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Observing a Reading Classroom

Principals greatly benefit as reading leaders when they understand research-based teaching strategies, recognize strengths in their teachers' practice, and note areas that need improvement. Observation and conferencing are primary responsibilities of instructional leaders (Glickman,1985; Pajak,1989).

The purpose of a classroom visit is to help teachers improve their instruction and identify the best teaching practices in your school. Observation visits reflect your interest in instruction and in your staff's professional growth (Blase & Blase, 1998). Teachers should feel that you support their efforts and that you will offer positive feedback, helpful suggestions, and objective observations. When you observe a classroom, you should look for specific teacher behaviors, along with student engagement, responses, and work.

There are a variety of strategies that can be used when visiting a class. As you prepare for classroom visits, the suggestions that follow will help you focus on the elements that help create a rich learning environment.

Before the Visit

  • Plan formal and informal classroom visits to observe teachers applying teaching strategies.
  • Ask the teacher what his or her goals for the lesson are.
  • Get copies of lesson materials the teacher may be using, such as charts, discussion leads, handouts, and any other written materials.

During the Visit

  • Put the teacher and students at ease.
  • Observe the lesson, noting teacher performance and student responses and behaviors.
  • Note the types and range of texts used in the lesson, i.e., fiction, nonfiction, textbooks, anthologies, leveled books, trade books, magazine articles.
  • Record examples of student behaviors and oral or written work that seem significant, teaching techniques, strategies, and class groupings.

After the Visit

  • Meet with the teacher to review the goals of the lesson. You may want to have the teacher share his or her assessment of the lesson before offering your observations.
  • Be positive and constructive.
  • Refer to the teaching techniques, classroom materials, or student work you noted during the lesson to spark discussion and reflection.
  • Using specific examples, provide direct, concrete suggestions.

Conferencing Guide
During your teacher conference, you might want to keep in mind these checkpoints:

  • Begin by pointing out the highlights of the lesson.
  • Point out an instance in which the students were particularly engaged.
  • Discuss the teacher's approach to direct instruction. Does the teacher clearly set student expectations for the lesson? Does he or she take advantage of opportunities to model skills and strategies? Does the teacher give enough (and the right kind of) guidance during practice?
  • Question teachers on particularly successful OR unsuccessful strategies by asking why he or she chose to do something a particular way. Follow up by pointing out why the teacher made a good decision, or by guiding the teacher with suggestions on how to achieve the goal in another way.
  • Ask the teacher to identify student behaviors that indicated they understood the material.
  • Let the teacher know her or his greatest strength and weakness in the lesson. Probe as to how the teacher could extend this strength and how she or he might remedy the weakness. Be prepared to offer outside resources, such as a particular professional development activity, or opportunities to observe or consult with their peers.
  • Ask what goal the teacher has for the class in connection to the lesson he or she taught. What can the teacher do to ensure that goal will be met?

This article is excerpted from a Scholastic Red Principal's Guide. Scholastic Red is a new, groundbreaking professional development program that gives teachers intensive support to help them succeed in raising student achievement in reading. Learn more.