Commentary On An Observation Of A Focus Child

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There are many different learning theories and concepts that begin to unravel the complicated and lengthy process of how children develop. These theories help to paint a detailed picture on how children develop socially, behaviourally, linguistically and cognitively. They also dive into the world of physical and communicative development. All of these combined allow for detailed analysis and reflection of a child’s progress and provide building blocks for improvement and further development.

Social Learning Theory is a concept of cognitive development theorised by Albert Bandura. David L (2019) writes about social learning theory as people learning from one another via imitation, observation and modelling. This theory has its practical benefits as well as limitations. If the person in the role of the model is effective and conveys desired attitudes and behaviour, like polite manners and patience, then the children will copy that behaviour. However, if the role model conveys negative attitudes and behaviour such as aggression and irritability, then the children will also imitate that behaviour. Another limitation to this theory is the matter of respect. If a child does not respect the authority figure then they will not see them as a useful model and will not copy or observe their behaviour. Child A is an eight year old boy and has just developed past the preoperational stage of Piaget’s stages of development. McLeod, S. A (2018) writes about the preoperational stage as a time where children are heavily affected by the world around them. Despite Child A no longer being in the age range for that stage of development, it does not mean that he is no longer influenced by the people and world around him. An example of Child A being affected by social learning theory is at the beginning of the lesson. Appendices 1 “The teacher begins by quieting the class down and writing the L.O (Learning Objective) on the board. He sits quietly writing the date and and L.O in his maths book without being asked.” This shows that Child A has observed the teacher and copied their actions. The teacher is the authority figure and therefore the model for the class and Child A. This observation shows that his social development is progressing at a steady pace and that modelling is an effective method of learning for him. However, he begins to lose concentration as the lesson goes on. Appendices 2 “Child A turns to the right page after everyone else and does not begin his work, he simply looks at the page”. This observation shows the limits of social learning theory and the limits of Child A’s social development. It also shows that he doesn’t learn by observing his peers. If he does not observe the teacher then he will not model their behaviour. This could be due to a lack of respect but because of his actions at the beginning of the observation I believe that this may not be the case. There are many factors that could suggest why he began to stop observing the teacher. He might have found the work hard and therefore become disengaged or he might have been tired or hungry. Maybe the work was not challenging enough, leading to boredom. In order to enhance his learning in the future, I will use Rosenshine’s ten principles of teaching, Rosenshine, Barak (2012). The areas of his principles that I will mainly focus on are guiding student practice, checking for student understanding and obtaining a high success rate. I believe this will help Child A due to the challenge these three principles provide as his progress is only achieved when he is faced with difficulty and challenge. There is a chance that he might struggle and give up when these principles are put into practice and he may need more encouragement than I expect. However, I believe that he is resilient and if I present challenge as an exciting prospect, combined with his level of social development and tendency to copy authority figures, his learning will be enhanced.

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A theory of behavioural development is B.F Skinner’s behaviourist perspective. Doherty, J & Hughes (2014) describe this theory as children reacting to their environment by engaging in behaviours because of the pleasurable effect of those behaviours. One method used to gain positive behaviour is positive reinforcement, where something like a reward or praise increases the chance of positive behaviours being repeated in the future. This theory is useful because it helps to nurture a child’s sense of self worth and confidence and allows children to think positively about themselves. However, Brummelman, E., Crocker, J., & Bushman, B.J. (2016) write about the praise paradox, where children with low self-esteem are usually the ones targeted with praise in order to raise their sense of self worth. But the praise can lower motivation and conviction due to the child feeling like they are not as good as the person praising them thinks, due to their low self-esteem. Therefore they can quit and give up, leading to reassurance and more praise which only worsens the situation, leading to continuous downward spiral known as the praise paradox. Evidence of positive reinforcement and its effects can be seen in my observation of Child A. Appendices 3 “Child A is prompted to raise his hand to answer the question by the teacher, he puts his hand down and answers the question correctly. The teacher praises him on his speed in answering and the accuracy of the answer.”. This is then followed by Child A’s reaction to the praise, Appendices 4 “He bounces in his chair smiling, seemingly happy he was right.”. This shows that positive reinforcement is an effective method of reinforcing behaviour in Child A and shows that his behavioural development is growing. However, the natural expectation of behaviour after this would be that he would put his hand up to answer questions more frequently for the rest of the lesson. This was not the case. Appendices 5 “Child A does not look at the people talking.” and Appendices 6 “He does not look at the teacher or reply to her when she addresses the class and asks for an answer, he sits in silence instead.”. This shows the limitations of his behavioural development due to his lack of engagement. Schlechty (2002), describes the five levels of student engagement and Child A firmly fits into the level of retreatism, where students are disengaged in the classroom task due partially to the content having a lack of relevance to them, but they do not disturb the learning of others. Cornelius-White (2007) writes about classrooms with a strong relationship between teacher and student and the advantages that come from that, Cornelius-White (2007, p. 119) “there was more engagement, more respect of self and others, fewer resistant behaviours, greater student-initiated activities, and higher learning outcomes” In order to further his learning in the future I will use and enhance our professional relationship with each other to motivate and encourage him.

