This feedback task works best with a group observation. Divide the observers into teams or pairs, including the teachers who taught. Give the group 10 – 20 minutes to predict what you, the assessor, considered to be the top three positives and developmental points of each lesson.
The board is divided up equally so that each team has space to write their answers on it. Decide yourself if you want to start or finish with the positives. A representative from each team writes up the top 3 points, ideally they should write at the same time as each other so they can’t modify their answers when they see the other responses! The tutor checks through the comments for any clarification. At this point the board is covered in lesson feedback.
The tutor reads out their own three developmental points and the teams decide which team got closest to the assessors points and is therefore the ‘winner’. Repeat the process for the other points.
Generally a really useful discussion ensues which is a good time for you to explain how you reach your decisions and what are priorities in a lesson. This task is also a great tool for assessing where the group is and what they consider to be a priority.
We sometimes add an element of ‘spice’ by the ‘losers’ agreeing to provide the ‘winners’ with a small service, for example to make coffee in the morning, do some photocopying, or give extra support.
Peer observation involves teachers sitting in on each other’s lessons. This works particularly well if teachers share a class, as it allows them to see how learners respond to each other’s style. The level of observation formality can vary depending on need. The process can be managed by the DOS, who decides who goes where and when. To reduce teacher speculation it pays to be transparent about how choices are made. Alternatively, the DOS can encourage teachers to organize it, and to decide for themselves who they would like to work with. On the positive side peer observations can be less stressful than DOS observations and they can often be arranged quite quickly. However, it’s worth noting that if the organization of observations is left to the teachers, there is a risk they drag along or won’t happen. This is because people tend not to want to ‘put upon’ another teacher, or have to give possible negative feedback to a peer. Moreover, if there are interpersonal tensions in the staffroom, it may be wiser for the DOS to manage the process.
Whoever organizes the observations, it is important for the DOS to advertise the ‘rules’ of observation: the observer should be quiet, keep a low profile and not disturb or engage the learners or the teacher. If teachers will be giving each other feedback, the DOS should highlight the ‘sandwich’ principle: ‘first mention something good, then propose something to work on, and finally close with another positive point’. Finally, the observing teacher must understand the importance of being discreet about what they have seen.
TIPS FOR THE DOS
Before setting up peer observations, consider the following questions:
- Does the other teacher’s class need cover?
- Is there a cost/budget for the class cover?
- Is the observer expected to report their observation, or elements of it, to the DOS or the other teacher (or both), and if so, in what form: oral or written?
- It is necessary to allow time for the observer to give feedback to the teacher after the lesson?
- Is the observer watching the teacher who best suits their particular needs?
- Is one teacher being observed more or less than the others?
- Will the teacher being observed be expected to produce a plan for the session?
- Does the DOS have a mechanism for closing down the peer observations? For example, asking the observing teacher to summarize what they have learnt from the experience, or putting up a big note board where teachers can write compliments for each other.
This feedback task works well with a group or individual.
The trainer re-teaches a section of the observed lesson and the observers have to decide what the differences are between how the trainer taught and the teacher taught. With luck this will demonstrate how things can be improved. If the observers are stuck and unable to articulate the differences put some key words on the board to help them focus on the issue you are trying to demonstrate. Be warned you may have to do it several times.
The main issues with this feedback is that on initial training courses you will usually have to do it straight after the observation so no preparation time and you will have to do it with the trainees rather than learners so forgive yourself if it doesn’t go perfectly to plan. I have ended up trying this and made a worse job of it than the teacher!
Teacher talk is just one of many elements of an ELT lesson assessment that is covered in the ELT lesson Observation & Feedback Handbook. ‘Teacher talk’ in this article refers mainly to the time during which the teacher is talking to the whole group – informing, instructing or correcting. In the book there is a different set of comments to cover the area of instruction giving, although there is of course a lot of crossover.
Reasons for the commentary
Observing a lesson can be a major multi- tasking/multi-skill challenge. As an observer you need to:
- be physically present but not engaged with the teacher or students
- polite and mindful of the stress the teacher is under
- make notes so you don’t forget key points
- decode what you are observing in order to decide if there is developmental need or praise is deserved
- prioritize developmental needs so as not to overwhelm the teacher
- find constructive ways to give praise and suggest alternatives or ways to improve
The purpose of the notes below is to make the observers life a little easier. The idea is that you can cut and paste the comments or adapt them to each observation. Try adding in modifiers and emoji’s if this works for you.
Suggested observer commentary
||Areas for development
|Your teacher talk is economical and well graded, so students understand what to do at all times
You use your voice range and gestures well to reinforce /clarify your meaning
You do a great job adapting your teacher talk to the needs of the task and the learners. You use direct language and tone for instruction, and then more informal, natural (although well graded) language when in a more reactive role.
You have mastered the art of grading language for greater comprehension but keeping an adult-to-adult tone to your communications.
You have great wait time* for your learners and for yourself too. It takes confidence to slow down and actively plan your own output
|Create clearer instructions and increase the time students are on task by reducing unnecessary and confusing teacher talk. This can be done by reducing the echo* or top up*
Rehearse, script and practice your classroom language in order to reduce unnecessary teacher talk and to create greater clarity in your management
Try to find a way of keeping language simple/graded while avoiding talking to adults as if they were children. Expressions like ‘ok class, pay attention’and ‘look and listen to me’ can put off adult learners who are already feeling somewhat vulnerable because of their lack of language competence.
