Classroom Observation

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Properly conducted classroom observation is a powerful tool in the continuing professional development of teachers. The revised performance management arrangement for teachers, which came into force on 1 September, 2007, clearly set the expectation that classroom observations are to be developmental in nature and multi-purpose in usage. The Education ( School Teacher Performance Management) Regulations 2006 state that the total period of classroom observation allowed per performance management cycle should not exceed three hours and, in many cases, will be less, depending on individual circumstances.

The performance management regulations require that classroom observation, and the performance management cycle, should contribute to a teacher’s professional development and therefore should be conducted in a manner that equates to a professional dialogue. Being in the classroom as an observer opens up a range of experiences and processes which can become part of the raw material of a teacher’s professional growth. Observation is a multi-faceted tool for learning.

The experience of observing comprises more than the time actually spent in the classroom. It also includes preparation for the period in the classroom and follow-up from the time spent there. The preparation can include the selection of a focus and purpose and a method of data collection, as well as collaboration with others involved. Observation is a skill that can be learned and can improve with practice. It is often assumed, somewhat naively, that the ability to learn through observing classroom events is fairly intuitive.

In fact, while few would deny the role of intuition in the preparation of teachers, the ability to see with acuity, to select, identify and prioritize among a myriad of co-occurring experiences is something that can be guided, practiced, learned and improved. Observation can serve a number of people in a number of contexts towards a number of different ends. The observation may be initiated either by the teachers themselves or by the school, as part of a school-based support program for teaching staff, or beginning teachers, or newly employed teachers in an induction period.

Other observers include: i) Trainee teachers who observe teachers, other trainees and trainers as an important part of their own training process; ii) Teacher trainers who observe trainees teaching; iii) Teacher developers who observe teachers as part of a school-based support system; iv) Trainee trainers who observe teachers and trainee teachers. Classroom research:- Classroom research is research in a contextually defined setting, and in this respect it can be compared to research in courtrooms, doctors’ consultation rooms, family dining rooms, and so on.

Classroom research as context based analysis cannot have as its primary aim the immediate generalizability of findings. The first concern must be to analyze the data as they are, rather than to compare them to other data to see how similar they are. If we are too concerned about the comparison of data we will start shifting the data too soon, selecting similar bits and discarding dissimilar ones, looking for concepts that can be readily identified, named and classified, and becoming pressured to define those concepts in clear, unambiguous but, unfortunately, superficial and misleading terms.

Hymes has said that ‘educational research has tended to define problems in terms of variables common to all schools. ’ One of the problem with L2 classroom research is that there is such a tremendous variety of L2 classrooms. Bilingual education research is a good example of the necessity to take contextual information into consideration. In both practical and theoretical terms, bilingual education is a highly heterogeneous enterprise, and it is notorious that methods which work well in one situation may fail dismally in another.

Classroom Research and Second Language Development:- The success of a course of language studies in a classroomis judged in terms of the product, that is, the learners’ terminal proficiency. To do this a number of tests and examinations are available which measure that proficiency. However, the examinations themselves can never inform us of the role that classroom work played in the scores obtained. In the classroom interaction occurs interactionn between teachers, learners and materials. This is the essential element of the classroom.

An important step in the classroom is the image that the observer presents. Sometimes, no doubt, observers are perceived, as Rosen vividly puts it, as ‘ sinister figures in the wings, faintly contemptuous, armed with the paraphernalia of expertise and tapping ominously their research findings. ’ Such an image would be totally incompatible with ethnographic research which crucially depends on a relationship of trust. If the classroom ethnographer is regarded as an evaluator or inspector, the entire enterprise becomes impossible.

This is of central importance to Classroom Research. Neutrality in Classroom Research means studying the interaction as it occurs in the context, from the perspective of those that are being studied. This can be done through participant observation or non-participant observation. In the former, case the observer takes part in the interaction as teacher, co-teacher, or learner, and observes either covertly or overtly, with the knowledge and consent of the other partcipants. The most common form of classroom observation is undoubtedly non- participant observation.

