Observing teachers (3): Written feedback

Roger Hunt

Purpose

The type of written feedback you give to a teacher following an observation will depend on the purpose of the observation whether this is with teacher development or appraisal in mind, or perhaps a bit of both.

What to include

1 Description

Probably the best way to start a report is to give a brief description of the lesson. This will be particularly useful at later dates when you may need to look back on a report to prepare for a Professional Development or Appraisal interview with the teacher.

The description only need be long enough to help you and the teacher remember the lesson; it does not need to be detailed.

2 Post-lesson discussion

In the second article in this series I suggested keeping notes on what was discussed in the post-lesson discussion along with a list of action points and any commitments you made to provide the teacher with materials or resources. These notes should be expanded on and clarified in the final written report. You might label these "Discussion Points and Action Plan" (or similar).

A section on "Follow up" in which goals are set and agreed and a time frame given will serve both you and the teacher to remember these points, and remind you to get together in the future to discuss progress and developments.

3 Appraisal

If your report needs to include appraisal comments you will need to consider how to best express these. The following examples are divided according to the strengths of the lesson observed:

A very successful lesson:

  • This was a very successful lesson
  • Your aims were fully achieved
  • You displayed many (considerable) strengths in this lesson including...
  • The planning and execution of this lesson were both of a very high standard
  • The students were fully engaged
  • The students clearly found this very useful (and enjoyable)...

A weak lesson:

  • This lesson was not to the standard required at this school
  • In your next lesson/s you must ensure that you...
  • In order to continue to work here you must...
  • The students did not understand...
  • The students could not follow what you wanted them to do

A borderline lesson with positive features:

  • Although you displayed many strengths in this lesson your main aims were not fully achieved...
  • Even though you planned this lesson very carefully...
  • This lesson was partially successful in as much as...
  • Your aims were partially achieved
  • The students were not fully aware of what they had to...

It should be noted that the experience of the teacher should be taken into account: what was an unacceptable lesson for a very experienced teacher might be adequate for an inexperienced teacher who realises they still have much to learn.

Note also that in such cases it is wise to limit the number of action points you include: a list of twenty will be daunting and de-motivating to any teacher, whereas a list of three or four can be seen to be manageable. So, if you do have a long list of possible action points, choose the three or four that seem most important.

4 Observee written contribution

Once you have finished your report give it to the teacher observed and ask them to include a section of their own in which they can justify or comment on aspects of the lesson and commit to addressing the action points identified. You should both sign this as an affirmation of agreement.

Format

Many schools use a checklist report format in which the observer simply has to tick or rate (eg: from 1 to 5) the criteria included. While this can be quick and simple to complete and serve as a reminder of factors to be considered, it can also be viewed as de-personalised. A personalised report addressed to the teacher as described above represents a dialogic approach: a two-way discussion which sees the teacher as a person rather than a statistic – the sum total of the number of ticks on a checklist. Of course these two approaches can usefully be combined in one document. The following are the sort of areas you might consider in whatever type of written feedback you decide on:

  • Student participation: are there sufficient opportunities to use the language?
  • Student engagement: are the students interested in the lesson topic and tasks set by the teacher?
  • Use of pair and group work
  • Interaction by the teacher (clarity and communicability): do the students understand what the teacher says when giving instructions etc?
  • Lesson preparation: clarity of aims, logical staging, balance of activity type, variety of focus, logical flow of the lesson, appropriateness of materials selected, exploitation of materials
  • Attention to error and correction
  • Response to student queries
  • Ability to clarify and deal with new language points

Such a list could become very long indeed, but, as with prioritizing action points mentioned above, you need to keep any such list to a manageable length. Include only broad areas such as those given above and include any necessary detail in the personalized section(s) you write to the teacher.

I wish you the best of luck in your future observations and hope you find the tips given here useful and applicable in your teaching context.

See also

Observing teachers (1): Agendas

Observing teachers (2): oral feedback

Observing teachers (3): written feedback

More articles on language teaching