EDITORS: Gloria Park, Handoyo Puji Widodo, and Andrzej Cirocki TITLE: Observation of Teaching SUBTITLE: Bridging Theory and Practice Through Research on Teaching SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Second Language Teaching 11 PUBLISHER: LINCOM GmbH YEAR: 2010
Andrew Blyth, Faculty of Arts and Design (TESOL), University of Canberra.
This recent edition to the LINCOM Studies in Second Language Teaching series claims to be 'grounded in postmodern perspectives on teaching', and 'offers fascinating insights into observation of teaching' (back cover statement). The volume assumes that there is disconnection between pedagogical theory and practice, and claims that the observation of teaching can address this issue. The volume is a collection of essays and original research that can benefit teacher educators, as well as beginning and novice English Language Teaching (ELT) researchers. It is divided into five sections: I) Conceptual Framework of Teacher Research; II) Conducting a Critical Self-Reflective Inquiry; III) Conducting Observation of Teaching, Viewing Teaching from the Other Side; IV) Lessons Learned from Post-Observation Discussions, Forms of (Dis)empowerment; and V) Promoting Critical Praxis in Teacher Education Programs. In its fourteen chapters, the volume includes 27 contributing authors from a variety of contexts and cultures including (predominately) the US, as well as Australia, Japan, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Turkey, and the UK.
Section I, Conceptual Framework of Teacher Research
Chapter 1, 'Observing Classroom Lessons for Professional Development', by Kathleen M. Bailey
Bailey begins the book with the purpose of detailing observations, as well as the definitions of a classroom, observation, reflective teaching, data, and professional development. She focuses on professional development of the teacher and the classroom observer. Bailey gives brief descriptions of some observation instruments, such as Foreign Language Interaction Analysis (FLint), and Communicative Orientation to Language Teaching (COLT), and then adds two other observation options: open-ended note taking and electronic recording. She also describes the advantages and disadvantages of these, whilst providing the reader with essential references to expand his or her reading of the topic.
Chapter 2, 'Professional Development through Reflective Practice in and FOR Action', by Thomas S. C. Farrell
Farrell focuses on teachers' professional development through being self-critical. He defines different types of reflective practice, such as 'Reflection IN Action' (reflection during teaching), and 'Reflection ON Action' (after teaching), and 'Reflection FOR Action' (pre-empting the next teaching episode). Farrell also provides a brief example of reflection done by one of his colleagues. 'Frank', an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher, decided to reflect on his beliefs of communicative language teaching. To do this, Frank kept a journal for five weeks, and concluded that he should be writing instructions for classroom activities on the board, and that the students should discuss the instructions ahead of the task, thereby facilitating student comprehension.
Chapter 3, 'Learning by Doing: The Role of Data Collection in Action Research', by Denise E. Murray
This paper begins by highlighting the nature of Action Research (AR), which is both collaborative and humanistic (50-51), and how AR can be used to resolve a problem that might be 'puzzling' teachers. It provides a description of an AR project conducted within the Australian Adult Migrant English Programme (AMEP), a government English language-teaching programme for newly arrived migrants. This chapter rehashes Kemmis and McTaggart's four moments of AR (1986): Reflection, Planning, Action, and Observation. Murray then provides samples of the observations elicited from the project. One example includes how a teacher provided paper-handouts to EFL learners on how to find and navigate a website. The following lesson, the teacher was ill, but a tutor carried out the observation. The tutor reported that the learners were indeed able to complete the task with little to no support and felt a sense of accomplishment.
Chapter 4, 'Classroom Ethnographies: Doing Teacher Research', by Andrzej Cirocki
Cirocki provides a simple and clear background to ethnography, which serves as a transition for the reader to become involved in his paper. He describes the history of ethnography and then provides clear examples of ethnographic detail and interview excerpts, with some details as to how these were obtained. Cirocki proposes some key elements for successful ethnographic studies, including being non-partisan, listening attentively, nurturing networks, building trust, and clearly reporting findings. Cirocki also briefly describes the ethnographic data collection and analysis process suitable for EFL, and also provides a brief description of general ethical issues of ethnography and research, a topic that is so rarely discussed in Applied Linguistics.
