Observation and Feedback in Professional Development: A Travelogue
This article is my reflection on observing a lower secondary English teacher whom I observed for seven days, and to whom I provided constructive feedback. During the journey of observation and feedback, I learned that if the teachers get an opportunity to receive constructive feedback from the observer, meaningful change can be brought into our classrooms. Similarly, classroom observation and feedback is a way of professional development for teachers.
Observation and feedback
Generally, the term ‘observation’ means the purposeful monitoring or examination of various tasks. Similarly, observation is a kind of research that helps researchers to get live data. As Cohen et al. (2010) state, observation is used as a research tool that offers an opportunity to garner ‘live’ data from ‘naturally occurring situations’ where the researcher can actually look directly at what is happening in the situation, rather than depending on a second-hand data source. Thus observation is a tool to gather data for the purpose of any kind of research that is ‘live’ and reliable. This tool cannot only be used for research purposes, but also can be a support for further teacher development. Supporting this view, Wajnryb (2002) defines observation as ‘a multi- faceted tool for learning which can be learned and can improve with practice’ (p.1).
As observations are of different types, here I am discussing classroom observation, rather than any other types of information.
Classroom observation and feedback
Classroom observation doesn’t mean observing another teachers’ class to find out some depressing points of the teacher’s classroom activities, or making them nervous to even deliver the lesson effectively, by sitting ominously at the back of the class. Classroom observation is a kind of observation where the researcher /supervisor observes the real, live classroom of the teacher and provides feedback in order to improve the teacher’s professionalism. Highlighting the benefit of classroom observation, Wajnryb (2002) states classroom observation is a ‘multi- faceted tool for learning. It is about being an observer in the language learning classroom and learning from the observation process of classroom processes’ (p.1). Thus, classroom observation is beneficial for both the observer as well as the observed.
Similarly, “feedback” means giving both negative as well as positive comments with suggestions. Thus, feedback really benefits all of us; as our tutor told us, feedback really “feeds us back” and lets us to develop ourselves. Discussing the role of feedback, especially corrective feedback, Ellis (2009) feels that the role of feedback has an vital place in most L2 learning and language pedagogy theory. Thus, feedback is an important modality in the teacher development process.
The observation and feedback I undertook
Convincing an English teacher for classroom observation was a difficult task; however, I am thankful to one of the English teachers’ from ‘Good Neighbors’ school which lies in Badikhel, Lalitpur, who was ready to be observed as well as ready to take feedback positively. Thus, I prepared five different checklists for classroom observation and prepared to be an observer. At first I introduced myself to him and while meeting with each other I told him my purpose of visiting there. He accepted my proposal of classroom observation and feedback without any hesitation. At that time I felt glad that I met a teacher who is courageous enough to improve his profession. After that I fixed the time and period of classroom observation. He allowed me to observe any class I like. Thus, I observed five different classes at class 6, 7 and 8.
It was really a great experience of observing another teachers’ class and providing feedback. I observed five different classes of the teacher and provided feedback based on the context. While observing his first class, he himself told me to observe class six, but later on we both sat together and decided on which class to observe and what point needed to be focused on while doing the observation. Thus, I was feeling comfortable to observe him, and he also expressed that he was comfortable, as he was well informed on the class that was to be observed.
My reflection as an observer
When I observed his five different classes, I internalized a different set of feelings, and have developed myself. Below I present my reflections for all five days.
The first day on classroom observation
On 14thDecember, 2012 I observed this English teacher’s classroom. It was fourth period and the chapter was dealing with “active and passive voice.” Before I went for the observation, I asked his plan on the topic, and he told me that he will teach voice, first warming up the students and then doing some illustration, and finally he would provide the questions from the lesson. As I entered in the room, the class started with greetings, and he introduced me in front of the class. As warm –up activity, he asked one of the students to write a sentence on the board by changing it into passive voice. The student wrote the active sentence first and changed it into passive correctly. I felt as if the lesson had already been discussed. Then he divided the class in different groups, and askedeach group to make six sentences and change them all into passive voice. As the class seating was in a U-shape it was easy for them to divide into groups and the benches too were movable rather than fixed.
The entire group started working on the task provided. I felt as if they were habituated to group work. The teacher facilitated the groups by visiting them and solving the problems they had. There was no time limit given. After about ten minutes, he asked one of the students from group ‘A’ to write the sentences by they had prepared, changing them into passive. Similarly, he asked each group to present their group work in front of the class. Two groups did well, except ‘A group’ — neither their active voice sentences were correct, nor their changes into passive. I was amazed to see this. I thought they might be the weaker students of the class.
