Better Feedback for Better Teaching
This comprehensive resource includes helpful starting points, as well as tips to refine techniques and address new challenges. Each section combines clear explanations of key ideas with concrete, adaptable examples and strategies. Self-assessments are included to help you quickly rank current needs and find the most relevant solutions. Filled with valuable, practical tools, Better Feedback for Better Teaching helps educators cultivate high-quality classroom observations that improve teaching and learning.
Better Feedback for Better Teaching
Getting from Here to There
Imagine two teachers-Mr. Smith and Ms. Lopez-who work in different districts, and who have very different views on classroom observation. Mr. Smith is skeptical of observations, and for good reason. From his conversations with colleagues about being observed by different evaluators, he suspects the ratings they get have more to do with who does the observing than with the quality of the teaching. Moreover, Mr. Smith has never left a post-observation conference with a clear understanding of the reasons for the ratings that he received. Nor does he have any clear ideas of how to improve his ratings. Not surprisingly, he sees little value in observations and has little faith in evaluation.
Ms. Lopez's experience is different. At first, she too was skeptical of classroom observations. She thought they were primarily a mechanism for accountability and was unsure of the criteria. After experiencing several observations by different evaluators, however, her views have changed. The feedback she received clearly explains how what happened in the lesson aligns with the performance levels that are spelled out in the district's observation instrument, which embodies the district's expectations for teaching. Most important, when she sits down for a post-observation conference, she now expects to leave with a concrete plan for improving her teaching practice.
Ensuring that observers can provide accurate and meaningful feedback, in rich conversations with teachers, is essential for improving teaching and learning.
Both scenarios are playing out across the country. In some schools and districts, teachers report getting meaningful feedback from observations. But not in others. Across some districts, observation results appear to be consistent and accurate. But across other districts, the results suggest that teaching is being judged based on different standards, or that evaluation remains a perfunctory exercise in which virtually all teaching is deemed proficient. On the whole, classroom observation today may be better than in the past, when it was based on simple checklists (e.g., "was the lesson objective posted?"), but the quality of implementation clearly remains uneven.
What will it take for all the Mr. Smiths to have the same experience as Ms. Lopez? A big part of the answer is ensuring that observers have the full set of knowledge and skills that quality observation requires. Observation is a highly challenging task. Observers must filter a dynamic and unpredictable scene in the classroom to find the most important indicators of performance, make an accurate record of them, and then apply a set of criteria as intended. Observation is complicated by the fact that, as educators, we've all formulated our own views of what effective teaching looks like, which can lead us to interpret and apply the same criteria differently. We're not used to seeing things through a common lens. Providing observers with instruments and procedures is not enough; they need the opportunity to learn how to use them effectively.
Figure I.1 To Improve Teaching and Learning, Professional Growth Matters Most
Ensuring that observers can provide accurate and meaningful feedback, in rich conversations with teachers, is essential for improving teaching and learning. Research indicates there aren't enough clearly low-performing teachers to think that focusing on them alone will result in meaningful gains in student achievement. The overall quality of teaching in the vast majority of classrooms-perhaps 90 percent-is near the middle in terms of performance (see Figure I.1 ). Significant progress in achievement will require that every teacher gets the individualized feedback and support he or she needs to change practice in ways that better promote student learning. Quality observation provides not only tha