Now in main content

Peer Observations of Teaching


Further reading: “Contexts of Peer Review.” Peer Review Of Teaching: A Sourcebook. Nancy Van Note Chism.

Throughout academia, informal peer observations of teaching act as a standard mode of providing support and constructive feedback for teachers while “establishing communities of practice” (Chism 3). Consistent informal peer observations help teachers develop their materials, activities, and overall pedagogy. 

Detailed feedback on peer teaching observations can also provide useful, formative feedback to instructors. For observers, attending a peer’s teaching can provide insights into their own teaching goals. Additionally, consistent informal peer observations help instructors become more comfortable inviting colleagues into their classroom and more confident in preparing for formal teaching observations. As opposed to teaching observations for a job interview, this teaching observation should reflect your typical classroom atmosphere rather than a demonstrative, overplanned teaching occasion.


The purpose of peer observations is to improve each other’s teaching by working together to highlight strengths and make suggestions. ​​The specific purpose of the WCP first-year Brittain Fellow peer observation program is primarily informal, formative, and observational as opposed to summative and evaluative.In the future, you may find that peer review of teaching useful for professional advancement, like tenure and promotion cases. Here, in the Brittain Fellowship, a conversation based on your observations can help prepare  you and your colleagues  for teaching demos and/or observations by the WCP leadership [that might inform their recommendations for career opportunities]. In future career trajectories, formal teaching observations may be required as part of an annual review; in that case, the purpose of the review would be evaluative rather than a more informal observation.

For an observation of your colleague’s teaching, the goals are the following:

  1. For both the observer and the teacher to be comfortable being in each other’s classes.
  2. For the observer to record what they see. The task is description, not evaluation. You want to act as a kind of mirror providing a relatively-objective description of the teacher’s teaching.
  3. For the teacher to receive useful and positive feedback about their teaching.

For both the teacher and the observer to reflect on their own teaching in relation to the observation in a helpful manner.

The process has five parts:

  1. Pre-observation meeting (~10-15m)
  2. In-class observation (50-75m, depending on length of class session)
  3. Completed Observation Form (that leads to cohesive feedback paragraph and/or post-observation discussion)
  4. Post-observation discussion (~20-30m)
  5. Cohesive feedback paragraph (~150-250 words)

Suggested Process

Pre-observation meeting (~10-15m)

Use the following questions to frame your pre-observation discussion (adapted from Chism, Nancy Van Note, Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook, p.105):

  • What are the goals for the class that I will observe?
  • What are your plans for achieving these goals?
  • What teaching/learning activities will take place?
  • What have students been asked to do in preparation for the class?
  • Will this class be typical of your teaching style? If not, why?
  • What are 1-2 things you want me to focus on in the observation? Consider these possible areas:
    • Class management and organization
    • Overall student engagement and attention
    • Discussion and activity facilitation
    • Patterns of teacher engagement with students
    • Instructor authority, credibility, expertise
    • Meta-referencing of primary concepts and processes in the course (references to course objectives and outcomes throughout the course, including rhetoric, process, multimodality)
    • Interesting, relevant, and appropriately challenging content appropriate for level and clearly linked to course objectives
    • Professional demeanor and nonverbal communication
    • Use of technology in relation to pedagogical goals
  • Are there other things that I should be aware of prior to the observation?

Observation: Narrative Log

Narrative Log Form Source: Elon University Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. “Narrative Log.” Peer Observation Of Teaching.

The Narrative Log (sometimes called “Ethnographic” or “Documentary Organizer”)

In this format, the observer takes notes to describe what is happening sequentially during the class at regular intervals. The primary goal is to report on observable teaching and learning activities, and verbal and non-verbal behaviors (of either the instructor or students) in order to provide specificity in post-observation discussions. Where possible, the observer adds interpretation, comments, questions, or ideas in the right hand column. This is an example of a filled-out log.




Time Observations Reflections/Questions
1:50 Prof welcomes, tells a story and links to the day’s goals Method seems to establish rapport and focus students on the day’s goals

Asks the question of the day (which is also on slide), then pauses and asks students to write  initial thoughts on it.

All but one student free-write.


Students seem to be thinking and engaged right away.

Asks for volunteers to share their answers.

5 immediately volunteer and others listen


Surveyed students to see what they remembered from the previous day’s class; they appeared to remember little.

Instructor reviews 2 big concepts.

Why do you think they didn’t  remember much? Typical?

Breaks into groups to unpack the readings – groups had questions to consider (on slide).

Instructor circulated, answers question from two groups; clarifies for the whole class; circulates, avoids tangential discussion from one group

Clear instructions to groups.

Students seem to see you as approachable and helpful


Students did the reading! How did you motivate them to?

2:20 Students still working in groups; one group finished quicker than the others  
2:30 Asks 2 groups to report out; others add different insights and asks one another questions Students seem to listen respectfully to one another, not just the instructor
2:37 Lecture on new material – shares outline and purpose. Of 20 students, about ¾ are taking notes, and occasionally nodding; a few are doodling or on Facebook


Wonder how we might get that last ¼ more engaged?

