Teacher observations and formal evaluations can be a inspiring and—to be honest—a little daunting. So much depends on those few minutes when we get to watch our teachers’ practice. Different educators approach their teaching differently. They may even approach different sections of the same class differently. At the same time, there are some best practices you should look for in every classroom you visit. Here are nine to look for:
1. Cooperative learning
Cooperative learning is when people work together to further understanding. Seeing students work collaboratively and use one another as resources is a hallmark of great teaching practice. Students will work collaboratively when they get jobs, so this is a great way to make sure it’s second nature to them. Be on the lookout for kids who are working together in different ways: in pairs, online, or as part of a group.
2. Standards of conduct
Standards of conduct refers to how students behave in the classroom. Obviously, students behave in different ways. Who manages behavior in the classroom? If you see evidence that students are checking in with themselves and making adjustments, you can assume this skill has been taught. Directly teaching conduct and self-reflection is an important part of classroom management. Perhaps the kids are all over the place, but the teacher easily reinforces the rules to get them under control. Whatever the case may be, a cornerstone of teacher evaluation is observing how student conduct affects the flow of the lesson.
Metacognition is thinking about your thinking. Getting students to demonstrate what they are thinking shows that they understand the material and are learning. You want to look for a teacher who has designed a series of questions and learning tasks that challenge students to justify and show their thinking. Then, the teacher should show how she collects evidence to assess student understanding. Anytime a teacher promotes metacognition in her lesson, it’s a win.
4. Learning objective
Learning objectives or targets indicate the core skill or knowledge being taught. Teachers should state the skill or knowledge each lesson is designed to teach. Students should be able to explain what the learning objective is for each lesson. The main question you can ask yourself is: What are the students learning? Then you can move to looking for parts of the lesson that support the learning objective without seeming contrived or hard to understand.
Scaffolding is when a teacher supports a student until they can be independent. It may also be referred to as providing access, differentiation, individualization, or tailoring instruction. Essentially, a teacher should know the students and know how to meet them on their level. When kids make use of tools, like graphic organizers, flow charts, and video demonstrations, you know the teacher is scaffolding.
6. Intellectual Engagement
Intellectual engagement is when students show curiosity about a topic and the need to know more. The term intellectual engagement may be coupled with other buzzwords and phrases such as zone of proximal development, rigor, or productive struggle. All of this points to the fact that a lesson was appropriately challenging without being too difficult.
7. Action research
Action research refers to what data a teacher is collecting in the classroom and for what purpose. Each classroom can be a teacher’s (and your) best source for evidence of learning or gaps in learning. When a teacher shows that they are actively collecting data to determine how to shift instruction, you can be sure action research is taking place. Do your best to document what they are doing and follow up to find out more about what’s happening inside the walls of your school.
8. Reasonable time allocations
Reasonable time allocations refer to the amount of time allotted for a lesson. Do the kids seem bored? The lesson might be too slow or too fast. Learners set the pace of the lesson, not the instructor. Watch to find out if a teacher knows the material well enough to properly set the pace. Look also for a teacher who is flexible about how long a lesson needs to be. Does he wrap it up early when the lesson seems complete and have a contingency plan? Does she tell the kids she’d like to slow it down and continue during the next class? These are signs of a successful teacher.
9. Clear assessment criteria
Clear assessment criteria is the information given to students about how they will show the knowledge they learn. This can come in the form or rubrics, examples, and direct feedback. We want students to be productive and successful in the classroom, and understanding what we expect them to be able to accomplish is such a big part of that. Assessment isn’t only about grades and keeping averages on students (even though sometimes that’s a necessary part of our job); it’s also about keeping track of student understanding. If students authentically understand what the expectations of them are, they are ready to approach any problem or task.
The more you know what to look for as you complete teacher evaluations, the better you’ll get at them.
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