Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘feedback’

What exactly is BEST PRACTICE in Classroom Observation?

In Classroom Teaching, ELT and ELL, Teacher Training on 23/06/2012 at 12:25 pm

…our topic for today (boyz n’ girlz) is…

…but this is the Madonna-free, PG-rated version – the version that will ensure I steer well-clear from any complaints from some obscure “internet trading and advertising organisation” (or worse – more “hate mail”)!

A few weeks ago those lovely chaps at ELTchat (check them out on twitter, too – #eltchat – there are some really great discussions) – had a virtual chin-wag on allthingsobservation.

As I had been banging about classroom observation (the recent series on “Misfires” and “Advice for Observers”), I just had to sign upProblem was…I found meself on a high-speed train (from Eskişehir) at exactly the same time. As good as the wonders of a 3G iPad might be, tweet I could not!

A couple of tweets did manage to get through:

Now, you can imagine how I was feeling – someone who loves to “talk” as much as I does, someone who has so much to “say” about classroom observation (and how we seem to screw it up – again, and again, and again)! I felt a bit like a kid who had been grounded and sent up to his room during his favourite TV show…but could hear snippets of the show’s dialogue upstairs in his room (this actually happened to me quite a lot when I was a kid – missed so many episodes of the “Six Million Dollar Man” you just would not believe it)…

Marisa Constantinides (aka @Marisa_C) to the rescue!

Marisa and I had chatted before the session and I’d said “I’ll be there”!

Famous last words…

She knew how upset I was that I missed the twitter shin-dig and asked if I’d like to “get my voice back” by doing a podcast with her ELTchat partner-in-crimeJames Taylor (aka @theteacherjames).

Yeah, it was like mum n’ dad had forgiven me…and let me downstairs to see Steve Austin (and, from time-to-time, Jaime Sommers…and Maximillion – the bionic dog, too) “save” the day (in actual fact, this hardly ever happened when I was a kid…my mum and dad never backed down)!

Me and @theteacherjames had to overcome a few challenges – schedulesunplanned “flying visits”…and bloody Skype (even when you have to sell a kidney every month to get the type of internet connection that, so they tell you, would even make God herself jealous)!

…@theteacherjames was a wonderful “first” for me! He was kind and considerate –  getting me all comfortable by chatting about football and the woes of actually setting up and editing podcasts. I couldn’t have asked for a better “podcast Jedi master”

Pretty soon we were on fire…he used a lot of the questions raised during the #eltchat twitter session (you can find the full transcript of the discussion – HERE).

I found that I relaxed pretty quickly and we ended up chatting for over an hour.

I’m guessing you’ll have to make up your own minds as to whether what we said to eachother makes sense or not (CLICK HERE – to listen to the edited version  the podcast) – James tells me that he’ll get up the full unedited version up (the ‘R’ rated version) very soon so watch his spot (and maybe play around with PodOmatic itself!

I think MarisaJames and all the other #eltchatterers would love to hear what you think (go on, add a comment or three to this post)!

In the original discussion, a lot of the participants shared a wide range of resources on classroom observation:

OK – I cheated (just a tweeny-weeny bit)! These last two were not mentioned in the original chat – but they should’ve been…and would’ve been if I hadn’t been on a stupid “hızlı tren”

These are also some of the musings I have thrown up on allthingslearning over the past couple of months – the weekend is coming up and you might fancy a bit of “bedtime reading” this weekend:

Oh, yes…and there was the “mega-series” (that went on almost as long as Dallas or Friends):

…there was MORE:

Now, looking back at all of this stuff – not so sure, am I – that it represents “Best Practice” in Classroom Observation…(this is why my second title works so much better)…

But, hey…if it gives you a couple of ideas for “Next Practice” in your context – maybe that’s not too shabby!

