Recommended Practices for Peer Review of Teaching

The following ideas come from Nancy Van Note Chism’s extremely valuable resource book, Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook (1999, 2007), as well as from members of the Fall, 2010, CTL learning circle who read and discussed the book, and provided their input.

1. Be clear at the outset whether the peer review is intended for formative or summative purposes.

  • Formative reviews are conducted for purposes of improvement; their content is confidential and the property of the faculty member being evaluated.
  • Summative reviews are conducted in order to make judgments about a faculty member (e.g., promotion, tenure, merit raises) and become part of that individual’s permanent record.

The goals of the peer review must be apparent to both parties from the start; there should be no surprises. Ideally, all faculty members have an opportunity for formative review prior to receiving summative evaluation.

2. Peer review of teaching should not merely involve classroom observation.

Evaluation of course materials (e.g., syllabi, course packets, bibliographies, handouts, tests, project assignments), instructor comments on student work, and course changes over time can provide reviewers with important information about a faculty member’s teaching philosophy, expertise, dedication, and creativity. Incorporating examination of materials ensures that a peer review will focus not only on the work of teaching, but also on the thinking behind the work.

3. Quality peer review takes time.

At minimum, reviewers should set up a pre-observation conference to discuss a faculty member’s questions or concerns (formative review), or the guidelines that will be used (summative review); examine relevant course materials; conduct classroom observation(s); and provide prompt feedback, including meeting with the faculty member to give post-observation suggestions (formative review) or evaluation (summative review).

4. For classroom observation, choose an appropriate observation framework, rating form, or checklist.

One challenge of classroom observation is its poor reliability; clarifying criteria for the observation is one means of increasing reliability (see link to recommended website, provided below).  Others include training peer reviewers and conducting multiple observations.

5. Peer reviewers should approach their task with the understanding that the process is intended to be collaborative – not an “expert” judging a “non-expert.”

As Chism notes, “The notion of ‘to sit beside’ is critical.” Feedback involves honest, and sometimes tough, assessment, but the delivery of the feedback must always be sensitive and caring. As with any evaluation, reviewers should lead with a faculty member’s strengths and only then offer advice about areas that might be improved.

6. Remember that reviewers also benefit from the process of peer review.

Most reviewers find that observing colleagues’ course materials or teaching methods stimulates thinking about their own teaching development. Thoughtful peer review may expose faculty to new teaching techniques, both in and out of the classroom, and challenge greater self-reflection.