What Is a Narrative Observation?

Just as its name implies, a narrative observation is a detailed account of behavior that has been observed in a classroom. These observations are usually done on elementary-age children to assess their progress in school, but the observations also are conducted on teachers to assess their performance in the classroom.

Accuracy Is Key

Neither special skills nor training are required to conduct a narrative observation, but you must be accurate and you must be detailed. Narrative observations are written in chronological order and told in standard story form. The use of quotes, while helpful, requires special care. The observer's task is to record everything she sees and hears – not to limit the scope of the observation to a predetermined list of issues or topics. Context is vital to narrative observations, but there is no room for opinion – positive or negative – or conjecture; narrative observations should be written in an objective, just-the-facts style.

Similar to Anecdotal Observations

Narrative observations are sometimes confused with anecdotal observations, but they are in fact somewhat different. Whereas a narrative observation is done over a certain period – usually an entire class session – an anecdotal observation includes only a short account to buttress a certain point or shed light on a particular behavior. For example, say a teacher wishes to illustrate to a parent how a child is showing difficulty sharing. An anecdotal observation might provide a brief retelling of an incident in which the child erupted in an angry, profane protest when a classmate asked to borrow a colored pencil. Written in past tense, narrative observations also should keep interpretation to a bare minimum.

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