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Observation tasks: ideas and good practice (#CELTAchat summary)

This is a summary of the #CELTAchat which took place on Twitter on 5th June 2017. #CELTAchat happens once a month, and is a chance for trainers to discuss issues connected to running the course. Summaries of previous chats can be found on the CELTAchat blog.

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This chat was based on observation tasks, allowing us to share ideas to help us make the most of these tasks. You can work your way through a full Storify of the chat, or read my summary below.

Amy Blanchard suggested the topic, having seen this tweet from Angelos Bollas:

A definition

Observation tasks are given to trainees to complete while they are watching colleagues teach, mostly fellow CELTA trainees in the examples shared during the chat.

Teaching practice and the associated observations are a key part of the CELTA course. Using tasks to focus observation can benefit trainees. The process of observation also helps trainees to get to know the students more quickly, hopefully making it less daunting when they come to teach them.

Examples of tasks

Lots of possible tasks were shared, some overlapping with others. In no particular order:

  • Give two or three CELTA criteria to each trainee to observe for, though Giovanni Licata suggested that this is more useful in the second half of the course.
  • Diagrams of seating plans for trainees to annotate. Useful for observing T-SS and SS-SS relations and highlighting TTT v STT problems in an objective way. It’s learner-focussed and can show who is engaged and participating (or not!)
  • T-S interaction with seating plan. Looks at eye contact and who speaks, plus where T moves in room.
  • A task focused on recommended staging/features of a skills or systems lesson. For example, it’s good for the trainees to focus on whether there was a purpose for reading or was meaning clarified in systems lessons.
  • Tasks that address lesson frameworks are useful: reading/listening, grammar, vocab along with the seating plan.
  • Get trainees to list stages and what teachers/students are doing when. If they can’t identify the stages, it may mean the teacher wasn’t clear about what they wanted to do!
  • One that works for ALL lessons: make notes on what one student is doing during the lesson in relation to a given task.
  • Observation of SS’ progression throughout lesson important, e.g coherence between tasks and learning thread.
  • How trainees handle unexpected events in the lesson, e.g. dealing with language issues or responding to learner questions.
  • At the IH AMT conference 2017, Danny Norrington-Davis talked about the task of trainees listening to learner output and practising correcting /upgrading language. This encourages them to practise responding to learner needs.
  • A focus on specific points in the lesson, e.g. delivering instructions, or TTT vs STT:
  • Trainee-generated tasks, though in the example below Giovanni believes that it is good for observation tasks to move the attention away from teacher’s action points sometimes:
  • Trainees to observe whilst thinking about their own action points,not those of the person teaching.
  • Depending on local laws and trainee/student wishes, you could also encourage trainees to record themselves or their colleagues, or take photos, e.g. of the whiteboard or classroom set-up.
  • Use teaching logs, by drawing a timeline and following the stages/timing:
  • For lessons towards the end of the course, trainees could draw a cartoon or comic strip of the lesson.

If this isn’t enough for you, John Hughes has a lot of ideas for observation tasks on his blog.

Considerations

As you progress through the course, try to make observation tasks relevant to the areas trainees most need to improve in. This can be tricky at the start, when you don’t know as much about their needs. You can also directly link observation tasks to input sessions (note to self: maybe each input session could end with a possible observation task?)

How do we address potentially waning motivation amongst trainees to observe and feedback? They have to observe a lot.

  • Using a variety of targeted observation tasks can help here.
  • It’s important to emphasise the fact that opportunities to observe colleagues when working full-time can be minimal.
  • Get them observing trainees in other TP groups to mix things up a bit.
  • You could do an observation without a written task, like the graphs or cartoons above.

Refer to observation tasks in your feedback, and encourage them to refer to them in peer feedback. This helps trainees to see connections between what they’ve observed and tutor and peer feedback.

Some trainers encourage trainees to copy peer observation notes for their colleagues. It can be useful for the reflective assignment.

My two cents

Since I only managed to join at the end, I thought it would be a good idea to write the summary and catch up on what I missed. In the process, it’s occurred to me that I’m not brilliant at setting observation tasks consistently, or on following up on them in feedback. My next CELTA course starts on Monday 10th July, so I think I’ll make this a focus to help me improve my training, having worked on making my feedback clearer in the last few courses. I’m looking forward to taking part in more #CELTAchats in the future!

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