On the 28th of November 2018 (which seems a long, long time ago already!), I attended a TD session delivered by Will Nash who is in charge of teacher training at the ELTC. The focus was something which sounds a little odd on first hearing – “peer-assisted self-observation”. A bit of a mouthful and, for me, I wasn’t clear about what exactly it meant/entailed so it’s just as well I attended the session!
According to Will, the ELTC started experimenting with video observation since 2014. In fact, at IATEFL 2015, Will, and David Read who helps manages the technology side of things at the ELTC (in the sense of technology enhanced learning initiatives as vs. troubleshooting “my desktop has frozen” issues!) delivered a session based on these experiments with a focus on identifying suitable technology for use in video observation. (Their preferred set-up was the “Swivl” system which has a stand that holds a tablet or phone and a tracker with microphone that the speaker wears. The stand moves to focus on the location of the speaker and the microphone records what is being said. However, Will was at great pains to emphasise that peer-assisted self-observation can still happen without it and that other things are of much greater importance – as will be seen in the rest of this write-up!) Another ELTC development which connects nicely with peer-assisted self-observation here is the ELTC peer-development team. Hopefully the “how” of this will become clear as you read on…
Having given us some context for this talk, Will talked about different types of observation, asking us to make a list of types we were already familiar with. He then shared a list with us too. Between us all, here are the types that came up:
- Qualification (i.e. observations as part of your CELTA/ Cert TESOL/Delta/Dip TESOL)
- Annual (i.e. done by management for quality assurance)
- Manager-led (e.g. surprise pop-ins, sweeps/walks)
- Peer Observation (self-explanatory! Colleagues pop in to your class, observe and hopefully there is some discussion around it after and possibly also before)
- Self-observation (by means of recording audio, visual, or both and analysing it subsequently)
Next we focused in on self-observation, starting with the question, “Why do it?”
- it is challenging, as people don’t generally like to watch themselves and especially don’t like to watch themselves make (perceived) mistakes
- it is more “real” than a formal observation. In other words, you capture yourself teaching as you teach rather than it being based on the more artificial “display” teaching that tends to go with annual observations.
- it comes from you rather than being imposed on you
- it is “one of the most successful tools for lasting change in teacher development” (Petty, 2014)
All that said, then, why a “peer-assisted” version of it, particularly?
Well, apparently, the fact that it is self-organised positively impacts the rate of positive change in practice. “Self-organised” activity is when learners or teachers, in this case, get together in communities of practice. These communities of practice are valuable for lasting change. As we all have different levels of experience and have different amounts of knowledge about different things, there is the chance for informal mentoring and coaching to take place in the shape of interactions with people who are more “expert” than you are without them being your manager. This type of learning is a key part of change or transformation of practice. However, it needs to be real-time and embedded in your context to have maximum benefit. (For me, at this point, scholarship circles also came to mind as another example of “self-organised” CPD for teachers by teachers!)
This table is a really interesting summary of how much skill transfer arises from different types of developmental experience:
Of course, it is clear how peer-assisted self-observation ticks the “real time, job-embedded coaching and mentoring in the context of planning learning goals, implementing strategies and evaluating progress” box which yields the highest transfer.
So, it’s a great idea – what tech do I need?
- A recording device: could just be audio, could just be visual, could be both – depending on your focus. (Of course it needs enough memory and battery to capture the amount of footage you require.)
- A suitable location for that device to capture what is needed (i.e. where in the classroom will you put it?)
- Somewhere to store the footage after you remove it from the recording device
- Software to watch/listen to the footage, exploit it and potentially share it (in the case of peer-assisted)
The ELTC, as mentioned earlier, favours the Swivl System, as it addresses issues with sound quality that often arise when a static recording device is used. (I.e. when you walk away from a static recording device, the sound quality becomes poorer, while with a Swivel, the quality is maintained by the tracker).
In terms of exploiting the footage, we were shown an app called VEO which was developed for teachers and medical students specifically for analysing practice. It works with android and OS and is currently available for free, with the usual scenario of limited features accessible this way. Examples of what you can use it for include tagging key moments, tagging engagement and tagging interaction as you watch back the footage. Of course, this process can be done equally as effectively using a pen and paper. Will was at pains to point out that you can get just as much out of the (peer-assisted) self observation process using the most basic equipment e.g. a tape recorder (capturing audio) and a pen&paper for the follow-up.
So what *is* important for this process to be effective, if not the latest technological gizmos?
