This was originally posted on November 22, 2011 at

A very important teacher development tool: Lesson Observation

Shout if you’ve ever panicked before having a lesson observed by your coordinator, supervisor or even a fellow teacher. Yes, I know. I can almost hear you!

There aren’t many absolute certainties in the world of ELT – which is probably why it is so challenging and enticing – but if there ever was one, it has got to be that the vast majority of teachers detest being observed, no matter by who, no matter what for. Why that is, and especially how to curb that, is what this article will aim at.

To be perfectly honest, the why is easy. At the risk of overgeneralizing and even of being a bit unfair (just a bit), the main reason why teachers hate being observed is that most observers have no idea what they’re doing. They observe teachers because it is part of their jobs, but they don’t really have an aim in doing so, there is no procedure, which renders the observation useless, while at the same time frustrating the teacher and deepening the widespread belief that observation is nothing but a colossal waste of time.

Another serious problem of class observation as it is done in many schools is the lack of (good) feedback. Oftentimes the observed teacher will never receive any feedback whatsoever, and in the few times they indeed do, they often feel it is lacking somehow. Either the comments made are obvious and ineffective (your TTT is too high, your class needs to be more dynamic!), or they’re just really rude and unhelpful. Whatever the case, in a recent informal survey I carried out with a few fellow teachers for a workshop on lesson observation, the rarest comment I got was for someone to actually say that they had learnt from being observed or that they were in any way happy with the observations of their lessons.

Below is a three-step suggestion for a more successful lesson observation:

1)      Pre-observation meeting: Observer and teacher meet to discuss the group which will be observed. Teacher hands in a draft of his/her lesson plan and observer comments on it. Teacher tells observer about any points s/he would like to have feedback on after the class (group is too noisy/too quiet; a particular student doesn’t participate much/seems aloof etc.)

2)      Observation: Observer arrives 5 minutes prior to class, greets students and sits at the back of the room. Observer sits in for the whole lesson (not just 10 minutes!) and makes notes as discreetly as possible, focusing on positive aspects and points where there is room for improvement. Under no circumstances is the observer going to participate in the lesson in any way, or speak unless spoken to. S/he is forbidden to weave comments of any kind during the lesson, correct students (or God forbid the teacher!) in any shape or form or make any kind of suggestions. The observer is mute. It is kind of the observer to thank the students for the opportunity and congratulate them on their performance before leaving the class. S/he should also give quick informal feedback to the teacher at their (observer’s and teacher’s) earliest convenience.

3)      Post-observation meeting: No later than a few days after the lesson, both the observer and the teacher sit together one more time. This time around, the teacher will first comment on what went well and what would be done differently if s/he were to teach that class again. The observer will then make his/her comments on the lesson, always starting from what went well and suggesting changes for future classes. At the end of the meeting, the teacher should receive comments in written form, along with an action plan to be put into practice in his/her next few classes. This action plan will guide the next lesson observation of this particular teacher.

Next month I’ll talk more about other ways of making lesson observation effective, and also about another very important teacher development tool which is closely related: peer observation.

Good luck with your end-of-year tasks, best of luck with the piles of tests to correct, and as a task for the month, comment a bit here on your personal experience with being observed!

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