Observing Other Teachers

Some student teachers attend programs where they get to observe teachers. If you have such an opportunity, this document is provided to give you ideas of things to look for.

The BIG questions:

    1. What does the teacher do to get information into the students’ heads?

    2. What does the teacher do to figure out what information got into the students’ heads?

    3. After the teacher figures out what is in the students’ heads and what is not, what does the teacher do with that information?   Does s/he reteach?   Does s/he offer make-up tests or quizzes

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Other sections in this document:

Structure of the classroom

  1. The objects in the room.
    1. How are they placed so that students do not have random access to them, or is the classroom management such that any object can be left out and the teacher does not have to worry about it? Items to notice: pens, pencils, stapler, colored pencils, lab equipment, any object that can fit in a backpack

    2. Where is the pencil sharpener placed? Trash can? How many of each? Is the pencil sharpener manual or electric? How do students get permission to interact with these objects? Is there Kleenex (or tissues) for the students? If so, can they just grab them or do they ask for permission to get one?

    3. Lab objects: how are lab objects kept track of? How do students know where to find goggles? Are there goggles for them to use? How is the equipment organized so that the teacher knows which objects are returned at the end of the period?

    4. Food objects. Are students allowed to eat? If so, what do they do with their trash? Do you notice gum stuck to the desks or chairs? Are soda bottles allowed? Water? Are they allowed to eat while they are working?

    5. Electronic objects. Are students listening to music while they work? Are they listening to music while the teacher is teaching? Are they using their cell phone during class and if so, why? What type of calculators do you see students using: none, graphing, plain scientific, plain arithmetic?
  2. What is the seating arrangement like? How is student traffic handled during the period?

  3. Does this science classroom involve lab space? If not, how do they do hands-on activities? How many sinks are available for students? Are there balances? Are the balances four beam or electric? Is there soap at the sinks? Are there paper towels at the sinks? If a student wants to wash his/her hands, what is the routine for getting permission to do so.
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How students interact with each other or with the teacher

  1. Discussions
    1. If students want to volunteer an answer, do they raise hands, do they wait to be called on randomly, do they shout out answers or does something else happen?   How does a student let the teacher know s/he wants to answer a question?

    2. How do students ask questions to keep the discussions going?   Do they ask questions? If they ask questions, who answers them?

  2. Hands-on activities
    1. How do students get equipment they need for the activity? How are lab objects kept track of?   How do students know where to find goggles?   Are there goggles for them to use?   How is the equipment organized so that the teacher knows which objects are returned at the end of the period?

    2. How are activities organized?   Do students work in groups?   Do they work individually?   What do they do in groups?   What do they do as individuals? How often do they get to interact with peers?
  3. Respect
    1. How can you tell if students respect each other?   Can you tell if their antics like tossing paper are meant to be mean to other students or if it is a contest to see who can get away with it?  

    2. Do the students do anything to challenge the authority of the teacher?   If so, what?

  4. Engagement
    1. When are the students paying attention?   All of the time?   During certain activities?   What is happening in the classroom when students are paying attention?   What is happening in the classroom when students are not paying attention?   Are there certain students who appear to pay attention more than other students?   Does seat location in the room seem to have any influence on a student’s attention span?
    2. What are students doing when they are engaged?   Are they taking notes they have to create for themselves?   Are they copying notes off the board?   Are they answering questions out of a textbook?   Are they watching a demonstration?   Are they doing an activity?   Are they doing a lab?
  5. If you get to observe a lab situation:
    1. Do students divide up the jobs or has the teacher divided them up for them?
    2. Can you tell if there are power dynamics in the lab group- someone bossing around the other students or taking control of who does what?   How do other students in the group respond to being told what to do?   Does the group share responsibilities evenly?   How can you tell?
    3. Do students respect the equipment?   Do they want to respect the equipment?   Do they know how to use the equipment properly?   Are they using it properly?   Are students sticking objects in locations that are less than appropriate?
    4. How does the lab group determine who will clean up?   How is equipment returned?   Who takes responsibility for lab cleanup- one student or the entire group?   (Reminder- we’re not judging what is better or worse—we’re just looking for how things are done.)