For CPD to be effective, what is important is to start from the question of “what do teachers need to learn?” Peer-assisted self-observation is no exception. So how to answer this question of what you need to learn? It can be answered by cycles of enquiry into practice. So, you start with evidence of what your students need to know, especially the struggling ones, and from there what you need to know in order to teach them that effectively. Then of course you need to check how you are doing this in the classroom and identify whether it is the most effective way or perhaps not. This usually involves somebody else watching you or in the case of peer-assisted self-observation, watching with you. Finally, if you make changes, you need to then check the impact they have had. Actually, having written this paragraph, this cycle is fairly similar to the one I put forward for use with TD frameworks! Peer-assisted self-observation would definitely fit into it very nicely. An additional useful resource that I didn’t know about when I did my talk, and so isn’t on my list, is Ed Talks whose tagline is “Interviews, discussions, and presentations from thought leaders, innovative educators, and inspirational learners”. Basically, on it there are lots of interesting 5 minute-ish videos that you can watch and learn from.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- What will improve my teaching and student outcomes?
- What is my assessment/curriculum/subject knowledge?
- What is my pedagogical and professional knowledge?
- Are my methods and techniques in the classroom effective?
- Can I use an evidence-based enquiry?
To have a clearer answer to question no. 3, you could use the approach/cycle I put forward at IATEFLas part of the identification process. This would help with the first thing on the list of things that need to be in place for (peer-assisted) self-observation to work:
- you need a clear focus on a purpose area
- you need to discuss with peers (for peer-assisted) and course-leaders (so they are aware of your plans)
- you need to book, check and prepare any technology you are planning to use
- you need to avoid “display teaching”
- you need to include or at least warn the learners about what you are doing and assure them that the footage won’t be used outside your institution (or, if you do plan to share it more widely, ensure you go through the permission processes required at your institution and in your country)
What can I observe?
You could observe for subject knowledge, classroom assessment (i.e. in-class formative assessment), pedagogical methods/techniques, classroom management and interaction patterns. Apparently subject knowledge is a highly significant factor.
How can I observe?
- The observation could be holistic e.g. getting an overall idea of your position in the room over the course of a lesson, whether students’ heads are up or down (you could use a speeded up mode to identify these kind of things, which can be interesting). Or, it could be specific, e.g. you could focus on the clarity of your instructions.
- The observation could be audio only or it could be visual only (sound not recorded or sound turned down).
- The observation could focus on content i.e. what you do, what the students do, or pedagogy i.e. how you do it.
- You could do a critical incident analysis. NB this is not necessarily negative! This is critical as in important/highly significant. So you choose an incident that you consider important for whatever reason, which might last perhaps for a minute, and you do a deep analysis of that incident.
- Learning instructional rounds (Oates, 2012) – so, teachers work in a group looking at each others’ recordings
- Use these self-observation and lesson analysis forms to help you
How to work with a peer?
This can take place throughout the process: Before you do the observation, you can discuss what you are planning to do and how you are planning to do it. As well as being a useful way to clarify your plans in your own mind through talking them through with someone else, talking to that someone else can also provide useful moral support! Then, after you have recorded the lesson or part of a lesson, there are different ways you can work with your colleague(s): You could watch the recording together, at the same time (dual viewing) or you could view it separately and discuss it subsequently. You could watch in a group (i.e. “Learning instructional rounds”) or you could discuss it with someone who hasn’t watched it! What you are looking for and what you analyse is something you will have thought about and decided on in advance but it is also something flexible – for example identifying a critical incident and running with that instead or as well. You can look at the same recording in multiple ways.
What happens next?
Will suggests using it as part of a reflection and action cycle. So, the next stage might be to evaluate what you have watched and what you have learnt from that process. Having done that, you could do some learning in response to any gaps you have identified e.g. an online course, some reading (see the powerpoint that you can download at the end of the write up of my talk for more ideas for resources to use as part of this learning process) etc. You could also use it as the starting point for doing some action research, not forgetting that you can involve others in this too. You could do further recordings/observations. Finally, don’t forget you could also share the footage with colleagues for them to use (and, who knows, they might share theirs with you too!).
Finally, to come right back round to where this write-up started, for ELTC’ers hopefully now you can see how the PDS team could be helpful with this type of development? I’m sure they would be more than happy to help you plan your observation goals, watch footage with you and help you analyse it and help you make an action plan based on what you learn. You can also contact the TEL team for help with the tech side of things, the TD team may also be able to help (and/or all the useful resources curated on the portal!) and, of course, you can involve your line manager and programme leader(s).
Maybe having a go with this type of development could be another ELT New Years Resolution for you! Go on! 🙂