How to Observe Students Needs in the Classroom

How to Observe Student Needs in the Classroom

5 September 2022 • Words by Nanette Botha 4 mins

Gone are the days when teachers were expected only to teach children academics, and children were expected to sit still and listen. Guidance, emotional support, reports for evaluations, referrals to relevant professionals, and the well-being of children all form part of a teacher’s daily duties.

Connor et al. (2020) writes about the importance of optimizing learning opportunities for children. They discuss how this can enable a teacher to understand and address children’s needs. To be able to maximize learning opportunities, though, teachers need to know their students.

It takes some time to get to know the students in your class and their families at the beginning of a new school year. However, knowing your students gives you a good idea of their typical behavior, interactions, and demeanor, and you will know what to expect from them in various environments. Anything out of the ordinary that you then notice in your students might mean something unusual or unexpected is taking place in their life.

Observing students is invaluable. Teachers don’t always have a lot of time to sit back and watch. Even a couple of minutes can have a significant impact, though.

Things that you may notice in students when you observe:

Behavior may change

You may notice changes in a child’s behavior when they are tired, frustrated, or anxious. There can be many different reasons for these changes in behavior. A child who does not sleep or eat well is bound to be agitated. They could appear to be aggressive, short-tempered, or even rude to a teacher or classmates. The reason for these changes could range from something as simple as not having their favorite sandwich in their lunchbox, to something serious such as an ill family member, parents who are not getting along at home, or even fear of being abused.

Communication may change

For some children, a change in their communication may indicate something is not quite right. Children who are usually very outspoken may suddenly be quiet and not keen to interact with their teachers and peers. They may even use inappropriate language and gestures to push others away. Children displaying these behaviors or changes in their communication are usually the ones who most need love and support. They need attention and someone to care for them, but it may require a very patient, understanding teacher. It could take some time to build up the child’s trust and prove to them that you care.

The ability to concentrate may change

When a child is fearful, nervous, or even overly excited, their ability to concentrate may be affected. There will be students who could find it hard to stay focused because of medical reasons, but when you know your students, you will be aware of their needs. When you notice a student who is usually able to focus on their schoolwork suddenly show a change in those tasks, it could mean that they need someone to check in with them and offer support.

What to do when you notice changes in your students:

When you observe changes in your students and become aware that their mood, behavior, or general well-being is not like their usual self, it is a good idea to keep an eye on them. If the changes are short-lived or the reasons are apparent, there may not be a need for concern. If the unusual behavior continues, however, you must check in with them. Try to check in with the child first whenever possible, instead of talking first to a parent or caregiver.

How to check in with students:

Always be accessible to students. It is impossible to provide countless opportunities for giving each student individual attention. Creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere in your class can help children feel confident that you are available to help them and listen when they need to talk to someone.

Create a check-in routine to ensure you regularly check in with each child. This will help children who might not easily approach their teacher to still be supported. For example, you could check in with students by having them write you a weekly note. In the note, you may even have different options for them to choose from, letting you know whether they are “doing great,” “coping,” or “need some help.” Alternatively, you could use the Moshi Emotions Tracker. Children can put their names next to the emotion they are experiencing. Whichever way you check in with your students, ensure that you are making it possible for the ones who find it hard to talk to someone to also reach out to you.

We are all affected by our environment, home life, and what we spend time on. It is the same with children.

Children may not always be able to tell you when they are overwhelmed or struggling in some area of their life. When teachers know their students, they will notice the little changes in their behavior. Don’t be afraid to trust your gut when you feel something is out of place with one of your students. It is always a good idea to check in with them and look out for them to ensure they are supported.

Connor, C. M., Adams, A., Zargar, E., Wood, T. S., Hernandez, B. E., & Vandell, D. L. (2020). Observing individual children in early childhood classrooms using Optimizing Learning Opportunities for Students (OLOS): A feasibility study. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 52(Pt B), 74–89.

Nanette Botha

Educational specialist & mother of 3 young children Co-founder: AIMS Global & Leadership at: Augmental