Self-Observation Part 1: How do I look?


December 10, 2012 by gemmalunn

Why observe?

After 4 years of teaching, numerous observations of peers, and nerve-wracking observations from bosses I thought it was time for me to see how my classes looked from the other side.

I wanted to observe myself for several reasons:

–  I have been writing a teaching journal for a little while now so self observation felt like the next natural step in my reflective journey.

–  I wanted to answer the following questions –

a)     Do I teach how I think I teach?

b)     Do I speak as slowly and clearly as I think I do?

c)     What does it feel like to be in one of my lessons?

d)     What do students (Ss) do when I’m not looking / giving them attention?

e)     And most importantly how can I improve my pedagogy?

I purposely didn’t think too much beforehand about specific areas I wanted to get information on because I didn’t want it to alter the way I taught the class.


– 2 x Grade 2 classes (14-15yrs old)

– Listening part of the chapter

Class Aims:

– To do required listening activities

– To introduce and practice the expression – can you do me a favour?


I chose grade 2 classes as this is the grade I find most ‘challenging’! I would have much preferred to sit down and watch a lovely grade 3 class who keenly answer all the questions, willingly do any activity I propose, all participate and even ask questions! But I knew it would be more beneficial to observe the classes I need most help with. I chose one of the better (in terms of behavior not level) grade 2 classes (A) and one of the not so good classes (B). I have been reflecting a lot on the latter recently trying to think of ways to engage students more and tweaking activities etc. I think the underlying problem is discipline, class B is particularly unruly and myself and my Korean co-teacher struggle to keep students attention; I should add here that discipline is not one of my strong points and I’m lucky insofar as my co-teachers normally deal with discipline issues. I have written several journal entries and reflected on points in the class using the ELC to try and think of ways to make the class better and to a certain extent these have worked and helped (see previous post). By observing two classes I wanted to see if my demeanor was any different, do I start class B in a more negative way bringing in feelings from the previous week? Is my attitude affecting the mood of the class? Are my feelings good or bad, apparent to students?

There are obviously some external factors that affect the classes which I’ve taken into account:

–  Class B is on a Friday afternoon so I know Ss are tired and they’ve had enough of studying.

–  My Co-Teachers: all my Co-Ts are great but obviously they affect the classes in different ways.

– Teenage girls – I don’t need to say anymore on this point!

 What did I learn?

I watched both videos all the way through taking various notes (see mini disclaimer below before you do this!). These are summaries of the answers to my initial questions:

a)     Do I teach how I think I teach? – Kind of, but what I found worrying was how some of my actions in class are not in line with the teaching principals and methodologies that I believe in. In short I don’t always practice what I preach. Nothing as serious as I beat all the Ss yet I don’t believe in corporal punishment! But enough to make me realize I need to be more conscious both when planning and in class to ensure that the activities I set and my actions in class do follow my teaching beliefs. For example, I aim to make my lessons as student-centered as possible yet from watching the classes I can see examples of how I’m not fully achieving this aim.

b)     Do I speak as slowly and clearly as I think I do? I think for the most part I was pretty clear and slow but there were a couple of occasions where I mumbled things to myself! As I feared there was quite a lot of unnecessary teacher talk; something I’m now very conscious of reducing.

c)     What does it feel like to be in one of my lessons? This question is much more difficult to answer than I expected, leading me to think that probably only my students can answer this as they are the ones participating. Therefore I will comment on the atmosphere of the class from a different perspective: all students looked relaxed and on several occasions the whole class shared a joke. As you would expect interest varied between students and activities. However, there was a clear relationship between the type of activity and students’ posture, i.e. interest and this was much more apparent from the view of the camera. I expected class B to look like an unruly mess but it didn’t; yes some students were doodling, speaking when I was, applying lipstick, waving at the camera but in-between this most of them completed the activities!

d)     What do students do when I’m not looking / giving them attention? Pretty much what you would expect teenagers to do! In hindsight this question was not very useful. Going forward I will use more specific questions which look at group dynamic and language such as: what language did students produce among themselves? How did they complete the tasks?

e)     How can I improve my pedagogy? I came up with lots of answers to this question (too many to post here!) and there was quite a range from small changes and tweaks to fairly significant things that link into question a. For example, I think it’s important for teens not to be sitting for a whole class yet I did not include an activity which involved movement in this class. (I’ll add more detail on this question in part 2)

f)      Do I start class B in a more negative way bringing in feelings from the previous week? Unfortunately, I did. Within the first few minutes it’s obvious that I’m annoyed with the Ss as they are not listening. When I compare the two classes I have more patience with A, probably because I know they only need to be told once. I have a look of ‘here we go again’ when class B start acting up. So, this is something I need to be more aware of and change.

g)     Is my attitude affecting the mood of the class? And are my feelings; good or bad, apparent to students? When I was feeling frustrated with the class and even when I discussed their behavior with them at the end of the class I think I came across as calm and reasonable even though I did not feel this way inside! However, as noted in question f I need to make sure I approach each class equally, letting go of any negative feelings from the previous class.