Section II, Conducting a Critical Self-Reflective Inquiry
Chapter 5, 'When the Mirror Reflects Two Faces: Critical Self-reflection', by Pisarn Bee Chamcharatsri
The chapter begins with the motives of observation, including training, learning, supervision, and even employment related issues. Chamcharatsri questions the necessity of using observation for supervision or judgement making (85, 95). Chamcharatsri has the view that ''…observation is used as a tool in prescribing or imposing the way teachers are supposed to teach'' (85). He also cites Rowe (1972, 85) stating that teachers have the ''right to be wrong'', as teachers have the freedom to plan and teach lessons in their own way. Chamcharatsri instead prefers to use observation for collaboration, exploration, and reflection on teaching practice (87). For observation data collection, Chamcharatsri suggests using tallies of particular behaviours, short descriptions, and video recordings.
Chapter 6, 'It's Not Me: A Teacher's Reflection of Self-Discovery through Delpit's Culture of Power Theory', by Lynnette Mawhinney
This paper discusses Mawhinney's own personal classroom experience in the first language (L1) context. It describes how the author struggled with linguistic-culture related problems in the L1 context, and how she used Delpit's (1995) work to 'revolutionise [her] pedagogy and interactions with students' (100). Mawhinney describes how her English native-speaking student Raheem (pseudonym) could not interpret indirect questions from his teacher, for instance 'Can you have a seat?' as being a request which had to be obeyed. Later, she realises that she should re-frame such requests as 'Raheem, have a seat', which apparently is the effective means of communication in Raheem's social class; the resulting effect is that Mawhinney becomes successful in class management. Delpit claims that many teachers use this 'silenced dialogue' to reinforce their power over students of lower social classes and also describes how teachers should speak to their students to avoid class management issues and encourage improved social relations and class mobility.
Section III, Conducting Observation of Teaching: Viewing Teaching from the Other Side
Chapter 7, 'Humanising Pedagogy and the Personal Essay', by Hayat. Messekher, John Leonard Reilly, and Marlen E. Harrison
This paper discusses the apparent competing needs of student-centred pedagogy, maintaining academic standards, and empowerment of students through the writing process, as cited from Elbow (1994, cited on 111). The authors state that catering to the variety of views and abilities of students is incompatible with maintaining academic standards. The article discusses the use of online tools including blogs, experienced peers, and auto-ethnography as means to include the 'self' in the course of study, thus empowering students.
Chapter 8, 'Teachers' Identity in Practice: A Study of a NNES Instructor of an Undergraduate Research Writing Course', by Nawwaf Alhazmi, John Grant, and Takako Shimoda
The authors describe a teacher and her interactions with her class in the Initiation, Response, and Evaluation (IRE) framework. The IRE framework was first devised to describe and observe teacher-student classroom interactions, mainly through a question-answer pattern. It also describes how the teacher uses her racial identity (Korean-American) to support her authority, whilst encouraging classroom participation, which has mostly positive in-class social implications.
Chapter 9, 'Magic in ESL: An Observation of Student Motivation in an ESL Class', by Chikako Hara, and Whiney Tudor Sarver
This paper describes an observation of a teacher, Ferguson (pseudonym), and how she turns a seemingly quiet class into a communicative class. The description includes the teacher's pedagogical nuances that lure students into speaking and speaking confidently. The chapter explores Ferguson's beliefs, her strategies for engaging her students, her implementation of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), and her relationship with her students. To encourage students to speak, Ferguson aims to reduce anxiety and insecurity by providing positive feedback, asking open-ended questions, and focusing on meaning.
Section IV, Lessons Learned from Post-observation Discussions: Forms of (Dis)empowerment
Chapter 10, 'The Parameter of Particularity: A Critical Analysis of a Supervisory Observation of an EFL Teacher's Classroom in Turkey', by Alev Özbilgin, and Dan J. Tannacito
Chapter 10 provides a rich description of a power struggle between Danyal (pseudonym), a beginning-novice teacher seeking promotion, and an ill-equipped supervisor-observer administrator, Jane Smith (actual nationality uncertain). The power struggle Danyal describes contrasts the university’s stated aims of being progressive and student centred with administration, represented by Jane Smith, who is test-oriented and rigidly bureaucratic. This description clearly shows the flaws and dangers of lesson-observation for use for employment decisions and the negative impact observations can have.
