I love to hate formal observations

I mentioned in one of my previous posts that my next post was going to be about formal observations cause well, loads of people are talking about them, and I thought, I’d join in. Now, loads of time has gone by since I said that, and this post has been sitting in my drafts section for quite a while now, but now is the time. Let’s talk about observations and formal observations (observations that are assessed).

So here is what I think. Formal observations are necessary, but evil (tell us how you really feel Jo). Now, evil is used for dramatic purposes. Before I go all full on about what I dislike about formal observations, I will start off with what I like about observations in general. You learn. You get constructive feedback and you see your teaching through someone else’s eyes. If you are a stronger personality, you may even ask the person observing you to pay attention to one of your weaknesses and give you tips on how to deal with that weakness. They help you improve, think out of the box, and maybe even approach a lesson differently next time. Anyone can observe you. A new teacher can give you fresh ideas a more seasoned teacher may give you practical tips and vice versa.

BUT as I said earlier, formal observations are not my cup of tea. Why? Cause even if you are the best eva prepared and qualified teacher, there is someone who is there looking at you,assessing you,  and this is stressful.

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Assessment and formal observations

In cases where formal observations are part of a diploma/certificate, they become a ‘tool’ of assessment.Someone is  assessing you based on what? Criteria. Criteria set by whom? Do these criteria fit all teaching contexts, situations, learners and teachers?

So, my next question now is, if you have a 3-4 formal observation, will they really showcase how good or bad a teacher you are? And before you say… ”that’s not why formal observations take place Joanna”. I will ask you, “so why assess then?” That’s why, for me, the assessment part of formal observations shouldn’t exist. In my little brain, the sole purpose of an observation should be to help you find ways to become a better teacher. Does assessment take that away? Yes, when you are box ticking.

Now you may say, “Yes, but in order to get a certificate/diploma, we need to formally observe you and assess you.” Sure you do, but just cause I pass the assessment criteria, doesn’t mean I know how to teach. I could have read all the criteria and made a lesson that fits these crtieria, couldn’t I? Or I could be teaching this way to pass the criteria but in real life, I neva, eva teach like that.

And anyway, what is a perfect/ good lesson? Who defines good or bad? Finally, (this is just a question that will probably piss you off) but isn’t the person assessing you, assessing you the way s/he thinks the lesson should be because the criteria have become embedded in their brain?

So what do I suggest?

Of course I am in a position to make decisions, but in my perfect little pink world this would happen. Observations wouldn’t be assessed. Period.There would be no box ticking.

I would observe, but not assess.

I would ask the teacher being observed to tell me what they want me to focus on (some people to do that). I would then make suggestions. Not assess.

I would ask for lesson plans after the observation. I would give the teacher the time to sit down and write a lesson plan after the observed lesson. Don’t get me wrong, the teacher can make a little lesson plan prior to his/her lesson, but, I, the observer would get it after the lesson. Why? Cause for me, one of the hardest and most stressful part of a formal observation was sticking to my lp.

Final thoughts

I have had some very enlightening and helpful observations in my teaching career. I have gained a lot from them. How should teachers be assessed in order to get a diploma? I dunno. That’s not the purpose of this post!

Feel free to leave a comment in the section below. It’s all yours.

Till next time ………

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3 thoughts on “I love to hate formal observations

  1. Me too. Sometimes you get them from people whose integrity you don’t respect. Those are crap. My Dip ones were OK but a case of agree to disagree (Dogme) but knowing the tick boxes were hovering.

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  2. The formal observations at British Council are simple. Each teaching skill is marked at one of three levels (essential, more demanding, most demanding). If you got most demanding for everything then you’d be the perfect teacher, so that doesn’t happen. The system is designed just to say ‘you’re working at this level, here’s what you could do to develop to the next level’. The observer still makes a judgement, but its not pass/fail, and you have a long feedback session afterwards to discuss the ins and outs of the lesson. I hate being formally observed as I get nervous, but I think the system here is fine.

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