Making the Most of Tracking Observations with Forms

One of my goals this year is to work with math teachers to better track observations and conversations in their classrooms, to better triangulate their assessments.

I find this is a big jump for many who have been teaching for a while - we are very comfortable with marks on pencil-and-paper tasks, but we're unsure how to assess and track what we see and hear on an ongoing basis. 

Just this past week, though, we've been playing with new ways of collecting data that I'm pretty excited about!

(To try and wrap my head around this last year, I asked kindergarten and primary teachers how they best track what they see, and got lots of great ideas!) 

At one of our schools, we are implementing new strategies for improving numeracy skills. How can we track this? We created a paper checklist that can be used by teachers or observers in the moment to track when and how students are demonstrating good numeracy skills:

Our "good numeracy skills" checklist, based on our Y-chart.

The idea of using Forms to track student progress seen through observations and conversations is not new. On the surface, creating a Google Form to collect the identical data as the paper checklist is not onerous. 

But if we're going to use technology, let's use it purposefully to actually improve the data we collect. We began to take the convenience of Forms to the next level with a couple of new-to-us modifications.

Tracking Individual Markers

Previously, when converting a paper checklist to a Google Form, I would use a checkbox-style of question, so the user could select as many or as few of the markers as they wish as they make observations. Easy to use, but when the responses are collected in Sheets, all the checked traits get lumped together in one column, separated by commas. 

If we'd like to see overall class trends in the spreadsheet (or look at only one student's data over time), it would be nice to have each marker in its own column.

My colleague suggested making each marker its own multiple choice question, with only one option, and without an actual question. When creating the form, it looked like this:

Add a section header ("Communication") and the actual Form looks like this:

On the front end, the multiple choice questions work just like checkboxes. But on the back end of the Form, each marker can be tracked separately. It will be easy to see which traits the majority of the students perform on any given task, or how a student becomes comfortable with different markers as the semester goes on.

Adding in Teacher Voice

The bottom of the paper checklist is left blank for open responses - the teacher can jot down any additional information not covered by the checklist.

In Forms, we did the same with a "Notes" question, which collects a paragraph-style answer. However, when collecting observations with a tablet or a phone (as we envision this Form being used in class), there is the option to voice-dictate notes into that field. 

This both helps with ease of use in terms of speed, but also adds a transparency piece - the student being assessed knows immediately how they are being assessed.

Adding in Student Voice

Tracking what we as teachers see is one thing, but is there a way to gather student voice at the same time we make our observations? Yes, there is!

We included a final question on the Form which allows the teacher to attach a file. On a mobile device, this includes the ability to snap a picture or take a quick video, in the moment, and upload it in the Form.

This then provides a link to the image or video that can be accessed and assessed later.

So now we're not just checking off boxes of what we see - we're adding pieces of evidence and building a portfolio of observations and products, all searchable and sortable in a master spreadsheet for the class.

Next Steps

We have a couple of "next steps" on the horizon for using this tool:

  • Look at how to provide teachers with easy access to the form when they need it. I'm thinking of having a QR code in a class binder that can be quickly scanned to take teachers directly to the form. I'll be meeting with teachers next week to try it - they might prefer bookmarking the link to the form, or some other method.
  • Play with docAppender to see if we can take the next step and create shareable portfolios (in Google Docs) of our observations of student thinking and images of student work as we collect data over time.

What other Forms magic can we weave? How are you tracking student thinking?


  1. Did you use one form per student? So as I am walking around I would have 19 tabs form for each child?

    I do something similar for reading observations. Each child's name is a "question" and then the multiple choice answers are the behaviours I am tracking. I watch a kid for 10 seconds, and then mark: engaged, switching books, chatting, looking out the window, off task, in the washroom (I added that last one because the kid isn't really off task, but also not on task and some kids seem to ALWAYS be in the washroom! LOL) I open 3-4 versions of the quiz, then complete them over the course of a 30 minute "read to yourself" session.

    I like the idea of using this to track some math behaviours. I'm going to play around with it!


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