September 1998 — Volume 3, Number 3
* * * TESL-EJ Forum * * *
The following discussion regarding the practice of observing teachers began on the TESL-L discussion list in late July 1998. It poses some serious questions and considerations about the uses and abuses of this practice. All messages are printed with the permission of their authors.(In one case, we could not include the message of a participant as we were unable to get her permission. Two subsequent messages refer to her message. In those cases, we have removed her name. The comprehensibility of the messages has not been sacrificed.) We thank all the participants for their cooperation and help in this Forum column.
================================================================ Date: Thu, 30 Jul 1998 11:44:50 EDT From: "Turner, Debbie"
Subject: Teacher Observation Related to the subject of teacher development, I have a question about classroom observations. I observe and evaluate new teachers in our program and would like these sessions to be as positive (even helpful) as possible. Can any of you recall any evaluations of your classroom performance that really helped your development as a teacher? I try to describe what I see in the classroom objectively, breaking it up into blocks of time, then note specific things I think worked well and make specific suggestions of things that might work better, when appropriate. The write-up is followed by a short meeting with more explanation if necessary, answering questions, etc. It seems to work OK but I'm tired of this format - any suggestions of things that work for you - either and an observer or one being observed? Thanks! Debbie Turner Seattle Central Community College Seattle, WA USA firstname.lastname@example.org ================================================================ Date: Thu, 30 Jul 1998 21:31:11 EDT From: Miri Yochanna Subject: teacher observation In regard to teacher observation, I agree with Debbie Turner in that it gets tiring to do the same thing all the time. [-1-] I try to focus on specifics each time. For example, one lesson I will focus on and note timing and transitions from one activity to another and all the other things will be border lined. The next lesson I might focus on and note how the teacher dealt with discipline and feedback. The next lesson I will focus on and note how the teacher organized the lesson and how the activities were done and the students' reactions to them. Obviously, with each lesson, a little of everything is being taken in but with a specific focus, it is easier to help the teacher specify where there might be a problem. Another good idea is to video tape the lesson and then discuss the lesson after watching it with the teacher. Things are seen differently and the discussion is different. It makes for a very interesting learning experience on the part of both the teacher and the teacher trainer. I hope this helps. Miri Miri Yochanna email@example.com Levinsky College of Education Tel-Aviv, Israel ================================================================ Date: Thu, 30 Jul 1998 21:34:47 EDT From: Rex Alexander Subject: Re: Teacher Observation At 11:44 AM 7/30/98 -0400, Turner, Debbie asks "Can any of you recall any evaluations of your classroom performance that really helped your development as a teacher?" Hi Debbie, all, Sorry to side step your question but, no, I have never had any evaluations of my classroom performance that were helpful. I don't see how they could be helpful when decisions about continued employment, salary, advancement and letters of reference are directly or indirectly based upon such observations and evaluations. I understand and sympathize with an employer's right to "know what is going on" in my classroom, and to effect some quality control over the process. However, for me personally, observations are an anxiety-producing waste of time. I regard them as "dog and pony shows" where I give the observer what s/he wants so that s/he will go away as soon as possible and let me do my job. As two different observers may come up with two entirely different evaluations of my teaching, I have no interest in the feedback resulting from such evaluations. [-2-] I am sure that I don't sound like much of a "team player" (I'm not!), and some would question my professionalism for making such statements. However, I have always regarded this list as an opportunity question "conventional wisdom", and to be candid about feelings that would be taboo to express on the job. Cheers, Rex Rex Alexander Pattaya, Thailand ================================================================ Date: Fri, 31 Jul 1998 04:07:24 EDT From: Cynthia Sinsap Subject: Re: Teacher Observation When I was in a position requiring me to observe new teachers and teacher applicants, I would also make a written observation similar to what you described, but I usually had a brief interview with the teacher before anyone saw the written version. I would ask the teacher what they though were the most positive aspects of the lesson they had taught and what they would change or do differently if they could re-teach that lesson. I would then add their comments to my written report and go over any additional comments I had to make with them. I think that giving the teachers a chance to reflect and comment on their own performance first makes it a more positive learning experience. Cynthia Sinsap firstname.lastname@example.org Didyasarin International School Thailand ================================================================ Date: Fri, 31 Jul 1998 17:43:22 EDT From: Anthea Tillyer Subject: Re: Teacher Observation On Thu, 30 Jul 1998 21:34:47 EDT Rex Alexander said: >some quality control over the process. However, for me personally, >observations are an anxiety producing waste of time... As two >different observers may come up with two entirely different >evaluations of my teaching, I absolutely agree with Rex! But before explaining the basis for my agreement, I would like to answer the question that started this thread on observations...NO, I absolutely have never been helped [-3-] by any observation of my teaching. As Rex pointed out, almost no teacher would do anything but the tried, true, and reliable in a class upon which employment decisions could be made. I agree with Rex that observations are anxiety-producing and a waste of time for all concerned. I do not believe that the observer can get a true picture of a teacher's skill and effectiveness from one visit and I do not believe that observations make anyone a better teacher. Furthermore, as Rex pointed out, the whole process is usually a game in which the teacher needs to find out what that particular observer wants or expects and then delivers it. As example of the absurdity of some of this is several years ago when I was teaching on two different campuses of the university, in two different ESL programs. I was teaching the same level students, same skills, but on different campuses. The observers in the morning program were all of the belief that group work undermined the authority and value of the teacher, and that explicit grammar instruction was the best way to help students, no matter what skill you were actually teaching. However, the afternoon program would not reappoint any teacher who did NOT use group work (for teaching the same skills, same levels, as the morning program)! And - you guessed it - explicit grammar instruction was a sign that the teacher had serious retrograde attitudes that needed to be weeded out. Naturally, all the teachers taught the way they generally felt comfortable with, but when an observer came - or when there was chance of word "getting out" of the classroom, everyone followed the party line. It was such an incredibly stressful waste of time! The only good thing about it was that it cast all the teacher into a sort of "conspiratorial" mode which allowed us to be good and supportive colleagues to each other and to share stories and much merriment about these ridiculous teaching circumstances. So, YES, I agree with Rex Alexander; and NO, I have never been helped in my teaching by anything related to observations. Anthea Tillyer City University of New York (USA) ABTHC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU ================================================================ Date: Fri, 31 Jul 1998 19:07:51 EDT From: Cynthia Sinsap Subject: Re: Teacher Observation When I was in a position requiring me to observe new teachers and teacher applicants, I would also make a written observation similar to what you described, but I usually had a brief interview with the teacher before anyone saw the written version. I would ask the teacher what they though were the most positive aspects of the lesson they had taught and what they would change or do differently if they could re-teach that lesson. I would then add their comments to my written report and go over any additional comments I had [-4-] to make with them. I think that giving the teachers a chance to reflect and comment on their own performance first makes it a more positive learning experience. Cynthia Sinsap Didyasarin International School Thailand ================================================================ Date: Fri, 31 Jul 1998 19:17:43 EDT From: Roy Kesey Subject: teacher evaluations Dear Colleagues, Rex Alexander's response to teacher evaluations echoes precisely my own feelings as of two or three years ago. I, too, felt them to be, "'dog and pony shows' where I give the observer what s/he wants so that s/he will go away as soon as possible and let me do my job." However, two things have since combined to change my opinion. The first and most radical was that I suddenly found myself on the other side of the classroom, suffering through evaluations as an evaluator rather than as a teacher. Second and only slightly later, I took a CELTA course at English International in San Francisco. My experience there speaks directly to Mr. Alexander's main point: "I don't see how (teacher evaluations) could be helpful when decisions about continued employment, salary, (etc.) are directly or indirectly based upon (them)." In the CELTA sessions, the only possible point of the evaluations was to help me improve as a teacher. Once I understood that, the evaluations ceased to be, as Mr. Alexander notes, "an anxiety-producing waste of time." The teacher evaluations I do now are as close in spirit and form as I can make them to the ones I experienced on the TEFL course. I made it blatantly clear to my teachers, (in staff meetings before the first round of evaluations, and in the post-evaluation feedback sessions,) that the only point to the evaluations was to help them develop as teachers. This, I would hope, displaced some of the pressure from the teachers' shoulders to my own, and put out the message that the only way an evaluation could reflect negatively on the teacher was if s/he showed no interest whatsoever in getting better. Unfortunately, this type of evaluation consumes a lot quite of time-- about four hours per session per teacher for me, perhaps three hours per session from the teacher's perspective. Each teacher gives me, in advance, a detailed lesson plan, (which includes a section in which they focus on what they hope to accomplish with each of the activities they've chosen) as well as a lesson analysis, in which they outline the lesson's central objectives, anticipate potential problems, (language- based or otherwise), and provide solutions [-5-] to these problems. After the evaluation, they fill out a self- evaluation, wherein they detail to what extent they feel they've achieved their lesson objectives, the central strengths and weaknesses of that day's lesson, and the means by which to improve on the weaknesses they've mentioned. We go through all of this, as well as the observation sheet I've filled out, in the feedback session the following day. A tremendous amount of work, this--but given the positive results I've seen over a very short period of time, it's well worth it. Most of my teachers now look forward to their observations... or so they tell me. Best regards, Roy Kesey - Universidad de Piura - Piura, Peru rkesey@UPIURA.UDEP.EDU.PE ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 02:09:08 EDT From: Julie Hutchin Subject: teacher observations The most useful observations for me were the ones where I was doing the observing. I have found that peer observations can be quite useful for getting ideas and seeing how other teachers teach. When we do them in my program, we make appointments to observe each other, and so far, no one has minded being observed by a peer. As an administrator, I participate in these peer observations and no one seems to feel nervous or pressured when I visit their classes. Anyone is welcome to observe my classes as well. I always learn something, or am reminded of something I should be doing that I'm not (or see something that I want to make sure I never do!). A question for those of you who feel very negative about being observed -- I also question the validity of the kind of observations you describe. But think of the situation from an administrator's point of view - the administrator is ultimately responsible for the quality of the program and unfortunately, not all teachers are good. What do you suggest that administrators do to check on the quality of instruction in their programs? Julie Hutchin hutchton@HOTMAIL.COM Pacific International Academy Marylhurst College Marylhurst OR USA ================================================================ [-6-] Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 02:13:48 EDT From: Tommy Mcdonell In a message dated 7/31/98 8:04:28 PM, rkesey@UPIURA.UDEP.EDU.PE writes: >The teacher evaluations I do now are as close in spirit and form >as I can make them to the ones I experienced on the TEFL course. >I made it blatantly clear to my teachers, (in staff meetings before >the first round of evaluations, and in the post-evaluation feedback >sessions,) that the only point to the evaluations was to help them >develop as teachers. This is, exactly, what I feel is important. It helps to make both the evaluator and the teacher a team to the benefit of the program and, ultimately, the students. If someone is a bad teacher, they won't be bad on observation days, but it will come up in student evaluations. But to be a better teacher, the evaluator and the teacher can focus on different parts of the lesson or some part that people want feedback on. Tommy McDonell, Learning English Adult Program, Inc. NYC (USA) email@example.com ================================================================ Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 02:16:58 EDT From: Paul S & Joy E Subject: Teacher Observation/Evaluation Roy Kesey (31 July) wrote: " I made it blatantly clear to my teachers, (in staff meetings before the first round of evaluations, and in the post evaluation feedback sessions) that the only point to the evaluations was to help them develop as teachers." I believe the evaluation and feedback process outlined by Kesey can be helpful and will probably alleviate many of the concerns raised by Rex Alexander (30 July) on the use of teacher evaluations in decisions related to continued employment and salary. However, once the evaluation has been completed is it really possible to erect a 'Chinese wall' around it and prevent this information from being used for other purposes? I ask this question not of Kesey's own situation but of the World in general. If the evaluation is conducted by a teacher's supervisor or someone who reports to the supervisor then how can that evaluation be forgotten if, say, it came to a contraction in staff numbers? Does the supervisor toss a coin to see who is going to get the push rather than use his or her knowledge about the different qualities of teaching? Perhaps tossing a coin is the fairest way given the conflicting ideas about what forms quality teaching [see Anthea [-7-] Tillyer's account (31 July) of her experiences]; but would most of us be happy at having our fate decided by chance in this way? My own opinion is that teacher evaluations should be conducted by an external consultant who has a contract with the teacher - not the employing institution. I doubt if this is really a practical proposition! Paul Stables Hong Kong Shue Yan College firstname.lastname@example.org ================================================================ Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 17:20:58 EDT From: Sab Will Subject: Re: teacher evaluations Dear All, I agree to a great extent with what Anthea Tillyer said about many observations being a complete joke just like in an interview where you try to tell the interviewer what they want to hear. But like Roy Kesey and Julie Hutchin, I feel that the phenomenal benefits that can be gained from being observed in a sympathetic way, and indeed from observing others, are being overlooked. I have followed a certificate and a diploma course where observation was one of the mainstays of the programme. We observed our tutors, other course members and even ourselves! We were observed by our tutors, other course members and of course finally by the assessors. On a TEFL training course the emphasis is on improvement and mutual help and encouragement - the ideal situation. This is a world away from the stressful experience of being observed by an employer where you have to teach on their terms whilst often knowing that you are far more qualified to say what is a good lesson than they are! But yes, employers need to make sure that standards are being maintained or even improved. And teachers should observe and be observed just for their own personal development and sharing of knowledge. The key is, as on a training course, that all the feedback should be given in a positive way. Perhaps the best observers are other teachers, but in any case, employers should invest the time to develop their staff, stressing that an observation can only benefit everyone - the employer, because they will keep teachers motivated and increase trust and confidence in the pedagogical back-up; teachers, who will benefit from positive feedback and be made aware of problem areas they [-8-] were ignorant of; and the students, who will receive a better level of instruction from motivated teachers. Sab Will email@example.com English teacher, Paris, France Webmaster, The TEFL Farm ================================================================ Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 17:22:24 EDT From: Rex Alexander Subject: Re: teacher observations At 02:09 AM 8/1/98 -0400, Julie Hutchin wrote: "A question for those of you who feel very negative about being observed...the administrator is ultimately responsible for the quality of the program and unfortunately, not all teachers are good. What do you suggest that administrators do to check on the quality of instruction in their programs?" Hi Julie, all, To clarify my earlier statements that I have never been helped by being observed. I think that "some" brief and infrequent observations *may* be justifiable in order for an administrator to insure quality control in the program, and to keep somewhat abreast of what is happening in the classrooms. However, I think it is crazy-making to take the next step and claim that such observations are "helpful" to teachers. When I have observed teachers, I have kept the process as casual as possible, advising that during a certain week I might be dropping into classes for awhile. I only stay for 15-20 minutes. I don't take copious notes. I meet later with the teacher for only a few minutes remark on a few things I liked about what I saw. All I am really looking for in these observations are flagrant problems that must be attended to. As to all the little concerns, points of correction, comments on activities, methods, etc. that I have collected during the observations, I save them for staff meetings and workshops. Cheers, Rex Rex Alexander Pattaya, Thailand ================================================================ [-9-] Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 17:24:38 EDT From: Marilyn Cahill Subject: Teacher evaluations Re: Question on Teacher Evaluations All the viewpoints posted on the above got me thinking back. I have to admit that whenever I knew I'd be evaluated, I tailor-made lessons for whatever expert was going to be observing me. So I guess the evaluators never really got a true picture of what my day-to-day teaching was like. In one of my first evaluations, the "master teacher" found only one thing to critique, and that was that I got two of the prescribed components of the lesson out of order. (In that training program they required a series of drills - discrimination, repetition, substitution, transformation, etc. - and I think I switched substitution and transformation.) This was hardly helpful. I found, though, that helpful hints from successful, experienced teachers on things like classroom management, went a long way. I agree with Julie Hutchin that when *I'm* doing the observing, it's another story. So many new ideas piggyback off techniques I see others using. I find that occasional reciprocal peer observation is very healthy, and very collaborative. Everyone participating grows as a result. Marilyn Gorgas-Cahill firstname.lastname@example.org Lynguista Lang. Svc., Wharton, NJ/USA ================================================================ Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 18:42:53 EDT From: Bassam Khoury In my experience, teacher observations have always been positive experiences - but from reading other experiences related on the list, I am sure this is only because of the observers and my particular teaching situation. I have always viewed observations as of great developmental value. In fact, for new teachers straight off a certificate course such as the CTEFLA (now CELTA), they are, in my opinion, of paramount importance and in many institutions teachers don't get enough observation and support from management. As I see it, the advantages of observations are (or can/could be): - the opportunity for an outside view; I only ever see the class from my own viewpoint (and that is always biased!). - the sharing of ideas - the highlighting of potential weaknesses together with suggestions for possible ways to address them [-10-] - the opportunity to stop and take stock of what I am doing in my teaching, of what skill(s) am I currently developing, or could I be developing. - the opportunity to share concerns with a senior member of staff. - the opportunity to take advantage of someone else's experience. I believe that the primary reason for teacher observations should be developmental. I understand that management needs to monitor classroom performance, but if sensitively and professionally undertaken, both measuring and developing could surely come out of any observation programme. My institution is in the process of bringing in performance management measures. Teachers were consulted on which measures we would agree to be assessed on, and out of five suggested measures, we unanimously requested that we be judged primarily on observations as we felt, with some reservations, this to be the fairest measure of our performance as teachers. However, we requested that a) in light of the fact that all teachers occasionally give poorer lessons for one reason or another, we be observed at least four times during the year; b) since from our point of view the main reason for "undergoing" observations was developmental, we should be observed by the same person on all four occasions; c) if for any reason we felt uncomfortable being observed by one particular member of the management team, we could request another observer. Best wishes, Sian Baldwin Beirut, Lebanon email@example.com ================================================================ Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 18:29:21 EDT From: Anthea Tillyer Subject: What do observations do? Like Rex Alexander, I find it hard to accept the claim that observations "help" the observed teacher! Frankly, I think that that is a rationalization of the wish of administrators to believe that observing classes helps them to know whether their teachers are doing the right thing and to justify union or other contractual requirements. My own position is that an evaluator/observer can tell very little from an observation. One would have to have a special measuring device to see if what the teacher was teaching was actually causing learning in the students. And, let's face it...the important thing is not exactly