Through infant eyes

Research team: E. Jayne White, Bridgette Redder and Mira Peter

Using qualitative and quantitative methods, under the broad frame 'dialogic research', this pilot study sought to understand the social experience of two infants over three hours during their time in an education and care context in New Zealand. Data was generated through polyphonic video and interviews with early years teachers in order to capture the lived and interpreted social world of the infant. Findings suggest that dialogues between infants and their teachers are characterised by a complex array of verbal and non-verbal exchanges, all of which constitute communicative acts that take place well beyond the dyad or the moment.

This pilot study sought to investigate the dialogues of infants in a New Zealand education and care context. Polyphonic video methods, drawing from dialogic methodology, captured the social experience of two infants (aged 4 and 8 months) and their key teachers from the visual perspective of each. Three hours of footage was time synchronised and entered into Studiocode, alongside interview transcripts of key teachers discussing their pedagogical priorities during these experiences.

research screenshotFootage was coded according to
i) the nature of social interactions that took place;
ii) the impact of various interactions on peer¬–peer and adult–peer communication; and
iii) their pedagogical significance (and consistency with espoused practice).

Responses were categorised in three central ways according to the presence or absence of specific language forms:

i) verbal only
ii) nonverbal only
iii) verbal-nonverbal combinations.

Thirty-two fine-grained categories of 'language' were generated. These ranged from verbal forms such as crying, laughing or mimicking sounds, to nonverbal such as a look or touch. For quantitative data analysis these were compressed to 16 categories with a separate category of no-response to denote events where an interaction initiation was not followed by any kind of response.


Results highlighted the complex nature of interactions that take place between teachers and infants but also the subtle and diverse variations in dialogues that take place beyond this dyad in an early childhood education setting. Findings demonstrate the profound influence of teachers physical and 'emotional' presence on infant social experience, the high and varied number of teacher-infant interactions, and the amount of time infants spend watching others, particularly peer–peer/peer–teacher/teacher–teacher dialogues. The intimate nature of relationships between teachers and infants were characterised by touch, gaze or laughter, keenly evident in routine events. Here, teachers placed a great deal of emphasis on subtle forms of communication that did not always require a response as a pedagogical orientation. Conversely, in play, very different forms of communication were seen. These were more likely to generate a language response, such as during a game of 'peek-a-boo'. In all cases, nonverbal–verbal initiations were significantly more likely to generate a similar response. The findings contribute to what might be considered pedagogically significant for infant pedagogy, and to a better understanding of the specific kinds of social encounters, as dialogue, infants experience in settings outside the home (where many infants now spend a significant portion of their waking hours). Further analysis examined patterns of interaction as duration events and to isolate peer–peer encounters for in-depth analysis. Together, they provided a first-time glimpse into the social world of under one year-old infants, through their eyes.

Project outputs
This poster outlines some key findings from the pilot project "Through infant eyes" (PDF 406KB).