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Peer Observation of Teaching: Rachel Polando

John H. Planer 6 and 21 May 2014

On Wednesday 30 April 2014 at 9:00 am, I observed Rachel Polando teach Biology 365--
Cell Biology; Rachel knew in advance that I would attend. Rachel was in the classroom at 8:50,
smiling, chatting with students, and setting up the projector. She had given an examination the
previous Monday, and the tests were graded and returned promptly forty-eight hours later.
Rachel asked if the students had issues, concerns, or unhappiness. No one responded. Class
began promptly at 9:00, although a few students straggled in late; sixteen students attended class.
The topic was a continuation of Rachels discussion of cancers. I found it fascinating; the
students too were focused--either taking notes or studying the projections on the screen.
Although I am no biologist, Rachels presentation was clear, and I easily followed her
lecture. Perhaps because I have experienced cancer--in my family and in myself--I struggled to
dissociate myself from the content in order to observe the pedagogy and the students responses.
Rachel used the LCD projector effectively, for the screen showed statistics (example: relation of
types of cancers in women who had children and those who did not), three different ways in
which different genes control cell proliferation, etc. As a specific example, Rachel focused upon
retinoblastoma--cancer of the eye and its genetic predispositions. At various times Rachel would
question the class and wait for responses, which usually came. Rachel moved to the influence of
obesity on cancers and discussed breast cancers in detail. Then she moved to various treatments
for breast cancers and the ways in which they functioned.
Toward the end of class Rachel announced an assignment due ten days later--the last day of
classes. It was an article on oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy posted on D2L. it discussed
how the molecule Bc12 stops apoptosis--programmed cellular death. Rachel gave background
so her students could comprehend the specialized content of the article. The students could
discuss the article with one another, but each individual had to write her/his own review of its
contents. Rachels use of research articles, and her preparation of students to comprehend them,
is outstanding.
Rachel has a warm, smiling, relaxed teaching personality. The content was excellent:
clearly and logically organized, and effectively presented. She briefly recapitulated familiar
concepts; technical terms or specific genes she identified by appositives or by succinct explana-
tions. The content projected on the screen was generally colored, which added visual attractive-
ness to the concepts. Rachel used her time effectively, and the students were focused as they
followed her explanations.
The only suggestion I offer is occasionally moving up the aisle or around the classroom
rather than remaining at the front. The professors proximity to the screen is important, but
moving among the students would bring Rachel, the friendly supportive woman, closer to her
students, especially those at the back. To me thats important because we teach not only content
but also by example and by personal interaction.
In short, Rachel is a skilled, engaging, effective, excellent professor. Listening to her
lecture and watching her teach was fascinating and delightful.