what the teacher does or says (groups or no [-11-] groups, for example), but whether or not students are on the road to learning as a result of being in that class. I honestly cannot see the point of observing TEACHING because it is LEARNING that is our goal. Teaching and learning do not necessarily go hand in hand. Moreover, what a teacher is teaching - no matter how well it is presented - may not actually be "learned" or "acquired" by the learners for quite a while after the class. So it is impossible to know exactly how much learning is going on as a result of which kind of input and from which teacher. I believe that administrators can drop in to judge the atmosphere in the class, whether the students are involved, and whether the teacher is at least decently deploying him or herself. Beyond that, asking teachers about what they are doing, asking students what and how they are doing, and assuming that all is well will assure a program culture that encourages students to learn and teachers to teach and try new things. I think that administrators can learn more about whether the program's goals are being met by observing STUDENTS than by observing teachers. And I do mean OBSERVING students, not necessarily asking them directly. In the end, successful teaching cannot take place without students who want to learn. The methods and attitudes of the students are just as important as the methods and attitudes of their teachers. Anthea Tillyer City University of New York (USA) ABTHC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU ================================================================ Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 18:56:57 EDT From: Bassam Khoury Subject: Teacher Observation On the subject of teacher observations, Debbie Turner writes: >any suggestions of things that work for you - either >and an observer or one being observed? While observing teachers as part of a Teacher Development programme in an adult language school, I followed pretty much the same format that Debbie outlined in her posting. One thing we did bring in, though, which I feel is worth trying, is an "informal" observation which precedes the "formal" observation. The observer meets with the teacher beforehand for a brief discussion on the class, any problems (with teaching in general or with this class), and what the lesson should achieve. The observer then sits in for a short time (perhaps half an hour) just to get a general feel of the class and the teacher's teaching style. This also gives the students the chance to get used to the observer. A second meeting with the [-12-] teacher follows; this could be more lengthy. Possible areas to focus on may be suggested by the teacher or observer, and agreed on by both, and a lesson plan should be submitted. Then the same class is observed, but this time for a slightly longer period of time, and this class is written up and followed by oral and written feedback. As a teacher being observed, I've also tried (as another list member suggested) videoing myself, then going through the video first on my own, then with an observer. This has the added advantage of allowing me to see myself from a different vantage point - good for working on aspects of classroom management. I also feel that it is helpful to encourage the teacher to think about their own performance before the observer comments on it, and that they be allowed to give their feelings before observer feedback is given. They could perhaps be given a form to complete before the post-observation meeting takes place. This is useful from a developmental point of view, and could also be useful for the observer in their role as assessor to see how a teacher reacts to a lesson - whether they are able to identify strengths and weaknesses and suggest ways to work on weaknesses which may have showed up in the lesson. It also ensures the teacher has the opportunity to put forward their side. Best wishes, Sian Baldwin Beirut, Lebanon firstname.lastname@example.org ================================================================ Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 22:41:18 EDT From: Melinda Gleeson Subject: teacher evaluations Roy Kesey is in favour of evaluations when the purpose is clearly to help the teachers develop their skills. I made it blatantly clear to my teachers, (in staff meetings before the first round of evaluations, and in the post-evaluation feedback sessions,) that the only point to the evaluations was to help them develop as teachers. For me this brings with it the problem of 'who are you to be judging others?' What equips the observer with the skills, knowledge or whatever to be in the evaluator's position? Sure when someone is a beginning teacher they can learn from this situation. But later when one has been teaching for a number of years, a lot may boil down to differences of opinion. If I were to be observed by another, even if their clearly stated intention was 'to help me improve as a teacher', I wouldn't see [-13-] any value in it unless I already had a particular respect for the evaluator's skills and saw the evaluator as being clearly in a position to contribute. On the other hand I would be quite happy to be observed in a situation where teachers were involved in observing each other and discussing methodology and 'magic' or 'missed' moments in the classroom. This would be a two way exchange with both the observer and the observed in a position to learn. If the observation is in the spirit of 'we're all here to learn together', it could well be useful. But if the spirit is, 'I'm the expert willing to impart my wisdom to you' - then the utility as a tool to aid a teacher's development is limited. Melinda Gleeson email@example.com Brisbane Australia http://www.powerup.com.au/~ozesl ================================================================ Date: Sun, 2 Aug 1998 08:11:13 EDT From: "Cipaku, Bandung" Subject: Re: What do observations do? dear teslers, I've been following the discussion on this subject with much interest, although I've never been observed 'purposely and officially' as a teacher (once again I should stress that I am not an English teacher; I'm your student in this list). From all that have been stated by various teslers, what Anthea wrote (01/08), IMHO and in my point of view as a student, is the 'most' important: >I honestly cannot see the point of observing TEACHING because it is >LEARNING that is our goal. administrators can learn more >about whether the program's goals are being met by observing >STUDENTS than by observing teachers. >In the end, successful teaching cannot take place without students >who want to learn. The methods and attitudes of the students are >just as important as the methods and attitudes of their teachers. I've often been asked to train young editors or authors (mostly high school teachers who write books). I teach them how to present their ideas in written form, especially from editor's point of view. At the end of each class, I asked the trainees to fill in a short questionnaire form. I've provided several questions regarding the materials, the way I behave in class (was I too serious), the way I teach (did I speak too slow or too fast), which part of the lessons [-14-] is considered not clear, which part they like the most, etc. I also asked them to give me some criticism or suggestions as how I could improve my teaching for the next training. So, as Anthea said, it's what the students' opinion of the teacher that is most important; their input should be considered seriously and serves as the best feedback to improve the way they teach. Sure, the administrators or observers can judge the teachers and tell them how or which part of the lesson should be changed or perfected, but in the end it's still the students' appreciation that really counts. my two cents of opinion, sofia mansoor-niksolihin (ms) chief editor, itb press, bandung, indonesia firstname.lastname@example.org ================================================================ Date: Sun, 2 Aug 1998 08:12:21 EDT From: Sab Will Subject: Teacher evaluation sheets Dear All One way of making observations more useful - and this is principally for teachers who want to mutually benefit from observing each other - is to concentrate on _one_ aspect only. You could decide, for example, that for one hour you were going to concentrate on interaction patterns (how much teacher-talking time, student talking time, pair work, group work, etc). Or perhaps the teacher's effectiveness when presenting a new language item to a low level class. Other areas which could be concentrated on: Correction; student practice; using the board; use of audio/visual aids; organisation of group work; teacher language; overall lesson structure; practising new language; variety; language content; *Example Observation Sheet* (reduced coz too long): Practising new language; 1. Note down the times for the different practice activities used: mechanical drills; meaningful drills; information/opinion gap; role play; humanistic activity; game; written exercise; other (please specify). 