The Art of Student Observation
Authors: Chrissy Cowan, Mentor Coordinator, TSBVI Outreach Program Scott Baltisberger, Education Consultant, TSBVI Outreach Program
Keywords: observation, observing students with visual impairments, skill transference, observation for planning instruction
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As a TVI who changed campuses, I rarely ate lunch in the elementary school cafeterias, unless it was “enchilada day”. On one of these days I happened to spot my 3rd grade blind student with her peers enjoying this delicious lunch, except she was eating it with her hands. Picture that—enchiladas, beans, rice—she was a mess! Another time, stepping into the science classroom of a 6th grade student with low vision to deliver a message, I saw that the class was working with scatter plots. My student and her teacher were struggling with this visually complex task, and fortunately I could give them some tips. I frankly had no idea what 6th graders did in science! What bothered me about both of these situations is that they were happenstance. I realized that I periodically needed to see my students functioning in their natural environments so that I could work on the skills required to help them integrate academically and socially in my 1:1 instructional sessions. Once I worked on individual skills, I also needed to do spot checks to see if these skills were indeed transferring to these environments. What follows are guidelines for observing both in classroom settings, as well as areas outside the classroom.
Observing in Classrooms
- Observations of students in general education settings should occur in an ongoing and consistent manner. These observations not only allow you to identify challenges as they arise but also foster and maintain your relationships with the teachers of those classes.
- Be sure that the general education teacher understands that your observations are geared toward improving the skills and access of the VI student; that your role is not to critique his or her skill or presentation.
- An observation does not need to encompass the entire class period. Quite frequently, a good feeling for how things are going can be acquired within the first 15-20 minutes. Rather than evaluating the effectiveness of your observation by the length of your time in the room, conclude the visit once you feel what you have observed is a good representation of a typical class.
- Try to schedule your time so that you have at least a few moments to touch base with the teacher. This allows them to verbalize any difficulties or triumphs that have occurred. However, remember that they are on a tight schedule and may not have a lot of time to engage in lengthy problem-solving discussions. If the teacher doesn’t have time, follow up with an email that asks for time to meet.
- A good deal of your VI instruction should be driven by what you observe in the general education classes. The vast majority of learning by the VI student will occur in the general education setting. The task of the TVI is to ensure that the student has full access to these learning situations. Observations will guide you as to what skills are needed to facilitate this access.
- It may be most beneficial to provide some instruction in the general education class (push in) to ensure that skills taught in pullout situations are generalized. The general education environment is very different from the pullout environment and the student may have difficulty recognizing how to apply newly learned skills.
Observing in Areas Outside of Classrooms
- Observations of students in areas outside of classrooms should occur regularly in order to determine challenges the student encounters, transference of VI-related skills taught, and need for new skill instruction.
- If this observation occurs in a class such as art, music, or P.E., try to schedule your time so that you have at least a few moments to touch base with the teacher. This allows them to verbalize any difficulties or triumphs that have occurred. However, remember that they are on a tight schedule and may not have a lot of time to talk. If the teacher doesn’t have time, follow up with an email that asks for time to meet.
- A good deal of your VI skill instruction should be driven by what you observe. The task of the TVI and COMS is to ensure that the student has full access to these learning situations. Observations will guide you as to what skills are needed to facilitate this access.
- When you are observing a lesson led by another professional, avoid interacting with the student unless the situation is potentially dangerous or harmful.
Either meet with the teacher after the lesson, if convenient, or leave a note/send an email requesting a time to meet—then meet up.This enables you to share your observations and to collaborate on student needs regarding the environment, learning materials, or student skills you can work on and she can reinforce in the classroom
|STEPS TO FOLLOW||RATIONALE|
|Let teacher know in advance why you need to observe your student periodically||So she understands that you are there to (a) collaborate on adaptations for vision, (b) see if your student is transferring skills you are working on, and (c) determine further skills you need to address with the student|
|Email the teacher in advance to suggest a time frame for your observation||Avoid surprises!|
|Avoid interacting with or sitting near your student while observing||You want to see how he manages on his own. This is not a “lesson” opportunity, but rather provides information for future intervention|
|Avoid interrupting the teacher||This would interrupt the flow of the lesson|
|Write down your observation notes||So that you can apply this information to recommend intervention regardin access to materials, student skills you can work on, and adaptations to the physical environment|
|Avoid comments or judgments that look like you are critiquing the way the teacher teaches or the way the lesson is taught||This tends to put people on their guard, and may hinder future observations|
|Construct your observation around: The physical environment The learning materials being used
The student’s performance skills
|This provides you with a clear focus|
|Share information from your observation with parents and other staff as appropriate.||Others might be able to reinforce your goals for the student, as well as provide more opportunities for practicing a targeted skill.|