29 jan Teacher Development 1: Lesson Observation, part 1
Happy New Year, everyone!
As promised in my December post, this year I’ll be discussing what I believe to be a key issue in ELT, namely teacher development. In no particular order, and evidently not aiming at exhausting the subject – which would be impossible –, I hope to be able to, in twelve posts, touch on most of the key areas a teacher must develop in, and more importantly on ways in which I believe they can do it.
The reason why I’ve decided to start by addressing lesson observation is very simple: The vast majority of the teachers I know have their lessons observed at some point every year, and coordinators tend to deem lesson observation one of the most important parts of their work. My goal is then to suggest a useful framework which can be immediately put into practice by schools and coordinators in order to, hopefully, make lesson observation an even more success-oriented activity.
Three-stage lesson observation
I don’t see lesson observation as police work, and therefore don’t think it should ever be of the ‘surprise, surprise’ variety! Many might disagree, but I’m completely against showing up in a teacher’s classroom unannounced. Trust – and a focus on teacher development rather than on assessing a teacher’s work – seems to me to be indispensable for the whole process to work. Hence, I believe lesson observation is more successful when done in the following three stages:
– Pre-observation meeting: Having been informed by the coordinator they’ll have their lesson observed, teachers will submit a lesson plan a few days in advance. In a pre-observation meeting, the teacher will brief the observer on the group, on its weaknesses and strengths, on any difficulties they have had while working with the group in question and whether there is anything they’d particularly like the observer to focus on. The observer will then give feedback on the plan, suggest any changes and make any recommendations they see fit.
– Observation: Unless they have been the first to spot fire in the curtains, the observer will simply never, ever participate in the class they’re observing in any way. They’ll speak only when and if spoken to, and will otherwise try to be as thoroughly inconspicuous as possible. They should focus on multiple aspects of the class – rapport, clarity of instructions, whether learning seems to be taking place, classroom management in general, teacher’s command of English and so on –, and make sure they observe the whole class, not just a part of it. (More on focus next month). As they take notes, they should do their best to be brief and succinct, as they’re certainly making students self-conscious too, and long note taking might make matters worse.
– Post-observation meeting: It goes without saying teachers will be nervous during any class observation, and will also be anxious about hearing what observers will have to say. Ideally, observers should give some feedback (of the informal, spoken variety) immediately after class, but a post-observation meeting must follow within a few days (very few days), during which more detailed feedback will be given, both spoken and written. This must focus on the positive aspects of the teacher’s lesson first – of course! – and then list areas where there’s room for improvement, with suggestions for activities which could’ve been done differently, articles or book chapters on areas the teacher should work on and so on; also, and perhaps most importantly, an action plan, which will inform what they will be focusing on next time around, should be provided by the observer.
In short, lesson observation can be instrumental in helping teachers hone their skills, but it can never be just for show (and it is at the moment, I believe, unfortunately achieving far less than it could in many schools the country – and probably the world – over). Next month I’ll continue talking about lesson observation, especially regarding what to focus on, how to give feedback and some other aspects that can be implemented in LO programs. We’ll also be discussing another very interesting facet of LO: peer observation.
I’d love to ‘hear’ your thoughts on lesson observation and also ideas on how we can make it into an even more powerful teacher development tool.
See you in February!
PS: Although I did not directly consult any articles while writing this, I remember reading a riveting one by Vinícius Nobre several years ago, which also suggested lesson observations in three stages as I do here. It has definitely helped shape the way I think of lesson observation and I would appreciate it if anyone could post a link to it here in the comments.
Other interesting articles on aspect of lesson observation:
http://www.richmondshare.com.br/lesson-observation-a-tool-for-improvement/, by Beatriz Meneguetti
http://www.richmondshare.com.br/self-observation-why-not/, by Elaine Hodgson