2. Was there a progression from more mechanical to freer practice activities? If so, how was this achieved? 3. (How) did the teacher know that it was time to change activities? 4. Did all students participate? 5. Was there enough practice? Why do you think so? 6. How were errors dealt with? Was this appropriate? [-15-] *Follow-up*: 1. How could this part of the lesson have been improved? 2. What have you learnt about your own teaching? (the observer's!) 3. How can you improve it as a result? 4. Set 2 or 3 short-term goals to achieve these improvements. There has to be a lot of trust between the observer and the observed and the understanding that _everyone_ learns from the exercise. The ideal situation is where the exercise is reciprocated and the two teachers are at an equal level in the organisation and have a similar relationship with their superiors so there is less competition and no worries about being _judged_ in some negative way. I have detailed observation sheets for all of the above points if interested. Please contact me off-list. Sab Will email@example.com English teacher, Paris, France Webmaster, The TEFL Farm ================================================================ Date: Sun, 2 Aug 1998 08:15:39 EDT From: Tony Duffy Subject: Re. teacher observation Dear All but especially Rex and Anthea, I know one person's experience doesn't prove very much either way but I felt I had to offer a more positive comment on the role of teacher observation than has been the case so far (with the exception of Roy's letter today). I have been observed both as a trainee teacher in the state educational system and as a teacher whilst working for an international ELT organisation. In both cases, and this is the essential issue I think, the observation was carried out by someone who was also a practising teacher, but with considerably more experience than I had at that time. The whole point of the exercise was to help *me* to improve on my own classroom skills. The feedback I was given focused on the positive aspects of what I was doing as well as providing the basis for constructive discussion of any 'problem' areas. What is more, the observers changed various initial assumptions they had made after hearing from me about certain aspects of the dynamics/personal circumstances of the specific teaching situation they had not been able to pick up on through observation alone. So, I would say that Rex and Anthea had the misfortune to be 'observed' by people who seem to have been neither competent nor constructive in their roles. Sympathetic observation, whether by peers, 'superiors' or outside 'experts' can be of enormous value in helping individual teachers gain a much fuller understanding of their own potential as effective classroom practitioners. And of [-16-] course, bad observation just shouldn't exist, but it's a tough old world! Regards, Tony Duffy University of Deusto, San Sebastian, The Basque Country e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org ================================================================ Date: Sun, 2 Aug 1998 14:33:40 EDT From: "Judith M. Anderson" Subject: Re: Teacher Observation I'm not a great fan of being observed, so this may affect my opinion of the whole process. However, once when I was in an administrative position and was required to observe teachers, I had the experience of observing one individual who was dynamite--she put a lot of energy into the process, engaged the students, etc.-- when she was being watched. But as soon as she wasn't, she reverted to a pattern of "presenting the lesson" during the first 10-15 minutes of the class (too bad for anyone who was late) and then sitting and reading a novel while the students worked on an assignment. She didn't even circulate to help them with their work or find out where they were having problems. It was impossible to observe her doing this, because the minute anybody showed up in class, for whatever reason (I don't believe in surprise observations, but from time to time I had to interrupt the class for an announcement or some other reason, so I figured out what was going on) she would pop up and start her "observation routine." Unfortunately, student evaluations weren't very useful in this regard--they would complain about other aspects of her class, but not this. This teacher used to brag about how quickly she could do her class prep, in comparison to the other teachers in the program. No wonder! I guess my point is that observations often aren't accurate reflections of what's really going on in the classroom. Judy Anderson Univ. of Maryland College Park, MD, USA email@example.com ================================================================ Date: Mon, 3 Aug 1998 17:36:27 EDT From: Jim Scofield Organization: ELS Language Centers Fortunately, I *have* received valuable feedback from observations. I think the main factors for success are who is observing (and have they been trained) and what the goal of observing is. There are two major goals. These are teacher development and teacher evaluation. I [-17-] believe these goals are in conflict and that is one of the main reasons observations often don't work. In most cases, the person that is responsible for teacher development and evaluation is the same person. This creates the conflict. For evaluation you want to show your best stuff. For development you want to try out new things, ask questions, and generally show some weaknesses that you want to improve. Observing is a difficult process that requires training (and tact!). Most of us have learned how to do it through trial and error. If you've never been taught how to observe, why would you expect it to go well? Jim Scofield firstname.lastname@example.org San Diego, CA USA ================================================================ Date: Mon, 3 Aug 1998 17:44:17 EDT From: Molly Farquharson Subject: Observations One of the underlying threads to the discussion about observations seems to be that they are also evaluations. Of course the observer is making judgements, but I think there needs to be a separation of the two processes. I feel I am fortunate to be in a position of being able to observe teachers, and I encourage the teachers in our school to observe each other if they have time. When I observe teachers, I write down things like the seating pattern, the gender make-up of the class, maybe how the teacher is dressed, and then write what the teacher does with the students (lesson presentation, p. X, Ex. a, such and such activity) and the length of time it takes. I make a critique in my notes as I go (what I think is good, what I think could be improved and how). I write it all up as a narrative and discuss it later with the teacher. Teachers are always nervous about being observed. Having another person in the class, no matter who it is, changes the dynamics of the class. In addition, many teachers feel that the classroom is their territory, and it is kind of private. The students observe the teacher every day, but their critique is different from a colleague's. I agree with the various posters who acknowledge the input from the students. Bottom line is (I think, anyway) we are watching the teacher teach, and if we are really lucky we will see that little light that comes on to show that a student has learned something. Having a respected and respectful colleague observe a class and give feedback is a kind of professional development that is very helpful and necessary for the growth of teachers. We may fear it, but if we take the suggestions into serious consideration [-18-] we only become better teachers. Certainly as an observer I learn from the teachers, so I too develop professionally. Yours, ever learning! molly farquharson English Time, Istanbul, Turkey ================================================================ Date: Tue, 4 Aug 1998 15:55:30 EDT From: "Susan L. Schwartz" Subject: Teacher observations Two resources which deal with teacher observations are: 1) _Classroom Observation Tasks_, by Ruth Wajnryb. The book contains a multitude of activities for people to do when observing other teachers; many of the tasks focus on one aspect of teaching at a time rather than looking at the overall lesson. 