Published 5th February 2019
Teacher observations are an essential part of teacher development. As teachers we cannot improve our teaching if we are not observed and if we do not observe other teachers. Observations provide a window into our teaching and allow us to gain valuable insight into our teaching techniques, which in turn helps us to identify weaknesses, improve on our teaching methods and grow as teachers.
Usually the observer will sit at the back of the classroom and watch the teacher conduct a lesson. They will focus on the teacher and make notes regarding their actions and behaviours. However, we all know that the teacher is only a small part of the learning process. If the main aim of a teacher is to facilitate learning then why don’t we focus more on the learning than on the teacher? In other words, the observer should take the students into account more than the teacher.
How can this be done?
Because we are trained to watch the teacher during observations and have probably been doing it for years, shifting our attention to the students can be harder than we expect, but it can be done.
Firstly, the observer needs to change where they sit. Usually they sit at the back of the classroom but this means they can only see the back of the students’ heads. While sitting at the front of the classroom would be too distracting for the students, the observer can sit at the side of the classroom. In this position they can see the students’ reactions to the teacher’s instructions, explanations and error correction. The observer would be able to assess their response to the teacher better by watching their facial expressions and body language.
Then the actions of the students need to be evaluated. Of course the teacher cannot be held responsible for any or all learning which takes place during the lesson and the effectiveness of the lesson cannot be determined by the outcome of the activities during the lesson. We cannot expect learners to produce language immediately after it has been taught and the teacher cannot be blamed for any discrepancies in the learners’ abilities. What can be assessed, though, is the responsiveness of the students to the teacher and their engagement with the activities.
Finally, the success of a lesson ultimately boils down to the learners, so we need to incorporate their feedback into the lessons. After the lesson, a few minutes should be spent chatting to the students and finding out their thoughts on the lesson. Questions that you can ask the learners include:
- What was your favourite part of the lesson?
- Did you find the activities useful?
- What did you learn from the lesson?
By following these steps we can change the way we think about teacher observations. We can change the focus of our attention from the teachers to our learners, in this way making our teacher observations more learner-centred.