MIT 2005-2007


(formated for word)

Week 1:
The Context
Week 2:
The Dialogue
Week 3:
Instructional Strategies
Visual Map of Field Journal Entries
(in word)




Field Observation Etiquette

Here's to a great experience!



Fall Classroom Observation Guide

These formal classroom observation tasks will help you to focus directly on the classroom environment, which includes the physical arrangement and teacher -- student interactions.  Rather than engaging in teaching or tutoring experiences, which may limit focused observation, these tasks promote very centered looking, listening and reflecting experiences. 

Record your observations in a journal devoted exclusively to this assignment.  Observation journals contribute to the structure and content of the Thursday technology sessions and Friday observation discussions.

You will be using the observation guidelines below on Thursday mornings at each of the three school sites: elementary, middle school and high school. You may observe and record events in addition to those listed below, but this format will assure that you have observations that can be compared with those of your colleagues, and we can learn from each others’ experiences in a thoughtful way.  Be sure to leave enough pages in-between each observation for your regularly written reflections, and for your response to the reflections of others in your seminar.

A central goal for your observations is learning the differences among descriptions, interpretations, and evaluations. Further, we want you to become aware of your own interpretations and evaluations, and those that are informed by the research literature and our MIT community.

Interrupt your journal descriptions at any time with an asterisk (*) or some such sign, and write down at once anything to which you strongly react -- it may make you feel uncomfortable, surprised, alarmed, shocked, delighted, sad, happy. These are important reactions, because they will contain messages about your own perceptions. It is important to go back to your notes and reflect what you were responding to and why.

We will collect your journals on Fridays.


Classroom Context- Record the following information for each classroom you visit in your journal.


The Physical Environment

Journal Format: Draw a vertical line down the center of your paper to make two columns. The left column is for descriptions of the physical environment. The right column is for your interpretations of what you have described. 


Include these basic observations and descriptions:  A brief "grand tour" description of the school as a cultural scene.  What do you see and hear as a first time visitor of the school and class?  Describe the building, the halls, things on the walls in the halls, the lunchroom, the library, the office.  What do you see? What do you hear?  Who do you see as you move about the building?  

The physical environment of the classroom: Make a drawing of the room layout: size, location and arrangement of student and teacher desks or tables; shelves and other large equipment; windows and doors. When the teacher is free to talk with you, ask about why he/she decided to arrange the room as he/she did. Take note of the teacher’s response. What do you think are the opportunities and limitations of the physical space?

The walls: Once again, draw a vertical line down the center of your paper to make two columns. The left column is for descriptions of the walls. The right column is for interpretations of your descriptions. In the left hand column, write descriptions of classroom and building walls and other surfaces including: student work, commercial posters, lists of rules, reward charts, photos, display cases, plants, holiday pictures, etc. What is the visible curriculum in the school and classroom? In the right hand column of interpretation and evaluation, describe what you think the teacher might be trying to do given his/her selections? What messages do you get from these artifacts? Who might feel most included in this setting? What/who is normalized? What thinking do students bring to the school about learning, and how could they conceptualize the building as a resource for learning?

Personal Responses to the Cultural Scene

Written Reflections: After you leave the school, take some time to write reflections about your observations. Pay attention to any responses you have to the school, the classroom, what is being done and what is being said. If you do not have any strong responses, this could indicate that the environmental context matches your expectations or experiences so it appears ‘normal.’ What does that mean? Who may experience it differently?

Note: When you are reflecting on your observation, it is important that you begin with your own reflections prior to talking with your observation partners. Your ideas and insights are likely to be different from each others’. We want you to preserve your personal interpretations and conceptions long enough to get them out on paper. Convergence to shared perceptions among your MIT colleagues can happen quite quickly, with a glance, a nod, or a few words.


Observation and Description of Student-Teacher Dialogue 

In week two of your observations at each site, you will be focusing on student-teacher dialogue during whole group interactions. This is a partner activity where you and your observation partners will need to attend to different things and then share notes following the observation. 

One MIT student-teacher (or 2 – if there are 4 of you) will create a map of teacher and student contributions to the whole class. Using your notes from the previous week’s observation, design an observation chart ahead of time that will make your recording of observations more efficient.

Your job on the actual observation day is to draw lines from person to person, mapping the order of the conversation.  Attach this mapping to your journal.

The other two MIT student-teachers will have copies of the map provided by their colleague as a reference.  You will set this map on your desk next to where you are taking notes as a reference page. You will individually document the dialogue both between teacher and students, and among students.  

Journal Format: To prepare for this documentation of the dialogue, create several pages in your journal as a T-chart. On the left hand side you will note what the teacher says. On the right hand side you will note what the students say. Keep a running journal of the questions and comments made by the teacher and students. When the dialogue is slow enough, note which student is speaking (referring to the class map you developed prior to class).  

Do this for at least 2 whole class discussions you witness in each school. Make sure to switch jobs with your field partners for each discussion. Make sure to note what class is being observed (i.e. 2nd grade science, 2nd grade reading, Period 2 highly capable social studies, etc.) Make a copy of your partners’ work and tape or glue it into your journal for your own records.

Ask the Teacher:  

“What did you want students to learn today? Do you feel that they learned it?”  Summarize what the teacher said in your journal.  Then write a reflection on whether your perceptions align with what the teacher said. 


Examine the Dialogue

Journal Format
: Draw a line down the center of your page for your reflections:


Discourse Analysis:  Now look at the words in the discourse, in particular, times when teachers are posing questions to students and students are responding to those questions.

-       Is the teacher seeking to clarify student thinking? Is the teacher probing for a more substantive response? Is the teacher leading students to a correct response?

-       Is the teacher asking students to describe steps/ processes, or provide more complex reasoning behind ideas and responses?

-       What level of thinking or reasoning was required for students’ responses to those questions? High-medium- low?

Written Reflection on the Analysis:  What insights do you have about questioning in general? Where do you see examples of students learning important ideas through the dialogue? Where do you see examples when students were likely reflecting what the teacher wanted to hear, but not deepening their understanding?


**Remember** After each observation and reflection, write down a question or two about teaching, learning, and schooling that arises from your observation. We will share these during computer lab time.



Description, Reactions to, and Interpretation of Instructional Strategies and Tasks


Journal Format:

Using vertical lines, divide your paper in thirds for these observations and reflections:


Ask the Teacher: 

After your observations, ask the teacher, “What did you want students to learn today?”  Did your perceptions match the teachers’ statements?  What’s your hunch about why or why not?

Analyze Types of Instructional Strategies and Academic Tasks

In this observation we would like you to identify the key instructional strategy (or strategies) the teacher is using during each class period. It might be one of the following:


You will see many other strategies, as well.  Describe them in terms of who sets the tasks (student or teacher), size of group, nature of the task. Also note if all students usually do the same thing or different activities take place simultaneously.

Written Reflection on Instructional Strategies,  Tasks,  Student Participation and Your Reactions.



REMEMBER: After each observation and reflection, write down a question or two about teaching, learning, and schooling that arises from your observation. We will share these during computer lab time.

Now, you will repeat the 3 week process of observations at your next school assignment.

**Be careful not to lose your journal!!!**  J


[1] Descriptive means noting what is observable—what you actually see “Seven students were involved in the discussion including 2 boys and 5 girls.” Interpretive is ascribing meaning to what is going on – “The teacher is trying to call on each student at least once and distributing it between boys and girls.” Evaluative means giving judgment to events – “The teacher is doing a good job of calling on both boys and girls.”



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