How do you make systematic change without basing your work on vague notions and “we think” statements? Might I suggest a digital observation tool that helps you, other staff members and outsiders provide intentional feedback. Before entering the classroom, they can load the survey on their mobile device, check a few boxes, then move onto the next room. I’ve seen this idea employed in the #ObserveMe work that Robert Kaplinsky pioneered and others in our local region have adopted and adapted. What I’m talking about could definitely be applied to a small community and one classroom. For my purposes, I’m thinking about the large scale moves a school makes together.
After I collaborated with my principal on building an AVID centered observation form, I began to get calls and emails about how to do it. Saying “use Office 365 Forms” wasn’t enough. Though this won’t be a specific tutorial on the tech itself, it should help you set yourself up for success. Specific tech will vary depending on the platform, but Office 365 and Google Drive both have a program called Forms that can do much of what you will want to do. My district is an Office 365 district, which is why I chose it. But, Google Forms will work on a school Google Account or a personal google account. Of course, there are more robust paid versions out there that can create survey platforms for you.
For the purposes of this blog post, I made a sample survey as I don’t know that I want to share access to my school’s AVID survey, which becomes hard to regulate once linked out on the interwebs.
What Do You Want to Prioritize?
When drafting your questions, you want to be able to answer the following questions:
- Do you have specific goals that you or your group are working towards that would be observable in a classroom visit?
- Are there specific techniques that you use and want feedback on?
- Are your observations class dependent, like would it be useful to consider data on your 1st period compared to your 2nd period?
- If an observer could only give you one piece of observation after visiting your space, what would you want them to focus on?
For the sample observation form, I had imagined a school or teacher who had three main goals, which led into their work as a professional development community, the success of their students and the work they need to collect and use in their evaluation. There’s a practical, concrete goal of looking to see that the technique of Cornell Notes is being implemented in the classroom. There’s an in-between concrete and more meta goal of observing authentic, learning based student discussion. Lastly, goal three centers on an idea that exists more in our thinking world, which is to say whether there is student ownership of learning being observed.
Deciding on the Questions
When setting up your questions, you have to think about the following:
- Do you want open-ended questions or close-ended questions?
- Do you want to supply items to your observer to check off?
- Do you want to provide any blank/fill in your “other” option to the observer?
- How much time do you think people will be spending walking into your room?
There’s no wrong answer to these questions by the way. To help you answer, you need to think not only of how do I get authentic feedback and how do I make the data accessible to me after the observation. Having lots of checkboxes or multiple choice can be good if the type of data you want to see can be visualized as a graph, which both Google Forms and Office 365 Forms automatically do for you. When you think about how you will use this data, you have to be realistic. Yes, open-ended questions can reveal meaningful information, but how many observations are you hoping to receive. If it’s 1-5 a week then maybe all open-ended are doable to analyze. But, 10-20 a week on six to ten questions, well that’s a lot of sorting and combing through text to draw conclusions.
In the sample, think about how you react to the different questions. Imagine walking into the classroom, how would you do trying to answer the checkboxes vs. open-ended. Now, imagine you are the one analyzing the data, what would that look like to comb through the open-ended vs the checkboxes. Take for example the data on question 3. It’s pretty easy to see from my imagined sample data, that as a teacher, I rely on “Stand/Share/Sit”. Perhaps, next time, it’s time to shake it up and try a different collaborative structure. In the open-ended question 5, it might take me longer to sort the responses, but it’s probably best not to supply stock answers as the question is truly trying to get first impressions.
Give yourself a positive. I enjoy the open-ended question 4 on the form because it means even if I don’t see the results I want in my structured questions, I don’t have to end the day self-defeated. There’s always a positive. If you are observing on a whole-school scale, I suggest having tags to leave behind with the classroom teacher to tell them one positive thing you saw while observing.
Add a question about when during class. Everything is a snapshot. This is the mantra that you must adopt especially when working with colleagues around the observation data. We won’t capture everything that you do. Knowing when certain activities are happening within a class period can help in the analysis and the discussion of data.
Specific Tips for Office 365 Forms that can be accessed through the Share and the Gear in the top right corner:
- Decide if you will set the survey so that anyone can give answers, or set the survey so people have to log into their account.
- Branching – stay away in an observation forms, but useful in more complex surveys.
- Share – you can add editors, share a link, get a QR code that takes you to the survey.
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