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Teacher Development Through Peer Observation

Jack C. Richards and Charles Lockhart

Peer observation among the teaching faculty of a language program is often recommended as a means of improving teacher effectiveness and of promoting staff development. In practice, however, it can be difficult to implement because: (1) teachers have many demands on their time, (2) they are sometimes reluctant to allow colleagues into their classrooms, and (3) they may not see any potential benefits from peer observation. This paper describes a project designed to build a positive role for peer observation in a language program. The development of the project is described, reactions of the participants are reported, and guidelines are given for the use of peer observation in a language program.


To The Project

The participants in the project are staff members of a large department which is engaged in both teaching English for Academic Purposes and in-service training for language teachers. The staff includes teachers with extensive teaching experience, both native and non-native speakers of English, all with graduate TESOL degrees. There were two reasons for initiating the project. At the department level, it is one of a number of approaches to developing a team-based departmental culture as opposed to one in which staff members work in isolation. In addition, since the department offers in-service courses in teacher education, teacher development is an on-going concern of the faculty. At the level of teacher self development, a further goal was to provide opportunities for staff to observe their colleagues teaching in order to exposethem to different teaching styles, and to provide opportunities for critical reflection on their own teaching. The value of providing opportunities for critical self-reflection is recognized as an important component of teacher development. Essential to any reflective experience is collecting information about the experience (Boud, Keogh, and Walker, 1985). In this project, peer observation is used as a way of gathering information about teaching.

Observation is a component of many teacher development programs and traditionally has served a number of purposes. With pre-service teachers, observation is often used as an opportunity to observe experienced teachers. With teachers-in-service, observation is typically a part of the process of supervision. A supervisor visits a teachers classroom, observes the lesson and comments on its effectiveness. In both of these situations, observation is associated with evaluation, and for this reason - particularly with teachers-in-service - it often has negative connotations (Freeman, 1982). Since it is viewed as a potentially threatening experience, teachers are often reluctant to take part in observation once they complete their initial training. In the present project, a priority was to disassociate the notion of observation from that of evaluation, and to encourage teachers to view observation as a positive rather than a negative experience. This was done by limiting the observers function to that of gathering information and by excluding any evaluation of the co-operating teacher. 1

Research on observation in teacher development programs has identified a number of issueswhich need to be addressedto make observation activities effective (Good and Brophy, 1987; Acheson and Gall, 1987; Day, 1990; Master, 1983; Pennington and Young, 1989): . 1. Observation should have a focus. The value of observation is increased if the observer knows what to look for. An observation which concludes with a comment such as, Oh, that was a really nice lesson is not particularly helpful to either party. On the other hand, giving the observer a task, such as collecting information on student participation patterns during a lesson, provides a focus for the observer and collects useful information for the teacher. Observers should use specific procedures. Lessons are complex events with many different activities occurring simultaneously. If the observer wants to observe, for example, teacher-student interaction, a variety of procedures could be used to make this task more effective (see figure 1 in the appendix for an example of a verbal flow chart which could be used to code teacher-student interaction). The observer should remain an observer. An observer cannot observe effectively if he or she is also a participant in the lesson. These principles were used in developing the present project.




For The Project

The project was one of a number of staff development initiatives which were suggested during a Departmental Review Day. The faculty identified peer observation as one of several strategies that could be implemented within the department. (Other strategies for staff development include collaborative journal writing, action research, discussion groups, and lunch-ime seminars.) Those who indicated an interest in participating in peer observation then met on a number of occasions to share their experiences with peer observation, to develop goals for such an activity, and to identify procedures to use. A reading list (which included Day, 1990; Master, 1983; and Good & Brophy, 1987) was also distributed, and examples were given of different kinds of observation instruments and procedures which could be used. Participating staff were then asked to choose a colleague to work with. Although the specific nature of the observation to be carried out and the procedures to be used were entirely at the discretion of the participants, the following general guidelines were agreed on: 1. Each participant would both observe and be observed. Teachers would work in pairs and take turns observing each others classes. Pre-observation orientation session. Prior to each observation, the two teachers would meet to discussthe nature of the classto be observed, the kind of material being taught, the teachers approach to teaching, the kinds of students in the class, typical patterns of interaction and classparticipation, and any problems that might be expected. These discussions usually took no more than an hour, since many teachers were teaching similar classesand covering similar kinds of material. The aim of these


discussionswas for the teacher being observed to assignthe observer a goal for the observation and a task to accomplish. The task would involve collecting information about some aspect of the lesson, but would not include any evaluation of the lesson. The two teacher would agree upon observation procedures or instruments to be used during this session and arrange a schedule for the observations. 3. The observation. The observer would thenvisit his or her partners classand complete the observation using the procedures that both partners had agreed on. Post-observation. The two teachers would meet as soon as possible after the lesson. The observer would report on the information that had been collected and discuss it with the teacher.