Breathe before you respond, take a little time to work out in your head exactly what you want to say before you speak – learners appreciate the space this technique creates
Try recording yourself in the future so you get a sense of where you can reduce any confusing extra teacher talk
* Echo Repeating what the learners say
* Top up Eliciting a satisfactory response but then adding in
additional, usually unnecessary information
* Wait time The time a teacher allows between a question/ comment and a
response. For example with lower levels learners need a
longer to produce a response to a question so rather than reformulate the question or repeat it a teacher can just gently wait a bit longer – wait time. It’s generally a very positive attribute in a teacher, with newer teachers tending to jump in too quickly.
Teacher Talk Observer Commentary
This activity works well groups of observers. The idea is to elicit impressions of the lesson and to give the teacher a personalized and written record of the feedback. It’s supposed to be secret but most people can work out who said what! If you give everyone the same color pen and mix the papers up at the end you might keep the secrecy
- Give each person in the group one piece of A4 paper with a reflection prompt written at the top
- Let everyone know that their comments may be read out so be gentle with each other!
- Each person writes a comment at the bottom of the paper, not letting anyone else see it
- Fold the paper up so that the next person can’t read the comment
- Pass the paper to the next person who writes their own comment based on the prompt at the top
- When all the group have written on all the papers they can be mixed up then read aloud or handed to the teacher
Example prompts are:
- Something I loved …
- Something l learnt or would copy …
- Something I would do to improve the lesson…
- Something I have seen the teacher improve in…
- Something I would like to know more about …
- Overall I feel the lesson was…
- I think learners would describe the lesson as…
- Three words that describe the lesson are…
Secret feedback handout
The teacher self reflection sheet is completed after the teaching and before the feedback. On initial training courses we ask for them immediately after the lesson. They are very useful as they allow you to see how the teacher feels about the lesson, if they can pick up their strengths and weaknesses etc, which in turn can guide how you deal with the feedback. It may not be necessary to cover something in feedback that the teacher shows they are fully aware of. Sometimes when I feel the teacher’s understanding of the lesson is very different to my own, I annotate the sheet, perhaps with leading questions or comments and return it to the teacher before oral feedback. This gives the teacher a chance to process and reflect on the observers take on the lesson and can reduce any unwanted surprises.
You may also find that teachers tend not to fully fill in the first box, the most successful elements of the lesson as they are modest or worried about ‘getting it wrong’. In these cases I often return the sheet and ask for it to be completed fully, pointing out that there good things in every lesson.
Sample teacher self reflection sheet download
|What aspects of your lesson today were successful? What made them successful?
|What progress do you feel you have made?
|What aspects of the lesson were less successful? Why?
|What would you change if you taught this lesson again?
|What would you like to ask about? What are you still unsure about?
Unnecessarily high teacher talk is the bane of most trainers on initial training courses. New teachers seem to equate talking at the front of the class with teaching and learning. The fact that many of the learners have very low levels of listening comprehension seems to mean little to new teachers.
On initial training courses we take a two-prong approach at reducing high TT. The first is to explain about efficiency in meeting aims. Teacher talk is fine if it is meeting the aim of the activity. Hence, if the teacher’s aim is to set up a student task then the language needs to be graded, clear and economical. Instruction wording should start with an imperative form and be supported with gesture/demonstration and checked where necessary. However, the teacher’s language will change tone, and vocabulary base if they are working with a learner to untangle a lexis or grammar meaning issue, this becomes more of a dialogue although the teacher’s language still needs grading and checking. Teacher language needs to efficiently meet the aim of what the teacher is trying to achieve at that point. However, to be fair many new teachers struggle to understand the aim of what they are doing but that is another article!
Another approach we use is to set out our expectation of the level of teacher talk we want based on the type of lesson, for example:
Input skills (reading /listening) 10 – 15%
Language (lexis or function) 15 – 20%
Production (speaking or writing) 10 – 15%
**The figures above came from polling many teacher trainers over many years.
For example in a 40 – minute lesson, if the plan shows T/S for 16 minutes, it means that there are 24 minutes left for individual, pair and group work. The teacher has planned to be at the front for 40% of the lesson, which should set-off the observers alarm bells.
High levels of teacher talk can lead to:
- A slow pace
- Lots of frustrating down time for learners (as the teacher is doing all the talking)
- Learners not being on task leading to management issues with bored students
- Confusion with learners not understanding everything the teacher is saying
- Low levels of individual support from the teacher and a lack of collegial atmosphere
|Tip for the lesson observer
1 Check the teachers plan is labeled with accurate interaction patterns
2 Add up the time spent on T/S and S/T, S/S or S
3 Calculate the interactions as a percentage of the entire lesson
4 If the T/S interaction is over 25% ask yourself:
· does the lesson type merit it?
· can the lesson be easily made more learner centered?
· Is the teacher using the most efficient to meet the stage aim?
Managing teacher talk V1