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Often overlooked aspects of lesson obs in EFL. And hamsters
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
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Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 12:09 pm    Post subject: Often overlooked aspects of lesson obs in EFL. And hamsters Reply with quote

So much heat rather than light has been generated by the topic of lesson observations, that it is easy to lose sight of basic considerations, and even definitions. This is especially true if one has not had the benefit of proper observations for a long time, or even ever, as the case may be. So, here are a few points that may help shed some light of the matter, as well as shed some prejudice.

Types. There are many types of lesson observation. Peer observations and formal observations. Scrivener gives a nice breakdown in his Learning Teaching, where he lists five main types, including training and developmental. Might be helpful if we all stated clearly what we mean by observations we write about them.


Planning. Most types of formal observations include submitting a detailed lesson plan. The time and thought put into this is immensely important to teacher development - even for experienced in-service teachers. Clarifying your lesson ideas on paper, being able to express them so another teacher can understand them - these are valuable abilities which do not always come naturally. Fairly similar to what we try to teach language learners about planning a composition. True, we do not need, or even want, to do this before every lesson. But we should be able to do so when we need to, especially for our own research. Sadly, far fewer EFL teachers than would be expected to be able to do this seem to be able to actually do so.

Data collection. This is important for many schools and courses, and the DoSes who run them. How are the learners doing, what about the course book? How does the classroom environment impact on the lesson? Is the technology we invested in proving its worth? As teachers, it is perhaps forgivable if we assume that the whole point of observations is about us, but quite often it is not. Obviously, this should be made clear to observees well in advance.

Learners. They usually welcome the fact that their school takes an interest in their lessons and that administration takes an active interest in what happens in the classroom. It reassures them of quality. (Though possible not, if their teacher is fidgeting nervously and floundering...) When observations are a regular part of a school’s routine, as they should be if done properly, very often the learners themselves deal with them much more positively than some of our community here.

On a similar vein, observations can help highlight that we are not little despots in our own little fiefdoms, but we are part of a team in an educational establishment. What we may sometimes call ‘our’ classes and ‘our’ students really are not ours at all. Administration has the right, even a duty, to see what is happening in ‘their’ classrooms. As well as observing lessons, administration can also place new learners in the group if they wish, or change the classroom number. Any sense of possessiveness is misplaced, at best.

Following on, observations can sometimes be carried out by students. Except they are not called observations. ‘Trial lesson’ is the preferred term. New students tend to be much more judgmental and forthright in their opinions - they either join or do not, based on what they see. And not much more feedback than that is to be had. Do all the arguments about how observations do not reflect a true lesson come into play for new students too? Doubtful that a new student would care too much about them.

Anybody got something more to add to the list?


Last edited by Sashadroogie on Sat Oct 27, 2012 8:23 pm; edited 1 time in total
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cmp45



Joined: 17 Aug 2004
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 1:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with everything you wrote. As professionals we often assume we know everything. Sometimes we may not always recognize or notice what is missing or could be done differently; therefore observations can certainly help to point out issues that we may not be aware of...ideally, observations should be used to help teachers improve their teaching so that students are actually learning.

I also recognize that teaching on a daily basis is not always so neatly packaged the way lesson plans may appear in writing; nevertheless, the ability to put a basic lesson plan together and carry it out in the classroom formally for the purpose of an observation should be something every teacher is capable of doing. If only to prove that you have not forgotten how Laughing
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coledavis



Joined: 21 Jun 2003
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 5:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with nothing you wrote. ( Laughing )

My slant is that lesson plans are merely to let the person know where they are in a lesson and should be short and meaningless. What I want to see is that the blend of activities is a meaningful one, leading to the acquisition of vocabulary and other targets and its effective memorisation. I look at whether or not people are providing suitable material and whether or not there is a suitable balance between accuracy and fluency.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 6:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Napoleon, I told you about this before - Ssssshhhh!
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coledavis



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 4:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

But I want it, I really want it!
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coledavis



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 4:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

But I want it, I really want it!
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
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Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 5:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another point, which just came to me as I woke up dazed from champagne this morning, is that many teachers who are involved in official language testing are 'observed' very often. True, it is not quite the same thing as a lesson, but if you are an IELTS examiner, for example, you are monitored, checked, given feedback etc. regularly. All of which is based on the recordings made during the Speaking interviews, and on the markings you give for the Writing tests.

