Part III: Tools & Instruments for Observation

Please cite this publication in the following format:

Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. (2017). Peer observation of teaching: Effective practices. Toronto, ON: Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, University of Toronto.

Pre-Observation Template
Observation Sample Templates
The Narrative Log
Open-Ended Form
Checklist (Criterion-Based) Form
Online Course Evaluation Template
Post-Observation Debriefing Questions

Pre-Observation Template

(PDF Available here: Pre-Observation Template)

Course Title:
Course Number:
Level of Students:
Format of Course: (i.e. large class, seminar, lab)

  1. What is the content and structure of the class you will be teaching?
  2. Describe your students in this class. Is there anything the observer should know about them?
  3. What have student been asked to do in preparation for this class?
  4. What is your goal for the lesson? What do you hope students learn or be able to do as a result?
  5. What are your plans for achieving these goals?
  6. What teaching methods/teaching aids will be used?
  7. What has been taught in previous lessons in this course? How does this lesson fit into the course as a whole?
  8. Will this class be a typical example of your teaching? If not, what will be different?
  9. What would you like me to specifically focus on during the observation? (Use this question for formative reviews, in particular)
  10. Is there anything else I should be aware of prior to the observation?
  11. Logistics: Confirm time and place, and where the observer should sit.

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Observation Sample Templates

In-class observation can be done using a wide variety of both directed and open-ended forms of evaluation aimed at assisting peer observers in critically evaluating the teaching they have observed and identifying how their observations relate to their own experience of and goals for teaching. In the following pages we provide several forms and exemplars that offer different methods of recording an observation of teaching.

It is important to remember that these forms are simply tools. All forms should be accompanied by a narrative analysis and discussion with the instructor being observed. Departments and divisions can and should adapt these forms to their particular needs. For example, you may choose to add scaled items to the Checklist Form, or department-specific questions to the Open-Ended Form.

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The Narrative Log

(PDF Available here: The Narrative Log)

Below we have included a sample narrative log that allows the observer to record the time a behaviour (both instructor and student), a technique or a reaction occurs, as well as the observer’s comments or questions related to what is happening in the classroom.

Observations: Opening/warm up — shared anecdote
Time: 2:13
Action/Comment: A method for establishing rapport with the students.

Observations: Review of administrative details
Time: 2:15
Action/Comment: Details provided regarding an upcoming assignment and related tutorial.

Observations: Surveyed students to see what they remembered from previous lecture
Time: 2.26
Action/Comment: Students remembered little — what do you attribute this to?

Observations: Began lecture by sharing goals for this class
Time: 2:27
Action/Comment: Goals provided direction for the class. How did you feel regarding the amount of time spent setting up the class?

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Open-Ended Form

(PDF Available here: Open-Ended Form)

Several days prior to the classroom visit, the instructor should provide the observer(s) with a copy of the course syllabus containing course objectives/outcomes, content, organization and assessment.

PROCEDURE: The observer(s) should connect with the instructor several days in advance of the visit to conduct a pre­ observation meeting in order to learn the instructor’s goals and outcomes for the lesson to be observed, as well as the teaching methods to be used. Discuss specific aspects of the lesson the instructor would like feedback on. Within several days after the visit, the observer(s) should meet with the instructor to discuss the observations and conclusions.


  1. Specific feedback on elements identified in the pre-observation discussion.
  2. Describe the key goals/outcomes for the lesson.
  3. Describe the instructor’s content mastery, breadth and depth.
  4. Describe the method(s) of instruction/assessment.
  5. Describe the clarity and organization of the lesson.
  6. Describe the form and the extent of student engagement.
  7. What specific suggestions would you make to build on strengths and/or improve the teaching?

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Checklist (criterion-based) Form

(PDF Available here: Checklist (criterion-based) Form)

This form focuses on description regarding agreed upon items for observation based on the pre-observation meeting. Comments may be used by the observer to explain their observation and to provide reflection and additional insight. A sample format for these comments is as follows:


COMMENTS: Here, the observer may include, examples, further observations and when this observation occurred.

