Peer Observation in Teaching Practices
Classroom observation can take different forms. The two most common are:
- Summative observation, in which another teacher or an administrator observes the class. The purpose for this is evaluative and may result a rating of some kind.
- And, formative observation, in which two teachers, or “peers,” do a “friendly” observation of each other’s classes. The purpose is to improve teaching practices and to engage in a systematic form of professional development.
The focus in this module is on formative or peer observation. Formative observation can benefit both the observed teacher and the teacher doing the observation. In order to do so, it must be carefully organized. We will follow a teachers through the three phases of a successful observation:
- First, preparing for the observation.
- Then, observing in the classroom.
- And, finally, the post-observation debriefing.
Module Focus: Introduction
For peer observation to work well, teachers must be trained in the observation procedure and in how to give productive, useful feedback to each other. In order to be successful, peer observation also requires that administrators…
- See the need for peer observation.
- Support training for the process.
- And, create a system that allows teachers time for observing each other.
- In addition, administrators should guarantee that information will remain confidential and will not be used for summative purposes.
Given these conditions, peer observation can…
- Allow teachers to see other’s teaching styles and reflect on their own practices.
- Bring about positive changes in classroom learning for students.
- When done with care and professionalism, it can strengthen relationships among teachers in schools.
#1 Viewing Points: Preparing for the Observation
Video segment #1. Use the “Pre-observation” guide in the manual as you watch teachers getting ready for a class observation. Look for answers to the questions…
- What information do they exchange during this initial talk?
- What information do they plan to collect during the observation?
- How do the teachers interact with each other?
SO, WHICH OF YOUR CLASSES AM I OBSERVING?OKAY, THIS IS GOING TO BE THE 110, YOU KNOW, THE LOWEST OF THE THREE WRITING CLASSES.
SO THIS CLASS, THEY’RE BASICALLY JUST STARTING OUT, GETTING ALL THE BASIC INFORMATION ABOUT WRITING ESSAYS IN ENGLISH.
AND CAN YOU TELL A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THEIR LEVEL? I HAVEN’T TAUGHT THAT CLASS BEFORE.
USUALLY IT’S A MIXED SITUATION.
WE OFTEN HAVE STUDENTS IN THE CLASS WHO HAVE VERY GOOD SPEAKING AND LISTENING SKILLS WHILE THEIR WRITING SKILLS ARE REALLY LOW.
AND SOMETIMES, WE HAVE STUDENTS WHO’VE NEVER BEEN IN A WRITING CLASS.THEY’VE NEVER BEEN IN A SPEAKING CLASS. THEY’VE DONE ALL THEIR STUDYING FROM GRAMMAR BOOKS.
SO, THEY’LL HAVE — ALL THEIR SKILLS WILL BE LOW.
SO, WE HAVE STUDENTS WHO HAVE VERY MIXED ABILITIES.
THEY’RE NOT ALL THE SAME.
SOUNDS PRETTY CHALLENGING.
OKAY, HERE’S ANOTHER QUESTION FOR YOU. WHAT IS THE TEACHING POINT OF THE LESSON THAT I’M GOING TO SEE?
THE DAY THAT YOU COME IN, THE STUDENTS ARE GOING TO JUST BE STARTING TO LOOK AT ESSAY ORGANIZATION.
ALL OF THESE STUDENTS HAVE HAD A LOT OF WRITING EXPERIENCE IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES.
THEY’RE FAMILIAR WITH SPECIFIC STYLES OF WRITING.
SO, THAT’S WHAT WE TELL THEM IN THE 110. “YOU KNOW HOW TO WRITE. WE’RE JUST TEACHING YOU TO WRITE IN A DIFFERENT WAY. YOU’RE LEARNING A NEW STYLE.”
SO, WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO BE DOING THAT DAY IS WE’RE GOING TO LOOK AT INTRODUCTIONS, AND WE’LL TALK ABOUT HOW TO GIVE GENERAL INFORMATION, HOW TO WRITE A CLEAR MAIN IDEA RIGHT IN THE BEGINNING PARAGRAPH.
THEN WE’RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE BODY OF THE ESSAY, DEVELOPING YOUR IDEAS, ROLLING OUT IDEAS, TRYING TO THINK OF WHAT TYPE OF DETAILS WOULD SUPPORT YOUR IDEA.
NOW, OF COURSE, THIS GROUP ISN’T DOING SOMETHING LIKE RESEARCH ESSAY. THEY’RE WRITING ABOUT THEIR OWN EXPERIENCE.
SO, THEY DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT GETTING STATISTICS OR QUOTING OR THINGS LIKE THAT.
THEY’RE REALLY JUST LEARNING HOW TO DEVELOP WHAT — INFORMATION THAT THEY ALREADY KNOW.
