Combining observation and reflection

[Often when presenting for school districts in Korea you are asked to write something. Though I have created many of these documents I have never had anyone receiving such documents be clear on what they actually want. Sometimes I try to do something interesting and sometimes I just try to get something done on time. The example below is one of the latter cases. I am almost slightly embarrassed to share it here! I decided to share it in case it is interesting or helpful for someone or on the chance that it just might start an interesting conversation. So without further ado, self-loathing, and self-flagellation here it is…]

(Original Title: Ways of Reflecting Through (not only) Observation Feedback)


Farrell and Richards note, “Observation tends to identified with evaluation and is consequently often regarded as a threatening or negative experience.” (Farrell & Richards, 85) While these feelings might sound very familiar, this type of evaluation-focused observation is not likely to help teachers develop their teacher decision making processes or their reflective practice. It is beyond the scope of this paper and presentation to talk about the role of evaluation here but we might say that there is a time and a place for it. That time and place is probably not mixed with a focus on teacher development because the goals of these are necessarily different. I don’t mean to suggest that there is no room for evaluation of teachers, simply that doing so at the same time as trying to work on teacher development can cause a plethora of confusions.

If we decide that observation and feedback sessions are for development instead of evaluation this then raises a whole new series of questions.  Some questions we might consider while setting up an observation and feedback session include:

a)   What are the goals of the observation? Is it for development of the teacher that is teaching? Is it for observers to learn new skills? Is it for teachers to practice new skills? Is it to show off? Is it for continued/future employment?

b)  Are there guidelines? What are the guidelines? Where do the guidelines come from? What purpose do they serve?

c)  How will the observation be conducted? How? (live/videotape/audiotape)

d)  Who will observe? A critical friend? Peer? Supervisor? Education professional? Other?

e)  Which class will be observed? Some considerations include students’ level/ability, Student-teacher rapport, the time of day and the type of lesson.

f)   Will the teacher do anything different/special for the observed class? Why/Why not?

Of course we, as teachers, are not always in control of these decisions and sometimes have observation and feedback without much of a choice. Still, these considerations might be a helpful starting point for future observation and feedback. It might also be helpful to consider the possibilities that come with “casual” peer observation and not only those mandated by schools and districts.

What is Reflective Practice?

Reflective Practice is quite a common buzzword in academic and training circles these days. It seems that this word is used to describe a wide variety of things and is de rigor in training courses and teacher education programs. “What is reflective practice? It is analyzing what you do in the classroom and challenging your beliefs about your teaching practice. Once you gather this information you use it to implement changes and guide your future teaching practices.” (Griffin and Sahota) This is the definition I offered in a previous article. My only addition now would be to add that maybe we don’t always need to change our teaching practice based on our reflections. Perhaps we will decide to keep doing what we are doing. Perhaps we will discover something about our teaching or our students that we didn’t realize before.

One way of reflecting that I found particularly useful is through the “Experiential Learning Cycle” (as per Kolb) This cycle can be summed up easily with three questions:

So what?
Now what?

Another way to think of this is that in order to reflect on our experiences we must first describe what actually happened in real life and not in our imaginations or expectations. From this description we can create possible theories about why this might have happened. We can also create and consider our own beliefs or generalizations about teaching and learning. From here we can create an action plan for future use. This provides us with a chance to repeat the cycle indefinitely if we wish. Ideally it provides with a greater depth of understanding our teaching and our classes.

The following graphic (courtesy of @JosetteLB at might help explain the process described above:

Leblanc ELC

Image of ELC borrowed from Josette Leblanc at

Linking Reflective Practice and Observation/Feedback

The connection is not always obvious. As above, sometimes observation and feedback sessions are conducted for reasons other than promoting reflection. If the decisions have been made for the observation to be focused on development for the teacher and to use the ELC then there is really only place for feedback givers to start: Description. If feedback givers start at an interpretation they are circumventing the teacher’s reflection. This is even more true if feedback givers start with a suggestion. If teachers start with what they would do differently next time they are also circumventing their reflection and preventing many possible insights from coming to the surface.

What are some other ways to reflect?

