All the different combinations of formal observation

IMG_20180817_131315_969I’ve written about formal observation here on my blog a few times before but don’t think I’ve ever considered all the different types of observation a teacher like me can experience based on who the observee is and what the observer is focusing on.

So far I’ve encountered the following situations:

  1. I observe my colleague (as a colleague).
  2. I observe my colleague (as her immediate superior).
  3. I observe an outside worker (as her mentor/supervisor/trainer).
  4. I am observed by a colleague.
  5. I am observed by my administrators/boss.
  6. I am observed by an outside worker/teacher trainee.

The above six situations can be combined with the following:

A) The observer zooms in on the observee teaching a random group of learners. Such a group of learners can be specifically chosen/created for this purpose, for one semester only, for example. I experienced this situation during my internal teaching practice at uni.

B) The observer zooms in on the observee teaching her own class. The observer doesn’t necessarily know the class (this is usually combined with points 1 or 2 above).

C) The observer zooms in on the observee teaching the observer’s class (this is usually combined with point 3.)

D) The observer zooms in on the class rather than the observee – either out of curiosity or because there have been some issues and the observee needs help (this is usually combined with points 1, 2 or 5).

My favourite type of observation, which, by the way, I’ve recently experienced for the very first time, is observing an outside worker teaching my own class. The fact that I consider this my favourite type of observation is pretty egoistic if you think about it because the observee, as well as the class, are at a disadvantage. The thing is that it’s likely that the observee doesn’t know the test subjects learners very well and the class may feel nervous since they don’t know what to expect from the new teacher. Plus I am there to rule watch them all.

Anyway, there are some benefits too. For one, I can help the observee by giving her tips – prior to the lesson or afterwards – because I know my class like the back of my hand. I believe that if she is a regular teacher, teaching an unknown group of learners may help her see what she does with her own classes. Some things are better seen from a distance after all. For two, and this is the selfish part, I can see what my students are like from a totally different angle – virtually and metaphorically. For example, as I usually sit among the students, my physical perspective changes a great deal. Also, I can see the impact the observee’s teaching has on my class because at last, I have an opportunity to go through the whole process together with the students. It’s even more authentic if the observee doesn’t show me her lesson plan in advance. Thus I can tell how clear her instructions are and/or how motivating the lesson is overall. Actually, the observee is like a mirror I’m looking in: her mistakes and achievements may in effect reflect all the things I do in class myself.

And the most desirable outcome is when I can happily exclaim: “Heureka! My students did really well in your lesson (secretly thinking: … because I did a good job as a teacher)”. 🙂







About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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2 Responses to All the different combinations of formal observation

  1. geoffjordan says:

    Hi Hana,

    Good review!

    May I mention John Fanselow’s suggestion that we video ourselves giving a class – best to have 2 cameras, 1 at the back on you, 1 at the front on the class – and then invite a colleague or colleagues to watch it with us.

    When I worked at a big school in Barcelona, after John gave a 2 week workshop with us, we formed groups of 5 or so teachers and set up a schedule for a term. During the term we all videoed ourselves doing a class and then had a feedback session. The teacher whose video was the subject of the feedback session could ask the rest to focus on a particular aspect of the class, like use of time, instructions, error correction, student interaction, or just see what happened.

    The two golden rules during the feedback sessions are:
    1. Leave your pre-conceived notions about good or bad teaching at the door.
    2. Observe, don’t judge.

    As John says “Look at the data as children might look at something for the first time”.

    “Analyzing video clips and transcripts of classroom interactions are the “ABC’s” of learning to observe yourself and your students in the classroom. Attaining this skill, which will help you to understand what you and your students are really doing, can profoundly affect your teaching.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thank you for your comment, Geoff. I’ve heard a lot about the benefits of observation done through videoing. Strangely enough, I have never had the courage to try it. Many people, including me, hate to hear the recording of their voice. So I think it may be even more uncomfortable for me to watch myself teach – at least for the first time. I believe that teachers might need some psychological support before this type of observation. Also, it should be done in a very safe environment, definitely not as part of some type of formal observation. But I agree with you and John Fanselow: analyzing video clips and transcripts of classroom interactions are very useful. But first, we have to learn to accept ourselves and acknowledge the fact that the way we see ourselves may be very different from the way others see us.


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