Conducting Productive Classroom Observations of GSIs
Please note: If you are looking for the Certificate Program-related faculty observation materials, please see Classroom Teaching Observation for the Certificate Program.
The protocol recommended here differs from frequent classroom observation practices. Often the observer simply drops in — either announced or unannounced — watches the class, writes up a summary evaluation, and/or meets briefly with the GSI to discuss the class session. While this approach is by all means better than no observation at all, we have found that adding a pre-observation discussion to this format enhances the observation process for both the GSI and faculty member.
The pre-observation discussion between the faculty member and the GSI helps to alleviate anxiety and provides the observer with information about how the section is going and what the GSI would like to accomplish on the day of the visit. The pre-observation discussion also enables the GSI to identify areas that he or she would like feedback on. The collaborative nature of the pre-observation dialogue provides an opportunity for the GSI and faculty member to reflect upon and discuss teaching and learning and to experience the observation and feedback process as a means to improve teaching rather than simply as a form of evaluation.
We recommend that you meet with the GSI a day or two before the class and use the Pre-observation Discussion Worksheet (doc) to guide the initial discussion.
One of the most frequently asked questions by GSIs when they arrange for a classroom observation is: “How should I explain the presence of the observer to my students? Being observed can give the impression that I am not doing a good job, and that someone is checking up on me.” We suggest that the GSI inform his or her students that the University has a policy that GSIs, in particular those teaching for the first time, should be observed in the classroom and receive feedback on their teaching. As the faculty member, you may also wish to announce in lecture that you will be visiting sections on occasion to see how things are going. In the event that the observer is not the faculty member teaching the course, the GSI should introduce the observer to the class. The observer should sit in the back or to the side and should not interrupt the flow of the class.
The observer should take narrative notes of what takes place during the class session. Feedback that is based on what specifically transpires in the class tends to be more constructive and less judgmental than feedback that only recounts general impressions. The observer might also find it helpful to draw a diagram of the classroom setup taking note of where students are sitting, who participates in the discussion, who is silent, etc. The observer should also consider whether the teaching methods used by the GSI are appropriate for the subject matter at hand, whether the GSI has command of the material, and how the GSI is doing in the specific areas that he or she has identified as ones he or she would like feedback on. After the class is over, the observer should thank the instructor and make sure that a time is set up to meet and discuss the class as soon as possible. Within 48 hours is optimal.
The GSI should write down notes as to how he or she thought the class went, and questions he or she might have for the observer. One way to do this is for the GSI to answer the questions: “What worked well and why?” “What didn’t work well and why?” “What will I change the next time I teach this topic?” and “How did I do in the areas of teaching I was concerned about?”
The observer should review the notes he or she took during the class and consider what went well and what areas might need improvement. In reviewing his or her notes, the observer should also consider how the GSI has done in the areas that the GSI has requested feedback on.
The post-observation discussion should be a dialogue about how the class went, what worked well and why, and what areas of the GSI’s teaching may need to be strengthened.
It is helpful if the observer and the GSI can approach this discussion not so much as an evaluation but rather as an opportunity for the GSI, in dialogue with the faculty member, to improve teaching. The observer should also respond to any questions the GSI might have and should give feedback on those areas of teaching that the GSI wanted feedback on.
As a way to summarize the discussion and utilize it to further improve teaching, we suggest that the GSI and the faculty member use the Post-observation Goal-Setting Sheet (doc) to identify two or three areas of teaching that the GSI would like to work on. The GSI and the observer should brainstorm specific strategies or techniques that the GSI can use to improve these areas of teaching. Many GSIs have found it helpful to tape this goal-setting sheet into their teaching notebooks as a reminder of the steps he or she can take to improve teaching. If time permits, we recommend a follow-up observation later in the semester to see how the GSI is doing in the areas that he or she has identified as needing improvement.
If you need assistance with the classroom observation process or would like to arrange for a workshop for faculty on this topic, please contact the GSI Teaching & Resource Center at 2-4456 or firstname.lastname@example.org.