The following categories and items represent a number of possibilities for a departmental or divisional form. Observers should select appropriate items for the observation. Not all need apply in all teaching contexts – try to avoid rigid formulas regarding what“ should” be observed.



  • The instructor states the relation of the class to the previous one.
  • The instructor knows how to use the educational technology needed for the class.
  • The instructor posts class goals or objective on the board or a slides.
  • The instructor gives specific instructional outcomes for the course.
  • The instructor provides an outline of the organization of the class.
  • The instructor conveys the purpose of each class activity.
  • The instructor summarizes periodically and at the end of class or has the students do so.
  • The instructor revisits objectives at the end of class.
  • Students are made aware what preparation (readings or other assignments) they should complete prior to the next class.


  • If used, videos, websites and other resource materials have a clear purpose.
  • Handouts or digital resources are appropriate in number and subject.
  • The instructor gives assistance or insight into reading or using assigned texts.


  • The instructor’s choice of teaching techniques is appropriate for the goals.
  • During discussion, the instructor pauses after asking questions.
  • The instructor acknowledges student contributions to discussion, helping students extend their responses.
  • The instructor keeps discussion on track or facilitates small group discussion.
  • The instructor mediates conflict or differences of opinion, and encourages students to do the same.
  • The instructor demonstrates active learning techniques.
  • The instructor provides explicit directions for active learning tasks.
  • The instructor allows enough time to complete active learning tasks, such as collaborative work.
  • The instructor specifies how active learning tasks will be evaluated.
  • The timing of classroom activities considers attention spans.
  • The instructor relates class to course goals, students’ personal goals, or societal concerns.
  • The instructor offers “real world” application.
  • The instructor helps students apply theory to solve problems.


  • The instructor’s statements are accurate according to the standards of the field.
  • The instructor incorporates current research in the field.
  • The instructor identifies sources, perspectives, and authorities in the field.
  • The instructor communicates the reasoning process behind operations or concepts.
  • The instructor corrects bias in assigned materials.


  • The instructor can be seen and heard.
  • The instructor avoids extended reading from notes or texts.
  • The instructor varies lecturing with active learning techniques.
  • The instructor speaks at a pace that allows students to comprehend what is said.
  • The instructor uses appropriate examples, metaphors and analogies.
  • The instructor uses humour appropriately.
  • The instructor is enthusiastic about the subject matter.


  • The instructor addresses students by name, as possible.
  • Delivery is paced to students’ needs.
  • The instructor provides feedback at given intervals.
  • The instructor uses positive reinforcement.
  • The instructor incorporates student ideas into the class.
  • The instructor encourages students to build on each other’s comments and ideas.
  • The atmosphere of the classroom is participative.
  • The instructor is available before or after class.
  • The instructor pays attention to cues of boredom   and confusion.
  • The instructor provides students opportunity to mention problems/concerns with the class, either verbally or in writing.
  • The instructor models good listening habits.
  • The instructor demonstrates flexibility in responding to student concerns or interests.
  • The instructor is sensitive to individual interests and abilities.


  •  The instructor defines new terms or concepts.
  • The instructor elaborates or repeats complex information.
  • The instructor uses a variety of examples to explain content.
  • The instructor makes explicit statements in order to draw student attention to certain ideas.
  • The instructor pauses during explanations to allow students to ask questions.


  • Experiments/exercises are well chosen and well organized.
  • Procedures/techniques are clearly explained/ demonstrated.
  • The instructor is thoroughly familiar with experiments/exercises.
  • The instructor is thoroughly familiar with equipment/ tools used.
  • Assistance is always available during experiments/ exercises.
  • Experiments/exercises are important supplements to the course.
  • Experiments/exercises develop important skills.
  • Experiments/exercises are of appropriate length.
  • Experiments/exercises are of appropriate level of difficulty.
  • Experiments/exercises help to develop confidence in the subject area.
  • The instructor provides aid with interpretation of data.
  • The instructor’s emphasis on safety is evident.
  • Criticism of procedures/techniques is constructive.
  • The instructor works well with student and other parties in the setting.
  • Clinical or field experiences are realistic.


