Strategies for Using Informal Observations in Assessment

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  • 0:49 Observations in Assessment
  • 1:38 Intentional…
  • 3:45 Incidental Strategies
  • 5:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Informal observational assessments require watching, listening, and documenting student performance-based tasks. Strategies for this type of assessment range from intentional activities to incidental chance observations.

Observations in Assessment

If you were a teacher in an early education classroom, how would you know what skills each of your students had? How would you determine if they were progressing or at a standstill with reading? How could you document student growth in literacy? Obviously, formal testing is one way to get answers to these questions, but tests tend to focus on identifying what a student doesn't know instead of focusing on what they do know.

Where do young students display their knowledge? Where do they practice and learn? In the classroom. And who is in a position to best be able to determine what they know and how they are progressing? The teacher, who spends so much time watching children develop. Therefore, a great way to find out exactly what a student knows is for the teacher to observe the student in natural settings. Through observation, teachers can determine the level of understanding a student has and can track his or her progress throughout the learning process.

Informal observational assessment is watching, listening, and documenting intentional or incidental student performance. This definition gives two main strategies for conducting informal observational assessments:

  • Plan intentional observation opportunities to assess student ability
  • Be watchful for incidental opportunities to observe student abilities

Which strategies would you need to adhere to if you wanted to conduct either of these types of observations in your classroom? We'll look at them separately.

Intentional Observation Activities

The term informal observational assessment does not imply that little effort is put into the planning phase of conducting these assessments. In fact, to organize intentional observational activities for literacy, you will need to do quite a bit of preparation before you even begin to observe your students. Intentional refers to a planned activity. Thus, intentional observational assessments are planned opportunities to observe performance-based tasks.

First, you will need to read and fully understand the educational standards and learning objectives required for your area. This will help you to clearly identify your assessment criteria (just because you are observing does not change the fact that it is an assessment, and assessments must have clearly defined criteria for judging student performance). After you have a clear idea of the criteria you will be looking for in the assessment task, you will need to list the characteristics of the task that will meet the requirements. Developing a well-defined rubric from your list of required characteristics is the next step in the process of preparation. Finally, giving the rubric to students allows students to understand what is expected of them as they prepare for the task.

Now that you are at the end of the preparation road, you can actually conduct the observation. Let's say the task is an oral book report to be presented to the entire class. You would need to make sure you have the task rubric with you and follow it closely as you judge the performance of each student.

You might be thinking that all of that formal preparation and documentation of the observation does not count as an informal observational assessment. However, it does. Formal assessments are those that have been standardized and tested for validity. Any other type of assessment is labeled as informal.

Using this rubric strategy for your informal observational assessment is time consuming, but it leads to reliable documentation of student performance on literacy tasks. However, it isn't the only way to conduct observational assessments.

Incidental Strategies

A much less intensive strategy for informal observational assessment is to document incidental observations of typical daily behaviors. Incidental refers to unplanned observations.

Consider the scenario that little Susie froze when trying to present her oral book report to the class. How do you assess this? She could not meet any of the standards on your rubric, so you were not able to ascertain her understanding of the book.

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