Faculty Focus


Guidelines for Effective Classroom Observations

A second edition of Nancy Chism’s Peer Review of Teaching is, in my opinion, the definitive resource on peer review. Besides providing excellent summaries of relevant research and translating those findings into concrete guidelines, the book is packed with resources including checklists, review questions, and instruments relevant to the assessment of multiple aspects of teaching from course materials to classroom instruction (be it in a lab, studio, clinical setting, or online) to advising to course and teaching portfolios.

Here’s a condensed version of the seven “overall guidelines” she offers for classroom observation by peers.

1. “It cannot be assumed that peer reviewers are skilled classroom observers.” (p. 99) Faculty need to be trained for the task. If they are, the reliability of their observations increases.

2. “A single classroom observation by one rater is not a reliable indicator of teaching quality.” (p. 99) How many observations are needed? Some researchers recommend three; others, two different reviewers each doing two observations; still others, three or four reviewers observing between eight and 10 of the instructor’s classes.

3. Pre-observation information is needed to provide context for what is to be observed. Observers need details about the course, the instructor, and the students.

4. When in class, the observation needs to be focused. Checklists are a great way of helping the observer look at specific aspects of the instruction. Questions and other more general guidelines can be used. Multiple exams are included in the book.

5. “The observer should try to be as unobtrusive as possible.” (p. 99) This means the peer is an observer, not a participant in the class. Once the observer starts participating, the focus is no longer exclusively on observing the teaching and students’ responses to it. Moreover, those observer contributions affect responses of both the teacher and the students.

6. Observing for a substantial amount of time is necessary. If the class is an hour long, peers should observe for the entire hour. It takes time for the instructor and the class to relax and move into teaching behaviors that are typical.

7. Notes, forms, or letters should be completed promptly after the observation. The information gleaned from being in the class remains fresh for a limited amount of time. Details become increasingly difficult to remember when time lapses between observation and preparation of the feedback.

Reference: Chism, N.V.N. (2007). Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook. 2nd Ed. Bolton, Mass.: Anker. Note: Anker Publishing now belongs to Jossey-Bass.

Excerpted from Classroom Observation: Guidelines, The Teaching Professor, May 2008.