Southern Polytechnic State University

School of Arts and Sciences

GUIDELINES GOVERNING
CLASSROOM AND LABORATORY PEER OBSERVATION

Purpose

The purpose of peer observation of teaching in the School of Arts and Sciences is both summative and formative. Summative evaluation focuses on the summing up of performance, while formative evaluation focuses on feedback as part of the process towards self-improvement.

The process for classroom and laboratory observation of teaching is formative in that both observers and observees partake in an open-ended discussion so they may develop professionally. Success hinges on a dialogic process in which both observers and those being observed work as partners to pursue proficient teaching practices.

Classroom and laboratory observation also plays a role in summative evaluation. The written reports of peer observers contribute to the evaluation of teaching effectiveness by department heads, the Dean, and promotion and tenure committees.

Core Values

Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) promotes and builds on the following core values:

       respect for the unique importance of every member of the SPSU community

       personal integrity consonant with a strong sense of academic freedom

       personal responsibility in pursuing the best interests of the University community

       continuous learning and improvement

       collaboration and cooperation

The School of Arts and Sciences at SPSU strives to preserve these values in its faculty evaluation procedures. Therefore, Classroom and Laboratory Observation, which is one part of the faculty evaluation process, shall be carried out according to the guidelines set forth in this document.

Governing Principles

To ensure that the classroom and laboratory observation process is a positive experience for all participants and manifests the institutional values cited above, the process will be governed by these general principles:

       Peer observation will be used to help document teaching effectiveness and professional growth and development for Status and Activity Reports and for formal reviews; therefore, it is suggested that all faculty take part in peer observations yearly and that those faculty members who are up for formal reviews (i.e., reappointment, promotion and tenure actions and post-tenure review) should strive for two peer observations during review years.

       The classroom and laboratory observation process shall be mostly formative (a reflective and dialogic process of ongoing self-improvement) and partly summative (an observer's description and opinions about what was observed).

       All participants in an observation shall include the activity as professional growth and development in their annual activity reports.

Guidelines for Peer Observations of Classrooms and Laboratories

The classroom and laboratory observation process shall have three parts:

       pre-class consultation

       the observation of the class/laboratory exercise

       post-class consultation

While an observation session will often constitute one class hour, both parties involved in the observation should define these terms, especially when classes or laboratory sessions meet for longer than an hour.

Self-Assessment (optional)

The faculty member being observed may want to do a formal self-assessment before the observation.  This written document may be placed in the annual activity report and in formal review packets to help demonstrate teaching effectiveness.  However, this document is optional and faculty members may simply want to glance through the following questions to help prepare for the pre-class consultation:

1.     What new knowledge should students gain from this lesson?

2.     How does this knowledge relate to past lessons?  Future lessons?

3.     What activities have you set up for the lesson?  (lecture, small-group, full-class, work on computers, laboratory work and so on)

4.     How do you hope one activity will flow into the next?  How much time do you hope to spend on each activity?

Selection of Observers and Specification of Criteria

The faculty member provides a list of suggested observers and proposes the teaching effectiveness criteria that shall be the main focus of the observation, using the guidelines and alternatives established below.

1.     The faculty member informs his/her department chair that he/she wishes to schedule an observation.

2.     The faculty member and the department chair agree on the observer(s). Observers can be selected from, but not limited to, the following:

       faculty

       academic administrators

       external experts in the observee's field

3.     The department chair should ensure that observation requests are distributed equitably among faculty.

4.     If the faculty member and the department chair cannot agree on the observer(s), the Dean will be asked to appoint an observer.

The Pre-Class Consultation

During the pre-class consultation the observee should

1.     Discuss the lesson and, as an option, supply information from the self-assessment.

2.     Discuss the type of feedback that he/she wants from the visit (i.e., feedback on a certain aspect of class, the class as a whole, student rapport, and so on).

3.     Determine if the participants want to create a rubric for this feedback or if descriptive notes concerning the type of feedback will be used.

4.     Supply any handouts or assigned readings that will be used in class.

5.     Determine the type of visit that will take place and/or determine the role the observer will take within the classroom setting. (For example, will the observer interact as a participant in the class and thus be a participant observer or will the observer take on the more traditional role and simply note what occurs within the classroom setting?)

6.     Discuss how the post-consultation will take place.  

The Visit

Faculty members have at least two options for the visit itself.  Faculty may want to consider visiting the class in person or working from a video recording of the class. Advantages of the first are the ability to observe the class as a whole and to get a more solid understanding of the dynamics of the classroom. Advantages of the second are the video may be less intrusive and may be viewed multiple times. The following guidelines may help to create a good visit:

1.     Peer observers will want to be in the classroom before the class begins and will want to choose seating that allows them to be part of the class and allows them to see the entire class as well as possible. Observations should last for the entire class session when possible. If the observer must leave before the end of the class, he/she should leave as unobtrusively as possible. If the visit will be videotaped, equipment should be set up in advance.

2.     The peer observer and observee will act upon their own decisions concerning the role the observer plays and whether he/she is introduced to the class.

3.     Observers will want to take descriptive notes or fill in a previously agreed upon rubric concerning the type of feedback requested by the observee. 

4.     The faculty members involved can determine together if a brief oral consultation follows immediately after the visit. The post consultation that allows the parties to discuss written feedback should follow in a day or two but may occur later within the week of the observation. If a video recording is viewed, similar decisions are important for feedback to the observee.

Post Consultation

1.     The faculty members involved will determine a mutually agreed upon place to discuss the observation. If more than one observation of a class took place for the same class session, faculty members must also decide whether to meet individually with the observee or to meet as a group.

2.     The involved parties must decide whether the written evaluation in the form of a letter is given to the observee before the meeting or at the meeting. If they determine to wait for the meeting, the observer must bring two copies of the letter. (For specifics on writing the letter, see the next section.)

3.     The letter reviewed by both observer and observee at the post-consultation meeting is considered a draft. The observee is allowed to give feedback to the observer that may change the content of this letter.

4.     Both parties should feel comfortable with any changes made to the draft letter. If one of the parties feels uncomfortable with content or requested changes, they may want to consider a second visit cycle that will begin the process again.

5.     In the post-visit consultation, the two parties may want to discuss how the observation process furthered the growth of the observee.

6.     The final version of the letter is given to the observee, who may include it in his or her annual activity report and formal review packet.

7.     The observee attaches a reflective response to the letter.

8.     All faculty members have the option of requesting additional observations.

9.     The final version of the letter is given to the observee.  It is up to the observee to determine whether this letter becomes part of his or her annual Status and Activity Report or Formal Review Packet.

10.  Observers receive credit for taking part in this process by documenting their role in the professional growth and development section or service section of their annual activity reports.

The Letter

1.     A reasonable length for the letter is one to two pages, single-spaced.

2.     The letter serves as a record of the process the two parties followed; thus, it should briefly describe the pre-consultation, the visit, and the post consultation.

3.     The letter should include the type of feedback the observee requested in the pre-consultation. Thus, if the observee asked for feedback concerning student rapport, the letter should address student rapport. The rubric or the descriptive notes will be useful for creating the letter. Letter writers may want to consider creating three of four bulleted items that help the observee and other readers to hone in on feedback concerning the classroom visit itself.

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