June 9, 2015 by gemmalunn
A few weeks ago I was coming to the end of my contract in my current job and so I thought it would be useful to observe some of the other teachers where I work as I know they are very experienced teachers. As with most teaching jobs the terms always fly by without much breathing space so observations seem to fall by the wayside and I almost backed out of these observations in favour of marking but I’m so glad I didn’t because, as always, they were invaluable. Richards and Farrell (2005) list a number of benefits of observation:
“It provides an opportunity for the teachers to see how someone else deals with many of the same problems teachers face on a daily basis”.
“A teacher might discover that a colleague has effective teaching strategies that the observer has never tried”.
“Observing another teacher may also trigger reflections about one’s own teaching”.
The second and third reasons were my main motivation for observing my colleagues. I’ve learnt a vast amount about teaching EAP this year (it was my first year teaching English for Academic Purposes) both in terms of content and methodology so these peer observations also served as a good way to help round off my reflections on the year and think about how I can improve in my next job.
With this in mind I decided that the focus of the observations would be ‘effective strategies teacher A had that I could/should do more of’. I don’t see much point, unless requested, to focus on negative aspects of the class in a peer observation. I made a very simple table as shown below to use during the observation:
Afterwards I reflected on these and thought about the theory behind this to justify whether these actions were necessary. However, upon reflection and whilst writing this blog post I was reminded of the need to be objective and avoid evaluation and judgements (Fanselow, 1987; Richards & Farrell, 2005). Thus, I altered the headings and tried to make my notes less subjective, I realise they are still a bit judgemental but I think this was necessary and surely sometimes it’s good to be critical of your practice! Here’s a few notes from the first observation:
Following the two observations I could clearly see a pattern emerging – I (believe I) need to take my time more. This is something I am always trying to work on but the observations were a good reminder of this and it was good to see how other teachers are comfortable with taking their time and activities taking a while so they can be explored in depth. I also realised that time passes more quickly when you are sat engaged in an activity as a student rather than when you are helping students / watching them do an activity. I’m also always reminded of this in my German classes.
Despite trying to make the notes objective, some of the second column is still quite judgemental. What would have been most effective would have have been to record some parts of my class and get some actual facts to see if my personal judgements were accurate: Do I allow students to explore activities in enough detail? Do I rush into the start of a class?… I wasn’t able to fit this in but Teacher A did come and observe one of my classes so I asked her to focus on my timings and whether I seem to rush introductions to activities / instructions and whether it seemed like I allow students enough time to complete and explore activities. As I was more aware of her being there I may have focused on this aspect more than usual so it may have affected her observation. (I’m waiting for feedback from Teacher A so I’ll update this when I receive it).
I found using a simple table like the one above really useful in the observations as I had a specific focus and therefore gained a lot more from watching the classes. I also found the process of writing this post enabled me to reflect in more depth. In my next role I’ll be sure not to leave the observations until the final week!
Faneslow, J. 1987, Breaking Rules: Generating and exploring alternatives in language teaching. Longman: New York.
Richards, J. C., and Farrell, T. S. C. 2005, Professional Development for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press: New York.
Wajnryb, R. 1992, Classroom Observation Tasks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.