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TEFL Masterclass – Rethinking Classroom Observations: Welcome to the Classroom Visit

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Neil Harris – Teacher Trainer & Director of Marketing at CELT Language School

Neil Harris started his career in ELT in 1993 after completing a CTEFLA with IH London. He quickly realized that language learning and teaching was his true passion. Neil has worked in a variety of roles in the UK and Italy, including as a teacher, Senior Teacher, EAP Lecturer, DoS, Teacher Trainer, Business Development Manager, and Director of Marketing. Currently, Neil focuses on developing online ESP medical English and teacher development programmes in his role in agent-based marketing and course development.

What you will learn

How many of us feel that lesson observations organised by our managers have a genuinely positive role to play in our ongoing personal development as teachers?

The evidence suggests that teachers can view such observations, particularly when the observation focus is purely evaluative, as part of external quality assurance and control measures rather than as tools which are directly relevant to their continuous professional development.

This workshop reframes lesson observations as classroom visits and provides suggestions for different visit types and how thought to what happens before, during and after the visit can turn a sometimes feared event into a mechanism for positive and relevant professional development.

Workshop Summary

Introduction to Classroom Visits:

Neil Harris introduces a paradigm shift from traditional ‘classroom observations’ to a more supportive approach called ‘classroom visits’. The transition is prompted by the anxiety and negativity often associated with traditional observations.

Transitioning from Evaluation to Growth:

The traditional observational method tends to give teachers the impression of being judged. By reframing this as a ‘classroom visit’, the focus shifts from mere lesson delivery assessment to holistic growth. It addresses processes preceding, during, and post-visit, aiming to change the perspective from performance assessment to professional development.

Neil’s Personal Insight:

Neil’s sentiment about the restrictive nature of traditional observations dates back to his early career as a teacher trainer in the mid-2000s. He advocates for genuine interactions that emphasise real-time teaching dynamics over staged lesson delivery.

Advocating for Teacher-Led Development:

Traditional methods are often institution-centric, offering minimal flexibility to tailor to a teacher’s developmental requirements. Neil proposes a ‘classroom visit’ system, allowing teachers to set their growth agendas. This model includes diverse visit types like peer observations, self-reflections via recordings, and community-based feedback sessions with necessary student consents.

The Three-Phase Approach to Classroom Visits:

Effective classroom visits follow a tri-phase model: pre-visit, during the visit, and post-visit, akin to a sandwich. It emphasises collaborative dialogues between observer and teacher both before and after the visit, ensuring clarity on visit objectives and feedback.

Holistic Approach to Observations:

To derive maximum value from observations, teachers should define their objectives. They can request targeted feedback on specific areas, understanding evaluation criteria, and use tailored feedback tools. During the observation, the emphasis should remain on real-time teaching and flexibility. Subsequent self-reflection and post-visit dialogues with the observer allow for growth-centric discussions and goal-setting.

Concluding Remarks:

While evaluative observations are unavoidable, they can be more constructive with clear objectives, mutual respect between the teacher and observer, and embracing varied observation techniques. Neil recommends the Gallery Teachers website as a resource hub for educators seeking to hone their skills. He concludes, looking forward to continued discussions on the topic.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. How do you feel when you are observed teaching? Why do you feel this way?
  2. Besides being observed by a manager, what other types of observation have you heard of and/or experienced?
  3. Besides the time the observer spends watching your lesson, what other time do you spend together? Do you meet before and/or after the lesson and if so, what happens?
  4. Lesson observation often involves a post-lesson feedback discussion on what happened in the lesson but less often includes feedforward. What do you understand by feedforward and how can it help you?
  • Melia-Leigh, B. and Northall, N. (2020) ETpedia teacher training: 500 ideas for teacher training in English language teaching. Shoreham-by-Sea: Pavilion Publishing and Media Ltd.
  • Organising classroom observationTeachingEnglish. Available at: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/publications/resource-books/organising-classroom-observation
  • O’Leary, M. (2020) Classroom observation a guide to the effective observation of teaching and learning. London: Routledge.
  • Wajnryb, R. (1992) Classroom observation tasks a resource book for language teachers and Trainers. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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