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Jan Noga on Surveying Young Children Part One: Planning and preparation are key!

Hi! My name is Jan Noga and I am the owner of Pathfinder Evaluation and Consulting, in Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m a developmental and counseling psychologist with a specialization in early and middle childhood. I’ve spent a lot of time in preschools – as a teacher, researcher, observer, and evaluator. I learned from some amazing advisors and mentors – Eleanor Maccoby, Albert Bandura, Walter Mischel, and Urie Bronfenbrenner – invaluable in my work with young children.

Lesson Learned: As an evaluator, I’ve run surveys with children as young as three. I’ve gone in as a solo evaluator on a project, and I’ve also managed teams of evaluators spread out across multiple schools. The one element that I always, always insist on is prior experience working with young children in group situations. This often rules out undergraduates (and even many graduate students), simply because they haven’t worked with more than one or two young children at a time. The same goes for parents – having a toddler or preschooler does not necessarily qualify you to do data collection with a classroom of young children. The people I turn to the most often are those with preschool teaching experience – they’ve got the most experience managing a diverse group of children.

Hot Tip: Surveying young children is best done as either a one-on-one or small group activity. I’ve found that a group of four or five children is the maximum size; any more than that and the kids will run the zoo instead of you!

Hot Tip: Keep your questions simple in structure and few in number, if only for your own sanity. Preschoolers and kindergarteners can handle up to 12 questions, but anything beyond that and they will quickly get tired of the game. Kids in first through second grade can handle up to 20. Remember, you’re going to be doing this over and over again with multiple groups – how many questions do you really want to read each time?

Lesson Learned: Another issue you might encounter with very young children is developmental diversity around language and the ability to express thoughts and ideas. I find that three-year-olds tend to be a little young to understand abstract concepts but can respond to very concrete questions (“Was this fun?,” “Was this hard?,” “Do you like to do art by yourself or with friends?” etc.). Four- and five-year-olds will still vary in terms of developmental levels, but can respond to very basic abstract concepts. Keep questions as concrete as possible. If language and abilities are not there, you may be better off using observation in structured situations, such as a play scenario.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 comments

  • Tracey · March 28, 2018 at 9:16 pm

    Hello Ms. Noga,

    Thank you for your thoughtful article regarding conducting evaluations with young children. I found both of your articles to have helpful tips for obtaining credible and usable data when working children.

    I am a Kindergarten teacher, and currently a Graduate student at Queen’s university. For one of my course projects, I am evaluating a Forest School Program offered within my elementary school. I am trying to determine how children, ages 3-6 are feeling about the program. After reading your articles, I have realized that my questions may have been too open ended and moving forward I will choose more specific questions. I will also ensure that the language I use is developmentally appropriate as well as limiting the questions to a maximum of 12, as you suggest. I like the ideas of using surveys with stickers as this would provide more streamlined responses.

    I agree with your conclusions about ensuring that evaluators have sufficient experience working with young children. I too, have found that when I have volunteers in my classroom who do not have experience with young children, there are often misunderstandings about language, intent or behaviour. It would then be difficult to ensure responses are accurate.

    As per my current evaluation project, I was wondering if you see value in using photographs to document child thinking, perspective and experience. I often take pictures of children engaged in activities and them have them discuss it at a later date. What are your thoughts on this? Would it yield usable data?

    Thank you again. I look forward to your response.

    Tracey

    Reply

  • Teri · August 2, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Hello Jan. Excellent hot tips. Thank you for sharing. What kind of questions do you ask them? Do you find you get better results one on one than in small groups? Or does it depend on the class setting and children? Do you ask them the questions more than once in a year? I’m curious if the answers would change based on their comfort level in September and then again in June also keeping in mind their maturity has increased. What kind of information are you looking for as a developmental counsellor and psychologist? Do the parents need to consent before you do your surveys? Thanks in advance.

    Reply

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