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Observation

Observation is a direct means for learning about students, including what they do or do not know and can or cannot do. This information makes it possible for the teacher to plan ways to encourage students' strengths and to work on their weaknesses.

Observation is most effective when it follows a systematic plan. This might involve, for instance, seeing and recording which students use physical materials, which do most of the problems mentally, which use thinking strategies, and which rely on memorized facts.4 It may be helpful at times to focus on observing one student within the context of a group setting.

Observation tools are instruments and techniques that help teachers to record useful data about students' learning in a systematic way. Some observation tools include:

Anecdotal notes: Short notes written during a lesson, as students either work in groups or individually, or after a lesson.

Anecdotal notebook: A notebook where a teacher records his or her observations. An index on the side, organized by either student name or behavior, is helpful.

Anecdotal note cards: An alternative system to an anecdotal notebook, in which the teacher records observations using one card per child. One way to facilitate this process is to select five children per day for observation. The cards can be kept together on a ring.

Labels/adhesive notes: Like note cards, the use of these small adhesive notes frees the teacher from having to carry a notebook around the classroom. After the observation is complete, the teacher can adhere the notes into his or her filing system.

Sample observations

A checklist of possible behaviors to observe in students:

  1. Reys et al., Helping Children Learn Mathematics, p. 54.

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