Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thoughts/Questions about Teaching Observations

The brief section in chapter 7 of A Guide to College Writing Assessment that addresses teaching observation made me consider my own upcoming teaching observations and how within our program teaching observations play a dualistic role of WP assessment and individual instructor professionalization. This made me wonder, if teaching observations are meant to fulfill two different purposes, shouldn't the observation be geared towards different things. To be more specific, if an instructor is being observed to promote/facilitate professionalization, shouldn't this observation look different than an observation that is collecting data for the WP. I could see an argument being made that all teaching observations are moments for professionalization, but I feel like depending on the instructor the need is different, especially for new TAs. In other words, new TAs are going to need more guidance than a more veteran faculty member. I'm not saying that they shouldn't be held to the same standards and expectations. Not at all. I just feel like their teaching observation should be doing something different in order to fulfill their varying needs. Maybe this is the case already and I am just not aware of it. If so, I am interested in what the differences are.


  1. So is your main concern that each teacher should be observed with a focus on their needs? You say that the needs vary, especially for new TAs. One way to have observations meet the needs of the individual teacher being observed is to meet ahead of time, before the WPA actually sits in on a class. In this meeting, the teacher could express their main concerns as teachers, including areas where they feel most and/or least comfortable. I actually like this idea. On the other hand, there are benefits for both sides--teacher and observer--to approach the class period as a blank slate, an average day of class, and then to meet and talk it over with each individual (as is the current standard). This would allow a tabula rasa approach (did I use that term correctly?), where the WPA could observe what s/he thought were the teacher's strengths/weaknesses and areas of un/comfort in the classroom, without the teacher inserting some form of bias.

    You say that TA and veteran faculty members should have teaching observations that "do something different in order to fulfill their varying needs." I think this is a smart point. I wonder, though, what you might have in mind? It seems to me that having the WPA sit in the back and observe the most "normal" day possible is the best way for the WPA to "sample" the class experience.

    Does anyone else have any other ideas for how a WPA might observe a classroom experience, and how/why that may be done differently for different levels of faculty?

  2. I feel like both types of assessment have their merit: meeting before and after. Though I will agree with Abigail that when it is an assessment and professionalization observation that the assessment part seems to take over. I remember my first observation and even in the meeting afterward I still felt like I wasn't focusing on how to better my teaching as I was defending or explaining the decisions because I was being assessed an I wanted to do well.

    I think if I had to choose I would like to meet with the person observing my class before hand, at least for the first assessment as a TA. I wasn't quite as nervous when I was being observed here because I had already taught before, but if it had been my first time teaching there would be a definite benefit to being able to sit down with the person observing me ahead of time. I also think that as new instructor, TAs sometimes have very specific issues that they are worried about. It may not be the same for every person, but a lot of the time they have one or two parts of teaching that they get hung up on and if there was a time that they could have someone directly address those concerns, whether it be to reassure them or to help them better develop the stills they need then it would help their teaching in the long run. Most of the time when it comes to those issues they get discussed with other TAs who probably have the same amount of experience teaching.