Some of the feedback given can seem quite pedantic, and there is precious little in the way of a two-way dialogue. Very much top-down, no matter how good an examiner you are, or think you are. Indeed, even experienced examiners have to regularly attend refresher classes to get 're-certificated'.

The point is, language testing requires all sorts of validities, and 'monitoring' is seen as helping to ensure them. So why should language teaching not be subjected to some sort of external observation too? Especially when the process is usually nowhere near as regimented as it is for examining...
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 2:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

@Sasha: The obvious answer to why general teaching isn't scrutinized as much as the example of IELTS testing is that the students' individual fates and monies aren't hanging so "in the balance" in the average lesson. Plus, I doubt if management is actually that bothered, "push come to shove".

Regarding monitoring the impact the physical classroom has, I'm sure that some schools would have lessons taught in tea crates, if enough students could be willingly forced into them.

The irony with lesson plans is that they are "crafted" the most often, and in the most "detail", at that time in the average teacher's career when they know the least. I see no reason why such plans (and then, why not an essay, or even a book?) would continue to be written long into a career, provided that the teacher is researching the language thoroughly and remains reasonably interested in developments in ELT. But there are of course times (e.g. when perhaps trying out interaction-based observation schemes) that more detailed plans might become necessary.

True, there is potentially something of a possessiveness to 'my class', but it might also indicate an emotional attachment and investment, might it not? An interest in and protectiveness towards the students' linguistic well-being and future prospects. To say "This is not your class, it is the establishment's" without much justification would be pointless and self-defeating, IMHO. Even "It is in fact our class" would raise many a teacher eyebrow, in the sense of "Yeah, but who's going to do the never-exactly-piece-of-cake work of actually teaching them day in and out?".
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Sashadroogie



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 3:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Fluffy

I dunno. I think plenty of students part with a fair old chunk of coin for EFL lessons, and so an observation to make sure that is well-spent doesn't seem out of place to me. True, a visa doesn't hang in the balance, but still, if examiners are happy being monitored regularly year after year, and without direct knowledge most times, why should a teacher in a classroom object?

Tea-crates? Yes, possibly. Many unscrupulous school-owners out there who'd try to get away with that. Not usually the types who'd care enough about lessons to observe in the first place though...

I don't get your point about lesson plans fully, but the little I do understand strikes me as erroneous. Many teachers do continue to produce lesson plans well into their career, for their own benefit, for further developmental observations, both on and off further training courses, and for developing new materials that they'd like trialed by peers. The point is that this should not be an enigmatic skill for teachers. But, sadly, if my experience with observations is anything to go by, it is very much a weakness of many teachers, even those far along their careers.

Emotional attachment to groups is natural, of course. And usually harmless. But it is no reason for possibly excluding newcomers to the group, whether a new student or observer. And I think emotions more related to defensiveness and anxiety play more of a part in the sense of possession that we can all fall prey to. Ultimately, we are only teaching the learners because they enrolled into a school and that school pays us. I think that is a strong justification in itself for observations of classes in said schools.
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fluffyhamster



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 7:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I suppose the welcomeness or not of observations might have something to do with how much of that "fair old chunk" actually find its way into the teachers' pockets. (Then again, I've known some employers who've claimed to only be just about breaking even - 4% profit margins and the like - or even subsidizing the teaching arm of their business empires with profits made from other branches, such as importing tinned fruit or guns or whatever). I must admit I don't know how much IELTS examiners get paid, but I hope it's more worth their while. One can only do things for the love of it for so long.

Call me a recovering victim of the organized crime of tea-chest packing, but I can easily imagine a boss feigning surprise and then scolding "Some of your students suffocated...while you resorted to using breathing gear!?".

Lesson plans may be useful between colleagues actually collaborating on or sharing something, but I'm not sure why a teacher would continue producing them privately just "for their own benefit". (Rough notes and record-keeping is another matter though - I have several pocket notebooks keeping track of what I did, and then planned to do, for my elementary school classes in Japan. I made a point of sitting down in the staffroom at the end of each school day and quickly noting those things down. If I hadn't done this, I'd've easily risked losing track of which class in which school had done exactly what, and how each had responded to and fared with the activities. Many teachers do not have particularly complex rotas to keep track of, though).