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How the teacher interacts with the students

  1. How does the teacher structure the day so students feel safe?
    1. When students first walk in the room, what is automatically in place? 
      1. Is there an agenda posted?   Where?  
      2. Is there a homework board telling them what is due that day or any day?  
      3. What is on the walls that would welcome a student to the classroom?   Is there a periodic table on a wall? Are classroom expectations posted?   Are standards posted?   Are ESLRs posted (high school)? Are there quotes?   Posters of science things?   Posters of scientists?
      4. Is there space for students to put their personal belongings?   Their backpack?   Their coats? How safe are their objects?
      5. Are students sitting with friends?   Are they grouped according to ability level?   Alphabetical? Student choice?   Teacher choice? Do they sit in the same spot every day?
      6. Do students come on-time?   If not, how does the teacher handle it?   Do students sign a tardy sign-in sheet or something equivalent? Are students respectful when they come in late or do they make a scene?   Do students seem apologetic or arrogant about being late?
      7. Are the seats arranged in a specific way or for a specific purpose?   If so what and why?
    2. What happens in the first 10 minutes of class?
      1. Are there school sponsored announcements?   If so, who reads them?   Are they printed?   Are they via a loudspeaker system to the entire school?
      2. Are there teacher sponsored announcements?   If so, what are the students doing while she is updating them on what is happening in the future in class?   Does s/he expect the students to be silent or can they be milling about doing things?
      3. Is there a warm-up question, a sponge, a question-of-the-day, or equivalent? 
        1. How is it executed?   Do students write down answers?   Do they answer orally?   If they answer orally, how many students volunteer answers?   Half the class? Two or three people?
        2. Does the teacher read their answers?   Do students get credit for answering the opening question?   If so, is it worth a lot of credit or just a little?
        3. What is the teacher doing while the students are answering the question?  
        4. Does the teacher go over the question with the class during classtime? If so, how does s/he go over it?   Give the answer for them to see?   Solicit student answers?
        5. How much time is taken for the warm-up to happen?
        6. What content is covered by the question?   Stuff they have already learned, stuff they are brainstorming for future lessons, or both?
  2. How does the teacher get the information into students’ heads?
    1. When the “meat” of the class starts:
      1. How can you tell?   Are there certain phrases or things the teacher does to indicate that the content part of the lesson is starting?
      2. How do the students respond to the fact that the lesson part is starting?   Does their behavior change?
    2. Methods of getting information into kids’ heads
      1. Lecture
        1. Does the teacher provide notes via overhead or LCD projector?    Do the students only copy the teacher’s notes?   How does the teacher decide if enough time has been given for students to copy down the notes?
        2. Does the teacher provide a guided lecture- passes out an outline of what will be covered during lecture and students are expected to take notes on the paper provided?
        3. Are the students left to take notes on their own?   If so, is there a suggested method they should use?   Are they given the freedom to decide what to write down and what to store in their heads by listening?
        4. If a student does not have pencil and paper, does the teacher provide it to him/her?
        5. How much time is dedicated to lecture?   Most of the period?   10 minute segments?
      2. Activities not involving lab equipment
        1. Do students work in smaller groups?   How many students are in a group?   Do they get to pick who they work with?
        2. Do students appear to respect sharing of common supplies like colored pencils or scissors?   Do students provide their own colored pencils and that type of stuff, or does the teacher provide it?   If it is teacher provided, how does the teacher make sure all of the objects stay in the classroom for all students to use?   Does the teacher seem to care if students take objects with them?   (Again, we’re not judging here, just observing.   Some teachers figure that if a kid needs the colored pencil and takes it without asking, that it is ok.   There must have been a personal reason for the student not to ask.)
        3. What types of things are students doing in these situations?   Making graphs?   Drawing pictures? Solving problems? Having small group discussions (not about last weekend, but about the academic content)?
        4. How much time is dedicated to activities?   Most of the period?   15 minute segments?
      3. Activities involving laboratory equipment
        1. How does the teacher communicate s/he trusts the students?
        2. Are the labs age and/or subject matter appropriate?   How can you tell?  
        3. How are the students made aware of how the lab fits in with the factoid contents they are learning in class?
        4. How does the teacher keep track of lab equipment? Is it left out between sections?   If not, how is it stored between sections?
        5. Who sets up and cleans up the labs, the students or the teacher? If it is a shared responsibility, who does what?
        6. How much time is dedicated to labs?   Most of the period?   20 minute segments?
      4. Discussions
        1. How does the teacher decide who to call on?
        2. Do students volunteer?   If so, do all students volunteer?   Just certain kids?   What does the teacher do to encourage kids to volunteer?  
        3. How much time does the teacher usually take to have a discussion?   Entire period?   5 mins?  
        4. When does the teacher do discussions?   Before activities?   After activities?   As a lead into what they will be studying?   As a follow up?  
    3. Finishing the class period.
      1. What is done to signal the ending of the lesson part of the period?   A teacher purchased bell?   A student or teacher announcement?   How do students know when to clean up?
      2. Is there an ending of the period quiz?   End of the period joke?   End of the period quote?   Review?
      3. Are students allowed to line up at the door?   If so, are they orderly?   If not, how does the teacher enforce the policy?
      4. Who dismisses the students- the teacher or the school bell?   If the teacher dismisses the students, are there any policies about what has to happen before they can leave?   Should they all be seated?   Do they have to clean up the trash on the floor around them?
  3. How does the teacher handle specific student situations?

