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Queen Mary Academy

Peer observation

Why teaching observations?

Observation of teaching is an important part of reflective teaching practice and continuous professional development.

Both being observed and having the opportunity to observe others’ teaching can be extremely valuable experiences for teachers.

Observation can take place in a wide variety of settings including lectures, seminars, problem-based learning groups, dissections, demonstrations, bedside or chairside teaching or online teaching. 

Peer observation feedback can form an important element of appraisal discussions.

Before an observation

You should consider whether there are particular aspects of your teaching that you would like feedback on (if being observed), if there are any techniques or types of teaching that you would like to see in action (if observing others), or if observing and being observed by a colleague from a different disciplinary background could offer useful opportunities for exchange of practice and cross-disciplinary learning.  

The observation process

You should ideally meet with the observer in advance of the session to discuss the context for the teaching and what developmental areas you would like the observation and feedback discussion to focus on.

You should agree where the observer will sit or stand in the session, how they will be introduced to the students and schedule a date and time for a feedback discussion.

You should undertake some self-evaluation following the teaching session and before you receive feedback from the observer, to ensure that you have reflected on your performance individually before hearing the observer’s views. The feedback discussion should ideally take place within a week of the session.

The observer will ask you how you think the teaching session went, and you will have an opportunity for a detailed discussion of your teaching practice.

You may find it beneficial to hold your feedback discussion a few days after the observed session in order to give both observer and observee time to reflect on the session and the feedback they will offer. 

What will be observed?

Schools/institutes may have their own observation forms with varying criteira, but the template that the Queen Mary Academy offers suggests that observers focus on:

  • Learning outcomes
  • Planning and organisation
  • Teaching and learning methods
  • Delivery and pace
  • Content
  • Student engagement and participation

You should also discuss with the observer in advance of the session whether there are any specific areas of your practice you would like feedback on. This could include trying out an innovative teaching method or approach, resolving a particular problem or issue, or future plans for developing your practice.

You can download our Teaching Observation Pro-Forma [DOC 24KB].

The feedback discussion

The feedback discussion is the most important element of the observation process and gives the observed teacher an opportunity to reflect on how they thought the session went and to focus on planning for further development of their teaching practice.

Some suggested prompts for a feedback discussion:

  • How do you think the session went?
  • How did it compare to your other sessions?
  • How well did you know the students?
  • What is the background and composition of the student group?
  • Were the teaching methods appropriate to the level of the students?
  • What do you think the strengths of the session were?
  • What would you do differently if you taught this session again? Do you have any wider concerns or issues with your teaching?
  • What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are as a teacher more generally?
  • How can you plan to further develop these areas in future?
  • What support do you need with this? From whom?
  • Have you thought about sharing areas of best practice with colleagues?

 

The feedback session should close with the observer and observee agreeing on the areas of feedback that will be recorded on the observation form.

It can also be useful to discuss and agree a plan of action for future development of any strengths, weaknesses or areas of interest.

Staff experiences of peer observation

Peer observation forms an important element of the Queen Mary Academy taught programmes in educational development (CILT and PGCAP). 

Course participants have given the following testimonials on the peer observation experience:

‘It helped me think about new ways to teach and reflect on my own practice’ 

‘It was feedback with a difference as compared to all other feedback that I had obtained. Specific, factual and practical’ 

‘It was very friendly and supportive. I had very useful feedback which both highlighted my strong points and areas to improve in my teaching style which I agreed to’ 

‘The psychological impact of having obtained the feedback from a professional was great as I took the criticism and praise from the peer observation most seriously… I have no doubt at all that the experience has proved invaluable in my fine-tuning as a teacher and trainer.’ 

‘It allowed me to get a different perspective on the methods I use to teach’

‘Cross disciplinary teaching observation helped me to get new transferable ideas’  

 

Further reading

Atkinson, D.J. & Bolt, S. (2010). Using teaching observations to reflect upon and improve teaching practice in higher education, Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 10 (3), 1 – 19.

Bell, A. & Mladenovic, R. (2007). The benefits of peer observation of teaching for tutor development, Higher Education 55 (6): 735–752. Available: https://www.jstor.org/stable/29735218 

Davis, C. (2014). Developing academics in challenging times: New thinking on teaching observations. D Prof thesis, Middlesex University. Available: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/13796/

Hatzipanagos, S. & Lygo‐Baker, S. (2006). Teaching observations: promoting development through critical reflection, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 30 (4), 421-431, DOI: 10.1080/03098770600965425. Available: Teaching observations: promoting development through critical reflection: Journal of Further and Higher Education: Vol 30, No 4 (tandfonline.com)

Kohut, G. F., Burnap, C. & Yon, M. G. (2007). Peer observation of teaching: Perceptions of the observer and the observed, College Teaching 55(1), 19-25. Available: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3200/CTCH.55.1.19-25

Peake, G. (2006). Observation of the practice of teaching. ESCalate (Education Subject Centre of the Higher Education Academy). Available: http://escalate.ac.uk/3060

Purvis, A., Crutchley, D. & Flint, A. (2009). Beyond Peer Observation of Teaching, in Gosling, D. & O’Connor, K.M. (Eds) Beyond the Peer Observation of Teaching. London: Staff and Educational Development Association. Available: http://shura.shu.ac.uk/1497/2/SEDA_book_chapter_beyond_peer_obs.pdf

Sachs, J. & Parsell, M. (eds) (2014). Peer Review of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: International Perspectives. New York: Springer.

Siddiqui, Z. S., Jonas-Dwyer, D. & Carr, S. E. (2007). ‘Twelve tips for peer observation of teaching.’ Medical Teacher, 29 (4), 297–300. Available: https://hms.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/assets/Sites/Academy/files/12TipsforPOT.pdf

University of Edinburgh Guide to peer observation of teaching. Available: http://www.docs.hss.ed.ac.uk/iad/Learning_teaching/Academic_teaching/Resources/Peer_Observation/Peer_Observation_of_Teaching_A4.pdf

York St John University (2018) Guide to peer observation of learning and teaching. Available: https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/media/content-assets/academic-development/documents/A-Guide-to-Peer-Observation-of-Learning-and-Teaching_v3.pdf