The Bok Center encourages teachers at all levels of experience to learn more about teaching, and to become reflective about their own classroom practice. Watching someone else teach, and inviting someone else to watch you teach, are among the best ways to gain confidence in the classroom, to expand your repertoire of teaching techniques, and to become more reflective about how students might be experiencing a classroom.
There are different ways to observe, record and reflect on specific classes. At the Bok Center, we offer instructors two services—class observation and video consultation—that can help you gain a neutral, nuanced perspective on your teaching. There are also things that instructors can do on their own—like shadowing and peer observation—which confer many of the same benefits without the participation of one of our Bok Center consultants. Read below for further detail about each of these activities and to sign up for an observation or consultation.
You can have one of our experienced Bok Center staff visit your class and consult with you afterwards, in order for you to gain insight into how your teaching is perceived by a sympathetic but dispassionate observer. Bok-facilitated observation enables you to get a trained observer to come to your class and debrief with you afterwards. The steps include 1) a pre-observation meeting, conducted sometime in the week prior to the observation, 2) a classroom observation, 3) a post-observation consultation. You can let the Bok Center staff know in advance which areas you would like feedback and guidance on.
Video is a particularly effective way to put yourselves in the shoes of your students and reflect on the act of teaching. It can be difficult to imagine how students are experiencing your class in the moment, when your mind is racing to keep ahead of the next student comment or question. Watching a video of your class (with or even without an experienced consultant) will allow you to see things that may have been invisible to you at the time. Does what you see on video match your own perceptions of your teaching? Can you brainstorm other ways of approaching the material, or strategies to use with the students?
Preparing for Your Observation
We find that teachers learn the most from these activities when they develop an authentic lesson plan for the class. We know the observer effect is in play, and that having a consultant or camera in your classroom may be a bit disruptive, but it is important to preserve as much of your normal interaction as possible. Consultants are not judging your performance against any ideals or rubrics; rather, they are raising questions like, "What kind of experience are the students having? What is it really like for them to be in the class? What other ways might the instructor approach the material?" Consultations are always private and confidential, and they can focus on any aspects of the class that interest you as a teacher.
There are other ways for individuals and departments to build a collaborative teaching culture. Shadowing—in which one instructor simply observes another instructor to learn about a class, or get ideas—and peer observation—in which colleagues watch each other teach and debrief—are great ways for individuals or entire departments to develop and reflect on their teaching abilities. If you would like to talk more about effective ways to do this in your course or department, contact us.
Shadowing is a way for both new and experienced teachers to learn more about what happens in a specific class. Shadowing entails asking another teacher if they mind you sitting in on their class. New TFs could to this to get a sense of what happens in section, or to see what a class they might teach actually looks like in practice. More experienced teachers could use shadowing to expand their repertoire of ideas for what to do in class, and to see other approaches or ideas. The main difference between shadowing and peer observation is that reciprocity is not expected.
If you get permission to visit another class to observe another instructor, here are some useful prompts to guide your observation:
- What were the goals of the class?
- What kind of students were in the group? How many students were there? How many participated and how did they participate?
- What surprised you?
- What did you observe that might inform your own teaching?
Peer observation is similar to shadowing, although it indicates an agreement that you and the other instructor will observe each other’s classes and meet to discuss them afterwards. It is an opportunity for instructors to discuss and receive feedback on their teaching. Peer observation not only draws upon the disciplinary expertise of colleagues, it also contributes to a collegial academic culture and sense of community around teaching. The instructor and observer should identify 2–3 criteria on which the observer will focus during the class. When selecting criteria, it is good to think about the norms and expectations of the discipline. Effective peer observation of classroom teaching usually includes 1) a pre-observation meeting, conducted sometime in the week prior to the observation, 2) a classroom observation, 3) a post-observation debriefing, usually immediately after the observation.