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Assessment Strategies and Tools: Observation Checklists

Observing students as they solve problems, model skills to others, think aloud during a sequence of activities or interact with peers in different learning situations provides insight into student learning and growth. The teacher finds out under what conditions success is most likely, what individual students do when they encounter difficulty, how interaction with others affects their learning and concentration, and what students need to learn next. Observations may be informal or highly structured, and incidental or scheduled over different periods of time in different learning contexts.

Observation checklists allow teachers to record information quickly about how students perform in relation to specific outcomes from the program of studies. Observation checklists, written in a yes/no format can be used to assist in observing student performance relative to specific criteria. They may be directed toward observations of an individual or group. These tools can also include spaces for brief comments, which provide additional information not captured in the checklist.

Before you use an observation checklist, ensure students understand what information will be gathered and how it will be used. Ensure checklists are dated to provide a record of observations over a period of time.

Tips for Using Observation Checklists

  1. Determine specific outcomes to observe and assess.
  2. Decide what to look for. Write down criteria or evidence that indicates the student is demonstrating the outcome.
  3. Ensure students know and understand what the criteria are.
  4. Target your observation by selecting four to five students per class and one or two specific outcomes to observe.
  5. Develop a data gathering system, such as a clipboard for anecdotal notes, a checklist or rubric, or a video or audio recorder.
  6. Collect observations over a number of classes during a reporting period and look for patterns of performance.
  7. Date all observations.
  8. Share observations with students, both individually and in a group. Make the observations specific and describe how this demonstrates or promotes thinking and learning. For example; "Eric, you contributed several ideas to your group's Top Ten list. You really helped your group finish their task within the time limit."
  9. Use the information gathered from observation to enhance or modify future instruction.