March 3

Peer Observations

We have peer observations coming up as part of our school’s on-going professional development programme and in our most recent meeting we discussed the process.  Huge thanks to all my colleagues for such fabulous input!

How do you decide who or what to observe?

What’s your reason for wanting to observe?  What do you see as the desired outcome of the observation? You might want to observe:

  • Someone with the same level so you can compare and contrast, compare their progress against your own, get ideas for activities
  • Someone with a different level or age group which you haven’t taught before to gain a wider range of experience
  • Someone with a different teaching style
  • Someone with more experience in a certain area
  • Someone who is more recently qualified
  • Someone with a strength in a certain area

What do you need to do before the observation?

Once you know who you’re observing, it’s important to get together and establish your objectives for the observation.  Here are some questions to consider:

  • What is the observer specifically focussing on?
  • Is there anything which the teacher being observed would like specific comments on afterwards?
  • What role is the observer going to take during the observation?
  • Is there anything which it is useful to know about the class before the observation?

The joy of peer observation is that it is a two-way process, an opportunity for both teachers to forge connections and improve their teaching.  However, whilst the teacher being observed may not have a specific focus, it’s important before the observation to ascertain boundaries, so that the observer knows what kind of feedback the teacher would like.  The observer’s role should be that of a constructively interested friend and any feedback on the lesson should provide suggestions and support rather than criticism.

Whilst considering boundaries, the role of the observer during the lesson should also be carefully considered before the lesson: on the one hand a great deal can be learnt by becoming actively involved in the lesson, either as a “student” or assistant but peer observation should not be confused with peer teaching and it’s important as well to take time during the lesson “out of the lesson” so that you can adequately reflect on what’s happening at the time.

So, what should you do during the lesson?

Consider your focus for the observation, do you think a specific observation task would be useful?

You can find examples of observation tasks on the Internet:

Demand High ELT provide three in-depth observation tasks (and a fourth for self-observation)

This article from the TESOL-France Journal also provides a variety of tasks focussing on classroom interactions and instructions amongst other things

EF also provide a range of tasks, including post-observation reflection

Scrivener’s Learning Teaching (Macmillan, 2005) also has a number of classroom observation tasks in the appendix.  There is a pdf copy of the appendix here

And what about after the lesson?

  • Praise and thank the teacher
  • Reflect and perhaps work on an action plan
  • Share with colleagues

It’s essential to find a good chunk of time after the lesson: not so soon after that you haven’t had a chance to reflect, but soon enough that the lesson is fresh in your head.  As I mentioned before, the process of peer observation is an opportunity to forge connections and it’s a wonderful chance to sit down with someone who you perhaps only see in passing, in between lessons when you’re dashing to pick up copies or drop off a register; take this chance to go out for a coffee or a beer (or a gin-tonic) and chat about more than just the lesson.

This was my (brief) post on a previous peer observation experience, but looking back now I can remember how enjoyable the post-observation chat was as although it started as a focussed discussion on the lesson, it quickly expanded and developed, providing me with ideas for all sorts of classes, levels and ages.

But what’s the point?

Why go through this process?  It’s time-consuming for all involved and means a significant investment of both time and money on the pàrt of the employers…is it worth it?

To quote my boss, “This is about as professionally developmental as professional development gets.”

  • it provides reassurance and a refreshing outlook on our teaching
  • it encourages reflection and challenges the teacher
  • it’s an opportunity to share good practice
  • we learn through and from others
  • it promotes good staff dynamics and helps build relationships
  • it’s (hopefully) less stressful than a more formal observation
  • it’s inspiring
  • it reinforces our own methods and ideas
  • it’s a two-way process, everybody benefits from both observing and being observed

November 17

Newsela #4

The following is an extract taken from the Newsela website to be used in a training session on using EdTech in the ELT classroom.

In the age of smartphones, teachers and educators find themselves saying the same things: Put your cellphone away. Stop texting. Stop looking at Instagram.

Most teenagers today have never known a world without smartphones.

The Pew Research Center reported that 95 percent of all teens currently have access to or own a smartphone. And 45 percent of all teens are online almost constantly. That leaves educators the daunting challenge of teaching those whose attentions are at least partially distracted.

Most schools have policies banning or regulating phone usage during school hours. Teachers are now routinely finding themselves confiscating devices or writing up students for using their phones.

Educators are now exploring more drastic measures.

This school year, over 1,000 schools nationwide will be using Yondr, a pouch system that allows students to lock away their phones while in class.

Magnetic Locking Devices

Each morning when students arrive at school, they magnetically lock their devices into their own personal green-and-gray pouches. They maintain possession of their pouches containing devices, but cannot unlock them until the end of the school day. They can tap them on unlocking magnet stations available throughout the school.

The concept is not new. Musicians and performers have been using Yondr to prevent people from filming their gigs since the San Francisco, California-based company launched in 2014.

In recent years, more schools have started using the pouches to keep kids off their phones during school hours. Dozens of schools in the Bay Area alone use them.

“Demand has tripled this year,” Yondr spokesperson Kelly Taylor said.

October 10

Last to leave

Last to leaveIt may be early days, but so far this term this is proving to be an effective classroom management technique to limit Spanish in the class.

It’s a simple “button” which I stick next to a student’s name when they speak Spanish.  When another student speaks Spanish, the button moves.  Whoever has the button at the end of the class stays behind to help tidy up…wiping off the board, putting the tables and chairs straight, etc.

It’s handy as well as they police each other!


February 25

Classroom Management Ideas

My diary gets filled up with bits of paper – notes from meetings, from development sessions, random scraps with names and telephone numbers on, and so on!  In a bid to tidy up my diary a little, I’m going to type up some notes from an input session we had at work…one less piece of paper to carry around.
It was a session on dealing with large classes, but a lot of the ideas which came out would work with any class.  Here are a few…
  • Engage the whole class at the start of the lesson, with a drill or something similar.  My colleague Ceri Jones has a great activity in which she divides the class into two teams, A and B.  She says a question and then says either A or B.  If she says A, team A repeat the question and B answer.  It encourages everyone to listen as they need to know what the question was and which team is going to ask it.
  • Think about how you can address the group rather than the individual – if you have a class of fifteen students and want to spend a minute with each one, what are your other students doing for the fourteen minutes when your attention isn’t focussed on them?
  • Do you have an effective points sytem?  Is it based on the individual, a team or the whole class?
  • What role do fast-finishers have?  We often use those quick students as helpers and correctors, but do they know how to do this effectively?
  • Think about the level of noise in the classroom.  Michael Linsin suggests a scale so everyone knows what’s expected of them at any one time.
  • Finally, think about the things you do on a daily basis and whether they could be done more effectively.  For example, writing the students’ names on the board takes time at the start of every lesson – could you have them pre-prepared on paper, or ask a student to do it?