Then he started his own presentation where he was providing various examples of changing sentences into passive voice. He was trying to say that when we change the active sentence into passive we should identify the ‘doer;’ however, I wasn’t sure whether the students would understand the idea on what or who the ‘doer’ is. As his presentation was over, he asked the students to make three sentences individually. The students started making sentences and the bell rang. Thus, he provided them homework as continuing the same task, and the class was over.
While providing feedback, my confronting question to the teacher was whether the students were taught the lesson before or not. He replied that it was their first class on changing voice though they have already attended four different classes on tense. Then I asked him what other ways could be implemented instead of dividing them in groups and asking them to change the sentences. For this question, his reply was that the content isn’t suitable for their level, because they need more classes on tense, as they are having problem in changing the forms of tense. In the same way, he thinks that he needs to counsel some of the students personally especially the two girls whom I thought were the weaker students in the class.
This was how I provided feedback on the class observation. As I was observing the class I felt that the ‘hidden problems’ that a teacher cannot feel while teaching can be found with the help of observation, and as the teacher was presenting himself in such a polite manner and was willing to get new ideas from me, I indeed needed to be well prepared as ‘feedback provider’ to give something new and useful to the teacher. Today, I felt that the task of providing feedback is not just to comment on negative aspects, however; rather, the task is to comment on negative aspects, appreciate positive aspects, and provide suggestions for the further improvements.
After observing the class, I learned that the behavior of the observer affects the behavior of the observed, and all of us try to escape from problems by blaming others; for instance, as a teacher, we tend to blame our students and their natures if the class is not effective.
Classroom Observation Continued…..
The next class observation on 16th December, 2012 was in class seven. It was a reading chapter entitled ‘The Holy Parrot’. There were 12 students in the class.
As I asked the teacher about his plan for today’s class, he told me that he would at first provide a model reading of the text and ask students to read the text aloud. Then he would provide the meaning of difficult words. After that he would describe the story and then have students answer questions about the story.
The class was started with greeting and introductions, as I was new to them. After that, as per his plan, the teacher provided a model reading of the story. The students listened to him. After completing his reading, he chose some of the difficult words from the story and wrote them on the board. He provided the pronunciation of those words and asked the students to find out and underline those words in their book, which they did. He provided another five minutes to the students to find more difficult words. After that he provided synonyms with various examples. As the discussion on vocabulary was over, he asked some of the students to read the story aloud,but at the same time the bell rang. It was the time to give homework to the students so he told them that he will explain the story tomorrow and their homework was to write that story in their own words. This is how he concluded his class.
Before I provided any informative feedback to him, I started providing feedback by asking him to reflect on his class. As he did, I raised another question as to what could be other possible methods to teach the same lesson. He answered that he could have used the ‘strip story’ method but his students are not confident enough, and their level is not satisfactory. I considered it and suggested he use three stages of teaching and different activities under “pre-reading, while reading and post-reading activities.” As I provided this suggestion, he thanked me, as he had learnt it once but had forgotten it, and assured me that he would be utilizing the same technique for his next reading activity.
From the second day’s observation and feedback, I learned that working teachers need refreshment and review, because they sometimes forget what they have learned, and continue their ritualized teaching. If they are provided feedback, however, they can be refreshed and can be motivated for their further professional growth.
The third classroom observation on 17thDecember, 2012 was at class eight. It was the fourth period and the topic was ‘Monkey Tricks in Mukninath ‘. I asked his plan for this class and he replied me that he is going to use pre, while and Post reading activity for this lesson as per the feedback I provided yesterday.
Today I found his class more interesting that he started by setting the scene. He asked a question: ‘What crime might have happened in Muktinath?” And he asked them to guess the answer. Then he asked students to find out any difficult words and their meanings in groups, by providing specific paragraphs to each group. Students started working in their groups. After some time, he asked one of the students from each group to present the word and meaning they have discussed. The discussion went well and he provided each group a question from the reading comprehension paragraph, which they were to answer. As they finished their task, one of the students from each group presented their answers. After the discussion was over he provided feedback on the task completed by the groups, the bell rang, and he provided homework as reading the text thrice. This was how he conducted his class, by utilizing the feedback he got and this is why the class was very effective. Even the students were happy to learn in this way, as one of the students expressed her view to the teacher.