MarisaJames (and Mike)…

The Secret Diaries of Observees – Two Teachers Reflect…

In Classroom Teaching, Teacher Training on 15/04/2012 at 2:56 pm

Been a while since I did a post…been on the road a wee bit – my bad! But…we have had a few things on the go. This is one of those things…

We have banging on about allthingsobservation in recent weeks – and have been hooking up with friends as far away as Korea to do this. But, I’m going to come back to Eskişehirour “jewel” of the Turkish mid-west – for this one. Eskişehir has become something of a home-away-from-home for me this year (as those of you that get me tweets as I am racing along at 250 km/hr on our “hizlı tren” will know).

Love the place!

In fact, I still have plans to “kidnap” and “steal” Yılmaz Hocam (Büyükerşen) and bring him to Ankaradon’t tell them..!


On a recent trip there, I had a few hours to spare (hey, I’m “semi-retired” these days – need to keep myself “busy”)…and asked if any of the staff at Anadolu University there wanted me to drop in and “observe” a few classes – and, give them a bit of feedback.

Two very brave souls –  Çağdaş Gündoğdu and Aysun Güneş from AÜ-SFL – stepped up to the plate and asked if I could pop into one of their classes. Both Çağdas and Aysun are full-time classroom teachers and also work as HLUs (Heads of Learning Unit) at the school.

I say “brave” – not because they invited me to their classes, but because Aysun had never been observed (after almost 10 years as a teacher) and Çağdaş just couldn’t remember the last time he had had an “observer” in one of his classrooms!


We didn’t have time to run a “full” observation cycle but we exchanged a few ideas via e-mail before the “drop-in visit” and held a post-conference a few hours after each visit. I was so impressed by the way both of them responded to the whole process that I asked if I could “interview” them – you know, to get a meta-view of the whole process and see what they thought about classroom observation in a wider sense.

This is a record of our discussion – I have had to “edit” a few things so any errors or oversights are totally mine!

Ahh! I’d like to point out – yes, I know you want me to get on with it – that I am so proud of both of them and the kind of leadership they are demonstrating (by agreeing to do this type of “post”).

Guys (or “Guy” and “Gal” – I remembered, Aysun)

…you are both “stars” – THANK YOU! 


Why did you both volunteer to have an “observer” come into to your class?

Çağdaş: I volunteered because I believe that we need cooperation for progress…either personal or institutional…it’s a key issue. An observer is like a mirror for me…through which we can see a different reflection…of ourselves.

Aysun: Since I started teaching I’ve always wanted to reflect on my professional development and be more aware of my teaching. That’s why…also…I’m a people person, I like to interact with people and this observation was a good chance for me to get the necessary feedback about Aysun as a teacher. Also, I was sure that not being observed before was a real drawback for my teaching…{laughs}…Also I became definitely sure after seeing your face when I said no one had observed my lessons before!


How did you feel, say, an hour before the session? 

Aysun: Before the session I felt a little…tense…and tried to prepare some notes for myself…to use during the lesson. But then…I changed my mind and decided to be spontaneous. When I entered the classroom, all the black clouds scattered…because I was in one the safest places…for me…in my classroom. 

Çağdaş: I was excited…but not nervous. I knew myself and I felt ready for the session. Also, I was impatient to find out how another person…a professional…saw me in action in class.


What about the students – how did they respond, do you think?

Aysun: In the lesson…the students were really eager to learn. I mean…they were attentive and ready for any kind of input. Actually…because their level of English is quite good…they are usually attentive and eager in most lessons. they didn’t seem worried at all…maybe a bit protective…of me. This was great!

Çağdaş: The students looked more focused on the lesson than on the observer…this was a good sign. This showed me that I managed to involve them in the tasks…and they did not panic or get nervous…because I was calm, I think. Generally, the students were really positive and enthusiastic to learn.



What was it like as the “monster” sat at the back of the class – how was it after so long?

Çağdaş: Honestly, I forgot that I was being observed…as I went on with the lesson. So, I can say that I was not bothered by the presence of another professional in the classroom…really…really! 

