I’ve almost reached the end of the MATD course. 🏆
Here are my notes from the final unit: observations and feedback. What both teachers and trainers dread!

Why I believe observations are stressful

  • They are intrusive.
  • Teachers worry about what may go wrong, about making mistakes, losing face.
  • They involve judgement. Many observers tend to assess observations on the basis of their own practice.
  • The purpose can be stressful, e.g. performance review, assessment.
  • Teachers may not like the observer.
  • Teachers teach for the observer, not the students.
  • Time consuming; teachers may need to prepare a detailed lesson plan.
  • One lesson is not indicative of teachers’ typical performance. Teachers are anxious, which leads to uncharacteristic performances (Rees, 1997).

The frequent negative reactions of teachers to such observations all seem to stem from the observer’s failure, either intentionally or not, to recognise and to affirm the teacher’s experience.

Quirke, 1996

The answer to these problems seems to be not to visit the class

Quirke, 1996

Unseen observations

Have you ever had an unseen observation? In certain cases, an absent observer can help teachers much more than when observing them.

The unseen observation includes all the elements of a normal observation: pre-observation conference and post-lesson feedback session. The only difference is that the trainer does not enter the classroom but sees the lesson through the eyes of the teacher. during the pre and post-lesson discussion. I personally find it fascinating and look forward to experimenting with it.

Read more about unseen observations, here , here and here.

What I do when I’m observing

Complete a running commentary. I’m not a big fan of checklists or forms with lots of did-the-teacher-do-that questions.

Why feedback I gave in the past was counterproductive

Examples of counterproductive feedback I’ve received 😕

An observer once gave me examples of good practice which I had never seen him model when I observed his classes (he was actually doing the opposite). Shouldn’t we practice what we preach? 👉

Another observer once questioned the effectiveness of techniques I used, and suggested doing it his way, even though what I did actually produced successful results.

What I believe is important to do ✔️

  • Tell the teacher why we’re observing them.
  • Ask when is a convenient time/class to observe.
  • Ask if they want feedback on a specific area -thank you Simon Phipps for this great suggestion!
  • Have a pre-observation conference, go through the lesson plan and aims.
  • Observe unobtrusively.
  • Understand that that we all have different beliefs about effective teaching.
  • Have a post-observation conference.
  • Neither pamper, nor judge .
  • Remember that monologues breed isolation (Εgan, 2012).
  • Give written feedback after the discussion, as a summary of what was talked about. Some choose to give it before, to reduce the anxiety and focus on areas for development in the feedback session.
  • Make sure we LISTEN carefully when teachers are justifying the choices they made. When teachers are understood, they tend to move forward.
  • Give ourselves time to think. Beginner trainers sometimes jump into quickly with a response.
  • Find the balance between listening and speaking depending on teachers’ age, experience, background, stage of development or even preference?
  • Listen for strengths and opportunities. Don’t focus on problems.
  • Respond with interpersonal empathy.

Empathy

Egan (2012) describes 3 types of empathy:

  • subjective: when the listener only momentarily identifies with the speaker by imagining what it can be like to be in their shoes.
  • objective: when the listener briefly recalls a struggle of their own when the speaker describes their experience.
  • interpersonal: the ability to really get inside the teacher’s frame of reference, understand them and be able to communicate without prejudice.

A framework that I’ve used with in-service teachers:

  • Ask a general how do you feel about the lesson , to get the teacher’s main impression.
  • Ask what went well and what didn’t go so well. Ask about the objectives and whether they think they were met.
  • To draw attention (if you absolutely must) to something that happened during the lesson say: I noticed that+evidence. Did you notice it? Why do you think ..? What impact did it make on.. ? How can you…next time?
  • Since we can’t change the past, I tend to avoid any  retrospective questions or prescriptions (would have/should have done et) and prefer to suggest future change, e.g. what will/would   you change the next time you teach the lesson? This was something I learned from Metin Esen, one of my peers on the Train the Trainer course.
  • Summarize or ask trainees to summarise the (max 2) key action points themselves. Great suggestions from my tutors Simon Phipps and Suzan Özgelen Yılmaz on the Train the Trainer course.

How much you speak, when you speak and what you say depends on your feedback style:

Gebhard’s Models of supervision

We talked about different feedback styles, their advantages and disadvantages. Some of my notes:

Directive: saves time by providing immediate solution. Meets the trainees’ expectation of the trainer having the answers, being the expert. Appropriate for inexperienced teachers. However, it may demotivate teachers, stop them from thinking, the teacher becomes an echo of the trainer’s voice and doesn’t find their own style. It doesn’t promote autonomy, self-development or critical reflection.

