Chapter 1, Observations - Math Coach's Corner

“…observation, while perhaps the most informal and readily used of the five formative assessment techniques presented, is both taken for granted and, at least to an extent, the least understood of the five techniques.” The Formative 5, page 23

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Time to get into the nitty-gritty of the The Formative 5: Everyday Assessment Techniques for Every Math Classroom by Skip Fennell, Beth Kobett, and Jonathan Wray. There were some great discussions, both here and on Twitter, about the introductory chapter last week. The hashtag #Formative5BookStudy has been hopping, with even the book’s authors participating!

Reading schedule


  1. Follow the reading guide posted above. Each Monday listed on the schedule, I will publish a post with my thoughts. I’m planning to use the format suggested in the book study guide included at the back of the book (Sharing, Aha!, and Let’s Try!).
  2. Participate by adding a comment to this post or by replying to the comments of others. Your comment will be displayed once approved.
  3. Use the hashtag #Formative5BookStudy to participate in a slow Twitter chat. Search on the hashtag anytime during the week to follow the conversation. I will be posting questions throughout the week, and you can add your thoughts using the same hashtag, as well as the hashtag #Formative5, or just read what others are saying. If you haven’t used Twitter for professional development, this is a great way to start.


A word that is stuck in my head right now as it relates to instruction is intentional, and that is the theme of this chapter. Observation as a formative assessment is not a new concept, in fact the chapter mentions that it is one of the most widely used, but the information in this chapter really takes the observation game to a whole new level. The authors share a template that can be used to plan for observations and a number of easy-to-use recording sheets that can be used while observing students. A couple of great resources for identifying misconceptions are Math Misconceptions and John SanGiovanni‘s Mine the Gap series.

One aspect that I really liked about the form shown in Figure 1.3 on page 33 is that it takes into consideration both mathematics content and mathematical practices. That’s super important, because it is through the mathematical practices that students interact with the content they are learning. While this particular form is suggested for use with small group instruction, I think I would like to incorporate the mathematical practices piece into the planning form in Figure 1.2 on page 32.


Once again I’m a bit humbled by my aha! moment–the idea that observation is not one-size-fits all. It looks different depending on the instructional format (small group, large group, individual) and, as such, different recording formats should be used. That might seem overwhelming to some, but the different formats and uses are so well explained that it makes it feel doable. The “classroom-based responses” on pages 38-40 are so much more authentic than a typical FAQ section, because the responses are from teachers who have been through the process. In the past, I have struggled with finding a format to record my observations, so I appreciate the variety of forms included in this chapter, as well as having the ability to download and customize them. If you have not visited the companion website yet, now would be a good time to do that.

Let’s Try!

I love the Learner Profile shown in Figure 1.6 on page 37. I am part of our student support team, and I am often asked to observe and gather data on students who are struggling in the classroom. This form is the perfect data collection vehicle! I also plan to share this form with the teachers on my campus, because I think it would be incredibly useful documentation for parent conferences and for documenting their concerns about students.

Your Turn

Share your thoughts and/or observations either below or on Twitter using the hashtags #Formative5BookStudy and #Formative5.

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