Child A’s cognitive development can be seen throughout this observation through his steady work ethic and problem solving abilities. However, one of the most insightful moments from my observation is his tendency to engage in self talk. Self talk or private talk is described as speech that is not directed at another person and therefore has little to no communicative function. The two theorists who have done the most predominant research on private talk are Vygotski and Piaget, and their views on what it portrays developmentally differ quite drastically. Vygotski (1986) interpreted private talk as a critical process of transition between children communicating with themselves to communicating with others, and part of normal development of planning, self-guidance and self-regulated behaviour. On the other hand, Piaget (1959) viewed private talk as a sign of cognitive immaturity and that it would develop into more mature speech as children grow cognitively and gain communication skills. The role of self talk is insightful to understanding cognitive development in children due to what it shows about a child’s self regulated learning and behaviours. However, due to the different opinions posed by Vygotski and Piaget, determining what self talk actually shows about development can be difficult. Child A regularly uses private talk during my observation, Appendices 7 “He starts to do his work. He talks to himself briefly.” and Appendices 8 “He sits and looks at his book whilst one of his classmates answers a question. He quietly talks to himself quietly.”. These observations show his cognitive development is steady, however, determining whether his self talk is encouraging problem solving or a sign of cognitive immaturity is hard. Due to his well mannered and engaged behaviour with beginning his work and looking at his book, I believe his self talk is based on the work and shows his problem solving abilities and his healthy cognitive development. However it can also be argued that the talk may not be based on the work and the fact that he does not look at his classmate who is talking may be a sign of disengagement. In order to help enhance Child’s learning, I will use reciprocal teaching methods. Hattie, J. & Anderman, E (2013) emphasize the important role of social interaction in learning and its influence to developmental change. Methods like ‘Think-Pair-Share’ will provide Child A a way to logically talk his way through problems to find the answers as well as a much needed opportunity to do less individual work. I believe if he can talk about the problems to others rather than himself, in an environment where talking is allowed and encouraged, he will develop further cognitively. Child A is quite shy and reciprocal teaching may make him nervous to the point where he can not answer questions in a group and may make him rely on self talk even more, however he is also brave and with the right encouragement he will benefit from these teaching methods.


  1. David L, ‘Social Learning Theory (Bandura),’ in Learning Theories, February 7, 2019,
  2. McLeod, S. A. (2018, June 06). Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Simply Psychology.
  3. McLeod, S. A. (2018). Preoperational stage. Retrieved from
  4. Rosenshine, Barak (2012). Principles of Teaching, American Educator.
  5. Brummelman, E., Crocker, J., & Bushman, B.J. (2016). The praise paradox: When and why praise backfires in children with low self-esteem. Child Development Perspectives
  6. Cornelius-White, J. (2007). Learner-Centred Teacher-Student Relationships Are Effective: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research 77(1), pp. 113–143.
  7. Schlechty, P. C. (2002). Working on the work an action plan for teachers, principals and superintendents (1sted.). San Francisco, USA: Jossey Bass.
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  10. Doherty, J. & Hughes, M. (2014). Child Development: Theory and practice 0-11 (2nd ed.). Harlow: Pearson Education.
  11. Hattie, J. & Anderman, E. (2013). International guide to student achievement (Educational Psychology Handbook Series).    


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