Aysun: {laughs} …a monster sitting at the back was not irritating…or demotivating.  I believe…if such a monster keeps that quiet and does not interfere with the lesson…like you did {laughs}…the situation won’t be irritating for the other teachers, too.


How did the feedback session go? How was this different to what you expected?

Aysun: When it comes to the feedback session…I can honestly say that it went great. I got invaluable feedback on my teaching, time management, teacher-student interaction and my students’ performance. During the feedback session, the observer {laughs} asked me some questions and most of the time he encouraged me to talk…REFLECT! At first, I started talking about the negative aspects…but again he encouraged me to start with the positive ones…they are important, too. 

Çağdaş: The feedback session was mostly on my reflections upon the lesson. It helped me to evaluate myself…letting me admit my shortcomings and become aware of my strengths. The observer was also positive and encouraging while I was self-assessing.


How did you feel after the session?

Aysun: After the feedback session, I felt satisfied and more aware of myself in terms of my teaching. Actually…I learnt that I have good time management skills and good interaction with my students.  On the other hand…I learnt that I needed to be more patient after asking a question. I mean…I need to wait after the question and I shouldn’t storm in as much.

Çağdaş: Don’t laugh…but I felt like I was reborn {laughs himself}. I felt like I was all brushed up and…could see better into my teaching. I was so pleased that I knew I would like more of these opportunities…being observed…and asked to analyse myself and given feedback on my performance.



What did you learn about yourself, your teaching, your students?

Çağdaş: I learned…understood…that I was a good motivator and instructor. Also, I found out that I was a good story-teller. Moreover, I realized that I was concerned with students’ feelings as well as their class performance. Besides, I became aware that I did my best to stick to the time limit for the exercises. However, I was the dominant figure in the classroom and that I needed to give students more talking time and allow them to take more initiative during the activities. As for my students, I realized that they were ready to learn more if they were encouraged and motivated well enough.

Aysun: To me, after the feedback session I can say that I realised I’m a good teacher…well, at least one who tries to improve herself.  Being more aware of my teaching is like a blessing. I learnt that my teaching was not problematic…in the big picture way…and also…I was so pleased with the way my students are working…trying to learn. One more thing…I became definitely sure about the interaction between me and my students…and how important it is…because having bonds between students and teachers is one of the key elements…the core element of the ideal classroom…and learning, of course.



What are you planning to do next? How will you build on the session?

Aysun: After this observation, I decided to read more on the wider training issue… because we need to learn more to be more like professionals. By doing this…I believe that I will be a good example for my colleagues. 

Çağdaş: I will certainly limit teacher-talking time and let students discover more by themselves and teach them not to be afraid of making mistakes…I’ll also help them be more responsible…for their own learning in class as well.



What would you recommend to other teachers – after all this?

Çağdaş: Every teacher should experience observation…like this…and be open to co-operation with other colleagues and professionals…it’s just…about a more efficient type of professional development…more personal.

Aysun: I would definitely recommend my friends to let trainers observe their lessons.  Because we cannot really observe ourselves during a lesson…I mean…this observation thing works just as a mirror. After the observation…it would be much easier to see the problems. Also these observations will help the teachers build experience…and be more open to others’ ideas and thoughts. That’s the benefit…real benefit.



What would you recommend to observers? How could they help you and other teachers best – in the future?

Çağdaş: For me…it’s really important that observers are always empathetic and encouraging to teachers…before, during and after the sessions. It’s a whole process…a package.

Aysun: When it comes to the observer…she…or he should be a people person who can communicate and interact with people well. Also, during the observation the observer should behave like a  ghost…INVISIBLE almost…I mean, they should be there physically but shouldn’t interfere with things. If observers do this type of thing, they can be really helpful to others.

