CELTA TRAINER-IN-TRAINING: Peer Observations

This was the seventh in the series of During CELTA Trainer-in-Training tasks. All the trainees were assigned peer observation tasks for the duration of the course, wherein they were expected to make notes while their colleagues taught so that they could contribute to the teaching practice feedback discussion afterwards.

There’s great value for trainee teachers (and qualified teachers!) in having peer observation tasks to follow. In an intensive CELTA course, where teachers have very little time to complete their various tasks, it is natural for them to become pre-occupied with their own work when others are teaching. This is because teachers at this stage are not aware of the benefits of peer observation tasks. In my own experience, I have found that observing teachers is useful not only to learn new ways and techniques of doing things in the classroom but also what not to do.

Often times, one makes comparisons between our own teaching practice and that of the teacher one is observing. This makes observations akin to watching oneself in action in the classroom – therefore, highlighting all our strengths and flaws.

In terms of the peer observation tasks outlined in the CELTA handbook, tasks were designed to move from narrow to global focus. During the early stages, Ts are only required to comment on a few specific aspects of the observed lessons whereas towards the end, Ts are expected to use their own judgment in isolating strengths and weaknesses. This is a good strategy in general as it scaffolds the extent of teacher reflection required and helps develop a critical and reflective approach to teaching.

The trainer-in-training (aka, moi) is expected to review the peer observation tasks regularly throughout the course and reflect on their efficacy and appropriacy, and also note any changes they would make in their own courses. Here’s the excerpt from the handbook:

In the latter stages of the course,
a. Make particular reference to the focus of the peer observation task(s) and their appropriacy.
b. Review the value of the peer observation tasks that the trainees have been given.
c. Outline any changes you would implement for future courses.

I found it useful to make notes at the weekend (as you can imagine, things were really hectic during the week) for this task. Again, detailed notes were useful when I sat down to write the end of course evaluative essay as well as for a holistic understanding of the course itself. Here are the notes I made:

The peer observation tasks for the observations were roughly categorized according to the various stages of the course:

Early stage of the course Task 1
Ts observe the class and make notes about how much TTT is there, how long are the TTT sessions, how much STT is there, and whether all students speak.Task 2
Ts observe the class and make notes about how many activities are there? Do the activities follow a roadmap: Lead-in -Instructions – Activity (Teacher monitoring) – Feedback
How well are these stages followed?

Task 3
Ts observe the lesson and make notes about TP strengths and weaknesses following a set of observation cards (download CELTA peer observation cards) with things to consider.

Mid-stage of the course Task 1
Ts observe the lesson and make notes about the language focus of the lesson, how MPF is communicated, and the kinds of practice provided?Task 2
Ts observe the lesson and make notes about how the lesson is structured. Ts also make notes about how successful various stages were and what could’ve been done differently.
Late stage of the course Task 1
Ts observe lessons and make notes about the strengths and areas of improvement.

If I were to make changes in future courses, I would make the early stage tasks even more defined and focused. I believe the first three tasks were quite vague and wide open. It might have been useful for teachers to have a skeleton to follow so that they could make specific notes for each stage of the lesson under the wider umbrella of topics such as TTT / STT, activities, lesson roadmaps, and the headings and questions on the observation cards.

While the observation cards were a good idea and provided a variety in terms of the style of feedback, it would’ve been more useful for teachers to have these on one piece of paper (different teachers could be assigned different cards). This way, they would be able to use these cards and focus on different topics for the next observations.

Another issue was that a lot of the trainees didn’t use the observation tasks at all and made notes on their bits of paper or a separate notepad. While this isn’t a big problem as long as they make comprehensive notes, it defeats the purpose of having observation tasks in the handbook. I believe it might have been useful to divide the tasks from week 1-4, having two tasks for each week, and reminding Ts at the beginning of each week (and before observations if necessary) to use the tasks so they could take focused notes.

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