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OBSERVATIONReal World Observation


Read the following instructions carefully before you begin your Observation.

Observation Directions

  1. Decide what you wish to learn. Read the text for ideas. Develop a tentative hypothesis or prediction to give your research direction. For example, you might be interested in whether children treat those who are different in some way from children who are like them. Your hypothesis doesn't have to be anything complicated but it really should be based on a theory from your text. You must always develop your hypothesis before you conduct an observation. Otherwise, how do you know what you're looking for?!

  2. Now you need to operationalize your hypothesis. What that means is that you must put your hypothesis in terms that allow you to "measure" it. For example, let's say I hypothesize that, based on some theory boys will engage in rougher play than girls. What does that mean? Will I know "rougher play" when I see it? If I'm not sure what I'm looking for ahead of time, will I be tempted during the observation to keep changing my definition in order to make the results come out the way I want? Whatever terms you use in your hypothesis, try to make a list before the observation of what kinds of actual behaviors will demonstrate those terms. Are you looking for a "leader"? What actions constitute a leader? Are you looking for "shyness"? What behaviors will denote shyness to you? Maybe you're looking for a "bully." What actions will you accept as defining one child rather than another as a bully?

  3. Once you have your hypothesis and you've thought about the actions you will be looking for, select a child or group of children that you will observe. Who you observe depends to a large extent on your hypothesis. If you need to see boys and girls interacting at play and when you go to the park there are only boys, you'll need to observe another group.

  4. Okay, so you've found a group or child that fits what you want to observe. If the child or children or parents know that you will be observing, get permission from the parents. Explain that you are doing research for a course in education and that the child’s name will not be used in the report. Explain that the main purpose of the report is to help you see the relationship between textbook knowledge of education and real children. Do not tell the child what you are looking for. Make it clear that you are not making a psychological evaluation of the child—you are not qualified to do so. If your observation will be totally unobtrusive (i.e., the child will not know she or he is being observed, such as at a mall or park), you can skip the consent step. Be sure, however, that if anyone asks, you can explain what you are doing as indicated above. NOTE: You may not use relatives or close friends.

  5. Conduct your observation and collect your data. Be as unobtrusive as possible: You are not there to play with, or care for, a child. You can't do an observation while you're babysitting! Write down, minute by minute, everything the child does and that others do with the child. Try to be objective, focusing on behavior rather than your interpretation. Thus, instead of writing "Jamie doesn’t know geography," or "Jamie does not like his teacher," write "Jamie did not answer his teacher when she asked him for the capital of Pennsylvania." Remember that you are looking for observable behaviors. You have no idea if Jamie knows geography or how he feels about his teacher.

  6. Summarize your data. Note the percentage of time spent engaging in various activities. For instance, "Playing alone, 15 percent; playing with brother, 20 percent; crying, 3 percent." Note the frequency of various behaviors: "Asked mother for something five times; mother granted request four times. Aggressive acts (punch, kick, etc.) directed at brother: two; aggressive acts initiated by brother: six," and so on.

  7. Some advice ... Start looking for your hypothesis during the first week of the semester. If necessary, write "find hypothesis" on a piece of paper and carry it around with you! You never know what behaviors might catch your interest just by paying attention. If you develop a starting hypothesis, go back to your text to find a theory that attempts to explain it. On the other hand, if you find a theory that interests you in your text, for example, and so start with the theory, write the theory on your piece of paper instead and watch for behaviors that might give you an idea for the hypothesis and how to operationalize it. Once you have your hypothesis and know what behaviors you'll be observing, it will be easy to decide where to look. (If your hypothesis involves children in sports, you won't want to go observe children during a church service!) There is no minimum number of hours you are required to observe. However, always plan on needing more than one observation. If you get enough data on your first trip to support or refute your hypothesis, that's great. Make sure, though, that there is enough time to complete more observations, though, in case you don't have enough data. If you've done your work up front, you'll have no trouble figuring out what to say in your paper (or having enough to fill three pages).

  8. When you write the report, do not simply transcribe your findings from the observation. I don't want all of those details. The point to the details was for you to determine if the behavior you observed supported or refuted your hypothesis. Always begin with an introductory paragraph that describes your hypothesis, any theories it was based on, what behaviors you were looking for in connection to the hypothesis and etc. Next report relevant background information: age, gender, ethnic background (if relevant), family information (if available and if relevant). Describe the child’s biological, cognitive, and psychosocial development that you can infer from your observation. Report observable behaviors that were relevant to your hypothesis. Be sure to write a concluding paragraph summarizing your findings and stating whether or not you think your hypothesis is supported by the evidence you gathered.



Observation Report Format

  1. Your OR must be a minimum of three pages, single-spaced. Any OR less than the minimum length will lose points. Papers should be in 12 point regular font (not bold) only. Don't go for brevity! You are expected to relate your experiences to things that you learned in the course and to show what you've learned. Demonstrate your expertise!

  2. Always write in essay form in your own words. Do not use long bulleted lists or long quotations. I want to know about your writing skills as much as your observation.

  3. Begin your OR with an introductory paragraph that clearly states your hypothesis, any theories it was based on, what behaviors you were looking for in connection to the hypothesis and etc. Next, report relevant background information: age, gender, ethnic background (if relevant), family information (if available and if relevant), and so on. The middle portion of your OR, which will be the majority of your content, should be a summary of your data. End your OR with a conclusion - at least one paragraph that summarizes your findings and states clearly whether or not you think your hypothesis is supported by the data (the evidence you gathered).

  4. Make certain you check for correct spelling and grammar. If these give you trouble, take advantage of the online help that the Writing Lab provides. I will count off points on your OR if you have not paid attention to spelling and grammar.

  5. Keep your heading brief. Headings are not intended to be used to pad out your length.

  6. Do not worry too much about formatting ... it's hard to maintain in cyberspace. On paragraphs, for example, don't try to indent at the beginning of each. Just put a blank line between each paragraph. (Do not "pad" out your length with lots of blank lines, though!)

  7. Your OR must be pasted into the correct section of your online portfolio. I will not hunt for it. (Certified educators taking this course for CPE credit should paste ORs into the body of an email sent on or before the due date.)

  8. You may submit your OR early if you wish, but it must be posted by the due date given in the Course Schedule chart on the main page of your syllabus. I will not accept "technical" problems as an excuse for being late. Late assignments lose points, regardless of the reason. Nor will I accept an OR submitted past the drop dead date. (See the course schedule chart.).

  9. My grading criteria is given in the rubric that can be found on the Grading Rubric page. That page is linked to the ED Resources page just as this page is. Make sure you look at the rubric before you start writing.

  10. Remember ... the key to a good observation is planning ahead. Review point #7 in the Observation Directions above. I warn you that if you wait until a couple of days before the due date, you'll have real trouble with this assignment. Plan ahead and I think you will enjoy it!



Copyright 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   03/01/2022   0200

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