Chapter 11, 'Dialogic Talk in the Post-Observation Conference: An Investment for Reflection', by Steve Mann, and Fiona Copland
This paper presents original research conducted in an adult college of education in the UK during a Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course. The course involves teaching practice and feedback sessions between trainers and trainees, during which the use of dialogue in knowledge construction of trainee teachers in post-observation feedback sessions are described. The authors describe in detail the turns taken in a conversation, demonstrating how trainees analysed a teaching moment through the elicited guidance of their trainer, collectively reflecting on a teaching act, and constructing their pedagogical knowledge system.
Section V, Promoting Critical Praxis in Teacher Education Programs
Chapter 12, 'Crossing Borders: Interdisciplinary Collaboration among Teacher Education Faculty', by Margo Delli Carpini, and Amanda Gulla
The authors describe a project where teacher candidates (TCs) from both Teaching English as a Second Other Language (TESOL) and English (L1 mainstream education) collaboratively worked together. TCs were required to teach their own class, as well as act as assistant teachers with their partner from the other discipline, and vice-versa. It is claimed that this allowed new TCs to gain a deeper appreciation of each other's disciplines, and thus improve their own pedagogical knowledge and collaboration skills. The programme claims success and has been expanded to TESOL and Science, TESOL and Social Studies, and TESOL and Mathematics. Suggestions for ensuring success in cross-discipline teacher education are also given, including careful planning and extensive literature review, and ensuring opportunities for TCs to engage in collaborative experiences.
Chapter 13, 'Developing Cross-Cultural Competence through Observation and Dialogic Teacher Inquiry', by Melinda Martin-Beltran
This paper describes how Martin-Beltran used an observation instrument to assist in the training of pre- and in-service English as a Foreign Language (EFL) / English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers, in an M.Ed TESOL course, who are from both international and domestic (US) contexts. The instrument Martin-Beltran used was a melding and adoption of SIOP (no explanation given in text) from Echevarria, Vogt, and Short (2004; cited on p. 216) and Pranksy and Bailey (2002; cited on p. 216). Teachers were to observe their own teaching practice, their classmates' teaching practice, conduct interviews with actual students, and maintain a research journal. The chapter concludes that this observation instrument was successful in developing cross-cultural communicative competence, and also has other benefits.
Chapter 14, 'Building Evidence-Based Teacher Education Through a Continuum of Classroom-Centred Reflective Practices', by Divonna M. Stebick, Carol R. Rinke, Mara M. Fedeles, and Lindsey A. Kowalsky
The authors reflect on the use of observation and reflection in pre-service teacher education for teacher candidates (TC), demonstrating that teachers benefit from moving from a 'which may work' to a 'what do[es] work' (231) evidence-based approach to decision making. TCs are also asked to use on-line social networking platforms like blogs and forums for reflection and communication, and to elicit feedback and support. In one case, a TC was able to learn how to effectively intrinsically motivate her students, whilst expanding her 'instructional toolbox'. Results from the study show that such observation-reflection is beneficial to pre-service teachers despite their initial reluctance.
This volume is a collection of mostly essays and some original research reports, providing only cursory content on each topic. Some of the essays are based on personal or academic experiences, but at times the choices of what was included in the volume seem inconsistent with the stated aims (see comments on Chapters Six and Eight below). Most of the papers are quite brief, which, if anything, provides the reader with a starting point in their own reading and professional development. The volume as a whole does not seem to offer much that is spectacularly new (except maybe Chapter 10); however, Chapter Eight does include an example of original research.
Whilst some chapters are very relevant to current issues in second language (L2) education, Chapters Six and Eight were not related to L2 learning. Chapter Six was about issues of class, hegemony and the use of language in an L1 context. While this may be relevant in the US, it has at best some relevance in L2 and EFL education. Mawhinney explains how her own middle-class language (especially the use of indirect questions as classroom commands) was the inadvertent cause of behavioural problems with a particular student of a different social class. Whilst this is a great lesson for beginning teachers in the L1 context, its relevance to L2 teachers, who are linguistically more sensitive, is not demonstrated. Mawhinney explains how she taught Raheem the 'silenced dialogue', a term to describe hegemonic language, by using L1 literary texts. However, in the L2 context, many teachers prefer explicit or modified comprehensible classroom language, and so the problems and solutions that Mawhinney described are not completely compatible with the L2 teaching and learning context. Consequently, many teachers may find this chapter to be of limited value.
