Observing, documenting and reflecting on children's musical play

  • by Anonymous (not verified)

    Wednesday, 16 September, 2015 - 16:02

Observation and documentation are powerful tools for reflection and extending learning through an informed and deeper understanding of the child.  It needs to be manageable, practical and needs to be meaningful to your own learning and the children’s. This framework was designed to be able to respond to musicians and early years practitioners in very different stages of their own learning journeys. With this in mind, documenting could be anything from a learning journal containing thoughts, descriptions, questions and photos through to action research. Musicians will be working alongside early years practitioners and so the role of documenter can be taken by one person while the other engages with the children. Allowing yourself to observe rather than always actively taking part is very important and gives you a different perspective. Reflection is both a collaborative and individual activity.
Click on the dots for more information

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Waypointwaypoint/take-photographsTake Photographs562.0635.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/sound-recordingSound recording149.0808.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/video-recordingVideo recording534.0812.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/go-back-12Go back2.01.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/thoughts-observationThoughts on observation50.0670.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/what-documentWhat to document379.01153.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/sharing-amongst-staffSharing amongst staff87.01480.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/sharing-childrenSharing with the children602.01542.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/sharing-allSharing with all129.01676.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/childrens-learning-1For children's learning650.0170.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/professional-development-and-sharingFor professional development and sharing483.0371.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/planning-and-evaluation-0For planning and evaluation732.0365.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/effective-documentingEffective Documenting799.0715.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/documentingDocumenting377.092.0""#0000002

Observation and documentation are powerful tools for reflection and extending learning through an informed and deeper understanding of the child.  It needs to be manageable, practical and needs to be meaningful to your own learning and the children’s. This framework was designed to be able to respond to musicians and early years practitioners in very different stages of their own learning journeys. With this in mind, documenting could be anything from a learning journal containing thoughts, descriptions, questions and photos through to action research. Musicians will be working alongside early years practitioners and so the role of documenter can be taken by one person while the other engages with the children. Allowing yourself to observe rather than always actively taking part is very important and gives you a different perspective. Reflection is both a collaborative and individual activity.
Click on the dots for more information


Click here for a text version of this visualisation

Make notes

Written notes can be made both during and after sessions. These can be brief and include drawings. A few key words can capture the essence of the moment. Though sometimes helpful as a reminder, the focus needs to be on capturing significant moments in children’s learning and development and musicality.

Some things to consider when documenting with notes:

  • Notice how the instruments are/were set up
  • Notice different types of movement
  • Write notes about key moments
  • Write notes about specific thoughts or ideas
  • Consider the future, where next?

PROS & CONS of making notes:

PROS

  • Excellent for recording children’s dialogue.
  • Good for recording who was there, what happened, when it happened (with the date and time) and who said what.

CONS

  • Sometimes hard to capture the essence of music-making in words.
  • Hard to do when involved as a co-music-maker.
  • Changes happen very fast and are hard to capture.

Take Photographs

  • Remember to take photos of how the environment was set up and how materials were presented.
  • Avoid ending up with hundreds of similar photographs. This can feel overwhelming and unmanageable.
  • Always make sure that you have parental and school permission to take photographs and video clips and that you have permission to use the photographs and video clips in specified ways. For example, for research, for training, a DVD.
  • Respect and be sensitive to the parents’ and children’s entitlement to confidentiality.

PROS & CONS to using photography:

PROS

  • Good for remembering who was there and how the space was set up.
  • Captures moments of intense engagement.
  • Can be quickly downloaded to show children.
  • Can be displayed on the wall to remind the children what they have been doing and share with other members of staff, parents and other children.
  • Can be brought back to remind children of past experiences and move the activity on in a new direction.

CONS

  • Can capture moments but not progression, movement or development of ideas unless of course a series of photos are taken.
  • No sound!

Documenting

In this film, Sarah Wood, Manager of Grove Community Project, Birmingham, talks about documenting:

Sound recording

PROS and CONS of sound recording

PROS

  • Allows you to focus purely on the sound.
  • Can be revisited by children in the early years setting.

CONS

  • Unable to see how music is connected to other play and movement.
  • Children might find it harder to distinguish their own contribution.
  • Doesn’t provide any contextual information

Video recording

PROS and CONS of using video

PROS

  • Excellent tool for evaluation with children.
  • Captures movement, progression, the development of an idea.
  • Captures movement and facial expressions.
  • Allows you to see and hear how a session progresses.
  • Enables early years practitioner to evaluate effectively with children.
  • Encourages dialogue with the children.

CONS

  • Expensive and not always available.
  • Compatibility problems between devices and computers.
  • Take longer to download.
  • When doing this on a digital camera the memory card becomes full very quickly.
  • Need more skill to operate.

Remember that videos that are long will take a long to download, revisit and edit

Thoughts on observation

‘Observation, in this context, is more than looking, or seeing; it also involves listening and emotional awareness. It is important to recognise observation is not an objective process – in the act of choosing what to observe and record, the observer selects what is meaningful to him/her’  Carla Rinaldi (2000)

‘Like any active listening, it requires concentration and attempting to bring everything to a level of conscious awareness. It is by no means easy to maintain a high level of awareness and alertness in order to hear the detail of children’s music.  Writing notes, jotting down everything seen and heard, can be a useful way to keep focussed. However, I find that the moment I start writing I stop listening and watching.’ Susan Young (2003)

What to document

What is the context and focus?

