The success of observation as an assessment method is dependent on the alignment of:

  • the quality of the learning task provided for students
  • the selection of the learning focus.

Set up situations where students make strategic choices and discuss their choices with other students.

Acceptance by students of the ideas of others and preparedness to justify their own ideas are critical classroom norms for this approach to work.

Focus on the problem type and anticipate the strategies that students might use.

For example, a worded problem for two-digit whole number subtraction such as 63 – 28 = ? might be used.

An observation checklist can be created for the most common ways that students use to solve the problem.


Sample of checklist showing four strategies (place value with tens first, place value with ones first, friendly numbers, inverse). Responses for four students with teacher notes and comments.

Mental strategy observation checklist.