Framework for Classroom Visits
(Adapted from the Peer Review of Teaching Handbook, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis)
Step 1. The Pre-Observation Meeting
The faculty member and the colleague who will observe her/him should meet a few days prior to the planned observation visit to accomplish the following:
- Discuss the reason for the peer review: Is it motivated primarily by the faculty member’s desire to grow as a teacher, as a part of annual performance review, or has some event or interaction prompted the decision to request classroom observation?
- Provide the syllabus, class demographics, and other information to help the peer reviewer understand the type of class this is and any challenges associated with it.
- Answer any questions the peer reviewer has about the class in order to identify the context for the observation. For example: What are the objectives for the specific class meeting in question? How does this session link to the preceding one? What teaching strategies are planned?
- Agree on the purpose: On what aspects of her/his teaching does the faculty member want feedback? Is there any particular problem or difficulty? Is she/he looking for input about particular teaching strategies? Does she/he want an observer’s sense of the classroom climate, or of the students’ response to the material?
- Agree on how the observer will be portrayed to the students. A straightforward announcement that the visitor is there at the faculty member’s invitation is often sufficient, but the decision really depends on what the individual faculty member is comfortable with doing.
- Faculty should allow 30-45 minutes for the first pre-observation meeting and should meet in person if possible. For subsequent observations, the preparation will take less time.
Step 2. The Classroom Observation
These guidelines are to help the observer collect the kind of information that will facilitate a productive conversation later.
- Take descriptive notes of what happens in the classroom. The descriptions should be free of evaluative language: For example, “Explains the assignment quickly” (NOT: “Talks too fast”); or: “Asks question, waits 5 seconds, then continues” (NOT: “Doesn’t give students time to answer question”). The descriptions should also exclude interpretive comments: For example, “Gestures with both hands while lecturing” (NOT “Gestures nervously with both hands”). Keeping evaluative and interpretive language out of your note-taking will help you to give descriptive feedback that can be interpreted by the faculty member himself/herself.
- Remember to focus on the aspects of the class that the faculty member asked for feedback on, if this a formative review. These should form the basis for your conversation later.
- Observe students as well as the faculty member. Look around the room and observe student behavior. Are the students engaged with what is going on in class or are they doing things other than taking notes or discussing assignments with classmates?
- Try to think as a student. A lecture may sound interesting and exciting to you if you are an expert in the field but will it make sense to, and engage, a novice learner? Is the pace and clarity of presentation appropriate for a student?
- Is learning taking place as the instructor intended? Are students taking notes on a lecture and responding to questions? Are students interacting with one another if instructed to pursue some sort of active-learning exercise?
- How does the instructor elicit responses from students? Are questions addressed to the whole class? If so, who responds and is it always the same people? Are questions used to initiate discussion among students? What is the instructor’s intention in asking questions and is this intention being met?
- Note positive aspects of the class, as well as anything learned from the observation. These aspects can be integrated into the conversation as seems appropriate.
Step 3. The Post-Observation Meeting
The post-observation meeting should take place as soon as possible, while impressions are still fresh. Receiving timely feedback helps the faculty member to reflect on the experience and decide whether/when to implement changes. However, the observer should allow time between the observation and the meeting to review his/her notes in preparation for the meeting. Guidelines for the meeting:
- Invite the faculty member’s comments before offering your own. Sample questions are: “Was this session typical or atypical for this class?” “Did the session go more or less as you had expected, or were there some surprises?” It is important to practice active listening during this part of the conversation, which is an opportunity to collect additional information that may shed light on what was observed. Often, the faculty member’s perceptions of the class help the observer to frame her/his comments more usefully.
- It may be helpful to offer a comment to initiate conversation, such as “It was a very lively class” [or, conversely, “This seems to be a rather quiet group”]. Descriptive comments of this type provide an easy transition to the faculty member’s perceptions of the class.
- In providing feedback, the observer should first describe what he/she observed, focusing on the faculty member’s goals for the observation and using the notes taken during the class. For example, “I noticed that you invited questions from students in the last 10 minutes of the class.” A descriptive statement allows the faculty member to tell the observer whether the behavior or event described was a conscious choice or something that he/she was unaware of.
- The colleagues should take time to engage in a constructive discussion of the feedback.
- The observer should be selective in providing feedback. Especially during the first visits, when the faculty member is most vulnerable, it is best to focus on a very few points, rather than a long list of comments and suggestions that may be overwhelming.
- The observer should encourage the faculty member to relate the events discussed to the learning goals that were discussed in the pre-observation meeting.
- If requested, the observer should offer suggestions and alternatives to strategies that were observed. In so doing, the observer should provide a balance of praise and constructive criticism.