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Observation at the Heart of Good Assessment

by Early Math Counts

In The Art of Awareness: How Observation Can Transform Your Teaching, Deb Curtis and Margie Carter have written a wonderfully insightful and really useful book about the value of observation in the early childhood classroom.  Today, I want to focus on the idea that good observation is a practiced skill and good observers know that everything we see is interpreted through our own personal lenses.

Chapter 2 begins with a quote by Lisa Delpit, author of Other People’s Children.

We do not really see through our eyes or hear through our ears, but through our beliefs.  To put our beliefs on hold is to cease to exist as ourselves for a moment.

Think for a moment about a time when you observed a child do or say something that excited you, annoyed you, enthralled you, or worried you.  Consider why you reacted as you did.  Was it because the behavior was undesirable or desirable?  Where do these desires come from? Generally, what we want from children coincides with our own value systems and our own desires for our own children.  If a young child shows interest in reading, and early reading is a coveted skill in your culture, you will be thrilled by this.  You may even make a “big deal” out of this desirable quality.  However, if a young child is far more interested in playing Power Rangers, complete with karate chopping and knocking things over, as you observe this play you may not appreciate it as a valuable vehicle for social development for those children because it doesn’t coincide with your personal attitudes and beliefs about the role of play.

Now take both of these scenarios and consider how the act of observation is affected by your personal feelings.  We teach that all observations should be purely objective – but even if the words that are written down are as objective as possible, the interpretation of the observations will be slanted toward your personal feelings about those observations.  Becoming aware of our own biases, slants, desires, hopes and dreams for children will help neutralize some of these inconsistencies in observation.  That, in turn, will provide the backdrop for more fair and less biased assessments of children.


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