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9.4MRW Ability to support a licensed teacher in the gathering and recording of data regarding student performance in the area of math, reading, and writing.

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Basic ConceptObservations

Paraprofessional observes two students at their desk


There are two basic types of observations that can be made: naturalistic observations and structured observations.

Naturalistic Observation

Conducting naturalistic observations is one way to collect data about student performance. It has been used as a method of assessment since the establishment of the first formal classrooms. Doing these types of observations involves watching a student in his or her natural classroom setting and taking either written or mental notes about the classroom environment and the behaviors and characteristics of the student being assessed. It is also important to note what types of interactions take place between the student and others in the classroom. The process of conducting naturalistic observations allows teachers to quickly determine the state of learning in the classroom, thus making it possible to quickly draw conclusions from these observations and adjust instruction while it occurs.

Structured Observation

Another way to collect data about student performance is to conduct a structured observation. Conducting a structured observation is somewhat different than doing a naturalistic observation. With a structured observation you would enter the classroom with a predetermined plan of what exactly to look for, whereas with a naturalistic observation you would simply note anything of importance going on in the classroom. Structured observations typically measure the frequency, duration, or magnitude of certain behaviors exhibited by a child. For example, with a structured observation you could gather data about how often a student engaged in off-task behaviors such as staring into space or talking out-of-turn in the classroom. Structured observations often involve using rubrics or checklists in order to allow for standardizedglossary icon data collection.

Listed below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using both naturalistic and structured observations as a way to gather and record data about student performance.

  • They provide information about the child in his or her natural educational setting.
  • Research shows that observations can provide highly accurate, detailed, and verifiable information.
  • They look at the student being assessed and take into account information about the surrounding contexts.
  • They are usually a cheap and accessible source of information.
  • Research has shown that observers often misunderstand what they see and base their decisions upon their own biases or ideas about what is going on in the classroom.
  • The presence of an observer may alter or distort the behavior of the person being observed (in other words, the student might act differently when he/she knows that the observer is in the classroom).
  • Observations can be time-consuming.

Information in this lesson in used with permission from:

Sattler, J. M. (2001). Assessment of Children: Cognitive Applications (4th ed.). San Diego, CA: Jerome Sattler

Salvia, J., & Ysseldyke, J. E. (2001). Assessment (8th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


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