How do we know that a student is learning? What behaviors must they demonstrate for the teacher to draw the conclusion that the student has learned? Who determines learning? The teacher, the curriculum, and the standards do.

The current measure of learning is assessment. The student must indicate what he knows by answering questions in a test format. Then, educators use the results of the assessment to determine what students have and have not learned.

However, there is a piece missing that is important to determine if a student has learned and is learning.

The missing piece is observation. What is observation? Listening, watching and waiting. Listening to what the student is saying. How do they explain what they are doing? Are they clear in their explanation or hesitant?

Watch what the student is doing. Write down, or record by use of pictures, what the student is doing. Do not question while watching, as this may cause the student to change course from what he intended to do. Just watch and record. Waiting involves regarding the student’s timing in completion of the assessment.

The observer must avoid inference while observing. Inference is not observation. It is making assumptions — but observation is answering questions. When a person infers, they see what they want to see. It is easy to add assumptions to observations to answer why something is occurring with a student.

We need to evaluate ourselves as we observe to make sure we are not adding inference statements, as these may inadvertently become facts when they are not.

Educators can observe the student while he takes a test to add to the depth and breadth of the assessment. Watch how the student makes a choice. Why do they choose what they do? Ask them — be interactive — ask why they did what they did.

The written narrative of the observation can be attached to the assessment to provide additional information that the teacher needs to determine learning. This provides a supplementary component to formative and summative assessment.

Consider this example: A second-grade student is solving double-digit addition equations for an assessment. The teacher provides the assessment and then grades the test, looking for answers that are correct. This is a typical procedure for a math assessment.

However, if observation is added to the assessment, the teacher could record information that would not be known from just seeing the correct or incorrect answers. Some questions to answer through observation could be:

  • What procedure did the student use to answer the problems?
  • Did the student use his fingers to count up to the answer, use a number chart or number line, or does he have the facts memorized?
  • Did he demonstrate the correct procedure for regrouping?
  • Did he have to erase and re-solve the problems? If so, why?
  • How much time did it take to complete each problem?
  • Which problems were the most difficult to complete?

There is power in knowing. When a student can show and verbally tell a teacher what he knows, there is a greater measure of learning.

There is a greater amount of assurance and motivation to continue on with learning a concept when the student knows he understands and gains commendation from his teacher. There is a greater confidence for the teacher that the instructional methods she has used are effective for the student to learn.