  • Where has the idea/session come from?
  • Date, time, who, when, where?

What is the starting point?

  • What was the environment like?
  • What materials/instruments/sound makers did you use?
  • How will you plan your layout/presentation?
  • Describe the encounter or experience.

What are your intentions?

  • How/what do you anticipate the children will  do/engage with?
  • What do you think the children might learn?

What was the core or essence of the experience?

  • What did the children do?
  • What did the children say?
  • What key words and phrases came up?
  • What gestures were used?
  • Did you notice any repetitive patterns of  behaviour?
  • What were the relationships between the   children like?
  • Did you notice any musical patterning and character?
  • What questions do you have?

Sharing amongst staff

A special ‘project board has been created for all the staff. Questions based on observations of the children help to focus observations collected throughout the week. The relevant parts of the EYFS are also on the board helping staff link the music activity to the curriculum. All staff are encouraged to contribute with stickies or with the setting’s own observation sheets.

Sharing with the children

A longer project spanning a few months is displayed on the walls of the nursery. Children are able to revisit what they have done previously and talk about it with staff. It acts as a prompt, gives the work value and also encourages other children to become involved.

Sharing with all

Weekly documentation created using Powerpoint is displayed in a ring bound folder. This accessible to children, parents and staff. Assembling the documentation in Powerpoint allows the project team to also share the project with other members of staff using the nurseries white board and projector. It can also be shared at joint project reflection days with other settings

For children's learning

Documentation can be used:

  • to identify children’s strengths, interests and preferences
  • to help children revisit what they have done increasing their awareness of the learning strategies and processes they have been engaged in
  • to help children to develop a vocabulary to discuss their music
  • to make children’s musical learning and thinking visible to them
  • to ascribe value to music as a mode of expression and representation
  • to support children’s critical thinking, imagination and problem solving
  • to identify individual children’s musical interests, preferences and potential lines of progression
  • to pick up on tiny hints of personal, social and emotional development in individual children that might otherwise remain hidden.

For professional development and sharing

Documentation can be used:

  • to deepen your personal knowledge of children’s musicality and learning
  • to review the effectiveness of your own interactions and interventions
  • to deepen your understanding of the role of environment and materials.
  • to make children’s musical learning and thinking visible to other members of staff and parents
  • to gather knowledge about early years music to communicate to the community and wider world.

In this audio recording, early years practitioners from Bloomsbury Children's Centre talk about how taking time for reflection has changed their practice:

For planning and evaluation

Documentation can be used:

  • to help to form learning groups
  • to act as a catalyst to move a project forward and identify new directions
  • to inform the planning of the next stages for children’s learning and development
  • to analyse and evaluate the effectiveness of adult interventions
  • to analyse and evaluate how physical and emotional environments affect learning and musical play
  • to see and hear recurring patterns of musical or other behaviour
  • to bring up new questions to explore
  • to provide a forum that allows the early years practitioner and musician to share different perspectives, develop a common language and value each others point of view
  • to support a holistic and inclusive approach that values the perspective of all parties including the child and their parents.

Effective Documenting

In this film, early years practitioners from Bloomsbury Children's Centre talk about how they have developed the ways in which they document children's music play:

 

Questions

  • What are the benefits of documentation and what factors need to be in place to make it effective?
  • How can we better document children’s music-making?
  • How do we ensure children’s voices are part of our planning?

Effective Documenting

  • Be clear about the purpose of your documentation at any given time.
  • See documenting and recording as a learning journey in itself and understand that your skills will develop with experience.
  • Find out which modes of documenting work best for you and evolve you own personal style – there is no right or wrong way.
  • See the documenting process as a perfect tool for your own continuing professional development.
  • Understand that when sharing your documentation there will be moments of dissent, ambiguity and uncertainty as views are coloured by subjective experience and answers to questions are not always clear. While difficult to deal with at the time this is an important part of this process, as it will lead us to deeper understanding and new discoveries. This is why the development of a strong, respectful and honest relationship between the musician and early years practitioner is paramount.
  • Involve children as documenters of their own work. This is critical as it encourages autonomy and responsibility for their own learning while raising their awareness of the processes involved.
  • Clearly and logically labelling and storing documentation is important. Once decisions have been made about what to keep, make sure you know when the photos or videos were taken and who is on them. The same goes for written notes, make sure you know when things happened and who was involved.
  • Be selective about what is kept and what can be discarded – remember the documentation is to help your learning and the children’s learning.
  • Selected videos and photographs should be annotated.

Some pitfalls

Look out for the following pitfalls:

  • Not being sure why you are documenting or what your focus is.
  • You try to document everything. This can end up with hundreds of similar photographs which can feel overwhelming and unmanageable.
  • Not having anyone there to document for you – it is difficult but not impossible to interact musically while documenting.
  • Your videos are too long and take too long to revisit and edit.
  • The video technology is incompatible with the computer.
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