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November 09, 2005

English Teaching Classroom Observations

ESL Class Observation.jpg

"This inescapable duty to observe oneself: if someone else is observing me, naturally I have to observe myself too; if none observe me, I have to observe myself all the closer." ~ Franz Kafka

Yes, we are required to have them from time to time and they are pain in the neck. But, are they really helpful or just more red tape to cut through to keep our jobs safe? I’m talking about the classroom observations that are often conducted by our peers or, in some cases, our employers.

Speaking for myself, I’ve had relatively good feedback from these activities that have served to improve my teaching methodology. When I say “good” I mean constructive, i.e. useful, criticism. On the other hand, I’ve heard some horror stories from my colleagues. Many schools, like mine, require them as part of your job but put the responsibility of scheduling for them on your shoulders. That means you have to go look these people up (other teachers) and somehow arrange for them to sit through a whole class and then submit a signed write-up that you then sign yourself and file with the department. Time consuming to say the least!

The worst part is that very often, the “peers,” as we call them, forget to show up or schedule in other things for that day at the last moment: basically sending you the signal that your job is not important to them. I always get irritable this time of the semester chasing down various people around the campus. So unorganized!

According to a post I recently read by Lynne Wolters (found here), there now exists highly innovative software that can actually do classroom observations for you (so it claims). Have any of you heard of this (or tried it?) It’s called “eCove” and, apparently, it “removes the guess work and opinion from the classroom observation process. It captures and combines empirical data to give a far more accurate view of classroom behavior than any other software tool on the market.” Sounds like a very tall allegation! It also sounds like a person must still be involved to "input" the data. Am I wrong?

I’d love to hear your comments on the subject of peer-review classroom observations in the ESL field and the possibility of having real people “replaced” with some kind of software or robot! Especially if the end-user, i.e. our employers, are using this stuff to determine if we are acceptable teachers or not. Yikes!

With serious consternation,

Lee Hobbs
ESL Instruct, Editor-in-Chief

Posted by lhobbs at November 9, 2005 03:33 PM

Readers' Comments:

man i just hate it when somebody goes to look in on my class.i feel so insecure when i think that my every word is being recorded or thought about.i hear some english schools in europe use cameras now so they don't have to actually come in anymore.now that's scary folks.

Posted by: TEFL Dweeb at November 9, 2005 07:02 PM

Lee e-Cove is a software program that requires human observation and recording. We use this software with our student teachers and in ed tech classroom research activities. This might also be a good tool for teachers working on their national certification.

Our student teachers find it particularly useful feedback. It gives them concrete information and removes the potential concern the observer "just doesn't like them". Our student teachers like havin data in addition to their relationships with cooperating and supervising teachers.


Note from Lee: Thanks for that helpful information Lynne. We do like to know what's going on in ESL field on all fronts. I like the fact that a teacher can't be given a bad score due to a personality clash with the observer. That is indeed a potential problem sometimes! The feedback opportunity also sounds particulalry useful.

Posted by: Lynne Wolters at November 9, 2005 11:03 PM

What is going on with these new bloggers who are copying my name? Geek, Dweeb, next thing I know somebody's going to pop up on here blogging called "TESOL Dork"

I definitely think letting your fellow ELT teacher peer review you is not a wise idea. The students are going to walk all over you, and do you really think your staff buddy is going to objectively evaluate you when the two of you really are only worried about stiffing the real administrator on a daily basis, who should be the one observing your class in the first place! Let's face it knowing the average teacher your main concern is letting class out early, doing a mininum or prep, and where are you going to get cheap beer that night around town when your evening shift ends. Give the students a real chance, put in a real observer. So let's forget these alternative methods of observation and get the good old boss back in there! That's what he's for, and it's the only way the poor students are going to get their full lessons worth! Better yet, get a camera in the room so everyone can see what you're doing in there

Posted by: ESL Nerd at November 10, 2005 03:12 AM


Note from Lee:

ESL Nerd, let's try to keep things civil on this blog :) We realize that your name is special (what's a geek but a circus folk that eats live animals or something, isn't that right?) Anyway, I hope you were only being sarcastic with your interesting comment. That perspective certainly won't go over big at the next teacher's meeting (or union meeting like they have at my institution) - siding with the boss that is.

But that is a good point about objectivity. How can the students or one's peers truly be objective? You might check out the comments about the evaluation softwared that another blogger commented on. It still takes a human to put the data in but the questions and responses are designed in such a way to be objective (so it claims). Might that be a better solution (or is it just a cop-out)?

Posted by: Lee at November 13, 2005 09:25 PM

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