    1. Tardies, although mentioned above, pointed out here again.   Are there consequences for being late?   How does the teacher keep track of who is late?   Does s/he keep track of how many minutes late?
    2. Absences
      1. When does the teacher take roll?   How does the teacher communicate attendance to the appropriate people?   Does s/he enter it directly into the computer?   Fill out a scantron sheet?
      2. If a student is absent, how does s/he figure out what s/he missed? How much time are students given to make up missed assignments?   Missed quizzes?   Missed tests?
      3. Are students allowed to make-up tests?   If so, is there a limit on how many they are allowed to be absent during?   If so, how is that policy enforced?   (You may never get to see this aspect in action, but if you do get to see it, notice what is done.)
      4. Do there appear to be certain students who are absent more often than others?  If so, do you notice these students’ interactions in the class to be different than the ones by students who are there almost every day, if not every day?   Is there something these students can do to get caught up or do they appear to be perpetually lost?
    3. Disruptions- Note, it is ok if you don’t notice disruptions happening during the classes you observe.   You don’t need to encourage the students to be disruptive just so you can see how a teacher handles it.
      1. Verbal
        1. What are some techniques the teacher uses to discourage random talking?
        2. What does the teacher do to respond to shout-outs?
        3. During discussions, how does the teacher balance who says what and when?
        4. If a student disrespects another student, what are the consequences?
        5. If a student disrespects the teacher, what are the consequences?
      2. Physical
        1. If students are physically bothering each other, what are the consequences?
        2. What does the teacher do to quell physical disturbances?   How does s/he diffuse situations before they escalate?
        3. If a fight happens, how does the teacher stop it?   Call security?   Get involved physically in the fight?
      3. Objects
        1. Throwing objects.   Does the teacher notice?   If so, how is it stopped?   What are the consequences for students who throw objects?
        2. If a cell phone rings, how is the disturbance handled?
        3. If a student is listening to music and is not supposed to be, what are the consequences?
        4. If a student is eating and is not supposed to be, what are the consequences?
      4. Individual behavior
        1. Are students allowed to nap during class?   How does the teacher interact with students who are napping?
        2. If a student is having a bad day, does the teacher get involved?   If so, how?

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