Observing other language teachers is one of the best ways to hone our own practice. Noticing the strategies that other teachers use to help learners understand and feel comfortable is at the core of the Coaching model used at national conferences like iFLT and NTPRS, and it is a form of professional development that we can engage in year-round.
What lessons should I try to observe?
There is no right or wrong kind of lesson to observe. We can learn by observing any teacher– even teachers that do not teach language! In all content areas and in all methodologies, the goal of the teacher is to help their student understand. Observing diverse content areas and observing diverse teaching styles within the field of language teaching will give you surprising and useful insights!
What should I be looking for during an observation?
The Coaching team has simplified the answer to this question for us: look for what a teacher does to help their students understand, and look for what a teacher does to help their students feel comfortable.
More specifically, here are some things that you can look for in language lessons:
- Which of these comprehension supports does the teacher use?
- What kinds of questions does the teacher ask?
- How does the teacher control the pace of the lesson?
- How does the teacher ensure that input is not just comprehensible, but comprehended?
- How does the teacher create connections between students, between students and the teacher, and between students and the world?
What should I reflect on post-observation?
After observing a lesson, it is helpful to go back through your notes and recall the lesson while it is still fresh in your memory. When you do, ask yourself what background knowledge was required for students to be able to understand the lesson. Did it seem that students had this background knowledge, or were there holes that prevented them from engaging fully with the content? Consider both linguistic and topical knowledge!
Then, consider what would be a logical next step for the lesson, or perhaps even how this lesson might fit into the broader picture of a unit or course. The Coaching Team incorporated this “Feed Forward” element into the Coaching model last year, and I have found it to be very powerful. Often, we observe a lesson in isolation and are unable to effectively apply our insights to our own teaching because we didn’t consider context.
Within the context of Proficiency Oriented Language Instruction (POLI), I like to think through where I can go next after an observed lesson to incorporate the core elements of POLI (all four modalities, language + culture, real world purpose, student centered).
Organize your thinking
I shared a picture of this note-taking form on Instagram last week, and many of my followers wanted to get their hands on it! It is the result of collaboration between Elicia Cárdenas and me, and we have shared it with teachers at our Stepping into SOMOS workshops this summer.
At the top and bottom of the form, there is space for you to reflect -AFTER- the lesson on what background knowledge was required and where to go next.
The middle of the form gives you several things to look for: specific strategies that the teacher might use to support comprehension (check them off as you see them!), a place to tally the number of questions in English and in the target language that the teacher asks, what cognates are used (and strategies to support students in understanding them!), and what specific question types the teacher asks (either/or, yes/no, who/what/where/when/why/how, personalized questions).
Connect with a Coach!
The Coaching Team is available to support districts and organizations throughout the year. If you would like to learn more about Coaching, about becoming a Coach, or about what it would like to bring a Coach to your school, please contact Teri Wiechart!
Looking for more great stuff to share with your colleagues?
Developing a common vision and common language can help your department or organization to go further, faster. In addition to observing each other with the forms above, check out these resources: