Observation as a Key Concept for Teacher Development

-Madhukar KC
Abstract
This article begins with the general introduction of observation highlighting on observation with reference to teacher development. It draws some examples to justify how (classroom) observation plays a pivotal role in teacher development in terms of developmental purpose of observation rather than observation for assessment, evaluation and training. Finally it relates observation practice in Nepalese EFL context along with author’s own experience of classroom observations of the teachers at the work place.
Introduction
Generally, the term ‘observation’ is used as a research tool that offers a researcher an opportunity to garner ‘live’ data from “naturally occurring situations” where the researcher can actually look at directly what is happening in situ rather than depending on second-hand data source (Cohen et al 2007). Peter Maingay, the ELT expert/trainer argues about various roles of observation for training, development and assessment of the teachers. Observation in the recent years has been rigorously used in the field of teacher development. Different people especially teachers, supervisors, instructors, trainers, and trainees use observation for various purposes in various forms like classroom observation, peer observation, a key tool of teacher development. Wajnryb (2002) states observation as ‘a multi-faceted tool for learning which can be learned and can improve with practice’ (p.1). There are various kinds of observations, however, this article concentrates on classroom observation in the context of teacher’s professional development.
Observation and Teacher Development (TD)
The concept of development refers to change and growth. To be specific, the term teacher development is the process of being better, competent and ‘super-teacher’ in terms of professionalism. This concept of teacher development is a significant issue in teacher education that came into prominence in the field of ELT on account of the demand; especially of in-service teachers who really wanted to get input of recent methodologies/pedagogies to tackle the problems and the challenges that come abruptly on the way. TD is a relentless process of life-long learning. If it stops for any reasons, then the process of development ceases with no sign of any professional development in teachers.
There are many components and strategies that are responsible for teacher development; such as observation, action research, in-service training, supervision, counseling, meditation, motivation, mentoring, reflective practice of teaching and learning, classroom research, collaborative learning and teaching etc. However, this article focuses on area of teacher development that is classroom observation, which has been dominantly used as a significant tool in ESL/EFL teacher education in general and teachers’ professional development in particular. Observation in general is a tool/concept used in any kind of observation- be it a classroom observation, peer observation, supervisor, ELT manager observation or a learner observation. It is equally significant tool for mentoring, collaborative development, classroom research ,etc.

Classroom Observation
As one of the prevailing methods within the real classroom settings, classroom observation is a significant tool for teacher development where the teacher develops by observing the trainers, peer teachers classroom teachings. It is the process of studying classroom activities to scrutinize teaching strategies adopted by the teachers and students’ participation with active responsiveness in classroom activities. It is a process in which a supervisor, instructor/administrator (head teacher/principal) sits in on one or more class sessions, records the teacher’s teaching practices and student actions, and then meets with the teacher to discuss regarding the observations done previously.
English language teaching (ELT) classroom observations have traditionally been seen as part of teacher evaluation regarding their way of classroom teaching and observers are typically administrators, instructors, supervisors, trainers, ELT managers hired and senior teachers. Feedback provided by the observer to the observe after the observation task is over is what Sheal (1989) notes as usually unsystematic, subjective, threatening, frustrating and impressionistic rather than objective, systematic, supportive and motivating. Also, the relationship between observers and observees is based on hierarchy where the observers are evaluative, prescriptive, assertive while the observees, unless otherwise, are defensive. Classroom observations tasks done under such conditions might not help much in the observees’ professional growth and development which is in sharp contrast to the philosophy of teachers’ professional development.
Why classroom observation?
There are a number of different purposes for classroom observation. Nevertheless, the primary purpose of observation is for teacher’s professional growth and development. While the teacher teaches in the language classroom, he/she will not be able to clearly observe the process of learning and interaction as it takes place throughout the lesson. Thus classroom observation renders freedom to the teachers to look at the lesson being taught by other teachers from a range of different perspective outside that of the actual lesson plan, procedures and activities prepared by the teacher. Wajnryb (2002) defines classroom observation as 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).
Classroom observation helps us ‘to test our personal theories on phenomena around us and refine the social and psychological behavior of others and ourselves’ (Foster, 1996, p. 57). Classroom observation is absolutely required ‘to understand and be aware of the intricacies of the social and psychological processes of the classroom which is central to effective teacher development (Wright, 1990, p. 84). Similarly, Maingay (1991) defines classroom observation as a reflective tool for the teachers to explore their own behavior, attitude and their classroom practices. Kafle (2001) argues that mentoring, one of the key concepts in teacher development requires skills of classroom observation so as to figure out problems of classroom teaching practice of the teachers and provide feedback and eventually render assistance whenever needed by the teachers.
Procedures of classroom observation
There are various procedures of conducting classroom observation. Sheal (1989) gives his own way of conducting classroom observation. Mainly he concentrates on classroom observation for teacher development rather than teacher evaluation. With the purposes of observation, he also came up with the observation forms. They are; frequency tabulation, structured description, checklist and rating scale etc. Among them, using observation checklist during observation is pertinent to our Nepalese context.
Reflection
Fortunately, I got an appointment as an Instructional Supervisor (IS) in one of the prominent schools in the Kathmandu Valley. My job responsibility was not just to teach in the classroom but to conduct classroom observation of the teachers from primary to lower secondary English teachers. The teachers I worked with were trained, competent and skilful. However, I was supposed to manage spare time to sit and discuss with them about the lesson, unit they were about to deal with in the class and later observe their real classroom teaching to see how well they would perform in the classroom and whether they conducted various activities in the classroom with regard to ‘Activity-based Instruction classroom teaching’ implemented in the very school recently. The school administration had given me full liability to conduct classroom observation of the teachers. The administration including myself had also clearly oriented the teachers during the workshop before the early beginning of the new session regarding the observation to be taken by the newly appointed Instructional Supervisors. Since it was mainly for the developmental purpose of observation, most of the teachers took it positively. However, there was some sort of indirect resistance of silence, ignorance towards it which I could sense at the meantime.
Keeping in mind the resistance of the teachers I would observe, I tried my best endeavors to maintain good rapport with them. I used to manage spare time out of their (teachers) hectic classroom schedule so that I could sit with them and discuss for sometime regarding their lesson plan, teaching/learning materials prepared to use in the classroom and teaching/learning activities to be conducted in the classroom. Mainly I used observation format to observe the teachers’ classroom which is divided in to three phases, which is deliberated below:
Pre-observation
During this pre-observation phase, my main intention was to inform the observee teacher about the purpose of the meeting and observation and thus prepare him/her for being observed without any sign of resistance. I also used this phase to build good rapport by using motivational orientation to the teacher saying, ‘it is mainly for both of us and our professional development’. I expressed, ‘there is nothing personal but it’s all about professional development to make sure that the teachers are in the state of welcoming me as the observer of their classroom teaching’.
During the meeting with the teachers in this phase, I used to discuss on the lesson plan they had, teaching/learning materials prepared to use and the teaching/learning activities to be used in the classroom teaching. I used to elicit information about the syllabus, other classroom activities they had been conducting from the teachers. I also asked them if they wanted any sort of help from me, e.g., getting other resources to use as materials in their classroom teaching.
While/during observation
This is the second phase of observation which I used to use for my classroom observation purpose. During this stage or phase, I observed the real classroom teaching of the teacher inside the classroom settings according to their lesson plan using teaching materials/aids and conducting various activities in the classroom. During this phase, I mainly concentrated on classroom management, instructions of the teacher, language use, lesson delivery, activities conducted and the participation of the students in the activities and tasks. I recorded the classroom observation and wrote a reflection of the class I observed so that it would be easier for me to use during feedback session.
Post-observation
It is the phase of feedback session. During this phase, I managed some time to meet with the teachers to discuss how the classroom went, how he/she felt about the classroom teaching, what he/she felt went well, what he/she would have to change, what was typical or atypical about the class. I would mainly elicit responses from the observee teachers and would give them cathartic and supportive kind of feedback. I would discuss on the strategy for the next class. The purpose of this phase is to review the observation data and plan any follow-up and new strategy as required.

Conclusion
Observation is a means through which teacher development takes place and thus it is very significant tool or a key concept for teacher development. Unlike observation for training, assessment and evaluation, observation for development of both the observer and the observee should be primarily focused to achieve the objective of teacher development. It provides both the parties with the reflection of their own class and provides them way to think of some possible innovative strategies to implement them in the classes further. Traditionally, the observation task was taken as evaluative, assessment as mere trainer process. Owing to this, teachers to be observed (observee) and the observer both had developed negative attitudes towards observation process. However, now, positive attitudes have developed among the educators, teachers regarding observation in the recent days for teacher development. People related to teacher education, ELT have duly realized the significance of observation and the impossibility of teacher development without observation to explore their hidden self, identity, creative potentiality which is worth appreciating.
References
Chaudhary, D.L. (2008). Reflection for key concept for Teacher Development. Journal of
NELTA, Volume 13, No. 1-2
Cohen, et, al (2007). Research Methods in Education. Rout ledge
Edge, J. (1991). Co-operative Development
Head, K. and Taylor, P. (1997). Readings in teacher development. Oxford: Heinemann.

Tsai, H. M. (2008). Improving an EFL Class: Starting from Classroom Observations, The Asian EFL Journal, June/2008, Volume 10, Number 2

Sheal, P. (1989). Classroom observation: Training the observers. ELT Journal, 43(2), 92-
104 Corwin, S. (2011). Teacher Observation. IATEFL Voices, 2011 Issue, 220
Wajnryb, R. (2002). Classroom observation tasks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Appendix
The following is the sample of the observation checklist form I used for classroom observation of the teachers at ‘The Excelsior School, Swoyambhunath’ where I worked as an Instructional Supervisor (IS) of English.
Pre- observation
Lesson plan/objectives Use of teaching/learning materials

Teaching/learning activities

While/during observation
Activities conducted Classroom management

Language use/ lesson delivery

Post-observation
Reflection on the very observed class by the observer and observee
Providing feedback (Oral/written)
Constructive/supportive feedback

Strategies/plan for next class

These are the various samples I and my intern pair, Mabindra prepared during our fourth semester class on ‘Teacher Development’ at Kathmandu University which I would like to illustrate as below;
Observation checklist form
Name: Topic: Date:
S N. Indicators 0 1 2
1
Classroom management
2
T/L materials used and Activities conducted in the class
3
Presentation of subject matter/issues/themes
4 Clarity of instructions

5
Pedagogical methods used/ language use
6
Delivery of the lesson

7 Student’s involvement/participation/motivation

8 Body language

9 Personal Reflection

10 Providing feedback (Oral/written)
Constructive/supportive feedback
0= Needs improvement 1= Satisfactory
2= excellent
Note: Comment:
1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
Observer:

Observation form for creative writing
Name of the teacher:
Name of the school:
Class:
Date:
Duration:
Phase Activities
Initial
Example
Explanation
Production

Observer:

Observation form for checking speaking skill
Name of the teacher:
Name of the school:
Class:
Date:
Duration:
How does the teacher check speaking skill of the students? What specific aspects does he check? e.g. grammar, syntax, comprehension, etc. Does he give feedback? It can be immediate or delayed, individual or to the whole class

Observer:
Observation form for Reading Activity
Name of the teacher:
Name of the school:
Class:
Date:
Duration:
Learner Activity Teacher response Learner response Evaluation method

Observer:

Checking effectiveness of listening activity
Name of the teacher:
Name of the school:
Class:
Date:
Duration:

1. The component that you feel was very effective while teaching listening activity
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

2. The area where you feel that the teacher could have improved by using suggested methods or approaches
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

3. Further suggestions that you would like to give the teacher regarding the class
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
…………………………………………………………………………………………………

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2 Responses to Observation as a Key Concept for Teacher Development

  1. Tara Sapkota says:

    This is the first time i opened NELTA CHOUTARI; Of course the first article, i am happy i chose a nice piece of writing !!!

  2. Babita Gurung says:

    That’s wonderful! Observation is inevitable matter of teaching.A person who has keen observation can justify many things appropriately.Right from observing students behaviour in the class to observing changes takes place around us is very important.

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