Peer reviews of teaching
Preparing effective peer reviews of teaching
As indicated in the St. Olaf Faculty Manual, peer reviews of teaching are to incorporate evidence from a variety of sources, including a discussion with the candidate about his or her teaching perspectives, practices, and professional development; a review of sample instructional materials; and at least two observations of the candidate’s instruction. Below are additional suggestions for preparing effective reviews.
- Consider the audience. Peer reviews of teaching may have different audiences, depending on the type of faculty review being conducted. For comprehensive reappointment reviews, the primary audience for a peer review of teaching includes the initiator and the candidate’s Associate Dean (Faculty Manual 4.VIII.3, 7, 8), both of whom are likely to be generally familiar with the subject matter and characteristic pedagogy of the discipline. In contrast, peer reviews of teaching for tenure and promotion are not only referenced in the initiator’s recommendation, but are also part of the candidate’s dossier. Thus, the audience for these peer reviews includes the members of the Tenure and Promotion Committee and the administrators who review the dossier, most of whom will not be specialists in the candidate’s discipline.
- Consider the broad purpose and scope of a peer review. Peer reviews should take account of both theoretical and practical issues. They should provide both a framework for understanding teaching and learning in the candidate’s discipline, and a specific description of the principles or techniques used by the candidate to promote student learning. It is vital to remember that classroom observation is only one component of a complete peer review; evidence from first-hand observation is complemented by evidence from the candidate’s instructional materials and from direct conversation with the candidate.
- Consult with the initiator as well as the candidate in choosing which course(s) and sessions to observe. Initiators can ensure that the peer reviews, taken as a group, provide a broad picture of the candidate’s teaching. Some initiators may wish to encourage different reviewers to “specialize” in observing courses at a particular level or treating specific subject matter. Others may encourage each reviewer to observe more than one course rather than two or more sessions in the same course.
- Prepare before observing instruction. Whether as part of the discussion with the candidate or in a separate session, reviewers should seek information concerning the objectives of the session(s) to be observed and the role of the session in the course as a whole.
- Contextualize the candidate’s instruction. Provide information that will help orient non-specialists to teaching and learning in the field and in the department. If there are trends in practice, or formal statements about teaching and learning in the field, it may be helpful to identify these. If the candidate’s course assignments or pedagogy serve a distinctive purpose in the department, it is helpful to explain that as well.
- Contextualize the evidence drawn from classroom observation. Describe the preparations prior to classroom observation (e.g., conversations with the candidate prior to and following observation of teaching, the specific courses visited, other materials reviewed, etc.). Indicate whether the review includes several observations of the same course or one or more observations of different courses. If the choice of course(s) to observe has a programmatic or philosophical explanation, include that information. It may also be helpful to indicate whether this is the first time you have observed this particular colleague, or whether there were previous observations.
- Integrate and organize the evidence in relation to the Faculty Manual criteria for contributions to student learning and development. Resist the temptation simply to prepare a chronological account of the class sessions you observed. Instead, select examples of the candidate’s practices and link them to the other evidence you gathered from interviews and analysis of the candidate’s instructional materials, and use the integrated evidence to support an assessment of the candidate’s performance in relation to each of the Faculty Manual criteria for effective contributions to student learning and development (Section 4.VII.C.1(a)-(f)).
- Keep the review concise and jargon-free. Peer reviews should be neither too short nor too long; a statement of 3-4 single-spaced pages is generally appropriate. The review should be easily readable and devoid of jargon. At the same time, it should be as concrete as possible, providing specific examples and illustrations from the interview with the candidate, the observation(s) of instruction, the examination of instructional materials, and any other sources the reviewer may consult.