It is through reflection on professional action that professional expertise is developed. (Wallace, 1991: 82)
There are different types of feedback, one of which I discussed in my previous post ‘Feedback: DIY or Teacher-Driven’. In this study, however, I will be touching upon ‘professional feedback’. How do we feel getting feedback about the way we teach? Do we act naturally when being observed? Does it help or irritate? And most important of all, why do we need professional feedback? There are quite a lot of questions about this issue to be answered. So, let’s have a look at ‘feedback’ in the professional frame.
How do we feel about getting feedback on teaching?
“On each landing, opposite the lift-shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran. ” (Orwell, 5)
If you are regularly observing classes, you must be familiar with different reactions from teachers. Some receive criticism positively, some don’t. There are some who even take criticism and feedback as a personal attack on their teaching skills and some who feel they are on the verge of a heart attack.
- He/she has a warm and encouraging presence.
- He/she plans what to focus on before visiting a class. The aim of observation is also one of the main factors that determine the way a teacher reacts to it.
- He/she gives specific feedback after observation. Saying ‘your instructions weren’t good’ or ‘the lesson was great’ won’t help the observee.
- He/she provokes thoughts. Asking questions to the observee for him/her to discover what is expected from them is important.
- He/she provides an action plan. The observee should have an idea about what to do in the forthcoming lessons.
How to Get Used to Being Observed?
Asking a colleague to come in and observe a lesson of yours and give you feedback may present difficulties: most of us feel a little uncomfortable about being observed teaching, and cannot function naturally when we know an observer is in the room; and it takes some courage deliberately to expose yourself to criticism in this way. (Ur, 1996:322)
As Ur suggested above, calling a stranger to receive professional feedback is a little uncomfortable for most of us. However, it is an indispensable tool for professional development. Therefore, one needs getting used to being observed both for professional development and self-reflection. How?
a. Video Recording/Audio Tape Recording: To start, the easiest way to deal with the big brother is to be the big brother yourself. Recording and analysing your lessons (in full or in part) are crucial steps of self-reflection and will definitely help you build self-esteem and self-confidence. Jeremy Harmer (2001:346) asserts “Videotape and audiotape are especially useful for precise observation tasks since they allow us to watch and/or listen to events repeatedly.” This method will also be useful to evaluate generally undetected details of your lessons such as classroom language, interaction patterns and questioning techniques.
b. Peer Observation: In order to feel more confident in time, it is important to have an observation partner. An observation partner is someone who you frequently visit and who frequently visits you. Thus, you may ask him/her to observe and report on one aspect of your lesson (e.g. teaching aids, error correction, the learning environment etc.) every time he/she visits you. This will probably be the second best way to overcome ‘big-brother’ anxiety.
Why do we need professional feedback?
Teaching requires full time motivation and awareness. However, in the course of a tiring academic year, teachers generally get into a teaching routine in which they rarely find time to assess and develop themselves. That’s why professional feedback is both needed to keep ourselves updated and to be more aware of what we are doing. We also need professional feedback for;
- Professional Development: For most of us, observations are significant as they usher the areas we need to focus on. Peer observations and in-service trainings will mostly fall into this category.
- Performance Assessment: Such observations keep teachers on their toes. Main reason of some observations for some institutions and academic directors may also be to assess teaching performances and make decisions. A written report (see below: tutor report) or oral feedback is given after a post observation meeting.
- Training: These observations are generally made for needs analysis at institutions. As a result, trainers will be able to decide on what to focus on.
- Research: The focus of some observations is academic product and theory.
You can find two observation reports attached below; one post evaluation (written by a teacher about a video lesson he/she observed) and one tutor report (written by me about a class I observed).
- Harmer, Jeremy. The Practice of English Language Teaching. (3rd Edition) Pearson Education Limited. 2001.
- Orwell, George. 1984. New York: The New American Library Inc., 1983.
- Ur, Penny. A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 1996.
- Wallace, Michael J. Training Foreign Language Teachers: A Reflective Approach. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 1991.