Traditionally this has been done with the help of systematic observation instruments. Such instruments select a limited number of variables that are considered to be relevant, describe them in terms of surface features that can be easily noted by observers. Evaluative Research in the Classroom:- Researchers and educators may have many reasons for visiting classrooms in action. One of the most common reasons is to evaluate the lesson, the teacher or a learner. This task is often necessary within an institutional setting and may be valuable and important for observer and observed.

Some of the reasons for evaluating classrooms are:- a) Management check b) Evaluating teachers in training c) Evaluating/ comparing teaching methods and techniques, d) Apprenticeship; e) Control by centralized agencies. In the 1960’s, attention turned away from aptitude, it turned towards methods. Observation had not arrived at this point. Systematic classroom observation was included as a design feature in the very large- scale experiment that began just as the Colorado team publishe its report. Traditional’, ‘ functional skills’ and ‘ functional skills plus grammar’ were the three language teaching methodologies introduced by prominent foreign language educators. Classroom instruction under each of the three taeching methods was carried out during the 1965-66 school years. Observation was seen either as a much needed component of experimental resaerch or as the basic research tool for entire problems. Observation as a problem:- Observation was often seen as a problem.

The problem, was of course, how to observe trainees in such a way that the necessary final evaluations of their teaching ability would be valid. The problem of validity however was necessarily highly complex. Firstly, any classroom observations had themselves to be valid in the sense that they would accurately capture the events of the classroom. ‘Accurately’ meant here ‘ objectively’, the need for observations to get away from ‘ mere’ impressions and produce something was incontrovertibly a factual record of the classroom lesson observed.

The second aspect of the problem of validity, was even more recalcitrant. Classroom observations needed to be valid not only as accurate records of classroom events but also, and in a sense more importantly, as records that properly focused on aspects of classroom behavior that were known to be carefully related to learner achievement. It can be said that ‘ a faith in the observable’ became translated into new ways of conducting both teacher training and research in the field of classroom language learning and teaching.

A ‘ faith in the observable’ implies, conversely, a lack of ‘ faith in the unobservable’- anything which cannot be directly experienced through the physical senses. Observation as a solution:- Moskowitz published an influential paper named ‘ The Effects of Training Foreign Language Teachers in Interaction Analysis’, which set out the immediate benefits of systematic classrooom observation for teacher training purposes. She saw beyond the supervisors’ problem, and went straight for the potentialvalue of training both pre- service and in- service trainees to systematically observe their own classroom behavior.

In short she was looking at sytematic observation not as a solution to a supervisors evaluation problem but to a trainee’s feedback problem. Hers was in this sense a trainee-centred approach to teacher training. As a means of improving teaching, increasing attention is being devoted to the study of the actual classroom behavior of teachers. Category systems have been developed, not to evaluate teaching but to describe it, the assumption being that before we can evaluate the teaching act, we ought to know whatb the act consists of.

Studies have been developed to determine typical teaching patterns teachers use as they interact with pupils. However, foreign language has been almost totally forgotten in these studies, perhaps because of the need not only for researchers to understand systems for analyzing classroom interaction, but to understand the peculiarities of the foreign language class as well. An observational sytem which has been used in a considerable number of research studies since its inception in the early 1950s is the Flanders system of interaction analysis.

This system has been referred to as ‘the most sophisticated technique for observing classroom climate. The Flanders system consists of ten categories: seven designate teacher behavior, two are for student behavior, and one is for silence or confusion. The teacher behaviors are divide into two types of influence, direct and indirect. The indirect categories are those which expand the freedom or opportunity of the students to participate. The categories of indirect teacher influence are:- 1) Accepts feelings of pupils, 2) Praises or encourages, ) Accepts ideas of pupils, 4) Asks questions The categories of direct teacher influence are:- 5) Gives information 6) Gives directions, 7) Criticizes or justifies authority The two categories of student talk are:- 8) Student-response predictable, and 9) Student-response unpredictable. The tenth category is for silence or confusion. Classroom observation and second language acquisition:- Classroom observation was a procedure looking for a purpose, a purpose it could hope to find in studies of the processes of second language acquisition.

