Toward a Reflective Classroom Observation by Abdeslam Badre



ii. Introduction

While teachers? peer observation is receiving widespread interest, and is being implemented in numerous institutions in different fields of education around the world (more than 40% of US colleges and universities now use classroom peer observation), it is still looked upon with much wariness within the Moroccan ELT context, which is presently leading to consensual reluctance to incorporating it within the Moroccan ELT community and public schools alike. There appears to be some controversial uncertainty, if not allodoxaphobia, over the rationale and the outcomes of such an invaluable pedagogical tool. Part of this reluctance springs from a perpetual confusion in the mind of some educationalists (by this I mean both teachers and practitioners) between peer observation and regular observation at one level, and summative versus formative observation at another level. The other part of this negative attitude is traced back in time during pre-service and while-service observations teachers had with their senior teachers or advisers. In either cases and particularly with in-service teachers, observation is associated with evaluation and not with professional development per see. It is often viewed as a potentially threatening experience in which teachers are often reluctant to take part once they complete their initial training (Freeman, 1982).

In light of this, and within the MATE?s 30th conference?s objectives among which is the debate over ELT global challenges, touchstones of this paper are twofold: on the one hand, it is an attempt to dissociate the traditional notion of observation from the modern one, based on reflective aims rather than evaluative ends. On the other hand, it endeavors to promote a systematic incorporation of peer observation within the professional and pedagogical continuous training of Moroccan public schools. Will peer observation?s implementation be an easy task? Of course not; otherwise, we would not be talking about ?ELT global challenges.? To reach this end, the paper comprises five main parts: 1) types and purposes of observation; 2) traditional view versus reflective view on observation; 3) phases of Observation; 4) strengths.

"School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is."


and downsides of peer observation; and 5) observation instruments. Before tackling the first subsidiary part, I would like to establish a brief definition of the concept ?reflective/reflection? from an applied linguistic perspective.

i. Concept definition: ?Reflection?

D.A. Schon (1983) defines ?reflection? as an ?active persistent and careful consideration of any belief or presupposition of knowledge.? J. Dewey (1987) took Schon?s definition to a higher level, and talked about ?reflection-in-action, ? which he defines as a ?reflective conversation with the material of a given situation/context.? In his Experiential Learning Theory, David A. Kolb proposes four principal stages one of which is ?Reflective Observation (RO) for effective learning. Shared among these three definitions is the notion of ?persistent consideration? of one?s ?knowledge? of classrooms? practices. The intent of this ?persistent consideration? should lead observers, accordingly, to the consideration -if not analysis- of the internal as well as external factors that govern a teaching situation, before questioning the pedagogical motives or judging the teacher?s instructional decisions. Reflective observation, in this regard, drives home the idea of multiplicities of learning-teaching styles, along with teacher?s in-action remedial decisions in the mind of the observer.

I. Types and Purposes of Observation

? Regular Observation: it is the event of having pre-service or a novice in-service teacher observing one of the senior?s teachers? classes before the former has his/her class observed by an advisor or a senior teacher who is supposed to a provide an oral or written feedback on what has been observed. A discernible feature of this type of observation is the asymmetrical power-relationship that governs both the observed teacher and observer. Observation in this context tends to be more judgmental and feedback is represented in a more official manner. Because of its evaluative nature and horizontal power-sharing structure, novice teachers tend to bread a negative impression toward this form of observation.

? Peer Observation: unlike the previous type, peer observation is arranged between peer teachers, usually teaching the same instructional levels, and with relatively the same professional experience. It is not a compulsory event in the sense that a teacher may deliberately ask to observe his/her colleague?s class or have his/her colleague observe one of the classes for the sake of exchanging feedback and optimizing teaching strategies. The nature of feedback in this vein may range from a verbal ?thank you for having me in your class? statement into a face-to-face verbal or/and written feedback session.

? Three-way observation: this third form of observation was first introduced at an American college and then has slowly started to spread among other colleges. Its framework is similar to the regular observation with the inclusion of a student?s perspective. The rationale behind having a student taking part in teacher?s observation is originated from a learner-centered premise, which underlines the pivotal value of students? reflections on teachers? practices.

Besides its educational as well as pedagogical benefits, classroom observation serves administrative purposes. For instance, while formative observation assists in improving teachers? teaching tools and promoting cooperative teaching environment, summative observation involves the evaluation of teaching effectiveness used for merit, and/or promotion, or other purposes of the same nature. Gains from Observation, however, remains dependent on the way the nature of teaching is understood by observers and observed alike. To be remembered here is the idea that both formative and summative observations can be based on the same observation instruments, though both forms differ in procedures and aims.

