Observation is proven to be one of the most useful learning tools; improvement comes through feedback. As future English teachers, we are focused on observation as a learning tool in the language learning classroom. Being an observer opens up a world of possibilities and experiences and the whole educational system can benefit from the process of observation. Teachers can be professionally improved by this process. We want to eliminate any preconceptions or negative feelings that some teachers have towards this process. Observation is completed through a series of tasks which enable the observer to observe correctly, analyze the data and come to a conclusion.
It is important to note down that the observation process requires a lot of time, from the preparation for the observations to the presentation of conclusions. Every observation should have a focus, so the data with the follow-up analysis lead to a concrete result and help the teacher improve her/his teaching strategies. Wajnryb highlights the fact that the skill of observing is not something we are born with or something that we can do without any training on the subject matter, it is a skill that can be “earned and improved with practice”. Through this ongoing process we can get great results.
We are interested in observing English classrooms. The observation can be held by teachers themselves, the school, from a school-based support program for the teachers, teachers who now begin their careers and are still in the induction period. Observers can also be trainee teachers, teacher trainers, teacher developers, trainee trainers.
The Teacher According to the book, to be called a teacher of English whether in a native background or in a foreign country, means that you have completed preliminary training. Teachers with many experiences in the field can gain something from the observation results. Wajnryb stresses the fact that through the observations teachers can improve certain skills of teaching that interest them. Observations can be done in a shared teachers‟ effort, by the school‟s support system or as a part of an in-service study, which consists of peer observation. Classroom observation tasks: Involve ideas which help (a) a teacher to investigate his/her own teaching by observing other teachers (b) the teacher‟s classroom is observed and he/she is given feedback.
The trainee teacher The teachers that are under pre-service training, who have little or no teaching experience, are the trainee teachers. The teachers-to-be have previous experiences in the classroom as students and coming to the training they have certain expectations or anxiety. This training experience prepares them for the classroom environment. The experience of observing other trainees, experienced teachers or teacher trainers helps the trainees to identify certain strategies and problems of language learning. The trainer The trainer is responsible to teach the skills and processes of teaching to the trainees. They can use certain tasks to train the teachers-to-be; tasks can either be individual or collaborative. The results will show anything that can be used for future reference in the language classroom and help the trainees to really engage with the subject-matter and the mentality of teaching.
School-based support personnel It involves the mechanisms of the support that is given by the school. These people are responsible for issues concerning the curriculum, professional development or a program of advancing the skills and knowledge of the teaching staff and promote any skill or practice which is proven to be useful. This kind of personnel can introduce new methods of teaching, new books and new learning props to teachers. The trainee-trainer It is a program which trains people who want to train others in language teaching. Usually trainee trainers have a lot of experience in the teaching field. Trainers should also be taught formally and systematically as teachers to undertake the important task of training future teachers. Their experiences are systematized to become successful strategies for teaching. Specific issues are drawn about the trainability of how to teach. There is an important distinction between the skills that can be trained and the skills that are „educable‟, skills which deal with knowledge around the field. Through observations we can detect and classify the skills involved in teaching.
“When we teach, we are often so absorbed in the purpose, procedure and logistics of our lesson that we are not able to observe processes of learning and interaction as they occur through the lesson” (7). By distancing ourselves from the role of the teacher we are able to detect any problems or any beneficial tactics, because we are not preoccupied with teaching and we can observe the English lesson from various points of view, not only the lesson‟s structure. This is called the „silence-phase‟ which has positive results because it gives us freedom to engage with the lesson without the anxiety to produce anything. This observation produces active involvement in the lesson, recognizes and classifies what happens during the lesson and what can be enhanced. Observation advances our perceptive through various processes in the classroom.
Observation tasks Tasks are activities with specific focus on one or few aspects of the lesson. Observation can be done individually or collaboratively in a multi-leveled observation. Why tasks Tasks help us organize our observations and have guidelines for the focus of the observation. They help us deal with the multiple data that are present in the classroom. Moreover, the multiple levels of the lesson involve overt and covert elements. A task is well- organized and the data coming from the task can be easily analyzed to provide a conclusion. Tasks help to the systematize techniques; they connect theory with practice and experience in a language classroom, enhance teaching approaches and help strengthen relationships between colleagues.
