Action Plan: Collecting Evidence of Observations and Conversations

Growing Success Ministry Document
Growing Success – Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Onatrio Schools

I wanted my action plan to be a service project for teachers at my school. I want to examine tools available to help collect evidence of observations and conversations as part of assessment and evaluation required by the Ministry of Education in Ontario. All of the members of this Cohort21 work in independent schools in Ontario. Any of us who teach high school courses know about the Ministry Inspections which occur every two years. At our school the focus of the last two inspections was around the implementation of the Growing Success document.  Although the inspection only looked into credit courses (high school) the Growing Success document applies to all levels.

We talk a lot about assessment as, for, and of learning.  We’ve had discussion within departments and across departments regarding how to classify various assessments, not to mention the breakdown of knowledge, inquiry, communication, and application marks within the assessments. All of this is really just one part of the document.  On the evaluation side of things, we hear a lot about employing “professional judgement” in coming up with a final grade — that is should not just be about the calculated mark from the weighted categories, but take into account information from Products, Observations, and Conversations (POC) I’ve attended various conferences and we’ve had speakers come into the school to address the document as well as what ministry inspectors are really looking for when they sit down with teachers. One of the things that became clear is that the inspectors want to see evidence of all of the aspects of POC – this is sometimes referred to as triangulation of evidence of student learning.

Collecting evidence of products is fairly straight-forward since this is what we have always been doing. A product, not surprisingly, is anything “produced” by the students items such as tests, projects, presentations etc. Essentially anything that would go into your mark book. We collects tons and tons of this evidence, including the KICA breakdown and whether they are products used foras, or of learning. At my school use Blackbaud / FAWeb for the tracking of our grades. By now we are all quite comfortable with tracking our assessments, using as/for/of and KICA categories as well as reporting on these grades. I am not interested in looking at methods of tracking products in this action plan.

an overwhelming list

When discussions turned to how to track and record evidence of observations and conversations, I know that I began to feel a little overwhelmed and I wasn’t the only one. Observations are usually defined as observations made during class — for example how a student uses their time, how they worked with a partner during a lab, participation in class discussions etc.  Conversations could include a quick meeting after class, extra help, parent-student-teacher conferences, or just an informal discussion in the hallway. University of Alberta professor, Dr. Olenka Bilash discusses triangulation on her blog, although she is referring to ESL courses, much of what she has to say could apply to any course.  Of course, we all do this triangulation all the time. We all know of the student whose test results seem out of sync from their level of understanding displayed in class or during extra help. When reporting their final mark, we would take this information into account. But the challenge I am interested in examining is what I say to the inspector who asks for evidence of those observations and conversations to back up my professional judgment.

When I saw the slide at right showing types of evidence of POC from a Student Assessment Summer Program on Differentiated Instruction and Assessment, I felt a pit in my stomach. One glance at my desk, and you might realize that managing paperwork is a challenge for me. I spend a lot of time designing and grading assessments (products) and I just couldn’t imagine how I would organize and deal with more “evidence”. Observations and conversations don’t translate to a neat little mark in a spreadsheet, nor should they, that is part of the point. So how will I collect and track the necessary information. . . . that is what I plan to figure out.

how do I handle even more “evidence”?

Action Plan: Collecting and Tracking Evidence of Observations and Conversations


  • find out how other teachers are currently handling this information


  • explore using specific 21st century tools such as Blackboard (discussion boards and journals), Evernote, and Google docs for the collection and tracking of evidence


  • summarize the results through a discussion of advantages and limitations of each of the tools explored, from what I have experienced already, some tools are best for some types of observations or conversations, there will not be a one program fits all


  • try to get some sort of input from the Ministry of Education, perhaps through contacting our last two inspectors regarding whether or not they feel that this evidence is valid


Desired outcomes:

  • make the final report available to staff and present findings at a staff meeting (either end of year or beginning of next school year)


  • find and use a tool or tools which work(s) for me and support staff through their own exploration of tools


I think it is still important that staff be able to choose something which works for them. I know that some of my colleagues are quite comfortable with the paper observation checklists and binders they keep. Some track extra help and conversations they have with students in their staff handbooks. Inspectors made it clear that this type of evidence is acceptable. But as I mentioned above, paperwork is definitely not my forte and I am sure that there are tools available now for people like me.

I know that at a glance this may not really seem like something that fits with “21st century learning”.  What is not clear here is that students play a key role in these observations and conversations, and in the case of Blackboard and Google docs, they will be using the tools. Records of conversations and observations will provide feedback and help them to reflect on their own learning — guess that makes this assessment as learning. 🙂  Also, frankly, modelling the use of these tools in management the plethora of information one faces in the 21st century will also be valuable.

I would be particularly interested in hearing how you currently track observations and conversations and any insights you may have. . .

7 thoughts on “Action Plan: Collecting Evidence of Observations and Conversations

  1. This is a really important journey that you are starting Melody, and one that has direct impact on your students’ learning. There are quite a few people playing with GoogleDocs, and some that have experience there already – you’ll find a lot of rich resources here in how to implement 21st century tech to get to the heart of what teachers do best: help students learn. I use have used the Blackboard platform in the past, and am Moodle now, and I have a few ways of helping track student learning that I’ll share with you as well.

    You are really doing an audit for your school on what technologies are most effective at tracking student work. This is an important thing for your school too – make sure your admin’ is aware and will support you. That is, before exploring all the various tools, determine which ones are palatable for your admin’ (and thus other teachers) to possibly adopt.

  2. Melody, This is a great initiative for the Upper School and I would to see it implemented in the Prep and LS! I would love to chat about the different tech avenues in our school. I know Blackboard has this platform but what about FAWeb?

  3. Based on comments as well as a re-reading of my action plan, I revised my initial post. I wanted to make sure that is was clear that I am not looking for a way to record anything that would be marked. We are taking care of all of those things with FAWeb. I also don’t want to imply that I think there the outcome will be one program that everyone on staff should be expected to use. According to the inspectors, a variety of different kinds of records would be valuable.

    I want to evaluate various programs. I will consider the different situations of different levels in our school, but will focus on the Upper School for now. Our upper school students all have their own tablets. This narrow focus will allow me to actually meet the goals of the action plan in the time available. Perhaps after these initial findings, new goals can be set, where I speak to someone from prep and lower schools to see what makes sense for them. But I think I have to take things one step at a time so that I don’t get overwhelmed and just shut down.

  4. I think it is a great to provide teachers with a variety of resources to choose from, so the task doesn’t seem like “extra work” but a way to make their lives easier. We need to differentiate instruction for teachers too. Some people like paper, some people want a digital version. Great plan Melody, I look forward to seeing what you discover so I can take it to my school as well.

  5. Great Action Plan, Melody! I think that you have tailored your plan to effectively audit best practices not only at BVG, but also in other schools, for resources that support and promote student learning. There are so many tools out there, which can be just as overwhelming as the act of actually recording observations and conversations. Having some insight to each of the different tools will allow teachers to pick the strategy that best suits them, which will result in more active participation from staff.

    Having just been through an inspection, I think the staff at the Upper School are well positioned to explore different options as they all have somewhere to start – this years inspection. You can also survey your cohort and other teachers – perhaps a survey monkey? That way it will house all of the paper work for you, as well as sort and organize it 🙂

  6. Hi Melody,
    Today I am introducing my team to COP and your blog is a great resource for them to see how others are grappling with ways to integrate observations and conversations into their assessment and evaluation practices. I hope you don’t mind that I’m going to share your posts with them. Thanks!

  7. How did this turn out Melody?

    I am talking to some teachers next week about OneNote and how to collect evidence of student learning.

    I am starting to wonder if, sometimes, our video and audio capabilities are now turning some of our observations about what students say into products – just not written ones.

    How are you storing the observations – by strand or by achievement chart category?

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