II. Traditional view versus Reflective view on classroom observation

For quite a long period of the recent past, classroom observation typically consisted of subjective data based on personal and anecdotal accounts of effectiveteaching. Novice teachers? teaching skills? acquisition depended on the mastery of specific repertoire of observable behaviors that included but not limited to:

? How teacher starts and ends a lesson

? How teacher allots times within a lesson

? How teacher assigns tasks to students

? How teacher organizes learning groups

? How teacher monitors students? task performance

? How teacher asks questions

? How teacher reinforces students? answers

In short, the observer role was limited to observe, describe, and then comment on the ?how? dimension of the observed. Being as such, not only did the feedback use to be reductionist and subjective, for it used to be based on a biased data collection and analysis, but also it used to threaten novice teachers? creativity and lack of confidence toward their own teaching style.

With the advent of systematic classroom observation method, objective and reliable measures of observation started to be implemented; thus a debate on reflection on teaching, learning, and observation have become more of necessity than a choice. Classroom observation within this conceptual framework goes beyond a focus on the identification of the techniques and strategies experienced teachers employ. It has become as an opportunity for teachers to develop a critically reflective stance to their own teaching: Observers main task has become an objective data collection through the use of systematic instruments that can be used to develop deeper understanding of HOW and WHY the observed teachers teach the way they do. Accordingly, paving the way for both cooperating and observed teachers to develop reflective approaches to teaching the same lesson in various ways.

III. Phases of Observation

III.1. Pre-Observation Conference Guidelines

The aim behind holding the pre-observation conference is for the observed teacher to assign the observer a goal for the observation and a task to accomplish. The task would involve collecting information about the lesson goals, objectives, used strategies/methodology, and form of assessment. Both teachers may agree upon observation procedures or instruments to be used during this session and arrange a schedule for the observations. The following is a list of questions that the observer might ask the observed teacher:

? What is the main goal of your course?

? What is the main goal of the course session to be observed?

? What is your specific objective for the course session to be observed? In other words, what do you expect the learners to be able to know and do by the end of your session?

? What strategies/ methods will you use to help the learners to reach this objective?

? How will you assess whether the learners reached this objective? In other words, how will they show that they know and can do what you expected of them?

? Do you have any concerns that you would like the observer to address?

III.2. While-observing phase

The second stage of observation is a time wherein the visitation takes place. Using the agreed-upon tools and procedures, the teacher observing should complete the observation task without interfering in the performance of the teacher being, or in the teaching learning process in progress. The main criteria that are controlled through different forms of systematic checklists or grids are:

? Organization of the lesson: the opening, structuring, transitioning, and closure of the lesson.

? Time management: allotment of time of different activities during the lesson.

? Students? performance on tasks: the strategies, procedures, and interactions patterns employed by students in completing tasks.

? Time on task: the extent to which students were actively engaged during task.

? Teacher?s questions & students? responses: the types of questions the teacher asks during a lesson, the way students respond, and the way the responses are either reinforced or refuted.

? Teacher?s explanation: the way the teacher explains vocabulary, grammar, and/or syntactic items during the lesson.

? Teacher?s action zone: the extent to which the teacher interacts with some students more frequently than others during the lesson.

? Students? performance during pair/group-work activities: Teacher?s arrangement of students into small groups, monitoring of students? time-on-task during group work, the dynamics of group work activities, students? use of L1 Vs. L2 during group work, and the kind of responses they make.

? Classroom interaction: the way the teacher monitors both teacher-student and student-student interactions.

? Use of textbook: the extent to which the teacher resorts to the textbook during the lesson and the types of departure made from it.

Annex I at the end of this paper displays the above-motioned items, along with other relevant questions. The model is adapted from Jack C. Richards? classroom observation form.

III.3. Post Observation Conferencing Guidelines

The post observation session is the time where both teachers meet again for data presentation and Analysis; and the ?how to? and ?why? dimensions are questioned and justified for the sake of understanding, reinforcing and suggesting different alternatives. No judgments or evaluative are to be made: the teacher observer?s task here is on the one hand, to highlight the strongest points, activities, strategies, and techniques used by the performing teacher; on the other hand, s/he may inquire about the reasons and rationales of unclear situations then go no suggesting some alternatives.

Schedule this conference within a week of the observation. As to the timing of the post-observation conference, the sooner it is held the more effective its outcomes are going to be. In other words, teachers should not hold the meeting weeks or months after the observation took place, because in the latter?s case it would be difficult to discuss or explain what have happened during the observation. Also, it is always recommended for the observer to start his/her feedback with a positive comment while providing an honest feedback.

V. Strengths and downsides of peer observation

Highlighted in this last section are both the strengths and downsides of peer observation

V.1. Advantages of Peer Observation

? Gaining new ideas and perspectives about teaching from colleagues

? Both observer and observe may improve teaching ability

? Good training for teacher training and ELT management?

