Monday, April 25, 2011

Eye! Eye!

I am the secret camera in this classroom. The more I dwell on it, the more I see my position as ethically dubious.

However, ahem, if I were a legitimate student-observer, or just an observer, how would I behave? what would I be expected to do? what should I say. What should I do? Just listen? Heap compliments? Elicit things that I felt were bad or didn't like?
The first thing to say about feedback is that the context would dictate the kind of feedback given. If I were a manager the feedback I would give would be different to how I would do things as a critical friend, CELTA tutor, DELTA tutor or mentor.

The second thing is that I think all feedback should end up as feedforward. It's far more useful to have actionable points than feedback that is backward looking, dwelling and maudlin. I would also make the useful distinction between feedback and error correction, as Dave Dodgson did recently. Feedback being constructive in its nature, correction, perhaps referring to a mistake / slip in meta-language, or similar.

It seems to be the sanctioned approach to elicit, to get the observed to speak for themselves, to encourage the post-lesson evaluation to be owned by them leading to their own action plans. I think this is beneficial and by talking the lesson through I would hope that observees could work to their own conclusions.

If I were expected to give explicit feedback I would go for a mix of positive and negative comments. I would frame these comments as controllable things, thus avoiding win / lose attributions and encouraging a learning paradigm. This would keep the observed motivated and empowered. As my MA tutor says, “the questions: what could I improve? What could I change? What went well? Are all okay questions but a more helpful question is what have / did I learn(t)?”

I have experienced various approaches to observations in my career. I have usually been forewarned that there was an observer coming and normally prepared a lesson plan. This situation was unnatural as, I would not normally go to this level of planning and it was often associated with a performance management process, thus the stakes were much higher than in any normal lesson. These were sometimes framed as being developmental, but I was cynical about to what extent this was true, particularly as it was my line manager / DOS doing the obo.
There were occasions when observers just dropped in. This was usually forewarned “at some point in the next couple of weeks I / so and so will come and drop into your class for a short time”... and no lesson plan (LP) was required.

Planned peer-to-peer observations were arranged according to availability. These have been sadly infrequent in my teaching life so far, usually stemming from a formal program than anything more organic. Again there formal nature has perhaps detracted from the learning possibilities. As a teacher I would like to be working in an environment where collegial-self-development of this nature is common. Where I get to observe and be observed in a non-judgemental way that is focused on making us the best teacher we can be.

During the observations I usually watch and / or take notes. I sometimes use a handout / template to organise my notes. Often the observed will have asked for feedback on something specific so I may just be focused on a macro-level. Sometimes I get up and monitor what learners are actually doing but usually I sit. All of these techniques I have picked up from people who have observed me.

After the class the timings between the lesson and the 'feedback' session vary between almost immediately, which is good as everything is very fresh (though not always practical on a 24hour/week teaching schedule). Often observers have given post-lesson reflection sheets to me to fill in when there is a substantial gap of more than a few hours. These are usually helpful and include open question prompts to respond to. Sometimes, I have been observed and had scant or no direct feedback.

Like any task, how the pre and post task stages are conducted is almost as important as the task itself. As an observer it is important to acknowledge that this is just a snapshot (if it's not part of a series of observations) into what life is like in the classroom. Observations are more worthwhile, when the emphasis is on growth, learning and development and not on keeping your job, or getting a promotion.

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