Alternative: helps teacher see that learning involves options not absolutes, encourages thinking.

Collaborative– an egalitarian approach, motivating, the trainee doesn’t feel supervised but supported. It encourages thinking but some trainees might prefer a directive style and expect solutions.

Non directive: Promotes self-discovery and development, BUT can be time consuming, the trainee may drift and get lost and the trainer may need to interrupt and bring back to specific moments of the lesson. May not suit all teachers. Challenging for the trainer, too who needs to be experienced and skilled.

Creative: an eclectic approach, which is what I always go for.

People don’t mind changing. they just don’t like to be told to change.

Kirkpatrick, 2006

My 💛 part

How knowledge of counselling helps

Having read Advising & supporting teachers, and Heron’s book Helping the client I prefer to think of interventions rather than feedback styles.

The six categories of counselling interventions suggested by Heron are the following:

Authoritative interventions are made when the trainer manages the process and controls the discourse by imparting knowledge (informative), telling the trainee what to do (prescriptive) and challenging the teacher’s avoidance or resistance to change (confronting).

Facilitative interventions are the ones that enable the trainee to find their own answers, such as asking exploratory questions (catalytic), listening empathetically without judgement (supportive) and allowing the trainee to express and overcome emotions (cathartic).

What I found fascinating was also the gradient from catalytic (eliciting self-discovery) to informative (imparting knowledge) interventions which Heron describes. ⬇️

I want to practise and develop   my reflection-in -action when deciding which side to stay on:

  Trainee-centred side

Agreeing, confirming, praising, paraphrasing, marshalling,

Moving towards the middle: open /exploratory questions

Jumping  to the trainer-centred side of the gradient and

  • ask closed questions
  • challenge the teacher
  • change the topic if I feel the teacher is drifting

I will stop here for now, because I can go on and on about Heron’s intervention categories and gradients 😇

Books/articles I’ve read 📚

Randall with Thornton’s Advising and Supporting Teachers. It includes a lot of tasks which I’d like to do. Jim Fuller has already done one and written about it here.

Ruth Wajnryb’s Classroom observation tasks – highly recommended! Lots of great task ideas.

John Heron’s Helping the client. Loved it! The one about counselling and interventions.

Gerard Egan’s The skilled Helper. Also about counselling but with helpful tips about feedback sessions.

Jeanette Barsdell’s ELT lesson observation and feedback. Peter Clements has written a review here.

Rees, 1997 – A closer look at classroom observation

Quirke, P. (1996) Using unseen observations for an in-service teacher

      development programme. The Teacher Trainer 10/1

The end of the online course. 🏁🔚

And that was officially the end of the online course. I am now working on my assignments, which I have to submit by the end of the year.

I must say that I was absolutely impressed with this course. It was incredibly well designed and delivered. My tutor and peers were very knowledgeable and supportive. I’m really grateful for what I’ve learned from them and their feedback.

Thank you 🏆 Martyn,🌟 Ian, 🌟Anya,🌟 Nat,🌟 Belen, 🌟 Corinne, 🌟Talissa and 🌟Tatiana for this great learning journey! And of course NILE!

Image credits

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

References

Barsdell, J., 2018. ELT lesson observation & feedback handbook.

Egan, G., 2012. The Skilled Helper. Mason, OH: Cengage.

Gebhard, J.G. Models of Supervision: Choices on JSTOR

Heron, J., 2001. Helping the client. [Place of publication not identified]: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Kirkpatrick, D. and Kirkpatrick, J., 2006. Transferring learning to behavior. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Post | LinkedIn

Quirke, P. (1996) Using unseen observations for an in-service teacher

      development programme. The Teacher Trainer 10/1

Randall, M. with Thornton, B., 2001. Advising and supporting teachers. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Rees, A. (1997) A closer look at classroom observation. In I. McGrath (ed.)
Learning To Train: Perspectives in the Development of Language Teacher
Trainers. UK: Prentice Hall

Unseen Observations (philseflsupport.com)

Wajnryb, R., n.d. Classroom observation tasks.

What are the potential benefits of unseen observation? | joannemilesconsulting (wordpress.com)

Further reading

Observer guidelines: giving feedback | Sandy Millin (wordpress.com)