Making the most of peer observations in CELTA, CertTESOL practice lessons

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A lesser-known and often undervalued aspect of initial teacher education courses such as the Trinity CertTESOL and Cambridge CELTA centers on how you can make the most of the time in which your co-trainees are teaching their observed lessons. You can learn a lot from watching other teachers at the same stage in their development as yourself. Still, many course trainees do not take this opportunity as they are so focused on their own lesson preparation that they do not have the headspace to focus on what others in their group are doing.

This article will look at why peer observation is so important and provide some ways of ensuring that you engage critically with the lessons that you see on the course, building your co-trainees’ work into your own development as a teacher.

Why is peer observation encouraged on initial training courses?

Teachers with any amount of experience should be open to new ways of doing things. You can read all the advice in the world about how to teach, what to teach, and which tasks work well in different class types, but there is no substitute for watching someone do it for real in front of a real group of learners.

Peer and management observation is an important part of Continuous Professional Development. It is something that I encourage in my teachers and teacher trainers regularly, so it is a routine that every teacher should get used to from an early stage.

Seeing some tasks go well and other activities fall flat is equally helpful to your development, as you can learn effective techniques and things to watch out for from an outside perspective and with an objective viewpoint. In the heat of the class, teaching choices can be made based on shaky reasoning, but the evidence for why students react as they do may be more apparent to an outside observer. This is one reason why most initial training courses encourage peer observation, often making it a compulsory part of the teaching practice component of the course.

A second reason why watching your peers work through their lessons is an effective training tool is that every member of the teaching group has something to contribute in post-lesson feedback sessions. Three pairs of eyes on a lesson will generate three times as many points for reflection, discussion, and feedback. Remember, there is rarely a ‘correct’ way of teaching something, so having three people’s views on a teaching moment and three times the possible alternatives will expand your skillset enormously lesson by lesson.

How can you maximize your experience in classroom observations?

On a typical intensive TESOL training course, the morning you are timetabled to teach will mainly be taken up with one consideration: your lesson. Under planning and overthinking can lead to panic or stress on the morning of TP, but this should not be so.

Make sure that you are well prepared and ready to get up and teach, you have printed out your lesson plan and materials and got the audio files prepared for your lesson before the first teacher starts theirs, and you will have much more headspace to focus on the lessons prior to yours. Safe in the knowledge that you are ready to teach, you can focus on how your peers (and the students) perform in other lessons.

If you find it difficult to focus during other trainees’ classes, you can prepare an observation instrument to help you summarise key points from the lessons you see, focusing on the achievement of aims, quality, and quantity of teacher language, the effectiveness of tasks, timing, etc. You won’t need to spend too much time and energy noting down what you see for discussion in post-lesson feedback.

As you observe your peers in their lessons, don’t just focus on the teacher and what they are doing; remember that the true evidence of a lesson’s effectiveness is shown by what the students are doing. Listen to the learners talking, their questions and comments, and this makes an excellent material for discussion with the teacher after the lesson.

Finally, at each stage of the lesson, you see, think, ‘what would I do in the same situation?’. If a student asks a challenging question, note it, and try to answer it yourself. If an activity falls flat (as is bound to happen at some point), think, ‘how would I do that differently?’. Discussing alternative approaches is crucial in making your and others’ teaching better and building that skillset for your future teaching.

However, you approach the lessons you see on your initial training course, remember that just because you are not teaching, it doesn’t mean that you are off-duty. The most successful teachers coming off the course will be those who take every opportunity to engage with the teaching and learning they experience, whether that is performed by themselves or their peers on the course.

Posted On: October 30, 2020.

Author: Tom Garside

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