Part 1: Observation and Documentation

Foundations 2, Part 1

Observation and Documentation

Authentic assessment offers us a new approach to doing assessment which transforms our exhaustive efforts into inspiring moments of being with a child and celebrating the learning story.

The first step in assessment is to observe.

Throughout this training, we will explore ways to observe how children approach learning and what their unique style is for making sense of new information.

Education specialist and developmental psychologist Howard Gardner called these gifts the multiple intelligences.

Gardner, the son of a German family, was a researcher at Harvard and identified seven distinct intelligences.

This theory of multiple intelligences documents how every child has a different kind of mind and therefore learns and understands in different ways (1991). According to this theory, we are all able to know the world through each of these seven types of intelligences. But where we each differ is the varying degrees of each of these intelligences we draw on to solve diverse problems.

Learning is a process. We all go through this process with a different style. John Dewey demonstrated in his research that learning progresses primarily from past experiences and personal interests. Constructivism is a theory that describes how new knowledge is constructed from old. If we don’t link old to new knowledge, the child may struggle with making meaning out of the many disjointed and random activities we do in a day.



Mother Goose Time helps you plan activities that invite children to explore learning in their special way and to demonstrate their interests and existing knowledge to you.

Observe what children already know by asking them “the big questions,” such as: WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, HOW, WHY?

Watch this video for how to use big questions to observe and hear what children know and are curious about.

Encourage children to share their ideas by showing them that their thoughts matter.

One great strategy for showing children that you are listening actively is to write down their words and read them back. You can also draw their ideas and invite them to draw with you. Documenting their thoughts to save and discuss later, demonstrates that you value their ideas. Children will be more willing to take risks and share their thoughts and stories with you in the future. The first step to observation is listening both with your eyes and ears. As you listen to your children, you will be able to better assess their needs and skill levels.

Some children are not ready to talk but still have a lot to say.

You can help these children by offering props and photos during the discussion. Show them something: a photo, a plant. Give them something to hold or play with: a seed, a shovel and some dirt. Or even just ask them to role-play or act out an idea: can you show me how you (or a seed) grows. Be tiny and then show me how you get bigger. Children talk with words but also with actions while their oral skills develop.

Observe the less obvious.

It is easy to see what a child is doing. But also try to observe and recognize what the child is NOT doing. In many large group activities, we often see behaviors both positive and negative that are high energy, disruptive or loud.  But the subtle actions of children are also important to observe.

How does the child enter an activity?

It is easy to notice the child who starts talking and attracts attention. He may even say something very interesting. But what about the other child who sits quietly to wait her turn and listen to her friend. Do we see this child? We can write observational notes about the ‘quick to talk child’ as well as the ‘wait my turn’ child.

Is anything distracting the child?

It is easy to notice if a child sees a toy in the corner of the room, moves away from the group and begins to play with it. This may disrupt the group and draw your attention. But what about the three children who noticed the toy, but stayed focused on the group activity? Did you see them? You can write observations about the children who stayed focused despite the distraction as well as the child who is easily distracted by certain types of toys or noises. Both are important to see as you observe and learn about the children.

What do you see the child doing?

It is easy to notice the child who is playing and engaging in a group activity the way you designed it. Perhaps you are watching for a child to walk around some cards on the floor, pause at the end of a rhyme, pick one up and name it. But what about the child who stepped aside so another child could stand near his card. This child did not get to pick up a card, but did you see this subtle act of kindness? This wasn’t the intention of the activity but this child demonstrated a complex decision-making skill worthy of writing in your observations.


Look for both the obvious and the subtle. As teachers, we can create observational habits and routines where for every obvious observation, we must also find something subtle that a child hidden in the shadows might be doing. This will give depth to our observations and will help us better understand the context when we do assessments.

In summary:

Observe what children already know before jumping into a new project or activity. Let their experiences and interests guide you. One strategy for finding out what children know is to ask “the big questions.”  Document by writing down their words or recording their voice. If children don’t engage in verbal discussions, invite them to show their ideas. Take videos and capture their actions as they play with objects and role-play scenarios. Build on their natural play and create a learning story together.



ChildFolio is a digital authentic assessment tool that will simplify your observation and documentation process. Throughout this training, we will reference ChildFolio as an app that you can use with the Mother Goose Time curriculum to make observations, assessments, reporting and sharing stories with families smooth and seamless.

Watch these three ChildFolio videos to learn how to set up your FREE account and begin capturing photos and videos as part of your assessment observation.

  1. How to Set up ChildFolio Account

 2. ChildFolio Quick Tour

3. How to Capture Your First Observation / Moment with ChildFolio


Next: Part 2 Assessing Skills >


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