  • The instructor helps develop critical thinking skills and problem-solving ability.
  • The instructor broadens student views.
  • The instructor encourages the development of students’ analytic ability.
  • The instructor fosters respect for diverse points of view.
  • The instructor helps students develop awareness of the process used to gain new knowledge.
  • The instructor stimulates independent thinking.


  • Instructor creates an equitable and inclusive classroom that respects gender differences, diverse ethnocultural and faith communities, family structures, student abilities/needs and differences in socioeconomic status.
  • Instructor conveys the belief that all students can learn and succeed.
  • Instructor conveys openness and warmth and encourages students to interact with others the same way.
  • Instructor provides text, resources and learning materials in the classroom that reflects diversity of culture, ethnicity, faith, and language, and differences in socioeconomic status, physical ability and family structure.
  • Instructor uses resources that present both local and global images and perspectives.
  • Instructor uses technology to provide additional visual, oral, aural and/or physical supports for students who need them.
  • Instructor uses instructional strategies that reflect diverse learning styles.
  • Instructor uses a variety of assessment tasks so that students with different learning styles can achieve success.
  • Instructor provides accommodations for students who require extra time or additional explanations.

Items are adapted from Chism (2007) and University of Minnesota Peer Review of Teaching Guide (2009).

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Online Course Observation Template

(PDF Available here: Online Course Observation Template)

Section 1. General Course Overview and Introduction: Setting the stage for learning and preparing students successful participation in the course activities.

  • Does the instructor provide a thorough description of the course as well as introduce students to the course and the online format?
  • Are the learner requirements such as basic technology needs and/ or participation expectations described?
  • Are practice use of tools and/or community building activities included to prime the students for learning?

Section 2. Assessment of Student Learning: Alignment of activities and assessments with learning outcomes is evident in the course design.

  • Are learning outcomes communicated?
  • Is there a variety of activities and assessments?
  • Is there alignment of learning activities and assessments with learning outcomes?
  • Are formative and summative assessment opportunities part of the design?
  • Are assignments clearly described, including grading scheme or rubrics?
  • Is student workload appropriate to course level and duration?

Section 3. Instructional Design: A clear path to learning opportunities for students is provided, including interaction with the content, their peers, and their instructor.

  • Are there opportunities to interact or seek guidance from the instructor?
  • Are there opportunities to participate in community activities or peer-to-peer sharing?
  • Is learning scaffolded, guiding students toward increasingly independent learning and/or application of relevant skills?
  • Are there opportunities for student reflection on learning and/or feedback to the instructor?

Section 4. Online Organization and Design: Instructor’s design and choice of technology effectively delivers course content and supports learning processes.

  • Overall, is the navigation and structure of course easy for students to follow?
  • Do the tools and media formats selected support the course learning outcomes?
  • Are guides and protocols for use of the course tools provided?


  • What aspects of the course do you see as strengths that will contribute to effective student engagement and learning?
  • Are there any strategies or resources that you would recommend to enhance the design of this course?
  • Final comments or observations?

Harrison, L., & Heikoop, W. (2016). Online Learning Strategies, University of Toronto. Some elements of these guidelines are adapted with permission from The California State University’s Quality Online Learning & Teaching, Instructor (Self) and Peer-Review Course Assessment Instrument.

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Post-Observation Debriefing Questions

(PDF Available here: Post Observation Debriefing Questions)

Summary Notes:

Post-Observation Join Discussion:


How did the lesson evolve differently than planned?

What will you do differently next time?

What happens next?


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Please cite this publication in the following format:

Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. (2017). Peer observation of teaching: Effective practices. Toronto, ON: Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, University of Toronto.