Take one stressed teacher, a fairly random group of learners, add a new person in the 500_F_34333839_nK1vFrLmpwZTTnhwhVp1txh2VpOm5AVjroom, perhaps a dash of technology and lesson mishaps shouldn’t really be a surprise.

I once observed a teacher spend 6 minutes doing a complex reseating task, where everyone moved but ended up sitting next to the same people!  The best bit was that everyone got the giggles as they realized what had happened.

No teacher ever gets every aspect of the lesson right every time.  As a lesson assessor, one way to deal is to look at how well the teacher reacts and recovers when things go wrong. Firstly note if they are aware there is a problem and then if they can respond rather than just keep pushing on.   Check if they can they reboot, adapt, modify a task on the spot or drop it if needed. This ability usually shows experience. It takes confidence and knowledge to quickly and even seamlessly adapt a task to a group, especially during a stressful observed lesson.  If you are watching a very good teacher you may need to refer to the plan to pick up adaptations.

Sometimes things have gone so far awry that adaptation is not going to work. In these cases can the teacher laugh an error off, or even keep going when all they really want to do is leave the room and have a good cry?  Recovery is a part of being flexible, responsive and professional, and therefore a skill to be highly valued. As an observer give weight to the ability to recover, at least equal to whatever caused the problem in the first place

For feedback below is suggested commentary – adapt at will!

Positive feedback comments Areas for development
Well done, for making such a smooth recovery. It’s normal in any class for things not to go quite to plan but you showed yourself to be flexible and able to deal with the unexpected It’s not the end of the world if things don’t go to plan and sometimes is ok to say ‘whoops’. Our learners don’t expect teachers to be perfect. Don’t focus on the problem, just move on and try something else.
I like that you didn’t get flustered when it all went off plan. Your sense of humor and patience really helped to keep things moving. If things go pear shaped try to slow down, sit down and reboot or just acknowledge it didn’t work and try the next task. Students are very forgiving and you can always come back to something in the next lesson.
You answered all the questions on the target language in an informed way. With that complex student question, I feel you were right to say that you would come back to her in the next lesson once you had checked it yourself. Much better to defer an answer than to give an inaccurate one The unexpected is always going to happen!  If you are not sure what to do or say just breathe and take some time to think how you will respond.  It’s ok to defer your response. It’s fine to say: I’ll deal with that later when I have checked the answer.

 

 

 The ranking task can be used as a summative record of the lesson and or a springboard for discussion with group or one-to-one (including peer) observations. The task headings can be changed according to your context.  You may want to rank the actual headings in order of importance, as the different headings invariably don’t carry equal weight. Note, that some teachers will focus on the ‘end score’ by adding up the totals, which can distort the trainer’s message. I would suggest using the ‘overall comment’ box at the end to make the main message clear.

The ranking task can be managed in different ways:

  • For a group observation it can be interesting if everyone completes their own and then compares at the end
  • Complete the table in pairs and compare and discuss any differences or similarities with the trainers sheet
  • For individuals the table can be completed by the teacher as a post lesson reflection task which is then compared with the trainers

Key:

  • Agree strongly with the statement
  • Agree with the statements
  • Neutral
  • Disagree with the statement
  • Disagree strongly with the statement
The teacher had good rapport with the learners. 1     2    3     4     5
Instructions were clear, learners knew what to do. 1     2    3     4     5
Materials and tasks were appropriate. 1     2    3     4     5
Learner groupings were appropriate. 1     2    3     4     5
Lesson pace was good. 1     2    3     4     5
Teacher used the board well. 1     2    3     4     5
There was a range of student interactions. 1     2    3     4     5
Teacher elicited well. 1     2    3     4     5
Teacher monitored effectively. 1     2    3     4     5
Learners enjoyed the class. 1     2    3     4     5
Students learnt in the class. 1     2    3     4     5

 

Overall Comment

 

 

 

 

 

Many new teachers struggle to create effective instructions.  On our courses we say that verbsall classroom task instructions should start with a verb.  For instance, ‘sit down, stand up, do exercise 6’ etc.

It’s a simple but really effective rule. It takes out all embedded language, complex polite forms, and reduces rephrasing. Some trainees find the directness feels rude but as a trainer you can demonstrate that tone and attitude can convey politeness and that for learners the priority is to understand the task.

This feedback task works best with a group observation. Divide the observers into teams question markor 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.

 

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

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

Positive comments 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