Classroom observations are very useful not only during teacher training, but also for the professional development of veteran teachers. Of course, not many teachers will readily volunteer to be observed by their peers. With colleagues or supervisors in the classroom, we can feel self-conscious and begin to second-guess our instincts. Even so, I’d encourage this practice because peer support and peer feedback has the potential to make us better at what we do.
Is there an alternative? Yes. In fact, I’d argue there are at least two. The first involves observing strangers teach. YouTube makes this possible. Some ESL teachers have videotaped segments of their lessons in a traditional classroom. Others teach to the camera, but teach in a traditional manner with use of only a whiteboard. All these videos make it possible to identify elements of good teaching. You can do evaluations on your own, but you’d gain more by making this a group activity. At a staff meeting, you and your colleagues can watch one or two of these online videos and discuss the merits as well as provide suggestions for improvement.
Want to make it more interesting? Watch people teach something other than English as a foreign language. YouTube makes it possible to watch lessons on Hindi, Dutch, Mandarin, and more. Choose a language that is unfamiliar to you and your colleagues. For the more adventurous or for the veteran teachers who could really benefit from something fresh and unexpected, there are language lessons on Pig Latin and Gibberish (U.S. and U.K.) There are some great discussion questions based on these online tutorials:
- How does Jessica begin her lesson on Gibberish? How dos Jonathan begin his lesson? Which way is more effective?
- The woman who posts under the name MyIvyRoad tells some very questionable information about the origins of Pig Latin. What responsibility does a teacher have as an authority on the language she or he teaches?
- The young girl posting under the name Jorjastege offers a quick tutorial on Pig Latin. Is her visual explanation effective? Are her examples clear?
Also, you may choose to invite volunteers from the staff to stand up at the board and offer mini lessons of their own on Pig Latin or Gibberish. As silly as the idea may first appear, there truly is a point: their teaching skills are put into use for observation. The variation of subject matter allows for a fresh perspective. I did something similar once when leading a workshop on how to teach vocabulary to beginners. Knowing that none of my staff knew Russian, I asked them to let me teach a short lesson on basic Russian words. They were forced into the roles of language learners, and they were able to evaluate my teaching approach. It was fun and effective.