Teachers often think of journaling as the main example of reflecting and this is with good reason. Journaling, however, is not the only way to reflect. We have already discussed observations. Some other possibilities include:

  1. Audio Recording
  2. Video Recording
  3. Surveys and Questionnaires
  4. Lesson Reports and Retroactive Planning

Each of these possibilities has its own strengths, challenges and considerations. Teachers might choose to use these different ways in order to treat specific aspects of their teaching beliefs and practice. During the presentation itself we can consider these (and other) aspects and think about specific things teachers might want to consider as they attempt to implement


Reflection is an often talked about aspect of professional development. Observation and feedback are often experienced and complained about aspects of professional development. Perhaps by deciding that observation will be for development (rather than for evaluation) and by trying to create tangible links between the ELC and observation/feedback while using the ELC to guide our observation and feedback we can help teachers become more reflective teachers and more aware of their teaching.


Griffin, M & Sahota, P. “The English Connection Magazine” Improving Your Teaching Practice through Reflective Journal Writing. June 2010.

Leblanc, Josette Retrieved November 30th, 2012.

Richards, J & Farrell, T. Professional Development for Language Teachers (CUP: 2008, CUP)

Workshop Activities:

[Featuring some self plagiarism from the blog and previous workshops]

Experiences with Observation

Please take a few minutes to think about your experiences with observation and feedback. Answer True or False (T/F) for the statements below and please be ready to share your answers.

  1. I have been observed in my life.
  1. I have been observed this year.
  1. I have had a positive experience being observed.
  1. I have a negative experience being observed.
  1. I have observed another teacher in my life.
  1. I have observed another teacher this year.
  1. I have had a positive experience as an observer.
  1. I have had a negative experience as an observer.
  1. I like to be observed.
T/F 10. I like to observe other teachers



Beliefs about feedback and observation:

Below are some commonly held beliefs about observation and feedback. Which of these do you agree with? Which do you disagree with? Why? How strongly do agree/disagree? Why?

1. Feedback should be delivered in a “feedback sandwich” (positive, negative, positive).
2. Feedback givers should make observes feel comfortable.
3. Feedback givers should give suggestions on areas that didn’t work well.
4. Feedback givers should give specific evidence about what they saw in the lesson.
5. Feedback givers should talk about what they do in their own lessons.
6. Feedback receivers should be given a chance to choose what they’d like the observer to focus on.
7. Feedback givers should focus on student behavior and student learning.
8. Feedback givers should comment on things that can be changed.
9. Feedback givers should focus on positive things.
10. Feedback givers should keep in mind that observation feedback can be a stressful/emotional thing.
11. Feedback givers should help feedback receivers reflection on the lessons.
12. Feedback receivers should admit their mistakes.
13. Feedback receivers should make action plans for next time based on the feedback.
14. Feedback receivers should nominate topics to discuss.
15. Feedback receivers should explain their reasons for doing (or not doing) something.
16. Observers should arrange a time to observe the lesson with observees in advance of the lesson.
17. Observers should sit quietly in the back of the room during class time.
18. Observers should know what they are looking for.
19. Observers should let the observees know what they are looking for.
20. Feedback sessions should progress from what went well to what didn’t go well.

10 Things Mike doesn’t want to hear in Feedback sessions

Below are some statements that I (as a teacher) would prefer not to hear in feedback sessions. Please have a look and consider why I don’t want to hear these statements

1)    You didn’t pre-teach vocabulary.
2)    Your class fit in really well with Krashen’s I+1 and this was very impressive to me.
3)    In my class I always have problems with tasks like that and it seems that you did too.
4)    You forgot to give instructions before the second reading task. How did you feel?
5)     I noticed that you planned for a long time and made a great effort for the class.
6)    I was so impressed with the reading materials that you chose.
They were very well-suited to the students. The reading text was interesting and useful. This type of text can really motivate students. That was really impressive.
7)    That was an amazing lesson. Thanks so much for sharing. I learned so much. I will keep this in mind next time I teach.
8)    Your material was not very well made. It looked pretty unprofessional, You should have spent more time making that.
9)    That activity worked very well today but I don’t think it would work with higher level students. What would you do in that case?
10) Why didn’t you use “ICQs” after giving instructions at the start of class?

Further Reading

Blog Posts

Tony Gurr’s wonders about best practice in classroom observation

Dave Dodgson with observations on being an observer

Nick Jaworski on making the most of observation feedback


Classroom Observation Tasks: A Resource Book for Language Teachers and Trainers (Cambridge Teacher Training and Development) by Ruth Wajnryb

Understanding Teaching Through Learning by Josh Kurzweil

Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers (Cambridge Teacher Training and Development) by Angi Malderez and Caroline Bodsczky


One comment

  1. Pingback: One solution for co-teacher induced hangry moments | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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