The debate regarding what types of technology are appropriate fro young children is one that will likely never end. Sometimes I think we spend so much time thinking about what children should or shouldn't be doing that we overlook the fact the technology has a variety of uses for teachers. I'm not going to get into the debate here. Instead, I am going to focus on ways teachers can use technology to help them document and enhance children's learning and development.
Using Technology for Observations
I am lucky to work in a program that has access to a variety of technology, including digital cameras and digital video recorders for each classroom. I take thousands of pictures each year to document the children's work. In the past, I have used them to put together a small digital portfolio using the criteria from our assessment to present to the parents at conference time. Being able to see the picture or a video of the child in action often helps the parents see what I am talking about. And what parent doesn't like to see a picture of their child?
For the most part, I have taken pictures of things that I find interesting or that the children are really engaged in. There is nothing better than capturing a video of two children reading a book to each from memory or snapping a photo of a detailed block structure. I often use the camera to snap a picture that I can use to jog my memory to write an anecdotal note for our on-going assessment. I have used the video camera to help when a child is struggling with behavior or social-emotional issues. When a child is having a full-fledged kicking and screaming tantrum, it can be hard to think, much less see what else is going on or recall what happened to start it. Being able to watch the video after the fact lets me see things that I missed in the heat of the moment. The video camera has been extremely helpful in this area. But, this year, I decided to try using it in a different way.
In my center, we use the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment, which focuses on social and emotional development. Part of that process is to spend several weeks doing running record observations in the classroom, which are then used when completing the child's assessment. These running records are helpful because it forces us to use the actual documentation on a child rather than relying on memory or general impressions. But, they can be hard to keep up with, especially when you try to include every possible detail like me. After doing a couple of running records, I decided to us the class video camera to document what was happening. That way I can see more of what is happening without having to stop in the moment to write it down. I can even see what I am doing, which is never part of the running record since all I am doing is writing and not spending as much time interacting with the children.
I set the camera up in one area of the room, press record and then go about the normal routine. I have recorded at different parts of the say and move the camera around so we see all the children and all areas of the room several times. We now have a few hours of video from the past couple of weeks and I spent the weekend watching and analyzing them. Watching the videos has forced me to re-frame my impressions of a few children and shown me things that I had overlooked.
A Quiet, Peaceful Classroom
The biggest thing that stood out to me while watching the videos was how quiet and calm the classroom seemed. My classroom is always busy and we try to keep the materials fresh and interesting to the children. We don't have toys that make noise or light up or do things for the children. They have to act on the materials and be creative with them. But, because they stay so busy, it can seem quite loud at times just from children talking to us, each other or in pretend play. Besides conversation, the children are often making noises as they play, which can get quite loud at times. But, those sounds don't carry across the whole classroom so the overall tone is much quieter than I would have thought.
I think the main reason the atmosphere stays so peaceful is that the children have lots of choices. They choose what they want to play with, where they want to play and who they might want to play with. If we are doing an art activity, they often choose the color or type of paper, paint or stamper they will use. They can explore to their hearts content, as long as they are safe. They can choose to come to snack anytime it is available, which is most of the morning. We let them know when it is getting close to diaper changing time or clean up time so they aren't surprised when it's their turn. They can bring their work with them and save it outside the bathroom even, so it will still be theirs when they finish. All of these things add up and contribute to the overall atmosphere of the room. And you can see these things happening in the videos.
What I Missed
Every class has the child (or children) that seems to lack focus and doesn't stay with an activity for more than a few seconds at a time. I have a couple in my class. While watching the videos, though, I saw that they can focus for extended periods of time when they are interested and challenged at an appropriate level. The two that come to mind spent at least 10-15 minutes engaged in an activity or taking that same activity to another area to build on it. Had I not seen it on the video, with the timer, I may not have realized that they were simply expanding an on activity and assumed they had abandoned that one to start a new one.
I would have missed a young two-year-old, who had been in the habit of pushing the one-year-olds to get what she wanted, play a game of peek-a-boo with that same one-year-old and trade toys with him more than once. I would have missed another older toddler reading a story to a younger toddler, even going so far as to ask him if he saw something in the picture. Seeing her make eye contact with him when she talked to him shows she me just how much she understands the concept of conversation. She waited for a response or acknowledgement from him before continuing and read his body language. There are so may things I missed that I am going to use the video camera more often just to see what is going on in the classroom. The possibilities really are endless!