First, I asked him his feeling after conducting his class in a novel way, and he replied that he was happy that the students participated actively in the class. But he was unhappy that they were trying to use mother tongue while doing group work. Thus I asked how we can improve the situation. He replied that improvement depends on the level of the learners and he could use different techniques to improve their speaking skill, especially for class eight students.
From the observation and feedback, I learned that observation and feedback brings changes in the classroom as well as happiness among the teachers and students.
Reflection on classroom observation
On 23rd December, 2012, I was going to observe his classes again for the fourth time. I was very happy from the previous class that the improvements were already seen in his planning and implementation. Today he taught the lesson entitled ‘Talking together: putting things right’ in class Eight. He started his class by having a short discussion on previous lesson as a warm up activity. Then he started his lesson by dividing the students into groups and discussing the pictures provided in their book. Then he asked them to put the pictures in sequence and write a composition based on it by working in the same group. Students started working in their groups. After 10 minutes, one of the students from each group started presenting their task. The presentation was fruitful as they were presenting the findings of their groups, and different new ideas were there, which even I hadn’t expected. He motivated his students for presentation by asking them to clap their hands when the presenter completed their presentation. As all the groups presented their answers, he provided feedback on their task. Similarly, he was trying to treat the errors made by the students. However, some of the students were trying to use their mother tongue in the class, even though the teacher was discouraging it. As the bell rang he provided homework to read another chapter. This is how he concluded his today’s class, which was effective as well.
As the class was so effective, I congratulated him on his effort for making improvements in professionalism, and asked him on what kinds of strategies are helpful to motivate our learners to use target language in the classroom. He replied that if we are able to make the target language compulsory, the students will start using the target language rather than mother tongue.
After observing his class, I learned that when the teacher is aware of their professional development they themselves move on their path, and that the duty of an observer is to provide appropriate feedback.
The things were going on as I had hoped, and I was ready for his classroom observation for the fifth time on 23rd December 2012. That day he taught a story to class seven. The topic was ‘The Greedy Frog’. As per his plan, I found him planning as pre-reading, while reading and post reading activities.
As the warm up activity, he started his class by asking students about their homework. Then he divided students into their different groups and asked them to divide the paragraphs and underline any difficult words. Students started doing so. After 10 minutes, he asked students to specify the words, and wrote them on the board. He provided the meaning of those words. Then he asked students to read the paragraph, and to answer the questions he gave. Students did so. As the task was done, he asked students to present their answers, and provided feedback in their task. He provided a model reading of the text and asks students to prepare a short summary by assigning different paragraphs to them. Finally, he asked students to read out the summary they had prepared. As the bell rang he assigned learning the meaning of difficult vocabulary as their homework. This is how he concluded his class on teaching that story.
After he completed his class, I provided feedback, focusing on a point that I found while observing this class, which was that all the students were not taking part equally in their group work. Thus, I raised the same question to him, and he replied that they will be motivated gradually, and he will try his best to motivate them to participate in group work or pair work.
Thus, after observing five different classes of this teacher, I realized that observation and feedback help teachers to improve teaching as well as develop his/her professionalism — but the support from the observer is a must.
Teacher support issues and my learning
While doing this practical task on observation and feedback, different teacher support issues were raised. The first issue was the behavior issue, more especially, developing positive behavior for both the observer and observee. Then another issue is of accepting and applying the information given, in the real classroom. I found myself as the observer being successful because this teacher was eager to try out whatever we discussed, and brought successful changes to his classroom teaching. Similarly, my task was fruitful because he supported me in observing his classes, and utilized my suggestions to develop his professionalism. We both realized the value of doing classroom observation and of giving and receiving constructive feedback for our professional development.
Cohen, et al. (2007). Research Methods in Education.(6th ed.). London: Rutledge.
Ellis, R. (2009). Corrective feedback and teacher development. L2 Journal Vol. 1, pp. 3-18. Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org
Wajnryb, R. (2002). Classroom observation tasks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
(*Mandira Adhikari is a graduate in ELT from Kathmandu University. She also completed an intensive teacher training course, TESOL Certificate. Currently, she is a lecturer of English at Lumbini College, Nepal. Her research interest is in learning within diversities. She is also a life-member of NELTA.)