Objectivity and/or Observation?

As a teacher trainer, I sometimes think if what I pay attention to while observing a lesson is what I need to be paying attention to, or is this really what I want to be making a note about at this very moment. In my self-talk, I wonder if an observer can be totally objective at all times? Even trying to be very descriptive in the notes I am making about one moment, I may lose something else happening at the very same time. A simple example: a teacher is writing a class topic on the board, then turns that record into a center for a mind map and asks students to add their associations. We see that in response to ‘Fitness’ students add ‘football’, ‘gym’, ‘lazy’, ‘record’, etc. If the observer is focusing on the board (clarity, spelling, colors, who is writing, etc.) then the students are out of sight (who is actively contributing? who is paying attention? who is texting, or day dreaming, or reading, etc.) And… what is the teacher doing or saying?

It is a little easier decision to make on an intensive training course, when there are specific standards to be met by each participant in order to receive a course certificate (even though there are still questions about teaching style, personality, the specific group of students on the course, and many more factors) It gets trickier if it is a regular observation at a school (Do I as an observer know the teacher/the group of students/the context/the course book, etc. well enough to make my observation notes helpful for the teacher? Did the teacher I observe have a say in what s/he would like me to be looking at?)

Finally, for our post-lesson meeting with this teacher, how will I choose what to focus on in our conversation, and what will be just left in the written notes? Who will be choosing what to talk about – the teacher or the observer? And what will we call that meeting: a feedback session, or reflection?

P.S. I was searching for one quote to illustrate what I was trying to say, but came across this post (featuring a different quote in the title!): It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. Not an ELT blog post, but a good reminder to me about the skill or habit of paying attention and noticing what is around me. In class and outside, of course.

Thank you for reading!



About Zhenya

teacher educator, evidence-based instruction trainer, PD Coach https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Objectivity and/or Observation?

  1. ven_vve says:

    Hi Zhenya,

    As I said in my tweet today, I’ve been thinking about writing a post on observation for the last couple of days, so this is an interesting coincidence. It’s not that I do any observing these days, but I came across my pink notebook – this A4 notebook has all my observation notes from 2002-2012 (or thereabouts) – and that gave me the idea.

    Anyway, I remember being really taken with the non-directive approach when giving feedback – the one in which “the input comes from the observee while the observer is like a mirror in which the former can see his/her lesson”. (The quotes are there because I’ve just copied this from a worksheet I’d prepared for an Octopus teacher training session and I’m pretty sure those are not my words, but unfortunately I have no idea where I got them from – the document is incomplete and it’s from 2006.)

    I have a couple of sets of notes in the pink notebook which are very detailed indeed – before I fully processed the idea that you don’t have to be non-directive for a full 90 minutes. 🙂 Now (in 2015) I’m much less confident that the observer can be objective at all times, but I can tell you that at least one observer has tried! 🙂


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Vedrana

      Is there a bit of synchronicity happening — you and I have been thinking about the same topic! Thank you for your comment — always good to hear from you (here, on Twitter, or your blog)

      I am so excited to learn more about that notebook: were you collecting all the notes on the lessons you observed there? What kind of notes did/do you usually make? Did/do you usually share the notes with the teacher being observed?

      I totally agree with the quote you shared — basically, this is my main belief about the importance of having a reflective session rather than ‘feedback’. It does depend on the relationship between the observer and the teaching opening the door. I mean, being ready to be the one who provides ‘input’ and ‘use the mirror’ in that conversation…

      As for being directive or not — this does depend on the needs of the teacher, and on the personality, and the reason why you observed. A quick example: if it is a short intensive course and there is a danger not to pass it not meeting the specific criteria/standards, and not to receive the certificate, then it would be a disservice not to inform the teacher (which means being straightforward). Objectivity here? Trying to get together and see the point from the ‘same side’ rather than being opponents, I think.

      I think there are two of us who have been trying (more than once?). I like the idea that teacher training (and any teaching?) is always the process of ‘becoming’, not ‘being’ — in a sense that we are also allowed/encouraged to learn?

      Let’s keep this conversation going — would love to read your post about observation!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tala Haidar says:

    Hi Zhenya,
    The questions you are raising about observation are really food for thought.
    I believe it is humanly impossible to observe every detail around you from all aspects totally objectively, yet a trained eye and ear has better chances of doing so. I guess what deserves to be “seen”(not merely “looked at”), whether positively or negatively, would really make itself noticeable somehow. Maybe what we need is more filtering for unnecessary input and more attention to the real needs of the teacher being observed.


    • Zhenya says:

      Dear Tala

      First of all, thank you for visiting this space, reading and leaving your comment! Excited to hear your perspective on the process of observation.

      I am with you on the point that with more experience (and more and more hours spend observing a lesson and making a note) you train your eye to see what it important, to prioritize, and to have a ‘big picture’ of a lesson. From my own experience, this can even be intuitive sometimes – looking through the plan, knowing the students, and that teacher, bearing the lesson objective in mind, staying focused on how the students are responding, etc. Learning to ‘see’ rather than knowing where to ‘look’, as you said, comes with practice.

      Also, fully support what you are saying about paying attention to the real (not perceived) needs of the teacher. This is sometimes harder to do in combination with the needs of the students, school (system and goals), parents – but that’s exactly why an extra pair of eyes in class may be helpful.
      Once again, thank you for finding time to leave a comment – please do visit again!


  3. Pingback: Formal Observation, Formality and Dreaming | Wednesday Seminars

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