In the mid-seventies second language acquisition researchers were moving on from their earlier preoccupation witherror analysis. Schumann was developing his ideas on the possible similarities between second language acquisition and the pidginization process. Krashen was developing his ‘monitor theory’. In short, the time had come in second language acquisition studies when people were thinking more generally in terms of possible ways of ‘ explaining’ second language acquisition phenomena, after a decade of research aimed rather at discovering what the basic phenomena of the field were and how they could be described.

Learners errors:- The argument regarding learners errors so far have been coherent, to go from saying a) that the making of of an error by any learner constitutes a potential crisis point for that learner and any learner in the same classroom, to saying b) that such crisis points are also crisis points for the teacher, in that the teacher’s reaction to learner error will be the major factor in determining what the laerners actually learn and c) that therefore a teacher’s way of handling these crisis points will be central to that teacher’s effectiveness.

Such a claim is undoubtedly optimistic, given how difficult it has been for educational researchers interested in classroom processes to isolate key variables in teacher effectiveness. When we discover when we look at teachers in the classroom, is that, as Faneslow has argued, teachers are typically rather imprecise in their treatment of learner error, tending to repeat the correct model rather than provide any obviously adaptive treatment, and tending to fail to explicitly locate errors for the learners.

The second point that emerges immediately from classroom studies is that teachers are not only imprecise, they are also inconsistent in their treatment of learner error. Mehan, at San Diego(1974) has shown how a teacher trying to apply a criterion such as ‘ only full sentences will be accepted’ can appear very inconsistent on close analysis. Some of the inconsistency arises from an understable lack of precision. On other occasions the teacher may simply be relaxing the rule to help a particular learner, not because the learner has in fact produced a partial utterance with something in it worth encouraging, but because the eacher feels that that learner needs a more relaxed approach from the outset. Of most importance, in retrospect, and thinking of later developments, is the fundamental point that a classroom error is a social event, and a social-event not o0nly in the life of the error-maker and the teacher, but also in the lives of all the other people in the classroom. Teacher talk as input:-in 1975, Wagner-Gough and Hatch had drawn attention to the importance of input studies, but in the context of natural second language acquisition.

In addition to linguistic modifications, adults employ a number of communicative and language training strategies in their verbal interactions with young children. One of the most salient of these strategies is repetition, which is a recurrent technique thought to have potential accelerating effects on language acquisition. Snow (1972) has argued that repetition increases processing time, thus increases a child’s chances of processing input.

Prodding characterizes instances when a parent makes it verbally clear that he/she wants the child to say or repeat something. A related device is prompting, in which, for example a parent will show a child a picture of something which the child knows the word for and will ask, ‘What’s this? ’ Another general strategy is modeling, which may involve something as simple as an adult’s supplying the appropriate lexical item for a child who does not know the name of something in a picture.

A more complex form of modeling takes place when an adult expands the child’s utterances. These so called ‘imitations in reverse’, which are presumably performed by adults to check their understandings of child’s utterances, have been thought to contribute to language development in that they recognize the truth value of a child’s statements at the same time that they demonstrate to the child how those statements are encoded by his/her speech community at the very moment when the child is likely to be most atttentive to such information.

Conclusion:-Finally it can be assumed that the faith in the observable has survived the challenges to it implied by the development of ‘ mentalistic’ alternatives, but lost some exclusivity in the process. It no longer appeals so strongly as the only possible approach. It now has to share the territory, and this is working well to the benefit of the whole field, but it is holding on the centre of the territory, and showing few signs of giving any more ground in the very near future.

As to the faith in the events of the classroom to hold the answers to the key questions, this faith seems only to be strengthened by recent developments. The answer to some of our questions may lie somewhere in classroom events, but that does not mean that we shall be able to understand these classroom events simply by studying their objectively observable characteristics. We shall perhaps have to find a way, following breen’s suggestions, of treating the language classroom as a whole culture.

Meanwhile, language classroom research needs to run to catch up with educational research in general. Reference Allwright, Dick. (1993). Observation in the Language Classroom, Longman, Group Ok Limited Leo, Van Lier. (1994). The Claassroom and the Language Learner, Longman, Group OK Ltd. Wajnryb Ruth. (1992). Classroom Observation Tasks, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

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