Observational Method of Teaching Children – Everything You Need to Know
In Vienna Buhler (6) and her team of investigators made continuous studies of sixty babies and children, both in their homes and in institutions. They recorded the type and nature of sleep, their movement and any form of activity, and their reactions to food over twenty-four-hour periods.
Their observations have been recorded carefully and scientifically. Buhler disagreed with laboratory methods as such because she considered they introduced the child to an artificial situation. She preferred to study the child in his own home, or institution, or place familiar to him.
The following table gives an account of the infant’s behaviour during the day and night.
One of the Viennese studies was on the attentively of young children in play activities. The following result was obtained in regard to building play.
The tests of development, which are known as the Buhler Baby Tests, cover the child’s growth up to five years. They are devised to judge the developmental level of the child under the following “psychological dimensions”: intellectual activity, manipulation of material, social responses, learning, body control, sensory perception.
This is Buhler’s own classification of “dimensions,” and in her scale each item is selected to indicate the child’s degree of skill in one or more of these spheres of activity.
The whole scale is fully described in Testing Children’s Development, by Buhler and Hetzer (8), (published by Allen and Unwin, 1935). It has been used fairly widely in this country and has been found of considerable value.
Nursery schools have proved a fertile field for child observation work both in America and Great Britain.
An important contribution undertaken in this country was that by Isaacs (18) (19). She kept very full records of children in the Malting House School in Cambridge. She studied intellectual development and social and emotional growth in particular.
The children were highly intelligent and their activities were largely unrestricted. It provided an ideal setting for making detailed observations of the language and thought of the child, of the interplay of emotions and of social co-operation and antagonism.
Fortunately the records are written up in full in one section, while the interpretative and theoretical matter is included in another.
This work is especially significant in that it demonstrates clearly that the very young child is quite capable of logical thought and action, although he may express the results of his thinking and reasoning more readily in a practical than in an abstract way.
The second important fact brought out is the intensity and fluctuation of the young child’s emotional life and its relation to social development. Many instances of aggressive and sexual behaviour are given showing that feelings of hate and anger and a desire to destroy and to hurt are perfectly normal features of the young child’s mental life.
His interests in life and death, in biology and in sexual matters are vividly portrayed. Much of the material obtained provides valuable support to psychoanalytic theory, but this will be discussed later.
The following examples quoted from Social Development in Young Children provide some evidence of “make- believe aggression” and aggressiveness to newcomers, and to younger children.
Frank made a model of a crocodile showing the spine and the skin markings, the open mouth and the teeth quite plainly. When asked, he said he had seen only a picture of one “on the stairs at home.
We have two pictures and one is biting a man’s leg off.” Later Theo bald drew a crocodile with a large mouth which he said “would bite Dan’s legs off’ (p. 47).
Paul for a time had a long stick as a gun and was “shooting people.” Tommy drew a battleship on paper and said to Dan, “I have got a battleship to shoot you with.” Dan replied, “Yes, I have one too, and shall shoot you with it,” and with quite good humor they “shot” at each other bumping into each other and laughing (p. 47).
Priscilla came again to school. The boys showed at once a good deal of hostility to her. Dan referred to her as “he and they talked about cutting her head off, and went into the garden and brought a saw and some shears and approached her in very threatening attitudes (p. 74).
When the children were playing at “giants” in the laurel bush, Paul and Theo bald said; “The giant is going to kill Dan,” but later they were friendly to him (p. 83).
Frank said he would bite Jessica and tried to make the others join in hurting her. Christopher and Dan went at her and talked of twisting her arms, but soon gave this up when Mrs. I, interfered, as it was only half-hearted and done to please Frank (p. 85).
Such examples could be multiplied indefinitely. They show how naturally children show hostility to others. Other examples show how readily hostility can be changed to friendliness.
The deeper sources of love and hate and the child’s phantasies and theories about sexuality are discussed at length. These studies of pre-school children behaving in a natural and spontaneous way are extremely valuable and have influenced educational theory and practice to a considerable extent.
