Observation: procedure and lesson aims

In summer school, we typically conduct observations in a teacher’s first week. Although all observation should be for professional development purposes, this first round is first and foremost supervisory and a requirement outlined by the school and accrediting body. This does not mean, however, that it cannot be viewed for a teacher’s own CPD.

In most schools, teachers are expected to produce a detailed lesson plan, which is why many are surprised when I tell them this is not something I think is really necessary. We expect a lot from our teachers in summer school, and asking them to produce a lesson plan is simply another unnecessary administrative layer.

Instead, it is far more productive to ask teachers to think about formulating solid aims and objectives for their lesson, written as ‘can do’ statements, from the perspective of what the learners, well… ‘can do’:

  • Learners can tell each other about their dream holiday.

The objectives are the legs that support the table:

  • Students can collaborate with their learning partner to plan their journey by comparing and contrasting their ideas in order to eventually arrive at a negotiated outcome i.e. a dream holiday.
  • Learners can work together to make structured notes, which can be referred to when telling other members of their group about their dream holiday.

Notice the omission of any linguistic aims- it’s far better to interpret outcomes in terms of what learners will be able to do and how this might be done, without enveloping it all in metalanguage. It goes without saying that in order to do these things, learners will need to use a range of grammatical tenses, vocabulary, features of discourse, and not forgetting pronunciation. By all means, write linguistic aims as well, but do try and root your outcomes in a way that is understandable to both you and the learners.

Unlike in other teaching contexts, time is of the essence. As a DoS, you may have 10 observations to conduct. This limits the procedure and the time spent observing. Ideally we would set up a pre-observation meeting to discuss the lesson, complimented by a post-observation reflection stage, which requires the teacher to put their thoughts on paper. As is the case, all of this may have to be curtailed. There is never time to discuss the lesson beforehand and teachers are far too busy to write anything qualitative as a reflection. Similarly, the observation itself may be no longer than 20-30 minutes, enough time to see 1 or 2 activities.

This is arguably the nature of summer school and we need to adjust accordingly. Instead, teachers should know the criteria which the observer is using as a benchmark for what could be seen as successful teaching in their context. In the post observation stage, the observer, after writing up their notes, may email some guided questions to the teacher for them to think about before the post-observation feedback session takes place.

As I mentioned earlier these observations are fundamentally for quality control but this does not negate looking at it from the perspective of the teacher’s own professional development. This is especially pertinent as it may be the only observation this teacher has had this year, given that many schools don’t have observation systems in place, or for that matter invest in their staff.

Ideally we would divide them up, an initial supervisory observation, followed up with 1 or 2 further developmental observations.  Alas, time is not on our side, remember we are only here for a couple of months- it’s summer school, and has been and gone before you know it.

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