Conducting Effective Classroom Observations

Successful peer review programs which include classroom visits share a number of features. These programs work best when faculty members:

  • Use a team or partner approach, in which faculty pair up or work in small groups to visit one another's classes.

  • Conduct visits as part of a consultation process that involves a pre-visit conference to discuss goals for the class, and a post-visit debriefing to discuss what happened.

  • Combine classroom observation with other strategies that enrich the picture such as interviewing students, reviewing materials, and examining student work.

  • Are self-conscious about the learning that can occur for the observer as well as the observed.

  • Let the students know what is happening, and why.

  • Are purposeful about who might best visit whom. Depending on their questions and purposes, they may want to pair up with someone from the same field who can comment on content; alternatively, if they are experimenting with a new teaching strategy, they might want to find a colleague who has extensive experience with that strategy.

  • Keep track of how classroom observation is working, so they can learn from the process and improve it.

Hutchings, 1996.

can help you focus on those aspects of your teaching that influence its effectiveness (Davis, 1993).

How can you analyze your classroom interactions with students? As you watch the tape, try the technique of stopping every five seconds and putting a check in the following columns: teacher talk, student talk, silence. Or look at your lecture in terms of organization and preparation: Did I give the purpose of the session? Emphasize or restate the most important ideas? Make smooth transitions from one topic to another? Summarize the main points? Include neither too much nor too little material in a class period? Seem at ease with the material? Begin and end class promptly?

Peer Evaluation of Your Teaching

Peer review of one's research results is standard practice in all fields of science, but only recently has this become a mechanism for advancing one's teaching knowledge and skills. The American Association for Higher Education has shown leadership in this area through its "Peer Review of Teaching" project (Hutchings, 1996). Although conceived as an effort to improve the quality of evidence about teaching in faculty tenure and promotion decisions, the project puts greater emphasis on faculty collaboration to improve teaching throughout their careers. Reciprocal classroom visits, mentoring programs for new faculty, team teaching, and departmental seminars about teaching and learning are but a few of the ways that faculty members work with colleagues to improve undergraduate education.

Students' Evaluation of Your Teaching

The most common way to evaluate a course and a faculty member's teaching is to use a student rating form at the end of the term. These forms often are used by faculty committees and administrators to make personnel

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