Looking for Good Discussion-Leading: a Guide to Peer Observation

From “Looking for Good Teaching: A Guide to Peer Observation,” by B. B. Helling (Danforth Faculty Fellowship Project Report, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, 1976).

This observation guide is intended to assist an observer in watching for certain kinds of behavior in order to help the teacher of a discussion-based class to build on strengths. It provides information for the teacher which is specific so that he receives some concrete information, selective so that he gets some guidance as to appropriate directions for change, and positive so that he gets some encouragement. The observer records actual examples to enable the teacher to use his own best practice as the standard to work toward. The items [below] were drawn from 70 books and articles about good teaching and each represents a description of a recommended classroom practice.

Involving Students

___   Uses questions to stimulate discussion

___   Prevents or terminates discussion monopolies

___   Makes opportunities (i.e., going around table) for all to participate

___   Seeks to involve individuals who are not participating

___   Reinforces infrequent contributors

___   Assists a quiet student in “saying what he means”

___   Protects a quiet student from penalties for being wrong

___   Accepts silence

Quality of Interaction

___   Intervenes when pauses become long, not to fill them but to find out why

___   Willing to abandon an exhausted topic

___   Listens

___   Shares her/his perception of group process or feeling

___   When discussion is not going well, stops to deal directly with group processes

___   Indicates that personal attacks are out of order

___   Helps student to accept correction or appropriate criticism

___   Encourages students to acknowledge comments of others by summarizing them

___   Allows time for evaluation of the discussion itself

Quality And Content Of Discussion

___   Introduces relevant considerations that have been missed

___   Provides needed or relevant information (contributes facts, needed information, or sees that they are contributed)

___   Distinguishes a value from a fact

___   Sees that the group questions the accuracy of statements, the relevance of example and analogy, the adequacy of logic

___   Pursues student ideas when they are not clearly expressed

___   Intervenes when discussion gets off the track

___   Uses questions to guide discussion

___   Tolerates confusion and doubt while students search for a solution

___   Summaries discussion periodically

___   Helps students remain aware of logical organization

___   Refers back to points made or terms used earlier in discussion

___   Asks questions that go beyond facts

___   Asks questions that stimulate reflection beyond the class itself

___   Asks a variety of questions for different pedagogical purposes:

___ Emphasis

___ Practice (drill)

___ Self-awareness (student to realize he isn’t getting it)

___ Attention

___ Variety, change of pace in classroom

___ Review

Roles of Teacher

___   Shifts easily back and forth between presentation and discussion or questioning modes

___   Makes own role clear and sticks to it (i.e., moderator, resource person, etc.)

___   Delegates role of moderator

___   States the issue at the beginning, restates as needed

___   Resists the temptation to comment on each student’s comment

___   Paraphrases student comments for his own or student’s understanding

___   Uses non-verbal cues (looking, pointing, silence, facial expression) to direct the discussion without intruding

___   When necessary to intervene, does so briefly

___   Uses strategy on distracters

___   Admits not having an answer

___   Admits losing control of discussion (How did we get here?)

Classroom Relationship

___ Appears interested and enthusiastic

___ Calls students by name

___ Gives motivational cues: indicates important and difficult ideas

___ indicates certain topic will be on examination

___ suggests that material is difficult but learnable

___ Relates goals and content to social context, course or personal goals

___ Includes material relevant to existing student interests

___ Prompts awareness of students’ relevant knowledge or experience (gives or asks for examples, refers to prior learning, etc.)

___ Makes clear (demonstrates) his/her own way of considering ideas, attacking problems, etc.

___ Refers to work students are doing outside of class

___ Uses humor

___ Departs from plan to pursue an idea of spontaneous interest

___ Requires or makes opportunities for student to process information being provided (from rhetorical questions to discussions, written assignments)

___ Admits when he/she doesn’t know or is wrong

___ Explains teaching choices to class when appropriate

___ Seeks feedback on performance

___ Accepts student ideas and comments (by reflecting, clarifying, summarizing, encouraging)

___ Stresses aesthetic and emotional aspects of subject

___ Indicates his/her availability for giving individual help

___ Suggests resources for students to explore independently

___ Shifts easily from presentation mode to questioning or discussion mode

___ Provides opportunities for and encourages audience participation and questions

___ Clarifies material when asked

___ Calls for questions in a way that does not embarrass or belittle the questioner

___ Allows time for the formulation of questions

___ Praises question asking, good questions

___ Clarifies thinking by identifying reasons for questions

___ Makes sure that comments or questions have been heard by all

___ Answers questions clearly and directly

___ Checks to see whether answer has been understood

___ Relates student comments to one another

___ Invites students to share their knowledge and experience

___ Remembers and refers to student ideas

___ Interacts with students not physically nearest him

___ Asks follow-up questions

___ Uses student questions or comments to introduce new material

Reception Of Answers

___   Gives evidence of listening to answers, not just waiting to hear an expected answer

___   Rephrases an answer to be sure he/she understands

___   Tries to understand a divergent response rather than rejecting it

___   Asks for further clarification

___   Corrects misconceptions, sees that correct answer is brought out

___   Gives reasons when rejecting an answer

___   Follows up short or inadequate answers with a probing response that requires student to extend or improve his answer

___   Accepts and acknowledges all answers (“I see what you mean,” “Mmhm”) or by reflecting,

___ by clarifying

___ by summarizing

___   Responds directly rather than praising

___   Acknowledges the correct part of a partially correct answer and tries to get the incorrect part improved – by the same person or another

_ _   Asks students to check a wrong answer against other known information or evidence

___   Reminds student of relevant known information or evidence

___   Recognizes student’s right to his own opinion where question is a matter of opinion

___   Responds by expressing his own ideas

___   Encourages students to evaluate their own or one another’s answers (what would happen if you did it that way?) or to disagree


___   Draws together contributions of various members of the group

___   Allows time to consider implications of the content of the discussion outside the classroom

___   Requires the group to make a conscious effort to relate the discussion to ideas and concepts acquired in other meetings or other learning situations

___   Summarized and draws new conceptualizations at end

___   Encourages students to conclude with a review including:

___ restatement of positions taken

___ checking if any positions have been modified and why

___ consideration of future action

___   Suggest a follow-up activity (“Watch for…,” “Try this…,”) related to discussion