Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The Invisible and Intangible Dimensions of Teaching

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​A couple of things inspired this post…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how difficult it is for someone outside of the student-teacher relationship to really see the teaching that’s happening.

For example, I have a colleague who observes most of my classes this semester, and with whom I brainstorm what I plan to do for the class, but I also have some privte interactions with students which influence how I behave in class, but these interactions are invisible to her. I was thinking about how peer observations of teaching would not clarify certain things unless it comes up in conversation between the teacher and observer.

I was also thinking about how conducting peer observations of another person, even if you do it multiple times, gives you a window of what that person does in their classroom, but teaching is so much more than that – there’s also how the teacher interacts with students outside the classroom, how they give feedback on assignments and such, how they decide what to do for next class, and so on. I know that a good peer observation would involve pre and post discussion where things like that could potentially come up, but they don’t always… Because they’re a million tiny things and you won’t always realize which of them is relevant when… 

And then there was the question someone (Rissa?) asked me on Twitter about a recent blogpost – I wrote about how my students’ narrative game prototypes were breaking my heart…and that maybe that should be a learning goal…and she asked about the process in class to how we got there.. And even though I shared all the text of the assignments we did leading up to it, and that we had brief discussions in class (which I recall vaguely as being good but not overly long) , I can’t honestly put my finger on what led to such great assignments… I am thinking it’s possibly something Intangible and not necessarily tied to that particular class session or such… Also that it might have nothing at all to do with me but more to do with the students themselves. It could relate to an email exchange or some other thing I did like shared something of myself. I literally don’t know. I might actually ask the students tomorrow about this, but I’m not even sure THEY know!

What do you think of this?

I’ve always always always felt a syllabus was a poor representation of how good a teacher/course would be, and obviously a couple of observations of someone’s teaching may or may not indicate something. And looking at a couple of student assignments will never be enough. And then even a teacher’s own reflections will always be limited… Even when it’s ongoing because what you choose to highlight in the moment will differ from what seems important in hindsight and such.

Anyway. Bottom line: I’ll ask my students! 

4 Comments

  1. It occurs to me that, as with any relationship, a big portion of this work is even invisible to the teacher! Asking the students seems really important. I always wonder whether it’s better to scaffold that with intentional reflection (so the students are prepared to give full answers to the questions you can act on) or more free-form (so the students can tell you whatever’s on their mind that you might not know about). Both seem important.

    It seems like you’re asking some questions about faculty assessment and representation. I think one of the important things there is to really reflect on what’s in the faculty member’s control. This is a double-edged sword – it’s not fair to evaluate faculty based entirely on the students’ unpredictable internal state, and yet the work that goes into preparing for the unknown is what distinguishes some of the best teachers.

    • I couldn’t get myself to ask students! I’ll ask someone else to ask them that on my behalf while I’m not in the room!

      • My teaching and learning center actually provides this as a service!

        • Yes, ours does too! We do SGIDs and profs can ask us to add specific questions outside the regular ones. It’s a bit trickier for me because one of my colleagues already observes my class and two others used to be my co-teachers and one is my boss and so on! But I trust them all anyway 🙂

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