2) In _New Ways in Teacher Education_, edited by Donald Freeman and Steve Cornwell, there is an article by Alvino Fantini about teacher assessment in which he describes the "YOGA Form" (Your Objectives, Guidelines, and Assessment). This was used by my supervisor when I did my student teaching and later I used it when I was observing teachers in China. There are sections dealing with: interpersonal relations, cultural/intercultural knowledge, language/linguistic knowledge, language acquisition and learning, language teaching (several categories included), professionalism, and synthesis and recommendations. When I observed a teacher, in China and in the US, I afterwards spent between 60-90 minutes discussing what had happened in the classroom. First I wanted to hear how the teacher evaluated the class that I had observed. I asked how s/he felt about the lesson, what went well and what went not so well; finally I asked what s/he would change if doing that same lesson again. Then I offered my comments, based on the copious notes I had taken while I was in the classroom. I tried to get the teacher to look at what s/he had done and, if something hadn't worked well (sometimes they already knew and sometimes it was my opinion that something hadn't) see if there were other ways of achieving a better result. I always asked the teacher to think of at least one alternative to what had actually been done, and often I'd hear something I hadn't thought of myself. That's why I never offered my ideas before hearing what the teacher had to say. I also looked for things to praise; I wanted teachers to feel that, even if they thought their teaching hadn't gone well, still there were things that were good about the lesson and they needed to be acknowledged as well. Although it was very time- consuming and most teachers were stunned when I told them how long the feedback session would take, almost all of them appreciated it after we had finished. [-19-] I think it's vital that an observer observe a teacher more than once, and preferably more than two times before making any kind of evaluation of that person's teaching skills. Nervousness will still play a part but the more often the observer is in the classroom the more comfortable the teacher and the students will feel. Also, I think that anyone who observes teachers for the purpose of evaluation for continued employment or promotion or whatever, must be a teacher, too, who has a thorough understanding of the subject matter being taught. And any administrator who observes teachers should also teach periodically and be observed by the teachers s/he supervises. I am enjoying this discussion about teacher observations very much! Susan L. Schwartz Newton, MA, USA email@example.com ================================================================ Date: Tue, 4 Aug 1998 17:22:11 EDT From: Rex Alexander Subject: Re: Teacher observations Susan L. Schwartz wrote regarding teacher observations: "...Although it was very time-consuming and most teachers were stunned when I told them how long the feedback session would take, almost all of them appreciated it after we had finished." Hi Susan, all, I wonder on what basis Ms. Schwartz, and others who have made similar statements, arrive at the conclusion that teachers appreciate being observed? I wouldn't know, of course, but it is quite possible that teachers in such a situation are merely going along with a process that they feel trapped in, "playing the game", and then offering socially acceptable feedback at the conclusion. An anonymous, blind survey exploring teacher attitudes toward observation might potentially reveal some interesting and unsuspected information. Cheers, Rex Rex Alexander Pattaya, Thailand ================================================================ [-20-] Date: Tue, 4 Aug 1998 18:33:47 EDT From: Anthea Tillyer Subject: Re: Teacher observations On Tue, 4 Aug 1998 17:22:11 EDT Rex Alexander said: >I wouldn't know, of course, but it is quite possible that teachers >o (being bserved) in such a situation are merely going along with a >process that they feel trapped in, "playing the game", and then >offering socially acceptable feedback at the conclusion. Once again I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Rex Alexander! Apart from really new teachers in situations that in NO WAY involve decisions related to hiring and rehiring, I honestly believe that no teacher really appreciates the process. Several netters have claimed that their observations and feedback have been appreciated by the teachers concerned, but I find that hard to believe. I too think that many teachers feel trapped in a situation that they can't change or prevent and must go along with. And all the more so when a teacher has years of experience and good results in the classroom. There is very little to persuade such a teacher that the observation is all for the teacher's good! Anthea Tillyer City University of New York (USA) ABTHC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU ================================================================ Date: Wed, 5 Aug 1998 07:03:23 EDT From: CHIA KENG BOON Subject: Teacher Observations Greetings. I was observed only once during my 15 years of teaching and the experience was a pleasant one. Several factors could account for it. I was a "fresh teacher" and the observer was a senior member of the Federal Inspectorate. I had no choice about the matter. Secondly, it was perhaps the way he did it. During the first lesson, he observed me and gave me feedback after that. He proposed another way of teaching the same items. Then he suggested that he taught the next class those items and that I observed him. The discussion after that was really useful. He accepted my comments about his lesson. I realised then that there were always other ways of approaching a topic and there is a need to build up a repertoire and then choose the most appropriate for the moment. Observing teachers is part of my job now and I approach it with great reluctance and caution. The nervousness and apprehension teachers have before the lesson make it a generally stressful [-21-] experience. I believe that a series of discussions and informal chats will be more developmental. Chia Keng Boon, Ph.D., Negeri Sembilan State Education Department, Malaysia. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com ================================================================ Date: Wed, 5 Aug 1998 11:45:35 EDT From: Jim Scofield Subject: Teacher Observations Learning about one's teaching is the most laudatory goal of observations. I have heard, and I believe my teachers are being truthful, that some observations have been very helpful. It doesn't mean they always like it, and some observations are not helpful, I am sure. However, I don't believe it is accurate to condemn all observations based on one's personal experiences. In playing a sport, such as tennis or golf, observation and guidance by a coach is essential not only in learning the game, but in maintaining one's level of play. In principle, I believe, observations have the potential to be extremely useful. Peer observations (a la Joyce & Showers) have the observer learning from the teacher being observed. This type of observation removes the evaluation aspect from the process, and is probably more effective. However, a good coach can teach you a lot, even if you are already a professional. All too often, unfortunately, coaches yell a lot and nobody profits. Jim Scofield San Diego, CA USA firstname.lastname@example.org ================================================================ Date: Wed, 5 Aug 1998 19:07:37 EDT From: Kara Rosenberg Subject: Observation I am surprised by the cynicism with which teachers view observation. I believe that a dose of observation as Susan Schwartz described it could not help but be beneficial to any teacher. Susan described a process wherein she spent 60-90 minutes discussing an observation with a teacher, eliciting the teacher's opinions about how the lesson went and ways it could be improved. I think this helps the teacher develop the ability to be analytical about teaching and to constantly improve. I go through a similar process known as cognitive coaching with my staff. (E-mail me for references if you [-22-] are interested.) Saying that teachers do not need to be observed is akin to saying that learning doesn't need to be evaluated. Anthea Tillyer says: >Several netters have claimed that their >observations and feedback have been appreciated by the teachers >concerned, but I find that hard to believe. As evidence of the appreciation with which teachers might greet Susan's process, I offer a recent experience wherein a summer school teacher I observed left the feedback session quite happy and returned an hour later with a bouquet and the comment that the high school where she had worked all year hadn't spent nearly as much time with her as had I. I have also had the opposite reaction from an experienced teacher who was clearly offended by my asking her, a mere substitute to analyze her lesson. She told me that she was a wonderful teacher and didn't need to offer any evidence that her students had learned what she taught. Kara Rosenberg Palo Alto Adult School Palo Alto, CA, USA ================================================================ Date: Thu, 6 Aug 1998 07:27:07 EDT From: Ken Ikeda Subject: Observation Rex Alexander wrote: >I wouldn't know, of course, but it is quite possible that >teachers in such a situation are merely going along with a process >that they feel trapped in, "playing the game", and then offering >socially acceptable feedback at the conclusion. I still hold to the notion "observation is beneficial", but it does seem that post-observation discussions do trap the supervisor and the observed teacher into a certain conversational style. One consistent feature in this style is a conversational pull to identification of problems linked with the performance of the teacher, no matter how the supervisor initially comments on the lesson. Peer teacher observation appears to be more "equal", but I think these conversations would also follow the same pattern, because regardless whether the conversation is supervisory or peered, teachers try to justify to themselves and to others in the profession that they all belong to the same community, and the way we do that is by trouble-shooting. But what gets lost in these [-23-] conversations, which ostensibly aim to improve teaching, is the search for multiple perspectives and causes for each and any occurrence in lessons. Ken Ikeda Nagano, Japan ================================================================ Date: Thu, 6 Aug 1998 07:30:32 EDT From: "Susan L. Schwartz" Subject: Re teacher observations Anthea Tillyer wrote, "Apart from really new teachers in situations that in NO WAY involve decisions related to hiring and rehiring, I honestly believe that no teacher really appreciates the process." As one who wrote that I believed that the teachers I observed appreciated my feedback, I would like to expand on my comments in my previous post. The teachers I observed in China were participating in a 9-month in-service program emphasizing communicative and student-centered approaches, which was all very new to them. Part of the program was for each teacher to do a teaching practicum. Each teacher was observed by me or one of my colleagues two times. These observations had absolutely no bearing on hiring or rehiring decisions. The purpose of the practicum was to give the trainees the chance to try out new techniques learned in classes to see how they worked in practice. I know that most of the teachers appreciated the observations because: 1) They said so. In the course of the feedback sessions, there was ample opportunity for dialoguing and I could tell when one of my comments hit home or when a teacher had an insight into her/his teaching. I do not think they said something just to please me-- there were plenty of times when people disagreed with me about teaching or other matters. 2) Comments on anonymously-written evaluations of the practicum were unanimously positive. Of one group of 26 trainees, all 22 who returned the questionnaire said the feedback sessions--which were a result of the observations--were beneficial. Of the other group of 26 trainees, all 25 who returned the form wrote that the feedback sessions were very useful or useful. (I don't remember why the others didn't return their forms, but I doubt that it was because they had something negative to say.) When I observed teachers in the US, we all knew that hiring/rehiring decisions would take into account my observations. However, I [-24-] said that the first time I observed someone, the purpose was for the teacher to get used to me in the classroom and to become familiar with the process. I tried to make it clear that my feedback based on my observations was meant to be supportive and helpful for further developing their teaching skills. (Most of the teachers had very little, if any, formal training in TESL; most had less than three years teaching experience; and none had taught at that school for more than 8 months.) Consequently, when they said they found the feedback helpful, I believed them. That's not to say they agreed with everything, but that the process was useful. I left that position before doing the other observations, though; maybe the reaction would have been different then, but I still maintain that most teachers at that school found my observations helpful. Susan L. Schwartz Newton, MA, USA email@example.com ================================================================ Date: Thu, 6 Aug 1998 14:55:45 EDT From: Anthea Tillyer Subject: Different observation standards? Something that has not been noted in this discussion of teacher observations is the issue of full-time teachers and part-time teachers. The issue of F/T-P/T permeates almost any discussion of our field, and it is a pivotal point in evaluating teachers. I do not believe that part-time teachers, who suffer from job insecurity, poor pay, and no benefits, should be subjected to the rigorous observation schedule and standards that full-time teachers are. After all, if an institution does not value its teachers enough to treat them properly, what right does the institution have to further subject them to stresses like observations? Observations are more stressful for part-timers than for full-timers simply BECAUSE their situations are so tenuous and insecure. Claims that teachers "appreciate" the feedback on their teaching might possibly be true for full-time teachers, but I very much doubt that any part-time teacher appreciates anything that adds even a slight sense of additional insecurity to their lives as teachers and as human beings. Every part-time teacher I know is dedicated and wants to do the best possible job, and many of them are more successful in the classroom than some of their full-time colleagues are. But, if the institution that they work for does not think enough of them to give them "real" jobs with "real" benefits, why should anyone expect the part-timers to perform to the same standards as full-timers? That part-time teachers almost always try to reach the highest standards possible is no reason for supporting holding them to those standards without suitable compensation. [-25-] In a recent official report about the use and abuse of part-time faculty in the USA, it was noted that many part time teachers are absolutely EXCELLENT teachers and most really love