2: 47 Lecture – most still taking notes and nodding; a couple students in the corner look confused  
2:57 Lecture – most still taking notes and nodding  
3:05 Wrap-up – oral and slides summarizing the day’s goals and activities, connecting back to original question  


Blank Narrative Log 

Narrative Log template in .doc format

Time Observations Reflections/Questions


Post-observation debrief (~20-30m)

Within a week of the observation, the observer and instructor should meet to discuss the observation.

Post-Observation Discussion Topics Source: Elon University Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. “Narrative Log.” Peer Observation Of Teaching.

Possible Post-Observation Discussion topics (after sharing and going through the log)

  • Specific moments that were especially effective
  • Specific moments that might have been more effective
  • The balance of class time (teacher/student activity and engagement)
  • Degree to which the goals were met 
  • Questions and general discussion

Cohesive Feedback Paragraph (150-250 words)

Within a week after the observation, the observer sends the instructor a filled out version of the following worksheet of their observation. This Observation Form should be viewed as a step towards a Cohesive Feedback Paragraph (~150 -250 words) and/or a post observation debrief. The paragraph (or multiple paragraphs if you’d like) should tie together the observer’s notes to construct a clear depiction of what the class is like–focusing primarily on formative, constructive feedback. This can be used in teaching portfolios or even annual reviews, or they can be only shared between the participants.

Observation Form

Pre-observation meeting questions can be used as guiding notes for the actual observation. You may want to jot down notes or keywords during the class for the observation to expand on later in the post observation debrief, feedback paragraph, and/or letter. Remember: These observation notes are between peer observers–no requirement to report to WCP leadership. Note: There is an alternative form for asynchronous classes below. 


Teacher Observed: 



Subject/class theme: 

From Pre-Observation Meeting: 

  • What is the goal/teaching objective for this particular class? 
  • Is there any additional context?
  • Any notes or comments about this particular class or how it may be different or typical as compared to other classes? Remember, it doesn’t need to be, nor should be, demonstrative nor overplanned.

Is there anything in particular that the observed would like the observer to focus on? Consider what you would like to focus on for your teaching development and  how the feedback could be used to build cohesive application materials.

The Observation  

  1. Describe two teaching strengths and suggest one teaching strategy that the observed can work on to achieve their pedagogical goals and develop in their teaching.
  2. Provide one or two questions for the instructor (these can be fairly open but consider the engagement of students, the communication of learning objectives in the class, the use of instructional materials, classroom activities, intentions, or larger context of pedagogical values). 
  3. Make notes of anything you would like to discuss in the post observation debrief or Cohesive Feedback Paragraph. 


For Asynchronous Classes: 


Before the Observation: 

  1. Contact your observer to schedule 60 minutes for your collaborative observation. 
  2. Reflect on the course thus far: What has worked well? What may need to be changed?
  3. Use your reflection to decide on 2-3 feedback areas of focus using the table below; communicate those 2-3 feedback areas to your observer prior to the scheduled observation. 
  4. Add your observer to your course on Canvas as a Teacher or TA; provide your observer access to any other relevant materials for your course.


During the Collaborative Observation 

  1. Informally guide your observer through the course. Remember: There’s no need for a formal presentation and no need to practice anything; just walk through the major aspects of your course. You might discuss your schedule, modules, assignments, and/or discussions; you might also discuss your approach to any videos you use, any synchronous elements, and/or other ways of connecting and interacting with students. 
  2. During the observation, the observer should ask questions to discuss the observed’s prioritized feedback areas and share any questions/concerns about the course.


(Process adapted from Mechenbier, M., & Warnock, S. (2019). A collaborative method for observing/evaluating online writing courses. College Composition and Communication, 71(1), A8-A16.)

Feedback Categories 

Choose 2-3 of the following feedback categories for the observation to prioritize. For each feedback category you choose, the collaborative observation will consider that category from the points of view of course design/content and of course facilitation. Feel free to develop your own categories/questions or make the questions listed here more specific to your concerns.

Possible Feedback Categories  Feedback Re: Course Design / Content (e.g., Canvas set-up, modules, schedule, discussion set-up, synchronous session set-up)  Re: Course Facilitation (e.g., messages and announcements, videos, discussions, feedback, assignment communication, synchronous session facilitation)
Instructor/Student Interaction: How does the instructor/course encourage contact between students and the instructor? 
Student Interaction/Community: How does the instructor/course encourage contact among students, including reciprocity and cooperation?
Active Learning: How does the instructor/course encourage active learning?
Time on Task: How does the instructor/course emphasize time on task?
Feedback: How does the instructor/course provide prompt feedback?
High Expectations / Appropriate Level of Challenge: How does the instructor/course communicate high expectations?
Inclusivity: How does the instructor/course respect diverse talents and ways of learning?
Other: Other questions / concerns 

(Questions adapted from Chickering, A. & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin (39)7, qtd in Taylor, A. (2010). A peer review guide for online courses at Penn State. The Pennsylvania State University.)

Sharing (or Not Sharing) Observation Data

Unless you witness something potentially illegal or otherwise dangerous, there’s no expectation to share the outcomes of your observations with anyone in WCP leadership. In other words, these peer observations are intended to be shared between the peers observing each other.

 You might, however, want to use the feedback paragraph from your observation, or even a more expanded letter, as evidence of teaching excellence in your annual review or academic job applications. In that case, you might quote from the paragraph in your annual review narrative or give the paragraph to a recommender to possibly use in a reference letter.