Personal MISFIRES with Classroom Observation (…NOT Part 07)

In Classroom Teaching, Guest BLOGGERS, Teacher Training on 29/02/2012 at 2:09 pm

Those of you that have been following allthingslearning will have probably picked up that I have been “obsessed” with MISFIRES of late.

My daughter has just told me that she will unsubscribe from the blog, if I write Part 07 – so I will not! 

Michael Griffin (aka @michaelegriffin), working from Seoul, has done that…


Michael and I “met” and got chatting on Twitter (what a wonderful “community-builder” it is) as I built up my recent mini-series:

 Now, you see why my daughter is talking about emancipating herself from me and me blog!


I’d been planning on writing up a series on the “whoops-a-daisies” many of us face with classroom observation for ages – I started a few months ago and did an “exposé post” (CLASSROOM OBSERVATION – What Works, What Matters?) on what a “terrible observer” I must have been in my “youth”…



However, it was not until I came across a a couple of recent blog posts:

…that I decided to “pixilate” and “blogathon” my thoughts on why it is (IMHO) that we get it wrong just so bloody often.


I’m so happy to see that Michael has done an even better job in the “exposé post” department and really loved his willingness to be so open, honest and transparent

…these 3 little things ar so important to REAL LEARNing and helping us all avoid the misfires!

Thank you for sharing this Michael…


Michael’s post: 

Lately I have been doing a lot of work with Korean public school teachers who will be observers and mentors in their schools. I have been wanting to share my experience as an observee for quite some time…

Before I start I will share a little bit about the context of my story, which occurred at a language school attached to a university in Seoul. The language school had an intensive English program (among other programs) where students studied for 30 hours a week with a variety of teachers and had classes like reading, writing, listening, and grammar. Students at lower levels also had two speaking classes. One was called “Practical English” and the other was called “Learning to Speak.” The former was supposed to be more focused on accuracy and speaking in situations while the latter was focused on fluency and was considered a precursor to discussion classes…

Observations were generally a nebulous mix of development and evaluation. This means that suggestions and critical feedback (along with the occasional positive point) were given with an eye to improving teaching and overall customer satisfaction but the observations were also a chance for the Director to think about potential re-hirings.

Teachers didn’t really know what the criteria was and didn’t really know what to expect in the post lesson conference.  There was no checklist. There were no guidelines.

Also, teachers didn’t know when they would be observed. The director didn’t want teachers to prepare too much for the lesson and it seemed that she wanted to “catch” people teaching in their normal way. Of course, there was no pre-lesson conference or any discussion except, “I will be observing your next class in 15 minutes if that is OK.” There had to be a very good reason for it not to be OK and teachers almost always accepted this. 

From what I could gathered from experience and other teachers the post-lesson conference with the Director was generally pretty free flowing with the Director asking a (very!) few questions and then doling out suggestions and pointed critiques. 

Does this sound like a recipe for success in observation and feedback?

Click HERE to read on…

Why do we still have so many MISFIRES with classroom observation? (Part 06)

In Classroom Teaching, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Training on 29/02/2012 at 1:06 am

The REAL problem is that we educators – especially when we take on administrative or observation rolesjust “love” TELLing!

Maybe, it’s in our genes – maybe that’s why we become teachers and educators in the first place! However, as Marilee points out – this is not an issue in education alone. It’s all over – in every area of life…

We’re just better at it than most…with the exception of “politicians”, perhaps!


Think about itwhen we are in the classroom, what options (“modalities”, even) do we have to help us TEACH? Basically, I have found FOUR (tell me, if you know of more – and, no…”mime” does not count)…

As teachers, most of us know that “TEACHing by ASKing” is a lot more effective than “TEACHing by TELLing”… 

…but, as a profession, what do we (still) do most of?


This can (and does) also impact how we “do the business” of classroom observation, too.

