On Peer Review: Peer Review of Teaching Cookbook, or An Annotated Recipe for Initiating a Review Response

January 1, 1998

1 tsp. constructive commnents from colleagues
2 tbsp. evaluate student outcomes
3 oz. feedback from students
4 cups rewawrd when warranted
5 lbs. collaborative spirit and participation from peers






We all value teaching. We say so and we practice it in the classroom. Why then, have we in music so long been unwilling to allow, much less encourage our colleagues to evaluate, help, emulate, and share our teaching methods and values, and our expectations of students? We talk about teaching a lot, but only so long as it's non-contextual.

We produce reams of research regarding what should be taught, but rarely on what we actually teach, even rarer on how we teach it, and rarest of all on how and if students learn it. We are willing to talk about student outcomes and their assessment, but are not eager to let our colleagues actually witness how we teach in an effort to meet the outcomes. We are also not particularly interested in taking the time to help our colleagues with their teaching by discussing their values with them and then witnessing them in action in the classroom or studio. If we value teaching like we say we do and like most of us teach and train, why aren't we more willing to engage in a meaningful dialogue about what and why we actually teach what we do, and how we expect our students to learn?

As we investigate possible answers to these and other questions regarding our reluctance to exercise in discourses related to our teaching, two obvious symptoms of such reluctance emerge:

  1. We college professors generally feel as though how we teach is our business. So long as our students learn and improve, value what we do, and have a positive experience, we feel that what we have done is good enough and should be left alone. Allowing others to view it while it's happening, for any reason, is a sort of invasion of our most private skill. Allowing others who may criticize what and how we do something so personal as teach is absolutely beyond acceptability, especially if what we ourselves value in our teaching is not part of the evaluations of our teaching.
  2. We are fundamentally skeptical of any program which may be inspired by or related to our American society's preoccupation with accountability. We hear and say that renewed interest in working models of peer evaluation of teaching should be formative, primarily for the purpose of improving our effectiveness as teachers, and therefore positive. But when most of the evidence of the genesis of these models reflects processes where observations reached are summatively-based, and the results used primarily for appointment renewal or tenure and promotion decisions, our enthusiasm for visiting and being visited is, naturally, tempered.

It is appropriate that The College Music Society endeavor to address some of these symptoms and causes, as well as answer some of the questions above through its collaboration as a scholarly society with the American Association of Higher Education's (AAHE) Peer Review of Teaching Project: "From Idea to Prototype: The Peer Review of Teaching." CMS is music's agent for exploring professional concerns that involve teaching in higher education. Helping to bring the fullest possible evaluation and development of teaching into the fore is a cornerstone of the College Music Society's existence. CMS members act as participants in a society dialogue (for which this article is a catalyst) and as individuals who practice what they hear and preach. It is only natural that any national dialogue regarding the improvement of teaching be embraced by the College Music Society. CMS has involved itself in the national colloquy on peer review of teaching by sponsoring two panels sessions at national meetings, initiating a series of six articles on the subject for the Society'sNewsletter, and encouraging planning and assessment activities at regional meetings.

As a result of these CMS efforts, after a thorough study of the AAHE's Peer Review Project, and following some administrative experience with initiating peer review guidelines, five general answers to the questions and symptoms listed above are revealed:

  1. If our goal is to improve teaching, then the results of our efforts must be developmental and formative first, summative and judgmental second. If faculty are put in the position of deciding what parameters will be used for the review process and just provided "guidelines" to start with, they will feel a sense of ownership of the review process. This eliminates the threat that the review process will be a 'top-down' document which results in mostly summative decisions and not formative recommendations;
  2. The whole process of peer review of teaching must be collaborative - teams of faculty working together. Those inevitable feelings of intimidation and vulnerability we experience when hosting a reviewing colleague in our classes are dramatically altered when we are asked to do the same with and for them. Collaboration eases stress because it encourages all team collaborators to work together to understand one another's values, goals, strengths, and weaknesses before any visiting, interviewing, and/or portfolio-building are undertaken. Another advantage is that under the collaborative model, not all of the substance of peer review of teaching is reached in several classroom visits. Working together to videotape classes, applied lessons, or rehearsals and then evaluating them as a collaborative group later; and mounting teaching colloquia where faculty present to their whole departments how, what, and why they teach certain things in certain ways are just two ways in which collaboration consists of more than just a series of senior colleague visits to a junior level instructor's music theory class. And, the visits themselves go both ways - the reviewer reviews not only to recommend, but to learn and emulate as well;
  3. We should embrace (as many of us already are) the great gifts that music presents us when it comes to observing student outcomes. All of the arts share the unique feature that the competence and excellence of their creators and interpreters is the standard medium through which we experience the arts. If we listen to each other talk about what we value in our teaching and what we want and expect our students to learn and demonstrate, then we can easily watch and listen to what they do when they demonstrate in an effort to assess their learning. What a great window on teaching and learning this is. Assessing our students' achievement with respect to meeting our outcomes is also perfect for the collaborative process. Not only can we attend our music school's student's recitals over time and watch students develop, but we can also share our performance teaching methods and values with our colleagues. We all hear the student's demonstrate their learning and development over a period of time, and we all are engaged in an effort to find out how the students are or are not meeting their objectives and improving their outcomes. In short, because students' outcomes are largely demonstrated in some type of "public" occurrence in music, we have a distinctive opportunity to make teaching the center of a music school dialogue and focus, and to make "teaching, as the AAHE refers to it, "community property";
  4. A key to successful peer collaborative review is to involve random student feedback in the recommendations from one team member to another. Students should be consulted, once a thorough understanding of instructors goals and objectives have been reached by all members of a peer review team, and after all classroom/studio/rehearsal visits and/or analyses have taken place. Students' individual answers to individual questions developed by their instructor and members of a collaborative team, and posed to them from a member of that team will always reveal very helpful information for their instructor. This does not make the process a "student evaluation" rather than a "peer evaluation," but instead involves the student in a method from which an individual professor and his/her team can draw real and meaningful observations about the effectiveness of the professor's current teaching style and methods. Again, the key here is for faculty collaborators themselves to specify their priorities with respect to what they feel is important for the student to have learned, and then to examine it using means they themselves create as peers.
  5. If teaching effectiveness is to be measured and judged by the peer review process, and then does ultimately result in a personnel decision of one kind or another, then the results should include rewards for the already-excellent as well as reprimand and/or recommendation for the not-yet-excellent. The advantages to this approach are obvious.

I submit to you that the AAHE's Teaching Initiative and its programs regarding the peer review and collaboration process have been initiated with the notion that teaching improvement is our responsibility and we should embrace it together as faculty. A key to this philosophy is collaboration, where faculty depend upon one another for guidance, affirmation, and development.

I would encourage all CMS members who wish to revitalize and/or renew their teaching to review these documents available from the AAHE: : "From Idea to Prototype: The Peer Review of Teaching, A Project Workbook," "The Teaching Portfolio: Capturing the Scholarship in Teaching," and "Campus Use of the Teaching Portfolio: 25 Profiles." Access to these is through the AAHE at their homepage, http://www.aahe.org.

2215 Last modified on August 5, 2014
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