? Teachers might take feedback better if it comes from other teachers : they might take suggestions on how their class could have been improved better if it comes from a fellow teacher

? Letting teachers pair themselves up can also help make sure they get comments from someone whose opinion they respect and they will be happy to get constructive criticism from

? Teachers can get different feedback from different people : This is obviously a good thing, and one which can be further developed by matching teachers with people who have very different teaching styles and by having each observer especially looking for different things

? Both the person being observed and the person observing learn??This is the biggest advantage of peer observations. Teachers observing not only learn how to observe, but also see different ways of doing things in other people's classrooms and can see both good things and bad things that will make them reflect on what goes on in their own classroom

? makes the teachers understand how difficult observing and feedback can be??When teachers have experienced trying to put a positive spin on criticism of someone's lesson, they should hopefully understand the difficulties the DoS has next time they are being officially observed

? It can boost a teacher's confidence??Although teachers observing other people's lessons can tend to underestimate how much hard work the teacher is putting in, they still get a much more realistic picture of how other teachers are doing than they would get from just hearing the laughter coming through the wall.

V.2. Disadvantages of Peer Observation

As mentioned in the introduction, implimenting classroom peer observation as a pedagogical tool is both a gain and a challenge, especially within the context of Moroccan public schools that are already facing a number of structural, logistic, and human capital challenges. Thoughout this paper arguments on the befefits of peer obervation have been highlighted. This, of course, does not mean that peer observation is free of any shortcomings. There is a relative consensus among pratictioners over some weak points that I have outlined below.

? Possible bias relating to the observer's own beliefs about teaching

? Without a systematic approach--including observer training, multiple visits, and use of reliable observation instruments--peer observation may not be a valid method for summative evaluation

? Teachers seeing a "worse" teacher can get lazy. The negative version of a teacher's confidence being boosted by seeing the less than perfect lessons of others is that they could think "My lessons are already better than that. What was I putting all that effort into them for?"

? Teachers need training on how to observe and be observed. At a basic level, teachers need to be introduced to a range of different observation tasks (looking at classroom interactions, use of time, language used by the teacher, staging etc) and different ways of writing that data down in a factual way.

? It can actually take teachers more time management as well as training to observe each other,

? Teachers might think they know better than the person who observed

? The feedback might not be as useful as feedback from the senior teachers

? The feedback might be insensitive?

? The fact that it is extra work might give people a bad attitude

? The students might get the idea that something is wrong: especially those students might have been in EFL classes long enough that they know that if an observer appears it usually means that another student has been complaining, in which case you can imagine they might start to doubt their teacher is they have observers in every couple of weeks! Solutions include having regular observations as a selling point in the school brochure (for reasons of class quality and teacher development), and telling them that the observer is there to learn from watching their expert teacher rather than to judge them

Conclusion

To sum it up, just like all forms of observations, and/or professional development tools, an effective classroom peer observation requires an observation instrument designed to portray the classroom environment as accurately and reliably as possible; not to reflect the teacher observing view or evaluation of the observed teacher?s performance. This is why the observers are not to ask questions or participate in activities during class; such behavior can detract from and invalidate the observations. He/she can be briefly introduced to the students, with an equally brief explanation of why the observer is present; then move on. The observer should be in the observed classroom a way ahead of class starting time. Additionally, both teachers should invest some times reviewing and discussing the results from the completed Classroom Observation Instruments. Finally, it is always important for the observer to begin the conference with a positive comment and still provide honest, con!

structive feedback.

Classroom Observation Form

Observer: Date:

Observed teacher: Time:

Observed Period: Level:

Students Category: Room Number:

1. Organization of the lesson: the opening, structuring, transitioning, and closure of the lesson.

2. Time management: allotment of time of different activities during the lesson.

3. Students? performance on tasks: the strategies, procedures, and interactions patterns employed by students in completing tasks.

4. Time on task: the extent to which students were actively engaged during task.

5. Teacher?s questions & students? responses: the types of questions the teacher asks during a lesson, the way students respond, and the way the responses are either reinforced or refuted.

6. Teacher?s explanation: the way the teacher explains vocabulary, grammar, and/or syntactic items during the lesson.

7. Teacher?s action zone: the extent to which the teacher interacts with some students more frequently than others during the lesson.

8. Students? performance during pair/group-work activities: Teacher?s arrangement of students into small groups, monitoring of students? time-on-task during group work, the dynamics of group work activities, students? use of L1 Vs. L2 during group work, and the kind of responses they make.

9. Classroom interaction: the way the teacher monitors both teacher-student and student-student interactions.

10. Use of textbook: the extent to which the teacher resorts to the textbook during the lesson and the types of departure made from it.

Key Readings

1. Latham G P, van den Berg P, Wiersma U J, (1995). Dutch Reactions to Behavioral Observation, Behavioral Expectation, and Trait Scales. Group & Organization Management (USA) . Vol.: 20; Issue: 3; P.: 297-310.

2. Edwards M R, (1996). Improving performance with 360-degree feedback. Career Development International (UK). Vol.: 1; Issue: 3; P. 5

Web-bliography

1. Alex Case, (2008). UsingEnglish.com

2. Jack C.

"The plain fact is that education is itself a form of propaganda "


Richards and Charles Lockhart. ?Teacher Development Through Peer Observation.?

http://www.articlecity.com/articles/education/article_1931.shtml

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