teaching....they have to love it because there are no other advantages to their situation. The report noted that it cannot always be assumed that full-time faculty love teaching...for some, a few, it is a cushy job. By the way, this report (a statement that came out of a September 1997 conference on the Growing Use of Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty in U.S. colleges and universities) is available from the TESL-L archives. To get it, send email to LISTSERV@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU As the text of the message, type GET PARTTIME FACULTY TESL-L While ordering that file, you might be interested in adding a line to the message, like this: GET PEER OBSERV TESL-L This command will get you another file....about peer observations. Anthea Tillyer City University of New York (USA) ABTHC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU ================================================================ Date: Thu, 6 Aug 1998 17:20:04 EDT From: Bruce Rindler Subject: Re: teacher observations In response to the comments made recently by Rex Alexander who wrote: >An anonymous, blind survey exploring teacher attitudes toward >observation might potentially reveal some interesting and >unsuspected information. And to Anthea who wrote: >...I honestly believe that no teacher really appreciates the >process. Several netters have claimed that their observations and >feedback have been appreciated by the teachers concerned, but I >find that hard to believe. I was skeptical myself until I did some research. I would like to share a snapshot of a study I completed a few years ago on teachers' perceptions of the value of teacher evaluation on their development as teachers. The research was conducted by sending questionnaires to 435 full-time faculty members at intensive English programs around the country. The teachers were asked to rate the different attributes of their evaluation experiences for the impact on their development as teachers. The attributes included the techniques used, the person conducting the evaluation, the environment, the feedback provided and attributes of the teacher being evaluated. [-26-] Teachers also were asked to comment on their experiences in open- ended questions. The results of this research indicated that the technique used in teacher evaluation, whether it be student evaluations, peer evaluations, portfolio assessment, self-evaluations meetings with supervisors or classroom observations, was not the determining factor in the teachers' satisfaction with the process. In fact, teachers reported a range of experiences with each of those techniques. In the case of classroom observations, what determined the value for teachers centered mainly on 2 items: Feedback and the Evaluator. In situations where the feedback the teacher received was characterized by the depth of the information, the quality of the ideas, the amount of the feedback and the specificity of the information, the teachers reported that they valued the process and that evaluation had a positive impact on their growth as teachers. The second factor was who evaluated. Evaluators who provided positive classroom observation experiences for teachers were characterised as: credible, trusted, knowledgeable, persuasive, having useful suggestions and having the capacity to model. I very much appreciated the comments of Susan Schwartz and other administrators who I feel correctly perceived that at least SOME teachers found value in classroom observations. I undertook this research because I too had doubts about the efficacy of different evaluation techniques. The questionnaire results along with the data I gathered from interviewing teachers and collecting many written anecdotes convinced me that it was how, when, why, and by whom observations were done that made the difference. Regards, Bruce Rindler * * * * * * * Bruce Rindler, Associate Director, CELOP, Boston University E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Voice: 617-353-4870 web: http://web.bu.edu/CELOP ================================================================ Date: Fri, 7 Aug 1998 14:50:57 EDT From: Kara Rosenberg Subject: Observation Ken Ikeda points out an observation problem, the > pull to identification of problems linked with the performance >of the teacher, no matter how the supervisor initially >comments on the lesson. [-27-] I appreciate this problem. It is a hard role to step out of. One of the things I like about cognitive coaching is the time spent before the observation, coach and teacher discussing together the proposed lesson. Issues of curriculum, classroom management, instructional strategies can be discussed together, as <...name deleted> mentioned. The post-observation focuses not only on what happened, but what will happen next. A good coach doesn't actually have to say much. It's okay to let problems go undiscussed because the process is designed to bring the teacher to a higher level of reflective thought. 's point that observations are often used to "catch" problem teachers is a good one. This does engender distrust in the faculty. Any suggestions? The substantive discussion about education that she mentions should be the heart of the observation. Lastly, I must second Anthea's observations about part-timers. Institutions expect part-timers to behave like professionals, but don't treat them like professionals. It's an appalling situation. Some people do teach part-time by choice. Part-time teaching has allowed me to do something I love and focus on my family. I don't mind the stress of observation. If no one ever observed me I would assume that they didn't really care. A good half of my part-time staff feels the same way. They would put up with a lot more, however, in exchange for benefits! Kara Rosenberg Palo Alto Adult School Palo Alto, CA USA ================================================================ Date: Sun, 9 Aug 1998 08:30:34 EDT From: David Adams Subject: Teacher observation Following this thread - a few days late, sorry - two things have surprised me: the number of references to hiring and firing in connection with observation, and the faith some administrators seem to place in their ability to judge on the basis of their observation. When I've been the top-down observer, I've rarely - if ever - seen 'normal' teaching in progress. If I've accepted the appointment of a teacher to my staff, I consider it's my job to make sure the teaching is of the standard I'm trying to maintain. What I look for is teachers in need of help. Yes, of course I've had the distasteful job of recommending firing a teacher, but never on the basis of an observation or even a series of observations; on the basis of repeated failed attempts to generate improvement, maybe, but that's a different story. [-28-] Anyway, I dislike classroom observation - I now prefer to observe from outside the classroom. Students' faces and body language before and after lessons, conversations in the teachers' room, students' and their parents' comments, attendance and punctuality, and finally results, these are my standard indicators. These show me when there's a need to work more closely with a teacher. And when I do need to observe formally, I prefer what I call the 'talkback' method. After a lesson, which I haven't observed, I ask a teacher to 'talk me through' the lesson, chronologically or however they like to recall it. I question anything I don't understand or want to know more about. I may ask about the teacher's aims, or the students' reactions or achievements, and so on, but I avoid pointed or accusing questions. My feedback is often also in the form of questions, and sometimes I also suggest a teacher to talk to or arrange peer observation with, a book or article to look at, and so on. If you haven't tried it, give it a go: it's relatively stress-free for both observed and observer, it's less time-consuming than most other forms, and it doesn't interrupt the teaching. And if you're a course director, before you consider firing a teacher, ask yourself if you've done your part in trying to make the teaching successful... -- David Adams IBI, Brasilia, Brazil email@example.com
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