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Five Stages of Instructional Review: A Guide for Reviewing Graduate Student Instruction

Good teachers continually learn and develop. Review of teaching, which combines the examination of course materials with in-class observations and collegial discussion, helps prompt this learning among instructors. Ideally, these interactions and conversations can create opportunities for both parties participating in the review process to reflect on and adapt their teaching practices in order to become better teachers and increase student learning.

Graduate students have varying levels of prior teaching experience and may have different objectives for instructional review. The collaborative nature of this model allows for a conversation to arrive at a shared understanding of the purpose for the review. The review may be formative in nature and used to improve the instructor’s teaching, or summative and used as an artifact for a teaching portfolio. The review process is an opportunity for symbiotic learning between the instructor and observer to reflect on teaching methods, share instructional strategies, and dialogue about teaching. 

Stage 1:  Purpose of the Review

Stage 2:  Pre-observation Meeting

Stage 3:  The Review

Stage 4:  Post-observation Meeting

Stage 5:  Reflection

STAGE 1: PURPOSE OF THE REVIEW

Prior to the teaching review, determine the purpose of the teaching review and identify any deliverables that may emerge from the review (e.g., letter for teaching portfolio, recommendation for a teaching award, etc.).

Use the following descriptions of two potential purposes for teaching review to shape your goals:

1.  Formative peer review of teaching to help instructors enhance teaching and learning in their courses

Formative peer review gives instructors opportunities to consider, modify, and reexamine their teaching with the support of their colleagues by using a shared understanding of good teaching. Frequent formative peer review naturally provides an ongoing process that can contribute meaningfully to summative peer review by demonstrating a trajectory of improvement in teaching over time.

2.  Summative peer review of teaching to evaluate and assess.

Summative review uses the same understanding of good teaching as a way to evaluate and assess teaching effectiveness for a variety of purposes.  These include making decisions about honors such as teaching awards and providing documentation for evaluation summaries that can be included in graduate students’ teaching portfolios.

STAGE 2: PRE-OBSERVATION MEETING

Arrange a meeting with the graduate student instructor you are observing prior to the review in order to learn more about the instructors’ goals and expectations. 

Pre-observation is a three-part process consisting of 1) coming to a shared understanding of the purpose of the review, 2) closely examining the course materials an instructor has organized to support student learning, and 3) engaging in purposeful conversation with the instructor about class expectations and context; these will provide necessary background for the observation.

Helpful tips:

a. Agree upon a few areas of focus for observation: There are many aspects of teaching that one can receive feedback on.  Narrowing the focus to 2 or 3 areas (i.e.,student engagement, discussion question variety; see Observation Guide for more ideas) can help the graduate student instructor create a manageable plan of action.

b. Reflect on your own development as a teacher. What mentoring strategies were most helpful to your growth as a teacher? What support did you wish you had? Consider these past experiences and how your current role positions you to evaluate and assess others’ teaching. Also consider: what areas do you have for growth in your own teaching and what might you learn from this experience?

Hear what Professor Sean Theriault learned in his own teaching mentoring:


c. Look together at some resources on teaching excellence to develop a shared understanding of what is effective teaching and learning for this graduate student instructor’s classroom/students.

Classroom Observation Rubric

Teaching Behaviors Inventory

d. The following questions can help shape the conversation:

  • Would you prefer for the observation to be recorded and/or for me to be present in-person?
  • If in person, would you prefer for me to be there the entire class period, or is there a portion that would be most helpful to observe?
  • What do you consider the ideal outcome for student learning in this course?
  • How do you want students to engage with the learning during his class?
  • What do you see as the student’s role and responsibility in doing that?
  • What strategies/methods will you use to help students reach your goals?
  • How will you know if your students achieve the desired goal?
  • Is there anything I should I know about the context of the class? Where does it fit in the course?
  • Is there anything I should know about the students so I can understand what is going on in class?
  • How are students expected to prepare for this class?
  • What do you want students to take-away from the course?
  • What do you want to happen in this lesson? How does that fit in the broader course outcomes?
  • Any specific areas of interest, questions, or concerns about student learning you’d like me to focus on?
  • How would you like to introduce me to the class, if at all?
  • What have you learned from previous observations? What would you like to learn from this observation experience?

STAGE 3: THE REVIEW

The review is a focused and purposeful inquiry into observable individual and group behaviors in a specific class to help both instructor and observer “see” teaching and learning from a different perspective. Commit to being present for at least one class period in order for the instructor to get in a rhythm and display typical teaching behaviors. As the observer, you have an opportunity to learn and gather strategies that you can try in your own classroom.

The following tools can help you (1) collect and organize data throughout the observation, (2) create detailed field notes that you have the opportunity to share with the instructor being observed, and (3) construct a valuable reflective summary for the instructor.

FIC Observation Guide

Field Notes Template

STAGE 4: POST-OBSERVATION MEETING

The post-observation is a follow-up meeting of the observer and instructor to bring impressions from the materials' review and the observation together in a mutual conversation about teaching and learning.

Begin the meeting by returning to the areas of focus to 2 or 3 areas selected in the Pre-Observation Meeting, and allow the conversation to be driven by the instructor’s reflection on the observed lesson relative to the areas of focus. Thus, if “student engagement” was a pre-identified area of focus, you could ask the instructor “in what ways did you know your students were engaged during the lesson?” Build on the instructor’s reflections, keep the conversation specific and concentrated to a few areas of focus. 

Here are some resources on giving and receiving constructive feedback that can enhance the post-observation process:

University of Calgary, Formative Feedback (p. 13)

Michigan State University, Characteristics of Constructive Feedback

STAGE 5: REFLECTION

A reflective summary is a brief, written analysis by the observer of what was learned about teaching and student learning.  Promptly after the review and post-observation meeting, while the experience is still fresh, use notes and data collected throughout the review process to draft a summary that can assist the instructor reflecting upon their teaching. Provide concrete examples from the instructor’s class session to help the instructor get a clear understanding of your takeaways.

Some questions to consider include:

  • What are the instructor’s areas of strength? 

  • What are some areas where the instructor can grow in their teaching practice?

  • What have you learned about your own teaching as a result of the observation?

It may be helpful to refer back to the categories delineated in the observation form and rubric to articulate the instructors’ areas of strength and possibilities for development/refinement.