When I was teaching in a nursery class in London I found some observational record on each child to be very helpful, and drew up a record form (43) suitable for use in nursery schools which aimed at studying all aspects of development, intellectual, gross motor, and language and social- emotional development.
The following are the rating sheets of the record form for play observation and emotional development.
In America, Bridges (5) has made a careful study of social behaviour and has traced the stages as follows:
Aloofness and indifference; aggressiveness and unfriendliness; social co-operation.
Her account of emotional development is not so fortunate in the light of recent studies. She contends that the first emotional expression is general excitement, and that all later emotions are gradually derived from that. Distress and delight develop in infancy and anger and fear at two years of age. Her final-differentiation is as follows:
i. Shame, fear, anxiety.
ii. Jealousy, anger, envy and disappointment.
iii. Disgust and distress.
v. Delight, elation, joy and hope.
vi. Affection (parental and filial).
I do not think this picture of the emotional life of the young child is accurate. Quite distinct emotions of anger, fear and jealousy can be detected in the first year of life. The psychoanalysts give a very different account, and though less generally acceptable, it is, I think nearer the truth.
Bridges also drew up certain rating scales of social
behaviour and standardized them widely. The following one is a useful method of assessing social adjustment.
This rating scale refers to the child’s behaviour in school during the last six months, and should be marked by the teacher or the psychologist after consultation with the teacher.
Mark (2) for each statement which applies correctly, and (0) for each item which does not apply correctly to the child under consideration. Mark (1) if the statement only partly or sometimes applies, and in all cases of doubt. Do not miss any item.
The Merrill-Palmer School is a most valuable institute of child psychology with two large nursery schools where students can train and study. Very thorough child studies are made on diet, nutrition, health and physical development as well as on intellectual and social-emotional development.
At Yale, Gesell (11) has done an immense amount of valuable research which I will report in more detail later. The nursery school is on the ground floor of the Institute of Human Relations at Yale.
In the same building on upper floors all types and varieties of psychological research are being carried on; rats are being studied in mazes, psychopathic patients in observation wards, chimpanzees are kept on the roof and their learning behaviour investigated while legions of statisticians, stenographers and cinematographers’ operators keep careful records.
In the nursery school a one-way vision screen permits students to observe the children without themselves being seen.
Blatz and Bott (2 and 3) are other American psychologists who have studied the behaviour of children in the nursery school extensively, and published their findings.
Some schools of thought in America have become rather self-conscious about psychology, and have perhaps reduced it in some respects to an absurdity. They lay great emphasis for instance, on habit training, and the importance of establishing good habits early, especially in relation to eating and sleeping, and eliminating.
To insist on a rigid reutilized procedure, as is done in some American nurseries, is too restricting to a child. The value of a routine is widely recognized, but it is equally important to be able to depart from it occasionally, and habits carefully inculcated by painstaking means can be upset overnight by some emotional disturbance.
Some reference must be made to Murphy’s (24) work. She made a very comprehensive study of sympathy in young children from long-term observations in a nursery school.
The term sympathy is used in a wide sense, and may be defined as “the capacity of individual human beings to interpret and respond to the behaviour of other human beings. It is intimately connected with all the other responses of a friendly and constructive nature that are the foundation of a co-operative society.”
It thus includes a wide variety of co-operative, friendly and sympathetic responses to other children and adults. The focal point selected for study is the analysis of children’s responses to distress in other children. She devised a rating scale for sympathy and related behaviour which includes items such as the following: (p. 329).
Imitates another child’s words while playing. Takes away another child’s toy. Defends rights of smaller child. Joins attack on one child by another. Tells child not to cry.
Teases new child. Pummels child who falls accidentally. Cries when hears the crying of another child not in sight. Laughs when hearing another child laugh. Warns another child of danger. Gets toy to give to child in place of wanted toy. Tells child “I don’t like you,” or equivalent. Asks child if hurt after fall. Asks child why he is crying.’
The rating scale, which consisted of some forty-four items, was completed for the group of children being observed and ranked according to a five-point scale. Similarly, pictures, animals, stories, questions and certain laboratory situations, e.g. a baby in a play-pen, were used to elicit sympathetic responses. Some of her general conclusions are interesting.