Firstly, however, there’s the issue of how we see our “purpose” as an observer. If we see our role as “fixing” LEARNing and TEACHing “misfires” in the classroom – then, there’s a natural bias towards TELLing others how to do it. If we see our role as an observer in terms of supporting the improvement of classroom practice by helping teachers to reflect on their performance and plan for meaningful action, there’s much more scope (and “need”) for ASKing.

As we have been discussing, this focus on purpose and role is important. But, regardless of the aims and purpose of your observation programme – ASKing just beats TELLing…hands down!

And, you know what? – Teachers prefer it as ASKing allows them to do something they really enjoy!

If ASKing is for you – remember, just like asking the right questions, it takes practice. Try to keep an eye on how much of it you are doing. One thing I found really useful (as a younger observer – learning the ropes), was to apply our ideas from the TEACHing Matrix – to the Observers’ FEEDBACK Matrix.

I used this as a “reminder” but also to “weigh myself” after I did a feedback session with a teacher (as well as ASKing teachers for some feedback on how I “did” – as an observer). Most teachers will appreciate that – and, more importantly, it demonstrates that even “expert observers” can LEARN by REFLECTing.

Let’s stick with this notion of “reflection” for a minute!

It is a key element of almost all effective classroom observation programmes.

As we noted, all the best teachers ask themselves a lot of questions they have a lot of “reflective savvy”. And, if you are an observer – this type of teacher / observee is nothing short of a wet dream! 

…sorry, a gift from the heavens themselves!


Actually, with this type of teacher/observee – the problem is to try and “shut them up” and not allow them to beat themselves up too much in the process.

These observees know what they have done “right” – and they are very open about their “weaknesses” or “areas for improvement”. They are, if you will, great “self-discoverers”. They know why something “works” and are frequently great at coming up with “solutions” for the issues they identify (even, mini-action-research projects). The best of them love setting themselves challenges – and deadlines…and can’t wait to share the results with you!

As I said a…gift from the heavens!


The challenge is when we have someone who perhaps does not where to start or is not as “savvy” in the reflection stakes. This is where we need to think about how we get them from where they are now…to where they could be.

As we noted in Part 4, having a fit-for-purpose observation cycle is a great start for many observers and institutions – however, when we come to post-conferences or feedback sessions, we need to think about a “feedback cycle”.

This use of feedback cycles is not “new” – medical professionals have been doing this for years in their clinical practice with “doctors-in-training”. Indeed, they have come up with some pretty specific guidelines for how they should be doing the business of feedback in medicine:

We can clearly see the same kind of “logic” to the whole process – but, if you watch Grey’s Anatomy, you’ll see that doctors do not always walk-their-talk either!

If I was honest, I find models like Pendleton’s a bit “rigid” – they smell a bit too much like “school lockstep” for me – and, I’d find it difficult to have a more natural, LEARNing conversation with a teacher or observee if I “stuck” to the stages.

But the basic idea is there – if you want someone to reflectdo less TELLing yourself!


If we go back to what we were saying earlier about ASKing, I think we educators can probably come up with a better “feedback cycle” than Meredith Grey and her mates!

Oh, look – here’s a little something I prepared earlier!

This cycle basically takes what a teacher with a great deal of reflective savvy “does” – and uses it to help observers do a bit more “assisted discovery”. In essence, a feedback cycle like this is another bit of the “technology” we talked about earlier (Part 04) –  a roadmap to develop “reflective savvy” in observees.

The benefit of this approach is that we can allow the observee to start how every she wants and build a LEARNing conversation around her priorities. The “trick” is, of course, for the observer to use effective, non-judgmental questions to take the observee through the various stages.

For example:

We can see here that these types of questions allow observees to “discover” any areas that might need attention. The questions “prompt” reflection – and help when observees “miss” something. They allow both observer and observee to “explore” a lesson together in a conversation – which is what a feedback cycle should be.

Other questions can be used to explore “options” and “solutions”:

You just KNOW it makes sense…that is – until you meet the “observee-from-HELL”!

Yes, they do exist…and, they ARE out there!