I’m sure anyone who has watched a recording of their class will agree with me when I say this was invaluable; I wish it hadn’t taken me 4 years to learn this! Going forward I want to will make self-observation a regular part of my reflective practice.

Mini disclaimer: Since I watched the initial recordings I have been ‘exploring’ my classes through John Fanselow’s Breaking Rules Course and I’ve realized that they way I used my recordings, whilst extremely useful, was probably not the most effective. Therefore, Part 2 will illustrate a quicker, more effective, non-judgmental way to use class recordings.


8 thoughts on “Self-Observation Part 1: How do I look?

  1. HI Gemma,

    Good on you for taking the time to do this, I’ve been meaning to do it for so long but never got round to it! It sounds like it was a real journey for you.

    One thing that really stood out for me and that I can relate to is your discussion around whether you treat the two classes the same as, although my situation wasn’t exactly the same, I think it’s similar. In my context I teach two 2nd grade boy classes consisting of 40+ students each. Last semester I had problems with both. Class (A) was legendary for being an incredibly difficult class to teach, class (B), who I had right after class (A), had a very good reputation, yet I found them just as difficult. I wondered at the time whether I was carrying over negativity created with trying to handle (A) into (B). I tried on several occasions to consciously not do this but I was so exhausted from (A) class I think I failed.

    This semester I have (A) and (B) at completely different times of the week. Before both classes I have a free period. Now, although I still have big problems with (A), teaching class (B) has been a completely different experience, we have had a wonderful time together this semester and both myself and class (B) have really enjoyed class time together.

    Although this isn’t exactly the same I think it is another example of how the attitude/feeling/predispositions we carry into the classroom can affect the entire experience for both ourselves and our students. I don’t think you (we) are the only teachers that suffer from this, but how wonderful that without reflective practice we may never have become aware of it!

    Awesome blog post,


    • gemmalunn says:

      Hi Alex, thanks for the comment and compliment!
      Before I did the recording I suspected I was bringing feelings from the previous week into the classroom but it wasn’t until I saw the video that I realised how obvious these feelings were and how they manifested themselves. I had class B last Friday just after it had snowed here and all the Ss were going crazy and the mood in school was great. So both myself and the Ss went into the class feeling unusually positive and full of energy. I used this energy to play some games related to snow and we all had a great time! So I can totally relate to your point, you wouldn’t think that the time of a class or the weather would have such a big impact!
      Thanks again,

  2. Rose Bard says:

    Thanks so much for writing about your recording. I look forward to the next post and to continue this journey we started at BR course as the weeks go. I am not teaching classes right now as we are about to start our summer vacation, but I will keep my eyes open for you guys and check out what you guys been going through and for sure it will help me think about my own teaching/practice for next term.

    Warm hugs from Brazil,

    • gemmalunn says:

      Thanks Rose. Its funny how I did the recording and analysing before BRs then realised I hadn’t approached the task in the best way, but I suppose we never do the first time! Anyway, I still learnt a lot and even more when I started applying ideas from JF.
      Thanks for the warm hugs, I need it as it’s freezing here! Enjoy your summer holidays

  3. Wow, what an amazing exercise. I’m looking forward to part 2 but I found this useful and insightful too! It’s one of those things we rarely if ever do, but just shows how things are so different on the outside than on the inside. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Rose Bard says:

    It is interesting indeed Gemma that you recorded that before BR lessons. It was a great learning experience. Next part of your self-observation post should be really interesting and educational for all of us. I look forward to it.

  5. […] Observe and be observed (Observe yourself as well). I haven’t been in other educators’ classrooms for quite a while and will definitely start doing it again. As many times as I have observed other teachers, I have learned a great deal. I will also ask colleagues if they would like to come to my classes. I will be grateful for their feedback. Last year, I did not observe any classes at all or was observed at all – this has to change. Here is a great post by Gemma Lunn on observation, Self-Observation Part 1: How do I look? […]

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