We saw how the specific features of each aspect of personality were intimately interwoven with other aspects. Aggression, sympathetic responses, intelligence and fears do not occur like books on a shelf, but the internal character of each condition the other in specific ways.
The outstanding example of this was the use of defence techniques for the sympathetic assistance of other children by children who were aggressive (p. 280).
Each child’s configuration of personality traits is different from the other, and where one child may have a high rank on aggression, sympathy, cooperation and imagination, another child may have a high rank on one and a low rank on the others.
Some constellations look like predominantly social or predominantly self-centered patterns, but even if types like this do exist they tell us nothing about the organization of behaviour tendencies within the type (p. 282).
She finds from her results that there is a consistent correlation of 0.40, or thereabouts, between aggressive and sympathetic behaviour-which point to the importance of a general tendency toward outgoing responses, underlying both aggressive and sympathetic behaviour (p. 282). This agrees with Butt’s concept of general emotionality (known as “e”) derived from a study of older children and of adults.
In America there appears to be more time and more money for research. In Personality Development in Childhood (42) a collection of monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development (Volume I), an exhaustive account of research work undertaken in America is given and a summary of the findings included.
Emotional Adjustment in the Schoolchild. Children’s Interests and Attitudes in Regard to Books, Movies, Play, Vocations, Politics. Racial Characteristics Twins. The Only Child, Intelligence, Personality Traits.
I will give a brief summary of the research findings obtained by a large number of investigators.
The picture of Infancy in terms of research findings is pre-dominantly one of change; change from diffuse activity to adaptive activity behaviour, from meager stimulus-response functioning to integrated responses in the light of total situational aspects.
The infant is described as an organism who can respond positively or negatively toward a limited number and kind of factors in his environment.
Commonly he responds to discomfort, restricted movements, and loud sounds by reacting negatively-crying, thrashing, flushing, puckering his face. Approach responses are expressed by expansive movements, smiles, sucking movements and the like.
By the end of the second year such terms as anger, fear, joy, disgust, and jealousy are used to describe the child’s behaviour, indicating differential responses to stimuli (loc. cit., p. 15).
Blanton, Bridges, Good enough, Shirley, Washburne and watson have done particularly important work on this period of child development.
The child acquires a capacity for more social activity and for more maturity in his social attitudes. He learns to co-operate more readily, to respect other property rights in some small measure, to lead or follow a leader as the occasion demands.
He is apt to be negative in certain situations, but to overcome this in large measure by the end of his fourth year. He is apt to laugh most in social surroundings, and to find more abstract and more complicated situations mirthful as he grows older.
He comes to employ language more as a means of communicating his ideas and his wishes to other persons than as a means of “thinking out loud” (loc. cit., p. 49).
The names of Blatz, Bott, Bridges, Gesell, Good enough, Parten and washburne are connected with important work during this period.
The young schoolchild continues to exhibit growth in social and emotional patterns, but the rate of development is slower and perhaps for this reason less emphasis has been placed upon the period.
Although the child in the first grade can maintain leadership only in a small group, makes little distinction between the sexes in choosing friends, and has little aptitude for evaluating his friends’ abilities, by the time he has reached the sixth grade he may exhibit a quality of leadership which enables him to sway an entire classroom group, is likely to show a decided preference for friends of the same sex, and will be able to distinguish among his classmates at least those with outstanding abilities and characteristics.
The movies, books and the radio make profound impressions which are in turn reflected in his play behaviour and attitudes. Vocational ambitions are likely to be impractical and wish fulfilling (loc. cit., p. 84)
With the older school child development is again accelerated. Interest in the opposite sex blossoms at this period, with all the accompanying interest in dress, parties, dancing and the like.
Unisexual groups lose their appeal, and individual creative interests tend to diminish. The girl responds to this new appeal earlier than the boy. The individual who fails to conform to the group is apt to be more isolated than at any other period in childhood (loc. cit., p. 85).
Downey, Lehman, Pressey, Terman and Witty have done some interesting work on child development during this period.