its socio-economic pressure and relevant implications for the people living in it. Julie showed great hesitation which is expected if we take into consideration Vygotsky’s beliefs in the crucial role the social environment plays in a person’s development. She seems a clever student, fully able to comprehend and follow instructions given by the teacher/ educator. She can meet the expectations of the class’ demands but up to a certain point since she shows specific difficulty in her social skills. She seems a bit afraid to open up, looking indirectly for instant and continuous encouragement on behalf of her teacher. Taking into consideration her age, she seems to be lacking in the ability of easily socializing, feeling uncomfortable with herself and sharing her tasks and work. Special notice was taken of her body gesture in the first activity. She was leaning backwards in an effort to find support in an invisible wall, looking somewhere in the distance as if she could not address her fellow-students and teacher directly. She gave the impression of being more than competent of working on her own in contrast to working as an active member of an energetic, cooperative group. Last but not least, Julie performed the expected difficulty of her age regarding her ability to interpret her reality. Not only she had trouble in depicting a fellow student of her choice, but seemed totally unaware of the interplay performed on her teacher’s behalf as well as mine, while trying to help her perform the third activity. When she introduced herself she sat on her chair, looking down, without looking for approval, playing with her fingers in embarrassment. Her emotional development carries elements of her origins and stimulations she has received before her coming to a new country in a different socio-cultural environment.
Julie’s behavior led me to reflect on Vygotsky’s belief that the socio-cultural environment is of great significance in a person’s emotional development defining in a way the evolution of his/her learning. Although Piaget had emphasized on the environment being a factor contributing either a lot or less in a person’s development, Julie’s hesitation and fear of socializing proves the strength of Vygotsky’s theory. In addition her teacher’s encouragement reflected Vygotsky’s theory on the Zone of Proximal Development. Julie’s normal participation in the learning procedure was a result of her teacher’s interference, especially vivid in the third activity. Since she got help from her teacher, Julie managed to perform the third activity satisfyingly without falling the expectations of her class, opening up new windows for her development asking for close, immediate exploration on her teacher’s behalf in the forthcoming classes.
I also witnessed the truth lying in the benefits of differentiated instructions used within a learning environment on behalf of a teacher. The instructions applied since they were not boring or repeating themselves, they managed to keep the students alert and fully engaged to the activities. This ultimately contributed in the teacher managing to teach his students what he had set as his first goal.
Amazement came to me by the fact that individual differences were easily visible in the class, always giving emphasis on Julie. Different levels of their being socially engaged were evident. Different levels and ways of their applying their new knowledge also drew my attention. Julie’s biological age has not fully complied with her emotional and psychological development. Her age is expected to be characterized by spontaneity and need for making friends. She seems to be devoted to performing her tasks without expressing her feelings directly whether they entail fear of performing them correctly or of being rejected. In addition, Julie seems to lack excitement or spontaneity in role playing activities and feeling comfortable among children of her age. She may have been brought up in a timid, quite strict or even stuck to perfectionism family environment. She may also have experienced rejection more times than the ones she has found herself able to cope with. It could also be argued that the social environment she comes from has put in herself the feeling of constant insecurity thus leading her to adopting hesitance as a form of self-defense. Special patterns emphasizing on helping her expressing her feeling and interacting ought to be designed for the future interactions taking place in class. Special notice was taken of her body gesture. She was leaning backwards in an effort to find support in an invisible wall, looking somewhere in the distance as if she could not address her fellow-students and teacher directly. When she introduced herself, she sat on her chair, looking down, without looking for approval, playing with her fingers in embarrassment. Keeping in mind Mead’s theory on the significance of gestures it is clear that Julie employs gestures showing her thoughts before her responding. Since the learning environment within she is asked to participate is the one of a language she is not familiar with, this is an extra factor making her being adjusted even more difficult.
Special patterns aiming at encouraging Julie to use the new language she is to learn ought to be designed in combination with incessant encouragement. Julie took me back to my own childhood and my feeling out of place whenever I found myself in a new, unfamiliar environment. Nevertheless, she managed to respond to all the demands of the lesson showing her innate strength of character. It is this existing contradiction between her evident will to participate energetically and perform well in the class against her difficulties in doing so, that makes her being observed in her development and learning in the forthcoming classes highly interesting.