A Complete Guide to Classroom Observation Frameworks

Samantha James

Samantha James

August 8, 2020

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Instructional practice is a very important yet not very well understood factor affecting teacher performance. From the inside, it can be very difficult for a teacher to get an objective grasp of their teaching style. Classroom observation is intended to be a method to determine instructional practice and measure its effectiveness.

However, observation without a framework is unguided and random. You can make observations all day, but if you do not have some theoretical framework in which to embed and interpret those observations, you will not get very far.

Classroom observational frameworks are intended to give structure and method to the process of observing a classroom. Observational frameworks are used to evaluate teaching practices to see if they match up to a particular standard. Frameworks for observation are necessary because they make your observation more accurate and explain how observations should be interpreted.

There are distinct observational frameworks, each of which have different assumptions, structures, and goals. It is important to realize that neither model is exactly more “correct’ than the others, but is more useful for certain purposes. Thus, a good understanding of classroom observational techniques involves familiarity with the different observational frameworks.

Marzano Model

The Marzano Focused Teacher Evaluation Model. Unlike many models, the Marzano model is based on observational effectiveness of teaching methods, rather than constructivist metrics such as whether the teaching practice incorporates certain kinds of lesson scripting.

The model uses a systematic step-by-step approach and incorporates 4 key domains of expertise:

  • Rigorous standards-based planning
  • Standards-based instruction
  • Conditions for learning
  • Professional responsibilities

Among these 4 categories are 23 subdomains that are relevant to the larger domain that they fall under. For instance, evaluation criteria for the standards-based instruction domain include helping students practice skills, previewing new content, identifying critical content, and helping students revise their knowledge. Each of the 23 subdomains is scored on a 5 point scale.

One area that the model is focused on is making sure that teachers are spending proportionate times in different areas of instruction. For example, many classroom instructors spend a disproportionate amount of time lecturing and reviewing materials and not enough time focusing on engaging critical thinking faculties.

The Marzano model also includes an explicit 5-step strategy for teacher evaluation.

  • Step1. Determine the elements of the teaching strategy you are observing
  • Step 2: Observe if teachers are using techniques to monitor the outcome of their teaching
  • Step 3:  Identify the percentage of students that exhibit the desired effects
  • Step 4: Observe whether the teacher makes any adaptations to observing student evidence.
  • Step 5: Assign the final scores based on student evidence

Once scores on the elements are placed, the observer averages all the highest scores to generate an overall proficiency grading. One major benefit of the Marzano model is that it provides actionable feedback for teacher improvement.

TRU Framework

The TRU Framework is an observational model that was originally designed to evaluate mathematics instruction. However, the model also has a domain-general version that can be employed in classrooms covering diverse subjects.

The main conceit of the TRU model is that it asks the observer to consider what experiencing the lesson from the point of view of the student is like. In that sense, the TRU framework pinpoints qualitative features of successful instruction from a student’s point-of-view.

The TRU Framework divides the observational component into 5 distinct evaluation categories:

  • Content
  • Cognitive demand
  • Equitable access to content
  • Agency, ownership, identity
  • Formative assessment

Observers are asked to approach each category of evaluation as if they were the student taking in the material. Each domain has certain aspects that observers are prompted to focus on, questions such as:

  • What is the main point of this lesson?
  • Am I given enough time to think of the material?
  • Am I receiving meaningful engagement?
  • Am I being given opportunities to explain my beliefs and ideas?
  • Are my thoughts included in the class discussion?

By assessing these questions from a student’s point of view, observers can gauge overall teaching proficiency.

Danielson Framework

The Danielson Framework for Teaching (FFT) is a teacher evaluation model that is commonly used to gauge math and English Language Arts (ELA) instruction proficiency. FFT is designed in line with standards laid down by the New Teachers Assessment and Support Consortium (NTASC) and is composed of 76 elements divided into 22 components under 4 large domains. The 4 main domains of evaluation are:

  • Planning and preparation
  • Classroom environment
  • Instruction
  • Professional responsibilities

These criteria share much in common with the 4 criteria used on the Marzano Evaluation Framework For each category under each domain, there is a standard evaluation benchmark that the observer grades upon.

Examples of criteria graded in each component include:

  • Quality of questions asked
  • Grouping of students
  • Monitoring student learning
  • Managing instructional groups
  • Managing student behavior
  • Explanation of content

The Danielson model includes a 3-step evaluation procedure. First, the observer documents any observations relevant to the overall FFT rating. Next, the observer divides observations to represent specific domains and components. Lastly, the observer determines teaching performance in each of the components. Each lesson is assigned a total of 8 scores for each component.

The FFT method has been consistently validated as correlating with successful student outcomes. The FFT also has a history of being revised in light of new evidence in order to make the framework more reliable and accurate.


Classroom observation is a science and must be approached according to a specific method. Random observation without any guidance will not provide accurate data with actionable insights. The purpose of these observational frameworks is to provide an evaluation method for determining if classroom instruction meets up to established standards. These models have been tested and shown to reliably correlate with student outcomes, indicating they are a reliable metric for gauging instruction proficiency.

Keep in mind that different frameworks might be useful for different purposes. There is no reason why multiple observational models cannot be implemented at different times, depending on which specific portion of the instructional process you want to focus on.