Observation Begins with Active Engagement

This is the third post in a five-post series. Read the first two posts at these links:

  1. Four Verbs to Hone Your Observation Superpowers
  2. Expectations Define What We See

What Do You Ask Students to Do?

Observation takes more than watching students. We have to structure tasks that actively engage students. Otherwise, if our learning is sit-and-get, there is nothing to observe but student behaviors of either compliance or disruption.

Using observation data requires a shift from traditional methods (like lectures and silent testing) to challenging, open-ended, collaborative tasks that actively engage students in processing and applying the new learning. When we structure student conversations, problem solving, or writing, we gain more insight into how students process the learning, what they understand, what they misunderstand, and how they use language. Tasks that give good observation data include enough challenge that students have the opportunity to make mistakes and also express their unique ideas.

Take Action: Begin by creating more peer conversations within every lesson. Write one high-level, open-ended question specific to your next lesson that will merit an open-ended conversation between peers. Structure a think-pair-share conversation and listen to students as formative data.

For an even easier starting place, use this no-prep task after you teach a new concept: Stop after eight minutes of talking to structure a think-write-pair-share conversation with the question, “What is the most important point you just heard?”

As students write, look over their shoulders and notice what they write or don’t write. As they discuss in pairs, listen to what students say. What do they understand as most important? What misunderstandings, questions, or new insights do you hear?

Stay tuned for the next post: Observe with an Asset Orientation.

Related Readings and Resources

I am a keynote speaker, author and educational leader helping educators teach and lead for equitable schools. My books include EL Excellence Every Day, Breaking Down the Wall & Opening Doors to Equity. I'm a descendant of colonizers and enslavers deeply committed to transforming my family legacy for healing.

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