I think another common emotion regarding observations might be resignation. (I wonder if there is ever much genuine joy and heady anticipation? LOL). And the flip side of the "we are only teaching the learners because they enrolled into a school and that school pays us, which is a strong justification in itself for observations of classes in said schools" line is clearly that it is the collective labour of many individual teachers that is generating the school its profits - something any school would do well to remember before possibly getting too heavy in treating the teachers as the prime variable militating against "assured learning" (or whatever else it is that the school flogs in its brochures).
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Sashadroogie



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PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2012 5:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi again, Fluffy. Are you suggesting that teachers attitudes to observations could be made positive by them getting paid extra for the privilege? I seriously doubt that. And even were a connection to be made there, I'd have strong reservations about it. Teachers are already paid - how much was decided at the time of contract signing. The agreed payment almost always covers not just teaching duties but all other administrative duties too. Being happy or unhappy with the salary should not affect attitudes to teacher development or observations. Not on reasonable grounds, at least.

As for lesson plans, I think you are confusing them with lesson registers and records. Recording what you did, an important exercise in itself, is not the same thing as figuring out what you are going to do in a lesson, and how. More importantly, a plan should reveal the why of a lesson, the objectives etc. How many teachers have a conscious aim during their classroom time? Apart from doing the next exercise in the book, that is. If a written plan is not produced, very often the aims are fuzzy at best.

Your last paragraph leaves me scratching my head a little, sorry. Not sure where you are coming from with that one.
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fluffyhamster



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PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Like I say, if bosses are to be believed, the profit margins in TEFL aren't that high, so perhaps the wages couldn't go up by that much across the board. There are however very few or zero bosses who pay themselves a teacher's wage, that's for sure! My main point however is that observation (esp. if not done well) on top of low wages can be like adding insult to injury - the implication is that the teacher may very well be doing a bad job, when in fact they may be doing a stellar one considering.

You honestly believe I don't know what a lesson plan is and should basically look like? (Nah, I doubt it - I guess you're just playing it a bit dumb~rhetorical for the benefit of enthralled readers LOL). I assure you you are "completely wrong" there: I('ve) completed quite a few for my CTEFLA and in various jobs, and have a copy of your Scrivener knocking around for a start. Just because I nowadays don't formally commit "everything" (more like the barest bones, given what sufficed for the CTEFLA) to paper doesn't mean my lessons are aimless, far from it. And here's a thought: if it were a requirement to actually demonstrate more than sufficient preparatory research had been done, by furnishing a plan with book and/or online references, short quotes with key examples etc, how many teachers would be able and willing to do so? Even from staples such as Swan. (Some teachers get rid of any reference books as soon as they complete their cert, and never seem to re-invest in any. They really are your "just do the next exercise in the book" types).

Let's leave that last paragraph, then!
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Sashadroogie



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PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sorry, Fluffy, I've been cracking open the crates of vodka in my classroom, hic!, and am having serious issues with coherency myself...

Not quite a badly off as this lad, though....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stDWNam7RtE
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
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Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll just ramble away to myself then at the opposite end of your park bench, Sasha! Hmm, I wonder which is warmer in winter, The Guardian, or Pravda? If the latter, lend me a few sheets, will you? Preferably unsoiled ones.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMY045VQmyI

Your vodka forklift YouTube clip wouldn't load, but if it's the one I'm thinking of then it sure is spectacular. I wonder if the guy got deducted LOL.

(Rambling to myself then): I somehow missed this before:
Quote:
Following on, observations can sometimes be carried out by students. Except they are not called observations. ‘Trial lesson’ is the preferred term. New students tend to be much more judgmental and forthright in their opinions - they either join or do not, based on what they see. And not much more feedback than that is to be had.

I wouldn't read much into a student's failure to enrol(l) after taking a trial lesson. Some of them probably had nothing better to do that Friday or Saturday night. Or maybe it was the other crazies packed twenty to a tea chest that put them off?
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
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Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2012 7:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Aw! Why can't we all jes' getalong hic! Like the other who agree wiv me, hic! Here's a page of Pravda for ya allthesame...Hic! An anover thingk, I never thought that furstyle suited you, hic! Makes yer teef look big, hic! Where's me f-forklift?
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