The actual process of conducting an observation requires the observer to take in, document, and then interpret quite a bit of information. While meeting with the instructor in advance of the observation can lend focus by clarifying specific goals, the process of conducting an observation is still complex. In order to best interpret what is going on in the classroom, observers need to attend to numerous sources, including the classroom environment and mood, course structure, class content, instructional materials, faculty behavior, and student behavior and reactions.
This section can help you prepare to organize that data and conduct an observation by providing:
- Sample questions that can help you stay focused on the data that’s most important to you and the faculty member being observed.
- Sample observation forms and note-taking practices that can help you stay organized in the moment.
Below are a list of sample questions on which an observer might focus their attention and feedback. These questions invite the observer to attend to different pieces of the classroom experience, all of which can provide meaningful data about what is going on in the classroom to support or hinder learning.
- What is the mood like before, during, and after class? What information informs your interpretation of the mood?
- How is the classroom physically arranged and how does that influence the flow of communication and interaction in the room?
- How does the instructor contextualize the class session vis-a-vis the rest of the unit or course?
- How has the instructor communicated their objectives and identified corresponding course materials which strive to meet them? Is the presentation clear and organized?
- In what ways is the instructor’s teaching achieving the stated goals or learning objectives for the class? In what ways is it not?
- How well does the instructor organize and allocate class time?
- How well does the instructor serve as a presenter and/or facilitator for class content?
- In what ways are the modes of instruction (i.e. lecture, discussion, active learning, etc.) aligned or conducive to learning objectives for the class? In what ways are they misaligned or inconducive?
- In what ways is the classroom environment inclusive, accessible, and welcoming? Are there barriers to inclusion or accessibility?
- How well does the instructor debrief student learning and summarize key material?
- At what points of the class were students most visibly engaged? When did they seem disinterested or confused?
- Does student behavior change at any point during the class period? How and when?
Sample Note-Taking Practices and Observation Forms
Because observing an instructor requires you to attend to lots of different information, it’s often useful to go into an observation with a plan in mind for how you’ll organize your notes. If you’re curious about what has worked for others, see below for a few note-taking techniques that have worked for others, from the simple to the complex.
- Narrative log where notes are divided into three columns: 1.) a timestamp, 2.) a record of what’s happening in the classroom, and 3.) initial interpretations or questions.
- Participation diagrams: Some observers prioritize tracking student comments by creating a quick diagram of the room and using tick marks or arrows to note who speaks during the class. This can be an especially useful method to get a general idea of possible inequities in participation along gender, racial, or other socially significant lines. While there are limits to this method—we are unable to perfectly track demographics based on observable data—it can provide important information to unpack later, especially since research indicates that we cannot trust our perceptions of participation across different identity markers.
- Visual note-taking system: If you find the data you collect from a simple participation diagram useful, there are more complicated systems that use that basic premise to track more detailed data.
Additional detailed teaching observation forms can be found below. These forms might help you get an idea for how to focus your observation or you can use one of these templates directly to help you organize your notes. Some sample forms are:
- Colby’s resource with a pre-observation template and several observation rubrics
- Illinois State University’s open-ended form for teaching observations
- University of Louisville’s teaching observation form with open-ended and likert aspects
- University of South Carolina’s open-ended form for teaching observations
- University of Southern California’s teaching observation checklist
- Yale’s forms for documentary, thematic, or criteria-focused teaching observations