Observing a Preschooler’s Communicative Competence

Application: Language Development Face-to-Face

Part 2: Observing a Preschooler’s Communicative Competence

As you have learned this week, communicative competence is important to a child’s cognitive and social development. The goal of this second observation is to watch and listen to a preschool child for evidence of the child’s communicative competence in relation to one or more of the following measures:

  • Adjusts messages to meet the listener’s needs
  • Asks appropriate questions
  • Able to initiate and maintain conversations
  • Clearly conveys intentions
  • Addresses all participants when joining a group
  • Makes positive comments
  • Able to persuade and verbally comfort others

To complete the assignment:

Plan: Choose a preschool-age child who is between 3 and 5 years old to observe in a comfortable setting, such as the child’s home, preschool program, or on a playground. Although you are observing one child, the child needs to be in a setting where he or she is interacting with others – children and/or adults. Here are tips for planning the observation:

  • As outlined in Week 1, explain to the adult (parent or caregiver) the purpose of your observation and how the information you gather will be used. Get permission to tape-record the child’s interactions with others. Set a time and date for the observation. Review information from this week’s readings about communicative competence in the language use of children ages 3–5 .
  • Click on the link below to download, print out, and review the document you will use to record your observations:

    Part 2: Preschool-Age Child Observation Guide

  • Arrive on time for the observation. Take time for pre-observation interaction with the child. Ask the adult about how the child’s day is going before you begin the observation. Just as with younger children, factors such as a child feeling tired, hungry, or upset can influence the child’s mood and behavior.
  • Test your recorder to be sure it is working, and then place it in an optimal spot for recording the child’s language.

Observe: Watch and listen for at least 20 minutes. You may need to move out of the child’s vision range to avoid distracting the child and influencing his or her language interaction with others. Choose a place to observe where you can see and hear the child. As you observe, take notes on the Observation Guide (which lists the measures of communicative competence). Use the information in your course text and other readings to note evidence of the child’s communicative competence. Some guidelines:

  • Keep your attention focused on the child.
  • Use only what you see and hear as evidence of the child’s communicative competence. Be mindful to not make assumptions about a child; objectivity is essential. Remember that despite similarities shared by children of various ages, each child is different and develops language—and communicative competence—in his or her own way. Keep that uniqueness in mind as you observe the child.
  • You are observing in real time, so you may observe a lot of activity from the child or very little. Record what you observe.
  • Enjoy the experience. Use what you’ve learned this week to try to imagine the world through the eyes and ears of a preschooler learning and growing in language use.
  • Stick to the time span you agreed to for the observation and be sure to thank the adult and child for their cooperation.
  • Remember that this observation experience is intended as a chance for you to learn. Be careful not to express your views of the child’s communicative competence with the parent or other adult.

Reflect on your observations. Review your notes and listen to the recording of the child’s use of language and any adult interaction as many times as necessary to complete the following:

  • Write one or more pages briefly describing what you observed. Provide specific examples of the child’s use of language that relate to the measures of communicative competence that you observed. (Most likely you will not have examples of each measure.) Include any examples of ways an important adult (such as the parent or teacher) acted to support the child’s communicative competence by describing what the adult did and how it potentially helped the child. Include insights that you gained from the observation.
  • Based on your observation and what you have learned about communicative competence, write a brief script (following examples like those in Chapter 6 of the course text) that illustrates how an important adult (parent or teacher) might fos

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