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Teaching Observation

What is a teaching observation?

Our teaching observation service has two components.  First, a CFT teaching consultant observes you teach during a class session of your choosing.  Second, you meet with the teaching consultant a few days later and discuss the class session observed.  This discussion is not intended to be judgmental.  Instead, it is intended as a supportive way to help you analyze your teaching and identify your strengths as a teacher and areas for improvement.

Who can request a teaching observation?

Any faculty member, graduate student, or post-doc teaching at Vanderbilt can request a teaching observation.  This is a free service the CFT provides to the Vanderbilt teaching community.

(Note that teaching observations are required for participants in the CFT’s Teaching Certificate program.)

“My consultant did an excellent job observing my lecture. He helped me notice some drawbacks in the lecture I wasn’t aware of. I am particularly grateful that he offered his comments and advice in such a gentle way that I was very comfortable with.” – Faculty Client

How will a teaching observation benefit me?

The purpose of a teaching observation and consultation is to help you become a more reflective and intentional teacher.  By observing one of your class sessions, your consultant will be able to discuss your teaching with you in very concrete ways.  Your consultant will help you reflect on the teaching choices you made during the class session and on your understanding of your students and their learning.  Your consultant will also help you generate ideas for different teaching choices you might make in the future to help you more effectively meet your teaching objectives.  Moreover, your consultant will be able to get a sense of your class as a student might see it and share that perspective with you.

Who will my teaching consultant be?

If you’re a faculty member, you’ll likely meet with your CFT liaison, a senior staff member with some familiarity with the teaching landscape in your discipline.  If you’re a graduate student, you’ll meet with one of our Graduate Teaching Fellows, graduate students with experience teaching here at Vanderbilt.

What will happen prior to the observation?

After you schedule your observation and consultation, you’ll receive an email from your consultant with a few questions about your course and the observation.  Please respond to these questions so that the consultant will know what to focus on during the observation.  You’re also welcome to meet with your consultant in advance of the observation for additional conversation.

“My consultant’s feedback was extremely helpful. As another eye in the classroom, she was able to tell me what she thought was working/not working, and what the students were doing that I couldn’t see. I found this to be extremely valuable.” – Graduate Student Client

What will happen on the day of the observation?

On the day of the observation, your consultant will arrive a few minutes before class begins and introduce himself or herself to you.  Your consultant will sit in the back or side of your class and be as unobtrusive as possible.  You may want to briefly explain your consultant’s presence to your students, but this is not required.

During the observation, your consultant may be considering questions such as the following:

  • What is the mood before class?  During class?  At the end of class?
  • How is the classroom physically arranged and how does this influence teaching and learning?
  • How does the teacher use verbal and non-verbal communication?
  • How is the class organized and paced?
  • What types of questions does the teacher ask and when?
  • How does the teacher use classroom media (chalk boards, PowerPoint, etc.)?
  • How does the teacher motivate students and how do they respond?
  • What do the students do during class?
  • In what ways to students participate in class discussions or ask or response to questions?
  • What sorts of concerns do the students seem to have and how do they express them?

What will happen after the observation?

A few days after the observation, you will meet with your consultant to discuss the class session observed as well as other aspects of your teaching.  The consultation is intended to help you become a more reflective and intentional teacher, using the particular class session observed to provide concrete examples of teaching and learning processes to discuss.  To that end, your consultant will likely spend much of the time asking you questions about how you approach your teaching, what you find challenging, the decisions you made before and during the class session observed, and your thoughts on ways you can better meet your teaching goals.

How can I arrange a teaching observation?

To arrange a teaching observation, simply e-mail or call the CFT at 322-7290 with a choice of a few dates that you will be teaching during the semester. Observations are scheduled based on the availability of staff during the time that you request. Staff are not available for off-campus observations.  We recommend contacting us as early in the semester as possible to get your most preferred choice of dates and times.

Where can I direct further questions about teaching observations?

If you have questions about our teaching observation service, just call the CFT at 322-7290 or contact CFT Director Derek Bruff.

Image: “FBI Classroom,” Bill Erickson, Flickr (CC)