Making things up… during observed lessons

Last weekend I had a pretty scary lesson observation…

I’ve been observed more at British Council Thailand than in any other teaching job, which is to me a good thing. There have been formal observations twice a year, observations during training courses like the CELTA YL extension, short management observations during teaching/learning reviews, peer observation schemes, the list goes on…

Personally, I think there are things we can do to optimise our observation procedures. I touched upon one of these in this IATEFL-related post. However, I can’t argue with the amount of opportunities we have to get feedback on our teaching from managers and peers.

Anyway, about the weekend. I’m lucky – my current boss and I get on alright. She was my tutor on last year’s CELTA young learner extension course, and she’s well aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I like her feedback style and I welcome her comments as they are always constructive. She unnerves me a bit during observations with the way she stares, yawns and subconsciously shakes her head, but she never reads this blog so I can get away with saying that.

My rapport with the boss should have put me at ease – so why was this observation particularly scary? Well, because I decided beforehand that I wasn’t going to try and impress anyone. What do people learn about me as a teacher if they constantly see me trying to put on a performance? During peer observations I’m normally just myself, but whenever a manager comes to observe I feel like I’m being judged – like I have to ‘up my game’ or something. In particular, I feel I have to stick to the plan rigidly.

My biggest fear is being criticised for going ‘off-piste’. Ultimately, the decision to follow a different path in the lesson rests with me. I react to what I think the students need. There are times when I get this wrong, but the more experience I gain the more I feel I’m getting this right. The trouble is, you need a pretty understanding observer if you’re going to hand them a lesson plan and talk it through like this…

Me: So, we’re going to review these grammar points, do a bit of controlled practice and then I have this freer practice activity… (blah blah)

Observer: Ok, that sounds nice…

Me: But, well the thing is, I’m going to assess their knowledge of this grammar point at first. If they know it then I won’t waste time with much of this controlled stuff.

Observer: Right…

Me: Actually, like, I might just… not do it. And this speaking bit… well, they’re the type of class that will totally go for that. So, we might end up reviewing some other language, like giving opinions, and… it just depends, right? It depends what they need

Observer: Okay… (sounding unconvinced)

Me: But then, like, if it turns out that they really struggle with the grammar point, but I don’t think they will, but if they do… I’ll do more on that… I guess really I’m playing it by ear. I mean, I’ve planned stuff, but…

Observer: Ok, what exactly are you doing? What’s your aim? What are the outcomes for the learners?

Me: Yeah. Fair question. I guess, well, I’m not entirely sure yet…

It’s not just an understanding observer you need. You do need a bit of confidence. Importantly, you need a class that trust you, and know that you are working with them and responding to their needs. Well, I have an awesome class so I guess that bit was covered.

What actually happened?

I’ve exaggerated that conversation above! Most of my lesson stuck to a plan, sorry to disappoint. I did get to one stage though, and felt myself drifting…

Gateway B1+ (Macmillan)

Students completed the above statements, and were discussing their opinions. Something was missing for me… A few weeks ago we were doing some work on spoken fluency using various phrases for agreeing/disagreeing/accepting the opinion of others, etc. I quickly dug out the flip chart (Interactive whiteboards can have their benefits) with this language on it to review.

Students repeated the task with a new partner, this time developing their ideas further. That’s it – nothing really! Plus, if my planning had been better then it probably would have included doing that in the first place!

The result was that 10 minutes of my plan was ‘lost’. That was actually 15 minutes if you include my lapse timings.

Hang on, that wasn’t the result. The result was that the learners reviewed some useful phrases, upgraded their language during a speaking task, and could better express their personal opinions on some difficult topics.

My feedback? Well, I taught the learners and not the plan – I knew I’d do that. My boss complimented me on getting almost half an hour of speaking out of a teen class. She ignored the loose staging, suggested that the way I reacted to learner needs was justified, and gave me the overall feeling that she trusts what I’m doing. Phew.

What’s more, I haven’t been struck down by any CELTA Gods yet for not achieving the aims I wrote on the lesson plan… I’ve been walking down the road in fear all week though.

Feature image: (c) brainless tales

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4 comments

  1. Enjoyed reading this! The best lesson I did over there had no language point and for 20 mins, the students didn’t speak but mimed scenarios. After I dealt with emergent language and they added that as voice overs for their mime. I was fortunate in that my line manager didn’t place a huge importance on defining linguistic aims before the lesson, but rather on seeing what came up during the lesson. It was liberating in a sense because to me, as you described, observations can feel rigid and overly formal! Your lesson sounds cracking with a good amount of process language added in!

    Liked by 1 person

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