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How to prepare to conduct a classroom observation

I would like to do an observation with a teacher. From an instructor's standpoint, can you please help me answer the following questions, as if you were the student doing the observation so that I can see what exactly I need to be pay attention to when I complete my observation. I need assistance preparing an outline of what I need to include in my paper; this includes making observations, taking notes regarding instructional strategies and techniques, assessment techniques, classroom management and arrangement, and behavioral strategies. The paper has to include:

1. Teacher background (educational level and number of years of teaching experience)
2. Subject area and grade level
3. Description of lesson content
4. Types of instructional methods
5. Behavior management techniques
6. Instructional strategies
7. Assessment strategies

Solution Preview

In your outline, make sure to generally identify the topic of the paper, list all of your observations together logically and sequentially (using separate paragraphs for each), and offer a conclusion that does not simply bring the paper to a close: at this point you should be able to generally respond, without repeating specific examples, as to why you felt this teacher was (or was not) a positive "role model." Interacting with the lesson on a personal level allows your instructor know that you were not just observing, but internalizing. (The professor may already have mentioned this, but if I were writing the paper, or reading such a paper, this would be a solid conclusion that I would want to see.)

#3 - Description of lesson content - The first two points on your list are easily addressed, so I'll skip to #3. In your observation, you should be taking clear notes that you can utilize when you start to organize your paper. Ahead of time, you can do two things to help make your assignment more manageable. First, if you have access to a tape recorder, you could ask the teacher for his/her permission to tape the lesson. If the teacher feels uncomfortable with this, or you don't have the recorder, then make sure your notes will be clear enough to understand later. The information that you collect is central to your paper and to the key observations you will be discussing. The more you have to work with, the better. The second thing is to ask the teacher ahead of time for any handouts he/she will be referring to or distributing. If you have those in front of you, the lesson will make more sense and you can save yourself time with note-taking by making margin notes on the handouts. In essence, anything the teacher is already using will allow you to read them ahead of time so that you can seamlessly step into the lesson midstream and know where the students are. (You can also make little notes of questions to ask the teacher after the observation, for clarification you may need.)

When you write up the description of the lesson content, use a chronological order from when the actual lesson began to its conclusion. This will focus on the lesson's key points in terms of the content, based upon the curriculum he/she is covering. Try not to lose focus and start writing about other issues (e.g., instructional methods or strategies). It will be tempting, but for your professor's ease in following your "report," stick to the guidelines he has provided, in that order.

Before entering the class to observe, make sure to review types of instructional methods you have learned ahead of time. You might also want to have a little "cheat sheet" next to you so that you can quickly refer to it when you notice the teacher using a particular method. (If you see something new, make note of it for future reference, and feel free to ask the teacher about it later.) In this section, I would be paying attention to what is used and what is missed, commenting on both if you feel something was left out or you had difficulty seeing it. If you missed it, the kids did too. For example, I expect you might be looking for what used to be called the "anticipatory set," which is establishing background information that the student needs for maximum comprehension of new information being presented. This would be in the "Before" section of the B-D-A format. Is the teacher relying on information that was presented earlier in the lesson, or general information the student is expected to bring with him/her from life or last year's class? Does the teacher guarantee in some way that each student has this? If he expects, for example, that the student know something about the Declaration of Independence so that he can, today, discuss major areas of disagreement for the Continental Congress, does the teacher begin by generally reminding students about the document, its purpose and general background?

If there is a student new to his district or class, that youngster may not know what everyone else was taught previously. If the teacher ...

Solution Summary

For education/teaching majors: when preparing to observe a teacher in the classroom, there are a sequence of steps one should take in order to make the most of the experience. It is important to be prepared ahead of time and remain focused during the actual observation. In following some simple steps, it will be easier to prepare the written observation. Besides fulfilling a required piece of coursework, this observation can also serve later as a resource when moving into the classroom for student teaching, classroom management, etc.