Observing Behavior: Informal Assessment

To provide an engaging and productive experience for the youth participating in these activities, it is necessary to monitor their behavior and their involvement throughout the program. You will need some kind of criteria by which you can review and make judgments about the kind and quality of their participation. Since the activities were designed for an informal type of situation, you should give priority to observing how youth have participated in terms of behavior and talk rather than the formal content knowledge they may have developed over the course of the program.

General criteria to keep in mind throughout the whole project:

  • Youth respect each other.
  • They support each other.
  • They respect living things and are careful with the equipment they use.
  • They regularly attend the sessions.
  • They regularly record their observations and thoughts in their journal.

One useful way to refine the criteria further is to divide the participation into three general categories:

  1. Participation during outdoor (field trips) and indoor hands-on activities
  2. Participation during immediate and long-term observations
  3. Participation during follow-up discussions

Youth’s behavior outdoors can be quite different from indoors because outdoors there are multiple stimuli that can attract their attention, whereas indoors the stimuli are less varied and the activities can be more focused.

Some activities have a specific Observing Behavior section, which lists specific criteria for you to keep in mind. It will be useful for you to read this section before you do the activity with youth so that you can make adjustments while the activity is taking place.

Participation during outdoor (field trips) and indoor hands-on activities

When youth are outdoors, numerous distractions can lead them away from the focus of the activity. They can also easily give more of their attention to socializing than looking closely at parts of the trees or pond organisms. Some questions to ask yourself during these times are:

  • To what extent are the youth focused on the specific type of activity at that time? Are they taking pictures and making drawings of what was agreed upon when setting up the field trip or indoor activity?
  • Do they make spontaneous comments that reveal their attention has been given to some specific feature of the trees, plants, or pond organisms?
  • Do they spontaneously come up with questions or express surprise at some discovery?
  • Do they record in their journal without prompting?
  • Do they share with each other some discovery they have made?

Participation during follow-up observations and discussions

The follow-up to a field trip or focused activity indoors should have some kind of reporting and discussion to assimilate and make sense of the discoveries and observations. If the youth are not used to reporting in a thorough and careful manner and not used to speculating about their own observations, you will need to provide structure and encouragement. Some questions to keep in mind during these times follow:

  • When youth are reporting, do they give very cursory comments and need to be prompted to provide more facts or descriptions?
  • Do they comment on or ask questions of other youth’s reporting to better understand what was reported?
  • During the discussion, are they willing to speculate and offer their own explanations?
  • Do they use their own or other observations to support an explanation they give?
  • Do they spontaneously generate questions for further study?
  • Are they able to provide reasonable comments about the photos they have taken or drawings they have made?

Reviewing Journals

Another way to get a sense of youth’s participation is to review their journals. In the out-of-school context, it can be a real challenge to get youth to write and draw in their journals on a regular basis. This practice may be an ongoing challenge for some youth. At the end of each session or between sessions, take the time to look through each of the youth’s journals.

  • Are their drawings very small or big? Some youth who are not comfortable with drawing tend to make very small drawings having little detail.
  • With your support, do drawings from these type of youth change over the course of the project?
  • For those youth who are good at drawing, do their drawings become more detailed over time?
  • Do they record some observations in their journals, even if it is only a few words, on a regular basis?
  • Are the photos they include in their journals relevant and do they write comments about the photos?

Summary Projects

Both the pond and the tree investigations have a summary project. At the end of the pond observations, youth are challenged to design a pond organism. At the end of the tree observations, they are challenged to design a tree. Although both projects can be challenging for them, youth tend to enjoy making their own designs and showing what they have learned. The way in which they go about completing the projects and what they produce are indicators of what they got out of the preceding activities and the kind of thinking about organisms that may have occurred. These design projects can function as a type of embedded assessment. Some specific criteria are provided in the write-up of the activities for making judgments about the youth’s projects.