When teachers evaluate themselves and their program, they should compare their classroom practices to the six National Standards for Science Teaching and how they have promoted an environment congruent with these ideas. Questions again may be the answer. Are labs verification or active inquiry? Are students developing a deep understanding, or only being exposed to science? Are students active in their own learning, working with each other rather than relying on the teacher as a crutch? Of course, asking these questions is not enough, we must have strategies for self-assessment and reflection.
Teachers get into dangerous waters when they focus too intently on their students’ performance for assessing their own teaching. While student performance must have some bearing, it alone does not equal good teaching. Too many other factors affect how successful students are in school. For example, a poor teacher could be teaching highly motivated students in a very affluent district. Furthermore, this teacher’s students might be doing very well on his/her tests, but the tests might be simple recall of information rather than probing students’ real understanding of ideas. Therefore, we must look at ourselves in action so that we can accurately judge our efforts in the classroom.
Audio and video recording our teaching provides unique perspective with which we can evaluate ourselves. When listening to or watching our teaching we can better focus on the actions we take as teachers and how those actions affect students. We can count the amount of time we wait after questions, we can pause tape and think about the quality of a question or consider better ways to deal with various student responses. Many teachers hesitate to watch/listen to themselves, yet if we want to more accurately reflect, we must do so from an “outside” perspective. Oftentimes we may believe we are asking all high level questions or that we are providing students with plenty of “think time”, but watching/listening to recorded teaching episodes reveals a more accurate picture of what happens in the classroom. I do not recommend listening to entire class periods. Just ten minutes provides valuable insight into our current state of practice.
Inviting visitors (principals, colleagues, university students) and asking for feedback also provides varied perspectives on your teaching and new ideas for moving your practice forward. Additionally, asking students to evaluate your teaching sheds new light on your teaching. Of course students are not professional educators and we must not look to please students, but student comments can be useful in understanding the classroom atmosphere.
Importantly, great teachers most always look at what THEY do to affect the learning of their students. No matter what your current state of practice, you are the only one who can effect change. Assessing our own teaching is imperative if we truly believe the teacher is the most important factor in student learning.