The Power of Observation

What you don’t give grades?

In a recent #satchat (Saturday mornings 7:30 ET/PT) I mentioned how I assess my students though informal assessments and observation. This took a few people by surprise. My school is a non-graded independent school for students with learning disabilities. The students do not receive report cards, rather parents receive reports directly outlining the skills being worked on and how the student is doing with them. Homework and classwork are not graded, but rather reviewed and addressed for mistakes that are observed. Students are less pressured, parents are better informed, and teachers can plan and differentiate according to student needs.

Why do I mention Teacher Assessment?

As educators, how are we assessed? Are we given a paper and pencil task to prove what we know? Do plan books demonstrate our competency? No, we are observed in real time doing what we do and many decisions are based on this. So why can’t this be applied to students?

Observing Students

Have you ever stepped back and watch your students interact with the task you have given them? It is very eye opening. You learn so much more than the answers at the end. Math teachers have had it right all along…make students show their work. While this is not possible for all academic tasks, observing students doing their work can be very informative. Whether or not they have the right answer, how they get to it can be so much more important, as it can demonstrate the areas that need to be addressed in the process of learning.

When I planned my technology classes this year, I took a page out of my classroom teaching methods. It wasn’t the product that I focused on, but talking through the methods to get from A to B to C and beyond. This enabled me to see when I needed to step in and help guide the students through the task, just as I did in my academic classes. The students, I felt, gained more from the dialogue of the process, rather than the production of an end piece. They gained empowerment and skill at a greater level. I hope the teachers I worked with also saw this as part of the process of utilizing technology in the classroom. Meet students where they are, and move them forward at their pace.

The take away

A recent conversation with an administrator in my building made me think in greater depth about the power of observation. It is key that the observation not be a stare down, but rather a gathering of information to lead to a bettering of all individuals involved. Observation is a powerful tool that I feel many of educators have forgotten to utilize, or lost sight of due to high stakes testing demands. I empower all educators, whether observing students or staff, to step back and watch. You might be enlightened with what you see. It may also lead to the providing of better information to students, or teachers, to foster their learning in ways that meets their needs.

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