Positive peer observations

Early refLecTions

A few weeks ago I was coming to the end of my contract in my current job and so I thought it would be useful to observe some of the other teachers where I work as I know they are very experienced teachers. As with most teaching jobs the terms always fly by without much breathing space so observations seem to fall by the wayside and I almost backed out of these observations in favour of marking but I’m so glad I didn’t because, as always, they were invaluable. Richards and Farrell (2005) list a number of benefits of observation:

“It provides an opportunity for the teachers to see how someone else deals with many of the same problems teachers face on a daily basis”.
“A teacher might discover that a colleague has effective teaching strategies that the observer has never tried”.
“Observing another teacher may also trigger reflections about…

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Follow-up on “Washback”

Kathleen M. Bailey’s article on washback spawned a lively discussion at the ELT Springboard meeting in Bern last Thursday.

The term washback refers to any effects, be they beneficial, harmful or neutral, a test has on the teaching and learning which happens in a language class and outside the classroom. Even though there has not been much research into the issue so far, and therefore hardly any evidence, it is generally acknowledged that teachers and learners adapt their strategies and activities to the demands of a prospective test. This implies that a test should always be in line with the teaching methodology.

From a teacher’s perspective it may be helpful to distinguish between two ideal types of tests: those prescribed by an external authority which decides on content, length, standards for marking, test schedule etc., and internal tests set by the teacher, possibly together with the learners. It emerged from the discussion that teachers and learners have to take external tests as they are. They will inevitably tailor their teaching and learning to them. One could even say it is their job to do so. On top of this, exam preparation courses are organised by schools and publishers offer materials for such courses. So, external tests will usually produce a great deal of washback.

By contrast, internal tests and evaluation may be used by teachers to motivate learners, to show them their progress or to give the course a structure. In this way, assessment becomes an integral part of the teaching (and learning).

One of the ideas that came up during the discussion was that the teacher can record learners at the beginning of a course – when they introduce themselves or say something about a topic they are interested in – and play it back to them later in the course, or she can ask them to write a text, collect the texts and give them back later. While it is not exactly washback, this is a simple means to give learners an opportunity to assess their progress themselves and therefore enhance learner autonomy.

Thanks a ton to Markus for hosting and writing this follow-up!

Do you have any remarks, ideas, questions? Post a comment below.

Working for washback

How much do you test, evaluate, or assess your students? Is it formal or informal? If you teach an exam preparation course or a course in which students receive a grade, what effect does having exams have in the learning process? If you don’t teach a course with formal exams, do you use other forms of evaluation or assessment?

Before you come to the next Springboard get-together, have a look at this section of this text, the section titled, “How can we promote beneficial washback?”, written by a researcher out of the Monterrey Institute of International studies, about Washback. If you don’t know what washback is, read more from the whole text here.
Help us answer these questions and  build your professional value as a teacher!
Come to the next Springboard get-together on Thursday 23rd February at 20:00 at The Fitting Room Restaurant in Welle 7, just next to the Bern main station. Or follow the blog, by clicking on the gear wheel at the top of the page.

24 January–New Year, New Ideas

Happy New Year to you all! Our next ELT Springboard meeting will be on 24 January in The Fitting Room (in Welle 7, adjacent to the Bern bahnhof). I look forward to seeing you there! The evening’s topic will be New Ideas. Please RSVP in the comments so I know how many people to expect.

Task 1 is for you to bring in one or two new ideas that you would like to introduce to your professional practice in the new year. We’ll discuss the ideas with each other and hopefully we’ll be able to talk about them with someone who’s done something similar or can help us find resources to ease the way. By talking about them with others, we’ll also build accountability and have someone to follow up with later in the year.

Task 2 is to give a short report on some professional development that you have done recently. This can be anything from reading a book or attending a webinar to taking a course or doing a degree. There is a great professional development opportunity in Zurich on 21-22 of January: the ETAS (English Teachers Association of Switzerland) Annual Conference. Plenaries from Sarah Mercer and Jeremy Harmer on Saturday; Herbert Puchta and Carole Robinson on Sunday. Click here to read the programme and click here to learn more about ETAS. I’ll be going both days and I plan to talk about one of the speakers or workshops at the ELT Springboard meetup.

If you’re taking the train on Saturday morning, get in touch and we’ll ride together! Otherwise, see you on the 24th!