Chapter Eight refers to a mainstream university writing class in the US, which was taught by an instructor who is Korean-American. Whilst the chapter does discuss the power of classroom observation, it is focused on classroom discipline and classroom participation of mainly L1 students. Again, the pertinence of this chapter to L2 specifically is limited. Furthermore, whilst the chapter focuses on what is observable, it does stray momentarily into speculation when it attempts to explain the lack of participation of students, which may be one of the limits of observation, where other forms of research can be more useful.
I was looking forward to receiving this book but after starting to read it, I felt it lacked a certain quality and academic rigour. Chapter One appears to be an unstated introduction of sorts, and is merely a summary of the current literature on observation, and an abbreviated version of Bailey’s chapter in Carter and Nunan (see Bailey, 2001). Chapter Three utilised Kemmis and McTaggart's four moments of an AR project: Planning, Action, Observation, and Reflection (Kemmis and McTaggart, 1986). However, Murray suggests a superficial modification beginning with Reflection, then Planning, Action, Observation, Reflection, and repeat. In fact, Kemmis and McTaggart now suggest a more elaborate and cyclic model of these four moments (ibid 2005). Murray then provides samples of the observations elicited from the project not reported within the Kemmis and McTaggart framework, and does not provide clear examples of how the four moments were used in data gathering and interpretation. Chapter Six spoke of a critical incident of self-discovery in teacher development, yet failed to list a single critical incident related reference. Chapter Seven also discusses critical incidents, and at least references Pennycook (2001 & 2004). However, no link between these two chapters was attempted despite in-volume cross-referencing being the norm in a collection of papers such as this. This disconnection between papers is illustrated through the example of Bailey's first chapter referring to observation models like COLT, FLint, and others. Though some authors had referenced Bailey’s previous papers, none of the other contributing authors referred to her opening chapter even though it was highly relevant. Furthermore, only a few chapters (3, 8, 13, and 14) demonstrate or refer to literature-based observation models.
In contrast to some earlier inclusions in the volume, Chapters Eleven and Thirteen seem to be two of the few chapters that are clearly laid out in a familiar research report format, and are complete with a clear description of research methodology and reasoning for its choice. This may be a reflection of inconsistent editorial decisions, or the freedom given to authors. However, given the lack of cross-referencing between papers in the volume, it appears that this volume has received very minimal editorial involvement. For example, the editors should have insisted that in Chapter Ten, ''Jane Smith'', who apparently has weak English language skills, have her nationality defined (165). Furthermore, some basic proofreading of the final draft by a professional editor was perhaps needed before going to press, as some grammarians may find some passages idiosyncratic and may also be amused by a 67-word long sentence (195).
In contrast to some sections, it seems that only sections IV and V clearly meet the aims of the book. According to the back cover statement, this volume assumes that a gap exists between theory and practice, and that observation can bridge this gap. To give credit, no other chapter demonstrates this gap more dramatically than Chapter Ten, which provides a rich description of the misuse of observation that impacted the employment of a teacher, as well as Chapter Eleven, which demonstrates how observation can be effectively used to bridge the theory-practice gap in teacher education.
Despite the above criticisms, the volume carries a lot of breadth, albeit, at the expense of depth. In fact, I admit I have many post-it notes sprinkled through the book marking useful quotes.
Bailey, K. 2001 Observation. In R. Carter, and D. Nunan (eds). The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Delpit, L. 1995. Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. NY, USA: New Press.
Kemmis, S. and McTaggart, R (eds). 1986. The Action Research Planner. Geelong, Australia: Deakin University Press.
Kemmis, S. and McTaggart, R. 2005. Participatory Action Research: Communicative Action and the Public Sphere. In N. Denzin, and Y. Lincoln (eds). The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd Edition). Thousand Oaks, USA: Sage Publications.
Pennycook, A. 2001. Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Pennycook, A. 2004. Critical moments in a TESOL praxicum. In Bonny Norton & Kelleen Toohey (eds.), Critical pedagogies and language learning, 327-345. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Andrew Blyth is a doctoral candidate at the University of Canberra,
Australia. He currently lives in central Japan and teaches at various
universities. He specialises in teaching listening, pronunciation, and