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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 3, Lesson 2

Assessment Strategies that Rely on Observation

There are several types of observational strategies and recording systems. One selects the system that best addresses the purpose and type of information needed to make informed decisions. Observations need to be planned and structured as in all forms of assessment. Types of observation systems which will be described below include the anecdotal records, running record, specimen record, time sampling, event sampling, checklists and rating scales.

Narrative descriptions include various types of observational recording systems. Narrative recordings typically include the observation of behaviors as they naturally occur. When recording narrative observations, the observer should be cognizant of recording the observations by clearly describing the observed behavior without inferences.

For example consider the following observation. An observer wrote:

Sally wouldn't give Marion the block, so Marion pushed Sally as hard as she could shouting, "You dummy!" Sally was very surprised.

In the above written observation, the observer does not really know if Marion pushed Sally as hard as she could. Nor does the observer know if Sally was very surprised.

A better way of recording this observation would be:

Sally wouldn't give Marion the block, so Marion pushed Sally, shouting, "You dummy!" Sally's eyes got bigger and she gasped for breath.

  • Anecdotal Records - An anecdotal record is a written episodic description of a child's behavior, event or incident. It is an objective account of an incident that tells what happened when and where. The anecdote may be used to record and then understand some aspect of behavior. Although the narrative itself may be objective, comments of the observer may be added as an interpretation of the behaviors. The following are characteristics of anecdotal records according to Mindes, 2003:
    • Result of direct observation
    • Prompt, accurate and specific account of an event or behavior
    • Includes the context of the behavior
    • Interpretations of the incident are recorded separately from the incident
    • Focuses on either typical or atypical behavior of the child being observed.
  • Anecdotes may be recorded on a sticky note, a note card, in a child diary or a daily log. It is important to record as soon as the event occurs in order to not forget any of the details.
  • Running Records - A running record is more detailed than an anecdotal record in that all behaviors are recorded as a sequence of events. The description is objective. An effort is made to record everything that was said or happened within the observational period. Running records may be recorded over a period ranging from minutes, to hours, to days and even weeks. When one is recording a running record, the times and places of observation should be selected purposefully. The running record is particularly useful in monitoring a child's progress.
  • The Specimen Record - The specimen record is very similar to a running record only more detailed and concise. Specimen records are usually recorded by outside observers. In a specimen record, the observer is often looking for a predefined behavior or interaction.
  • Event Sampling - Event sampling is when the observer records the occurrence of the behavior of interest. The simplest form of event sampling is when the observer records a tally each time the target behavior occurs. This system is best used when the behavior has a beginning and an end and is fairly short in duration. For example, if a staff member is interested in a child's engaged behavior during free play, he might use event sampling to record each time the child is engaged over a specified period of time.
  • When doing event sampling, it is necessary to clearly define the targeted behavior and note the occurrence or non-occurrence of the behavior. Sometimes an observer is interested in accuracy of the behavior and will want to record that also. The more precise the definition of the behavior is, the more meaningful the data.
  • Time Sampling - Time sampling is used to record the frequency of the behavior for a designated period of time. The observer decides ahead of time what behaviors will be observed, what the time interval will be and how the behavior will be recorded. The observer observes these behaviors and records how many times they occur during preset, uniform time periods. Other behaviors that occur during the designated period are ignored.
  • Checklists and Rating Scales - A checklist is a list of sequential behaviors arranged in a system of categories. The observer can use the checklist to determine whether the child exhibits the behaviors or skills listed. Rating scales are used to determine the degree to which the child exhibits a certain behavior or the quality of the behavior. Each trait is rated on a continuum.


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