Chapter 1, Observations

“…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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  1. This chapter was so informative. I have always been observant of my students but have not done it in a formal manner.. I’m excited to implement these techniques in the fall. I am starting fresh with new grade levels so I have every opportunity to begin this the way I want to see it happen. I love the templates and the fact that I can make them my own. I am also excited to use this as a planning tool. My observations in the past have been student centered and not focused on how to plan for instruction.

    1. My AHA moment was the connection between planning and observations. Intentionally planning what you expect to observe provides a focus for your observations and a base to try to predict possible issues your students will encounter. It makes a lot of sense to laser focus your observations on common misconceptions or areas of opportunity that your students might have.
      I also love the structure that the forms provide and how they are specific for whole group, small group and individual students. It is very helpful to already have ways to address patterns that you may identify through the whole group forms using small group and individual student forms. This data collection provides inordinate amounts of information that helps plan interventions, plan future lessons and provide feedback to students and even their parents.

      1. The connection betweern planning and observations was an AHA moment for me as well.I rely on observations as a way to check on student progress, but I now plan to more intentionally think about what I expect to observe as a way to help me focus on possible issues or misconceptions that students may experience. I love the tools provided for documenting observations. These forms are the best I’ve seen for documentation and are easily adaptable to meet my needs. I’m looking forward to using these forms for data collection.

  2. I truly love the term “professional noticing” vs observation on page 23. It then goes on to state the skills of attending to strategies, interpreting children’s understanding and deciding how to respond. This shows the importance of this type of formal assessment. We are not merely looking at the end result, but are in a purposeful,continual analysis of the student’s work. Also, the bullet point on the bottom of page 41, once again states the importance of observing the Standards for Mathematical Practice as these are the “life skills” of mathematics…reasoning, problem solving, etc.

  3. I also love the term “professional noticing,” and how well it fits with planning a lesson or a teaching moment. Intentional planning by knowing what you want to observe is such a great concept. It helps you focus on the students while also keeping in mind the objective of the lesson. The observation forms are very detailed and I plan on using them next year!

  4. I feel I”m very good at being observant of what my students are doing and what they know and what they need help with. My Aha moment was the intentional planning part. Making sure I think about what I should be observing. I will be teaching intervention classes next year and I’m sure excited to start using the forms in this chapter for my observations. It will give me and my admin team more data on my students in this class.

  5. My biggest Aha moment from this chapter was the being intentional with what it is your observing. I found that all the of resources very helpful and plan on using them next year. We Walk to Read and Walk to Math and I feel like these will help me get to know my reading and math students better and then when it comes time to parent teacher conferences I will have evidence of their child’s learning to discuss with the parents.

    The biggest question I had was when they were talking in the summary about how what you observe in the observation should be the catalyst in what you teach the next day. But I am wondering how this works when you are using a specific math program?

  6. I have always used observations while teaching, but I have never figured a great way to consistently record and documentation of what I observe. I especially liked the two Classroom Observation templates. I think they would both be super easy to use each day. I like the Classroom Observation – Student Representations (Figure 1.5) because it is focused on the strategies that students are using and provides an easy way to group students by the strategies that they use. This would be a great way to pull a quick small group to help move students on to the next level quicker.

    I also love the 4 questions provided that should be used when planning for observations. I believe these questions will definitely be helpful when planning a lesson.

    As a coach, I look forward to introducing some of these resources to my teachers next school year. Consistently documenting our observations will help as we continue to identify misconceptions that individual students have and fill those gaps as soon as possible.

  7. I too had some real eye-opening moments reading this chapter. I always thought I was a good “noticer” of what students were struggling with concepts and representations of those concepts, but this chapter showed me that I was not being intentional in my observations. I am looking forward to using the planning template and other forms this year. One thing I was struck by was that we need to use the observations for feedback in all forms! This will be one area that I hope the authors cover more in depth in their book.

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