Clear Goals and Objectives: The Foundation for Effective Observations

A woman with short, dark, wavy hair wearing a dark flowered blouse is standing in front of a wooden door in a thinking pose.

Recording effective classroom observations is essential for tracking student learning and guiding instruction. But in the hectic, day-to-day world of a teacher, making those observations is easier said than done.

We can’t possibly write down everything we see happening in our classroom. So, how do we know what to focus on when recording observations? 

The key to purposeful observations is to base them on clear goals and objectives. To help illustrate this process, I will use the story of a specific student, Yokho, as an example.

Yohko’s Journey

Yohko was a first-grader living in Austria. She and her family moved there from Japan for work-related reasons. Yohko had two older brothers. She loved to play make-believe with her dolls and often told her friends and teachers stories about the house her father built for her dolls to live and sleep in. Overall, Yohko was a very quiet child, but she had made two good friends after arriving in Austria at the beginning of the school year. 

Yohko was recently diagnosed with combined type ADHD. She was also receiving occupational therapy twice a week to help with her fine motor skills. It was important for her teachers to track her progress by recording observations, but first there were steps to take in order to narrow down the most important data to gather.

Four Steps Before Observations  

Here are four steps to take before recording classroom observations that will help prioritize and highlight what’s most important:

Step One: Record Present Levels of Performance

A well-written Individual Learning Plan (ILP) should contain a section called Present Levels of Performance. This section describes a student’s current abilities in both academic and functional areas, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. The data presented needs to be concrete and come from sources such as observations, curriculum-based measures, or an educational psychology report.

Here is what Yohko’s Present Level of Performance said:

Yohko is a first-grader who has two very good friends. When focused, Yohko’s academic output is at grade level in all academic areas. Her unfocused moments may look like glancing around the room or out the window, or having difficulty staying seated. Yohko is easily redirected with a light touch on the shoulder or on her desk. Yohko can color in a picture and trace her name. She is not yet able to write her name legibly or independently. She can use the computer keyboard at this point to get her thoughts out during class.

Including the Present Levels of Performance in an ILP is important so anyone reading it can understand the student’s abilities at the time it was written. This way, it becomes easy to track progress, see student growth, and get an idea of what the next steps should be. Present Levels of Performance should be updated at least every six months to keep up with the recommended ILP cycle.

Step Two: Create Goals 

The general rule of thumb is that if there are specific areas of weakness listed in the Present Levels of Performance, they will be addressed as goals later in the ILP.  For Yohko, an area of weakness was her writing ability. Therefore, an important goal for her was to be able to write her name. This is how Yohko’s goal was written:

Yohko will be able to legibly and independently write her name on wide-lined paper 80% of the time.

Yokho’s goal for the year was written clearly and specifically. However, this was just the starting point. Her teachers now needed to create a step-by-step plan to develop Yohko’s skills so she could reach her goal.

Step Three: List Objectives

Objectives are the steps involved in reaching an overall goal. Yokho’s objectives for legibly writing her name were:

  1. Use a consistent pencil grip
  2. Write letters that use only straight lines (Y, k)
  3. Write letters that use only curved lines (o)
  4. Write letters that use straight and curved lines (h)

These objectives were created in cooperation with the classroom teacher, the learning support teacher, and the occupational therapist. This way, everyone working with Yohko had a part in documenting her progress and, more importantly, giving her consistent support and relying on the step-by-step plan. 

It can be very difficult and frustrating for students when teachers have different expectations for the same skill. This can be solved by having everyone on the student’s team come together to make goals and share strategies and progress regularly. 

Step Four: Ask Questions 

All of these objectives come together to help track progress toward Yohko’s overall goal of writing her name independently. I find this goal and the objectives very clear, but there are still some questions I would need to ask before taking data for the first time.

I would first ask which specific lined paper Yohko should use. Should it be 2 cm lined paper? Or the kind of paper with a dashed center line as well as the top and bottom lines?

Secondly, I’d ask what physical accommodations she can use to write her name. Should she be provided with a plastic rubber pencil grip? Should we encourage her to turn her paper slightly to the left when she’s writing? Should we provide a binder so she is writing on a slant? Am I allowed to give her physical prompts like “hand-over-hand” when I’m taking data? In what location are we all taking the data? Or should we be sure to take the data in many different locations?

Finally, I’d clarify how and where to report data to ensure consistency within the team, and check that all the data collected can be understood, used, and passed on easily.

Asking questions like these will provide the clarity you need to take the best data and provide the best support you can. Remember: by setting the expectations early and clearly, you can be sure to help your students reach them.

After completing these four steps, you’ll be ready to make relevant, quality observations that will be effective for both your students and team. 

Does your school need help establishing a consistent method for data collection? Contact me for a consultation.