AND, MAYBE WE’LL GET TO A CONCLUSION.I’M NOT SURE IF WE’LL DO CONCLUSIONS THAT DAY, BUT THAT’S THE HARDEST PART OF A LOT OF WRITING FOR ANYBODY, JUST GETTING EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO SAY SAID BEFORE YOU GET TO THE CONCLUSION AND THEN NOT KNOWING HOW TO FINISH UP.
SO, WE’LL TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT CONCLUSIONS, MAYBE, THAT DAY. I’M NOT SURE IF YOU’RE GOING TO SEE THAT.
IT SOUNDS VERY INTERESTING. I’VE GOT ONE MORE QUESTION I HAVE FOR YOU, AND THAT IS: IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR THAT YOU WANT ME TO PAY ATTENTION TO WHILE I’M OBSERVING YOU?
YEAH, WELL, SINCE THEY’RE SUCH A LOW-LEVEL CLASS, AND AS I MENTIONED, THEY HAVE VERY DIFFERENT LISTENING ABILITIES AND SPEAKING ABILITIES, I’D LIKE YOU TO PAY ATTENTION TO THE LANGUAGE I’M USING.
IS THE LANGUAGE I’M USING — DOES IT SEEM TO YOU THAT IT IS APPROPRIATE FOR A LOWER-LEVEL CLASS IN WHICH SOME STUDENTS MAY STILL HAVE A VERY LIMITED VOCABULARY?
YEAH, I’M WORRIED THAT I MAY BE TALKING — ADDRESSING MOST OF MY LANGUAGE TO THE STUDENTS WHO HAVE MORE LISTENING SKILLS.
SO, I’D LIKE TO KNOW IF THAT’S HAPPENING.
AND THE OTHER THING IS THE SEQUENCING AND RHYTHM OF THE WHOLE LESSON.
DOES IT FEEL LIKE I’M GOING TOO FAST FOR THEM OR TOO SLOW?
DOES IT SEEM LIKE IT’S A VERY NATURAL PROCESS FOR THEM TO GO FROM ONE ACTIVITY TO THE OTHER?
SOMETIMES, I’M AFRAID THAT I MIGHT BE RUSHING THROUGH SOMETHING.
SURE, THAT SOUNDS GREAT.
OKAY, I LOOK FORWARD TO IT.
In this preparation phase, we saw that teachers spoke in a friendly and respectful way to each other. The teacher learned something about the kind of classes that she would observe. And, the teacher chose the observation focus points for her own class.
#2 Viewing Points: Observing in the Classroom
Video segment #2. In this phase, you will see the teacher as she carries out an observation. See the manual for examples of observation tools or guides. As you watch the video, look for answers to the questions…
- Where does the observer sit?
- What teacher behaviors do you notice?
- What about observer behaviors?
SO WHAT’S THE FIRST ONE?NUMBER TWO: PEOPLE IN DIFFERENT CULTURES ALL OVER THE WORLD HAVE DIFFERENT SYSTEMS FOR FAMILY LIFE.
OKAY, IN MOST CULTURES, PEOPLE LIVE IN EXTENDED FAMILIES IN WHICH SEVERAL GENERATIONS SHARE THE SAME HOUSE.
BEFORE WE GO ON, LET ME MENTION SOMETHING ABOUT THE THESIS.
A LOT OF TIMES WHEN WE START TEACHING STUDENTS TO WRITE, WE LIKE TO TELL YOU THE THESIS GOES LAST IN THE INTRODUCTION BECAUSE THAT’S THE EASIEST THING TO DO.
BUT, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO GO THERE.
BUT, IT’S THE EASIEST PLACE TO PUT IT, OKAY?
ALL RIGHT, NOW LET’S LOOK AT THAT PARAGRAPH NUMBER THREE.
SO WE’RE STARTING OUT WITH NUMBER TWO.
EARTHQUAKES ARE THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE NATURAL DISASTERS KNOWN TO HUMANS IN TERMS OF THE MILLIONS OF DEATHS AND BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN PROPERTY LOSS THAT THEY CAUSE.
THAT’S THE TRICKY PART!
HOW WE DOING?
WHAT ARE GOING TO BE THE TOPICS?
WHAT’S GOING TO BE THE TOPIC OF THE FIRST ONE?
IT’S GOING TO BE A TOPIC, AND IT’S GOING TO BE THE FIRST TOPIC IN…
In this phase, the teacher who was being observed simply taught class as usual. The teacher who was doing the observation, sat quietly at the back of the class and took notes. At no time did the observer interrupt or interfere with the teaching of the class.
#3 Viewing Points: Post-observation Debriefing
Video segment #3. Look for answers to the questions…
- What information do the teachers exchange in the debriefing?
- What does the observer like about each the class?
- What suggestions for improvements does she make?
- How does the debriefing session end?
BELINDA, THAT WAS A REALLY GREAT CLASS.DID YOU LIKE BEING BACK IN A 110 CLASS AGAIN?
I’D NEVER BEEN IN A 110 CLASS.
IT WAS A NEW EXPERIENCE FOR ME.