On The Project

In order to determine the usefulness of peer observation, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about the observation experience. Separate questiomaires were used for teachers and observers (see appendix). They elicited information on the procedures that were used, the kind of information that was collected, and on how useful the information was to the teacher being observed. A series of meetings were also held with the participants to discusstheir reactions to peer observation. The following information is based on these discussions and an analysis of the questionnaires. What Teachers Asked Their Colleagues to Look For. In developing goals for the observation, the teachers identified a variety of different aspectsof their lessons for their partners to observe and collect information on. These included: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Organization of the lesson - the entry, structuring and closure of the lesson. Teachers time management - allotment of time to different activities during the lesson. Students performance on tasks - the strategies, procedures, and interaction patterns employed by students in completing a task. Time-on-task - the extent to which students were actively engaged during a task. Teacher questions and student responses - the types of questions teachers asked during a lesson and the way students responded. Student performance during pairwork - the way students completed a pairwork task, the responses they made during the task, and the type of language they used. Classroom interaction - teacher-student and student-student interaction patterns during a lesson. New teaching activity - class performance during a new teaching activity. Group work - students use of Ll versus L2 during group work, students time-on-task during groupwork; the dynamics of group activities.

How the Observers Collected the Information. Anumber of different procedures were used by teachers in observing their colleagues classes.These included: 1. Timed samples - the observer notes down specific behavior displayed at specified tune intervals during a lesson. Coding forms - a set of coded categories of classroom behaviors is used. The observer checks 2. the appropriate category whenever the behavior is displayed during the lesson (see figure 2 in the appendix for an example). Descriptive narrative (broad) - a written narrative of a lesson is produced which attempts to 3. summarize the main events which occur during the lesson. Descriptive narrative (narrow) - a written narrative which focuses on a particular aspect of a 4. lesson. For example, the observer focuses on a single student throughout a lesson and describes what the student did and said. How the Participants Evaluated Peer Observation The teachers who participated in the project reported that they gained a number of insights about their own teaching from their colleagues observations. For example:
"It provided more &tailed information on student performance during specific aspects of the lesson than I could have gathered on my own. "It revealed unexpected information about interaction between students during a lesson I was able to get useful information on the group dynamics that occur during group work

Some teachers identified specific aspects of their teaching that they would like to change as a result of the information their partner collected. For example:
"It made me more aware of the limited range of teaching strategies that I have been using. "I need to give students more time to complete some of the activities I use. I realized that I need to develop better time management strategies.

Longer term benefits to the department were also cited:

"It helped me develop better a working relationship with a colleague. "Some useful broader issues about teaching and the programme came up during the post-observation discussions.

Although none of the teachers felt that the observations were disruptive, a few of the participants pointed out changes in the dynamics of the class:
"I think my students were more enthusiastic than usual. There was a greater tendencyfor English to be used andprobably a greater degreeof attention to the task The students became a bit more tense.

The teachers also gave a number of suggestions for implementing peer observation: 1. In order to maximize the effectiveness, peer observation should be carried out on a regular basis. Most participants felt that twice during a 10-week teaching cycle would be optimal.

2. 3.




A timetable for peer observation activities should be set so that teachers are comfortable with it in light of their teaching and other commitments. Depending on the focus of the observation, it would sometimes be useful for the observer to audio-record the lesson. A tape recorder placed near the front of the class could capture a great deal of what was said during the lesson. The recording could be useful when reviewing the observers notes. The teacher is most likely to benefit from peer observation if there is a specific need or issue the teacher wants to look at in more detail. For example, a teacher may be concerned that some students are getting very little language practice during lessons and could invite a colleague to collect information on student output during a lesson. Descriptive narratives are useful as a starting point since it can help identify areas which a teacher may wish to explore in more detail. However, follow-up observations should be more focused using specific observation forms or procedures. Although participants had been asked not to evaluate the lessons they observed, they felt that once a supportive and collaborative relationship had developed between the two teachers, feedback could sometimes include an evaluative component. It was suggested that the observer could focus on the following questions in the post-observation discussion:
"What worked best in the lesson? What was the least effectivepart of the lesson? What would you have done differently if you had taught the lesson?

