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Setting up observations

September 13, 2005

Observing teaching is an essential aspect of quality assurance. Understandably, however, teachers feel nervous about observations and the system needs to be handled with care if it is not produce a neagtive reaction. One way of making the observation system less threatening is to have peer observation. If teachers observe each other they should be able to establish a sense of mutual support rather than of being under critical scrutiny.

Another possibility is for a video to be set up to film classes and then the teachers can watch their own performance. The film can then be used in a number of ways (with the teacher's permission). The teacher could discuss the class with the DOS, making his or her own comments on strengths and weaknesses. Parts of it might be shown to the other teachers if particular points of interest come up.

I think it is helpful if observations are frequent and become an accepted part of the teaching routine. What the school needs to be sure of is not so much that a teacher can pull the occasional great lesson out the hat for a rare observation, but that ordinary classroom routines are handled well on a daily basis. Does the teacher give clear instructions and check that they have been understood? Can the teacher repsond to students' learning styles? Are lessons well paced and varied so as to keep students interested? Is the teacher efficient in the use of materials and equipment?

Of course, obervation will reveal some faullts in the teachers' performances but if a mutually suppportive atmosphere is established, they can work together to achieve improvements. A teacher having a particular problem could observe somebody who is good in that area. Teaching is not a mechanical activity and everybody has strengths and weaknesses. It is thus important to take note of what each teacher does well and to play to those strengths. If one teacher is good at handling grammatical work, then try to balance the timetable so that this is reflected in the classes they are given. You might set up an option for studentss to focus on grammar with that teacher.

With the right system, observations make a vital contribution to quality assurance so it is worth thinking about what will work best in your school.

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