Khanh, Ha Huy
Instructor: Dr. Nguyen Thi Mai Huong
Course name: MASTER OF TEACHING ENGLISH TO SPEAKERS OF OTHER LANGUAGES
Date of submission: 16th, August 2018
An Effective Professional Development Tool for Teachers
Classroom observations, which is also known as learning walks, teacher observations or walkthroughs, is a term refers to a formal or informal observation of teaching while it is taking place in a classroom or other learning environment. Classroom observations are typically conducted by fellow teachers, administrators, or instructional specialists for a wide variety of purposes, such as: (1) description of instructional practices; (2) investigation of instructional inequities for different groups of students; and (3) improvement of teachers’ performance based on feedback from individual classroom or school profiles. (Wragg, 1999)
Purpose of this paper:
In my study, I will focus on one aspect of classroom observations; in which classroom observations are considered as an effective professional development tool for teachers. I will try to answer three questions: (1) What are classroom observations? (2) Why are classroom observations important? And (3) How to conduct classroom observations effectively? I will also try to find out some causes that make teachers dislike being observed and make some suggestions on how to make classroom observation less stressed for teachers.
What is actually meant by “Classroom Observations”?
“Classroom observation” refers to all occasions when learning and/or teaching activities are observed for a specific purpose by someone other than the class teacher and support staff normally attached to the class.(Elliot, 1991).
First, the aims of classroom observation are to get more insights into what is happening in a specific classroom and to provide information for teachers to take action to improve their own teaching and their students’ learning. The focuses of classroom observation are not only teaching and teachers, but also students, their learning, and the context in which they learn.
Second, classroom observation is “the bridge between the worlds of theory and practice” (Reed and Bergemann,p.6). On the one hand, observation can discover a great deal about how and why certain theories or methods work or do not work in a local context.
Why are classroom observations important?
Being observed in the classroom can make any teacher nervous. But, classroom observations, serving as vehicles for professional development rather than performance evaluations, have several benefits – for teachers, observers, administrators, and the schools.
Benefits for the observer:
* Observe new techniques, strategies, ideas and resources
* Gain insight into one’s own strategies and techniques
* Observe student reactions from a different perspective
* Help create a professional learning community with the best interests of the students in mind
* Personal Professional Development and growth
Benefits for the observed…
* Chance to see class through someone else’ eyes
* Chance to re-evaluate the classroom from a different perspective
* Chance to receive input (suggestions, ideas, resources) from a colleague
* Creation of a professional learning community with the best interests of the students in mind
* Personal Professional Development and growth
The administrators may benefit from having:
* the opportunity for reflective dialogue with and among teachers.
* an increased sense of shared responsibility.
* an increased focus on student achievement.
* an increased trust and collegiality among staff.
Last but not least, schools also have some undeniable benefits, such as:
* increasing collaboration among teachers.
* the establishment of a professional community.
How are classroom observations conducted?
Due to the diversity of purposes, practices and locations, many different styles of classroom observation have been developed over the years. However, the observation styles may be categorized into two main approaches: (1) quantitative approach, counting and recording individual events, and (2) qualitative approach, trying to look behind and beneath the mere frequencies. (Andy, 2014)
To ensure a successful observation in class; the observers and the teacher being observed should follow some guidelines
* For the teacher being observed:
* Ensuring school administrators advocate and support teacher observation as a valid form of professional development
* Building a community of trust among staff and teachers
* Establishing a school-wide commitment to the approach
* Separating observation from the teacher evaluation process
* Declaring the purpose for teacher observation and a commitment to its outcomes
* Preparing the lesson carefully.
* Allowing time for teachers to observe other teachers
* Organizing scheduled meetings, coaching sessions, and follow-up conversations
* Selecting specific strategies and skills on which to focus during an observation session
* Instituting a way to measure the impact of observation
* For the observers:
* draw on skills used in everyday teaching
– understanding the context
– using available evidence
– providing descriptive, non-judgmental observation
– maintaining objectivity
– reducing bias
* an agreed focus for classroom observation and shared protocols
* develop trust between the teachers observing and being observed
* collegial commitment to the sharing and ongoing development of practice
For the observers, it is more important to decide what to observe and how to give feedback that can help the teacher being observed improve their teaching. He/she can give feedback on the following areas:
1. Lesson structure: The way the lesson opens, organization of activities, links between transitions…
2. Classroom management strategies: Maintaining order, setting up groups, time management…
3. Types of teaching activities: Whole class, pair and individual activities
4. Teaching strategies: Presentation tasks, teaching techniques…
5. Teacher’s use of materials ; resources: Use of textbook, own design materials, YouTube…
6. Teacher’s use of language: Instructions, use of questions, feedback techniques, explanation of grammar/vocabulary …
7. Students’ use of language: Use of L1, problems with pronunciation, grammar 8. Student interaction: Time on task, S-S talk …
(Richards and Farrell, 2011)
In short, classroom observations are only useful if:
– The lesson has been carefully planned by the students and teacher.
– The focus is clear.
– Constructive feedback is provided to the teacher being observed.
– There is a post-lesson conference to discuss the lesson.
– The process and the environment are non-threatening.
(Olenka Bilash, 2009)
Classroom Observation in Vietnam
From my own experiences, it can be said that, in Vietnam:
* Classroom observations are widely used as a way of assessing teachers’ performances.
* Observations are often seen as “the teacher’s business” and learners’ role is likely to be neglected.
* Most of teachers don’t like so-called “classroom observations”.
Why do teachers dislike being observed?
While many advantages of classroom observation are recognized, there are still many teachers considering being observed a fear. The reasons they give are:
* A fear of observation in general is brought about by people having had bad experience, or because observations are the way they are judged or evaluated in every training course.
* Observations are considered imposed from above.
* They don’t have time to do the observations or do improperly.
* They don’t know how to observe and/or give feedback…
* A fear associated with observations may also result from lack of communication and collaboration between teachers and observers.
How to make classroom observation less stressed for teachers?
From the findings above, it is obvious that classroom observations are essential parts in teachers’ career development. So what we could do to make them less stressed for teachers? Unfortunately, Acheson (1981, p.1) puts out, “There is no single most appropriate technique or set of techniques that everyone should use in observing, just as there is no panacea that will solve all the problems faced by professional educators”. The following ideas may just solve some problems in classroom observation as a tool for teachers’ professional development.
i. Classroom observations must be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.
ii. Individuals involved in classroom observations should take advantage of opportunities for training in conducting observations.
iii. A pre-observation conference between the teacher and the observers is necessary for clarifying expectations, logistics, and protocol for the observation process.
iv. Before the observation, the teacher and the observers should decide on the instrument or approach that will focus the observation.
v. The teacher and the observers should make the classroom visit as comfortable as possible for everyone involved.
vi. The post observation is critically important in moving the teacher toward changes that can enhance his/ her teaching.
vii. Finally, the teacher and the observers should plan and conduct activities designed to follow up on ideas discussed during the post-observation meeting.
Classroom observation has been proved to be an important tool in both teachers’ and observers’ professional growth. It is reflective and practical. In order to promote effective observation, a system of classroom observation, in which teachers share and learn from each other, should be organized, This can remove evaluative aspect of traditional observation and create something new, valuable and supportive of good teaching.
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