Peer observation has a valuable role in a language program, since it can have immediate practical benefits for individual teachers as well as longer term benefits to the program as a whole. However, clear lines of communication about the nature and purpose of peer observation is essential from the very start. If it is viewed as simply another initiative from the administration, it may be resisted. In addition, teachers may initially react to it asan assessmentexercise, and seelittle that they could gain personally from it. Peer observation should be approached as an opportunity for teachers to help each other collect information that would be useful to them and which they could not obtain on their own. Rather than viewing peer observation as an evaluative procedure, teachers should see themselves as co-researchers collaborating for each others benefit.

Acheson, KA. and Gall, M.D. 1987. Techniquesin the Clinical Supervision of Teachers New York: Longman. Boud, D., Keogh, R., and Walker, D. 1985. Promoting reflection in learning: a model. In D. Boud, R. Keogh, and D. Walker. (eds). Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. New York: Nichols Publishing. Day, R. 1990. Teacher observation in second language teacher education. In J. Richards and D. Nunan. (eds). Second Language Teacher Education Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Freeman, D. 1982. Observing teachers: three approaches to in-service training and development. TESOL Quarterly. 16, 1:21-28.

Good, T. and Brophy, F. 1987. Looking in classrooms. New York: Harper and Row. Master, P. 1983. The etiquette of observing. TESOL Quarterly. 17,3:497-501. Pennington, M. and Young, A. 1989. Approaches to faculty evaluation for ESL. TESOL Quartenly. 23,4:619-646.

Figure 1
A verbal flow chart of a lesson. This observation form consistsof a seating chart of the classroom. The observer indicates verbal interaction patterns with arrows each time an interaction occurs. The lines acrossthe arrows indicate the number of interactions that occurred during the lesson. (From: Acheson, KA. and Gall, M.D. 1987.)


(teacher seated in chair)


B- Boy G - Girl E - Empty Desk

Figure 2 A coding form of student responsesto question types. This observation form consistsof categories of classroom behaviors. The observer checks the appropriate category whenever the behavior is displayed during the lesson.

Students responsesto "Factual/Inferential Time: 1030 - 1038 (Checking Answers)


6 7 8 9 10 11 12 # # #

# #

# # # # # # # # #

# # #

The following questions were included on the questionnaires given to the teacher and the observer: Peer Observation Questionnaire #1 - For the Observer 1. What kind of class did you observe? 2. Please describe how you collected the information during the observation? (if you used an instrument, please describe it) 3. Approximately how much time was spent on: a) the pre-observation discussion? b) the observation? c) the post-observation discussion? 4. How much time elapsed between the observation and the post-observation discussion? 5. Was it easy to gather the required information? (please comment) 6. On reflection, if you could have this observation done over again, would you have changed the method of gathering/recording the required information? Why/Why not? 7. How could the observation experience be improved or changed? 8. How useful do you think it would be to do these types of observations more regularly? Please comment. Peer Observation Questionnaire #2 - For the Teacher 1. During the present peer observation programme, did you feel comfortable teaching the class while being observed? Please comment. 2. Do you think there were any changesin the dynamics of the classasa result of an observer being present? Please describe the types of changes that occurred. 3. What did you ask your partner to fook for during the observation? 4. Why was this aspect selected? 5. On reflection, if you could have this observation done over again would you have asked the observer to look for something different? Why/Why not? 6. On reflection, if you could have this observation done over again, would you have changed the method of gathering/recording the required information? Why/Why not? 7. How useful was the information collected? Please comment. 8. What was the single most valuable piece of information recorded? 9. How useful do you think it would be to do these types of observations more regularly? Please comment. 10. Have you ever participated in a peer observation experience before? If yes, please describe your experience, state how often, and tell us your reactions to your previous experience.