Qualitative observation is an attempt to view and interpret social worlds by immersing oneself in a particular setting. Observation draws on theoretical assumptions associated with the interpretivist paradigm. Thus, researchers who engage in qualitative observations believe that the world cannot be fully known, but must be interpreted. Observation is one way for researchers to seek to understand and interpret situations based on the social and cultural meanings of those involved. In the field of education, observation can be a meaningful tool for understanding the experiences of teachers, students, caregivers, and administrators. Rigorous qualitative research is long-term, and demands in-depth engagement in the field. In general, the research process is cyclical, with the researcher(s) moving through three domains: prior-to-field, in-field, and post- or inter-field. Prior to entering the field, the researcher(s) examine their assumptions about research as well as their own biases, and obtain approval from an Institutional Review Board. This is also the time when researcher(s) make decisions about how data will be collected. Upon entering the field of study, the researcher(s) work to establish rapport with participants, take detailed “jottings,” and record their own feelings or preliminary impressions alongside these quick notes. After leaving an observation, the researcher(s) should expand jottings into extended field notes that include significant detail. This should be completed no later than 48 hours after the observation, to preserve recall. At this point, the researcher may return to the field to collect additional data. Focus should move from observation to analysis when the researcher(s) feel that they have reached theoretical data saturation.
Self-regulation is a complex, multifaceted concept that can be described as a higher mental process oriented toward children’s (and adults’) metacognitive, motivational, and behaviorally active participation in their own learning. It includes cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional development. It is related to several other higher mental processes, notably executive function, and the two are sometimes confused and even conflated. They are, however, not interchangeable, and it is vital to clarify both what self-regulation is and what it is not. Failure to do so may lead to confusion at practice and policy levels, and ineffective or inappropriate practice, potentially disadvantageous to young children. Self-regulation may be significant in all aspects of development, particularly in early childhood, and efforts to enhance children’s self-regulation may be among the most effective educational interventions. Interest is reflected in developments in the field of assessment, including by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and in government policy in, inter alia, England. Play, particularly pretense, problem-solving, and talk (both private speech and dialogue) are advocated as rich, naturalistic contexts for the development, support, and meaningful assessment of young children’s self-regulation. Some specific approaches to assessment are identified, notably observation and stimulated recall, in the form of reflective dialogues, including the use of video. Decontextualized assessment is suggested as a potentially less effective approach in capturing the full depth and range of young children’s self-regulatory competence.
Ethnography and sensitive issues come together by way of the question, “What can someone know?,” which is a situational dilemma. An ethnography of sensitive issues creates a particular perspective of knowing. It distresses the overall social assumption that persons, practices, actions, structures, and institutions are based on their re-negotiation of stabilization and their safety of different forms of knowing. The ethnography of sensitive issues addresses the fluidity and fragility of the social and observes the vulnerability of persons, practices, fields, and settings. Sensitive issues of the social situate beyond the sociological and historical divide of (intimate) privacy and the public sphere. Sensitive issues touch on the violation of intimacy within public and private institutions by neglect, punishment, maltreatment, violence, bullying, and sexual violence. The problematizing perspectives on such disruptive social practices are particularly relevant for pedagogy and education. An education ethnography of sensitive issues thus asks for the risk of violation within pedagogical arrangements and describes the how and what of the vulnerability of the child and the indicated transgression of or within education practices. However, education settings—children engaging in institutions like the family, the school, and social care services—are constructed through the (unconscious) boundless aim of well-being, pedagogy for good, and positivity by education in its normativity. How do children learn to believe that what others say or do is for their good? How do educational arrangements cover vulnerable situations? Where are the borders or limitations within practices of education in pedagogical institutions? An education ethnography of sensitive issues problematizes the implicit, tacit, and practical knowledge of pedagogical arrangements and questions how those involved perform violence and, within the practices, at what stages of vulnerability. Questioning violence and vulnerability points out that children sadly are not always recognized as equals and are equated by the other (child or adult). Sensitive issues in education and care situations define a greater net of responsibilities and its totality of practices of the powerful. Thus, it seems socially and educationally mandatory to gain descriptions and theories about the circumstances of sensitive issues in the examples of neglect of the individual in his or her rights and psychological and emotional situatedness, as well as physical punishment and sexual violence against children. Focusing on violations and problematizing educational practices through research has ethical and moral restrictions that seem to contradict an ethnographic approach. It is (normatively) impossible for the ethnographer to participate in situ in situations of sensitive issues of violence and maltreatment against children. Additionally, seeing ethnography as a methodological and theoretical approach, an ethnography of sensitive issues could not be restricted to those who (autoethnographically) experience violations and maltreatment by themselves. Instead of arguing for a constrained ethnography of sensitive issues, the particular perspective on sensitive issues highlights the ethnographic approach. This goes along with understanding borders and transgressions as well as the taboos in the field and the challenging task of positioning oneself as an observer to be trusted in the uncertainty, unsafety, and instability of the nearest possible worlds. Hence, an education ethnography of sensitive issues considers researching intimacy at its boarders, limits, heterotopia, and transgressions of pedagogical practices within educational institutions and care situations.