I WAS VERY IMPRESSED. MAYBE IN THE FUTURE, I’LL TRY TO TEACH ONE OF THEM.
YEAH, IT WAS — I JUST REALLY LIKE YOUR APPROACH,
AND — AND, I THOUGHT IT WAS VERY CREATIVE,
AND, I THOUGHT THE STUDENTS WERE VERY INVOLVED, AND IT WAS WONDERFUL.
I LIKE THAT CLASS.
THEY’RE REALLY SWEET AND THEY TRY HARD.
YEAH, OH, YEAH.
DEFINITELY, I CAN TELL.
I HAVE — I TOOK SOME NOTES, AND I JUST WANTED TO GIVE YOU SOME FEEDBACK ON SOME THINGS I THOUGHT YOU WERE DOING BEAUTIFULLY.
THE FIRST PART WAS YOUR GIVING INSTRUCTIONS.
AND, THIS IS A LOWER-LEVEL GROUP THAN MINE, AND SO IT WAS QUITE DIFFERENT THAN WHAT GOES ON IN MY CLASS, BUT I WAS VERY IMPRESSED AT HOW CLEAR YOU WERE WITH YOUR INSTRUCTIONS.
AND — AND, YOU WERE — I NOTICED THAT YOU WERE NOT PARAPHRASING. YOU WERE ACTUALLY REPEATING INSTRUCTIONS.
YEAH, I TRY TO AVOID PARAPHRASING WITH VERY LOW GROUPS, BECAUSE THE PROBLEM WITH A VERY LOW GROUP — IF SOMEONE HAS VERY LOW LISTENING SKILLS AND I’M PARAPHRASING, THEY DON’T NECESSARILY KNOW THAT I’M SAYING THE SAME THING AGAIN IN A DIFFERENT WAY.
SO, THEY THEN THINK THEY’VE MISSED THE FIRST THING, AND NOW THEY’RE TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE SECOND THING.
SO, I’M ACTUALLY MAKING IT HARDER FOR THEM TO UNDERSTAND.
YOU KNOW, VERY INTERESTING.
I’M LEARNING. I’M LEARNING FROM YOU.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
IT WAS GREAT.
I HAVE ONE SMALL PIECE OF FEEDBACK. DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH IT, BUT I FELT AT TIMES YOU WERE SPEAKING A LITTLE QUICKLY.
FOR EXAMPLE, YOU SOMETIMES WERE SPEAKING FASTER WITH YOUR 110 CLASS THAN I WOULD WITH MY 112.
NOW, I DIDN’T NOTICE THE STUDENTS, YOU KNOW, REACTING NEGATIVELY, BUT IT WAS JUST A PERSONAL REACTION.
I THINK YOU’RE RIGHT. IT’S SOMETHING THAT I KNOW I DO.
AT THE BEGINNING OF ALL MY CLASSES, DOESN’T MATTER WHAT LEVEL THEY ARE, I TELL THEM I HAVE A TENDENCY TO SPEAK TOO FAST AND IT’S NOT RUDE — YOU HAVE TO RAISE YOUR HAND AND TELL ME, “PLEASE SLOW DOWN.”
AND DO THEY EVER DO THAT?
SOMETIMES, YES, PEOPLE DO. THEY SAY, “BELINDA, YOU ARE SPEAKING FAST,” AND I SLOW DOWN.
AND, THAT’S NOT A BAD PLACE FOR THEM TO PRACTICE THAT.
SO, IN SOME WAYS, I HOPE THAT THIS THING THAT I DO THAT’S A PROBLEM FOR THEM ALSO HELPS THEM HAVE MORE CONFIDENCE IN TALKING TO THE TEACHER.
BUT, OBVIOUSLY, BEING A LOW LEVEL, I DON’T WANT THEM TO FEEL LIKE THEY NEVER KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON OR THEY’RE EMBARRASSED TO ASK ME TO SLOW DOWN TOO OFTEN.
SO, I HAVE TO MONITOR MYSELF.
WELL, AS I MENTIONED: VERY SMALL THING.
ANYWAYS, THANK YOU SO MUCH.
I LEARNED SO MUCH FROM WATCHING YOUR CLASS.
IT WAS GREAT.
In this final phase, the teacher consulted the notes that she took during the observation. She complimented her colleague on strengths in her teaching. She asked questions about points that she didn’t understand. And, she made positively-worded suggestions for improvements. Things ended just as they started, on a friendly and respectful note.
Module Focus: Summary
The focus in Module 13 has been on teachers and peer observations. We followed some teachers through the three phases of the observation process in which they…
- Prepared for the observation.
- Observed each other in the classroom.
- And, participated in a post-observation debriefing.
In what ways do you think formative observation could be of benefit to you and other teachers in your educational setting? If you are already conducting formative observations, are there ways in which they could be improved or better supported? As you “peer into the future” and seek opportunities for your own professional development, keep peer observation in mind as a close-to-home option that could work very well for you.
See the manual for readings and more information on this and other topics related to peer observation.