Step 2: Prepare the tools and the people

Preparation is an important step in organising an observation. Read the guidelines below for more.

Prepare or choose a recording tool

During the recording process, the observer usually notes down information relating to:

  • the nature of what they observe (e.g. undermining, neutral or supportive comments and behaviours)
  • the extent to which a behaviour or circumstance is occurring (e.g. ’few’, ‘some’, ‘many’, ‘most’, ‘all’ – students demonstrate a behaviour)
  • how often something occurs (e.g. the number of times questioning is used as an instructional technique)

Observational instruments can range from simple to comprehensive.

  • A simple tool might collect only a few items of data, for example asking questions about the balance of participation in a lesson between male and female students.
  • A comprehensive tool might be a multi-faceted instrument that addresses bigger questions and contextualises the data collection. One example is the NSW Quality Teaching model (link below), which enables assessment of three dimension of teaching, namely: Intellectual Quality, Quality Learning Environment and Significance, through structured observation.
  • A comprehensive tool like the NSW Quality Teaching model might also be used where the focus is on a limited number of elements for a specific purpose. For example a program evaluation might seek evidence on the extent to which students are: communicating about a topic, demonstrating their understanding and taking responsibility for their own learning. Here the assessment could be limited to the elements of substantive communication, deep knowledge and explicit quality criteria in a pre-test, post-test assessment.

The most structured way of collecting observational data is to use record sheets and checklists. The form you use may include a list of the behaviours or actions that you are expecting to observe, a scale to note down the frequency or extent to which these actions occur, and other contextual information such as location, start and finish time, subject area and topic and year grouping.

When using a less structured approach, a blank sheet of paper may be the most appropriate way to record the observation. Notes can be chronological, taking note of what happened when. Alternatively, notes can follow the structure of the lesson plan for example – introduction, body of the lesson and conclusion.

Other observation approaches might include: activity based, location based or participant based.

Follow this link for a mock example of an observation record form (pdf 65kb).

Prepare the observation team

Once you have selected or designed a data collection instrument, do a ‘trial run’ with all observers to ensure that everyone is using the tool consistently and as intended and to assess whether the instrument is doing what is needed.

With explicit observational structures (such as rubrics and recording templates), training and consistency checks help ensure that:

  • different observers interpret and record the same instance in the same way (inter-rater reliability)
  • each observer maintains a consistent frame of reference for interpreting what they see and hear over time (intra-rater reliability).

Prepare participants

As with all data collection, consider the principles of ethical conduct at the design stage. In addition to the broader notes on ethical conduct in evaluation found on this website, the following issues are particularly important when undertaking observations:

  • Ensure the appropriate permissions and consents are in place before you collect data.
  • Conducting observations puts the observer in a position of power relative to those being observed. Be mindful how you act, react and engage with participants. The integrity of the data collected will be affected by your presence as an observer.
  • Particularly when working collaboratively with colleagues, agreed protocols should be in place addressing how, when and where discussion and reflection happens. The guidelines for conducting Quality Teaching Rounds provides good advice on managing teacher observations.
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