Teachers constantly use informal observation to monitor student responses to classroom experiences. However, to be an effective assessment approach, observations need to be more purposeful and deliberate.

Observation situations should be planned. Some possibilities include:

  • targetted student-centred learning activities, particularly where the students will be engaged in observable actions, such as modelling mathematical processes
  • tasks for pairs or small groups that involve discussion and collaboration
  • consolidation or application tasks that require students to apply knowledge and skills developed in previous lessons.

Observations need to be focussed. For example, the focus could be on:

  • the individual's choice and use of representations (drawings and materials)
  • the use of mathematical language in a small group
  • individual confidence and motivation levels
  • strategies for solving problems (visible evidence might need to be confirmed by an informal discussion).

Observations need to be recorded in some form. They could include:

  • anecdotal records — jottings of notable achievements or concerns
  • checklists of specific indicators of learning
  • digital records — photos or audio recordings.

Observation example

The combination of a photo and anecdotal notes is used to record observations of a pair of students playing a fraction matching game.