The theoretical framework of Classroom Observation Tasks The book provides us with 5 guiding principles: (a) A model for teacher development: A teacher who wants to improve his/her teaching by observing other colleagues their classroom or observation in her/his own classroom. The main characteristics are> 1. Teachers collect positive feedback and get to realize what procedures have positive effects on the students. 2. Learning as a construction of personal meaning is the process whereby teachers use their past experience to come up with new ideas and new information which will be helpful for their teaching in an individual level. Self-evaluation is critical. 3. Following the previous model we understand that “teachers themselves are the initiators of their own development” (Wajnryb 10). 4. Each teacher is autonomous, because teaching methods cannot be prescribed. Someone can advise us or recommend us on HOW to teach, but each one of us will have to find his/her own teaching style. The author commends that low-inference skills can be taught, whereas higher-level decision-making cannot be completely taught. So, if someone is competent in low-inference skills, does not mean that he/she is a good teacher.
(b) The Nature of Help: Trainers/developers are essentiallyhelping the teachers. By giving prescribed „recipes‟ for teaching,our individuality and our independence is affected. The role ofthe help is more „collaborative’ and „consultative’. The trainershould consider the teaching style of each teacher, rather thanimpose a particular style, because the teacher is adjusting histeaching style from the students. (c) The Importance of the Classroom: We all acknowledge thesignificance of the classroom environment. The languageclassroom, should be accommodating, have a nice flow, besurrounded with things that will interest the students and beproperly equipped so as the teacher can use the room in its fullcapacity. Students and teachers should feel comfortable in theclassroom. (d) The ‘Trainability’ of Observation Skills: Observation skills arenot innate, but they can be taught. With the tasks we are guidedto observe correctly, to analyze and interpret the results to ourbenefit. Each teacher is influenced from learning experiences oftheir past and their teaching expectations are involved in theprocess of observation. A keyword in the text is the re-vitalizationof techniques and overall attitude towards teaching.
(e) The Importance of Task-Based Experience: The role ofexperience is highly critical in teaching. No one can learnhow to teach unless is actively involved in the experience.Some features of task-based learning are> 1. Theobservation process has to become personalized. Eachindividual should put his stamp in the process. 2. Learningshould also be generative, which means that solutionsshould come up during the teaching period, generatetheir own conclusions. 3. The task should also have 3characteristics; based on inquiry, oriented on discoveryand solve problems. That means that no standardsolutions could be given and each teacher shouldengage in his/her own understanding. 4. The taskprovides experiences to the teacher which provides aresource-base for the future. Teaching is an ongoingprocess, just like learning; to be a good teacher means tonever stop learning.
The tasks are grouped into: › The learner › Language › Learning › The lesson › Teaching skills and strategies › Classroom management › Material and resources These tasks will also be used by us to guide our observations.
The context of teacher developmentTHE TEACHER…ScenariosGuidelines for observing:1. The teacher must be respected, because the teacher trusts the observer.2. The observer should try to stay as unnoticed as possible, so as the data will not be affected.3. Try not to make generalizations> methodological validity.4. Sometimes, the observer has to communicate with the teacher beforehand, but other times is better not to notify the teacher so as the data will not be affected> methodological validity.5. The observer should collaborate with the teacher in the follow- up meetings, so the data would be echoed and to achieve the goal of the observation.
The context of pre-service trainingTHE TRAINEE TEACHER… ScenariosTHE TEACHER TRAINERPerformance and Observation: Language teachers undergo a pre-service training either individually or in a class. The main object of training is the performance of the teacher. The trainer should consider:1. Trainees need a period of adjustment, so observing can help; either observing a peer teacher, or a more experienced one. Moreover, observation can be done by videos.2. Help the teachers to be always alert for the challenges of the field.3. Non-prescriptive approach to teaching should be taken. Teachers and trainers should work together to draw conclusions from their experiences.4. Observation can happen in lectures, tutorials or workshops as well.Goals and Guidelines: The trainer should respect the individuality of each teacher, should not give „raw‟ instructions and should not be judgmental.
The Trainer‟s Role is to:1. Select the tasks.2. Collaborate with the trainee in the pre-observation stage.3. Determine the course of action of the actual observation.4. Arrange post-lesson meetings, tutorials and discussions.… Scenarios
The context of school-based teacher support We already know what school-based teacher support is. The principles that each school-support system share are:1. Teachers need to reflect and stimulate upon their pre- service experiences on their own initiative.2. It is important to see the training experience in terms of professional growth. The trainers are mere facilitators of the process that each teacher has to undertake.… Scenarios The context of trainer trainingInstructions concerning the trainer of the trainees:1. Refresh their teaching skills, regardless of their experience.2. Training trainers should be treated as trainee teachers and training trainers should observe trainee teachers.3. Provide the meta-language of teaching and training.… Scenarios
Teaching and learning are inextricably related. Furthermore, each teacher is different and unique and the co-operation between the teacher, learner and observer is crucial in the classroom dynamic.