Section 2b: Observation/Feedback Approach

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Section 2b:
Observation/Feedback Approach
         Observation/Feedback is a collegial, professional development approach that encourages
practitioners to analyze, critique, practice, reflect, and revise instructional practices. Frequently
equated with teacher evaluation (and thus "threatening" to some practitioners), Observation/ Feedback
takes several other forms, such as peer coaching, mentoring, and clinical supervision. Using
observation and feedback, practitioners may pair up, formally or informally, to practice a specific
instructional technique or strategy they wish to incorporate into their teaching repertoire or to gain
feedback on their overall teaching styles.
         Regardless of form, the approach may involve a series of observations and feedback
conferences to be held over an extended period of time, (or it may involve more limited observations).
The specific time frame depends upon specific practitioner needs and staff time, as well as the ability to
engage in the process. A professional development coordinator may set up the logistics for the
observation and conferences, provide guidance on techniques for observation and feedback, or be the
individual conducting the observations and feedback discussions.

Underlying Assumptions
         Observation/Feedback is based upon the following assumptions (Sparks and Loucks-Horsley,
                 ractitioners enhance their professional growth by reflecting and analyzing instructional

                 ractitioners need to practice new instructional strategies if they are to be effectively
                implemented in their classrooms;

                 bservations by others enhance reflective practices;

                 bservations benefit both the practitioner and the observer; and

                 ositive results from the efforts of practitioners to change behaviors foster efforts to
                continue to improve practices.

Observation/Feedback Approach                                                                            2b-1
Theory and Background
        The Observation/Feedback approach is grounded in the literature on teacher evaluation, clinical
supervision, cognitive processes, and peer coaching. Often an observation guide or focusing
instrument is used to narrow the scope of the observation. A pre-conference may be conducted to
allow the observer to gain more information prior to the actual observation (McGreal, 1982).
Alternating unfocused observations (the observer collects data on all significant instructional behavior,
to identify areas of strength and potential weakness) with focused observations (the observer gathers
data related to (a) a specific area the instructor wants to practice or (b) a problem that has been
identified) also enhances the process (Glatthorn, 1987).
        Glickman (1986) presents a framework for understanding individual learning processes that is
applicable to the Observation/Feedback process for adult education instructors. He categorizes teacher
thought into low, moderate, and high abstract cognitive levels. A practitioner's level of abstraction
helps to determine the processes for providing teacher feedback. (It is important to note that a
practitioner's level of abstraction may change over time as the individual gains skills, knowledge, and
experience.) Low abstract is characterized by confusion, a lack of ideas, dependence on "experts," and
unilateral responses to varying situations. Moderate abstract is characterized by focus on a singular
dimension of problems generated, few solutions, and assistance from authority figures on planning and
implementing actions. High abstract is characterized by identifying problems from multiple sources,
generating various solutions, and developing and implementing plans of action.
        Peer coaching provides an approach to professional development for instructors at all levels of
abstraction. Instructors at low abstract levels have the opportunity to observe classes, to see concrete
demonstrations and new ideas presented, and to discuss the techniques and strategies demonstrated
with professional development coordinators or mentors. Observers may help these instructors to reflect
upon their teaching practices and may need to ask a series of questions to help the instructor identify
problems, practices to follow, and ways to implement any chosen practice. Instructors at moderate
abstract levels also can observe peers, be observed, and discuss collaboratively with professional
development coordinators, mentors, or colleagues ways to build on their strengths and to improve and
refine their practices. Instructors with high abstract levels may be more likely to identify their own
areas for improvement or skill development, mutually engage in peer observation, and collaboratively
share findings with their colleagues.


2b-2                                     Professional Development Resource Guide for Adult Educators
        The Observation/Feedback approach involves two primary processes: observation and
feedback to the instructor. Thus, based on cognitive styles, participant needs, and staff availability,
participants can set parameters for various activities.
        Practitioners can work in pairs, based on mutual interests, needs, and schedules. By alternating
roles and by providing one another with feedback and support in refining their instructional practices
they can develop a sense of trust and collegiality. This approach is particularly effective if implemented
over a period of time during which practitioners actually experience changes as they apply new
        The professional development coordinator may play several roles in the process. He or she
may (a) provide training in new strategies or in the coaching process prior to the actual coaching, (b)
play the role of observer, or (c) facilitate the process among other practitioners.
        Observation/Feedback, whether in the form of supervisory observations, peer coaching, or
mentoring, includes four primary activities: a pre-observation conference, observation, analysis of
data, and a post-observation conference. Research findings demonstrate that continuous practice and
feedback are most effective in bringing about changes in behavior. Therefore, the steps in the
observation/assessment process are likely to be repeated over time, with each cycle building on the
findings of the previous cycle.
        Step 1: Conduct pre-observation conference.
        A pre-observation conference allows participants to articulate goals for improving instruction,
identify the focus of the observation (e.g., items on which instructors want feedback), discuss the goals
of the lesson, determine the block of time for the observation (to ensure that the targeted instruction
will take place), select the observation methods (e.g., use of tape recorder or video tape), and identify
any "special problems." Participants may choose to use a prepared observation instrument to narrow
the observation focus. Observers concentrate on specific elements of the instruction and provide
feedback for those elements. The pre-observation conference also allows the observer to gather
information prior to the actual observation, and thus enhance the validity and reliability of the
        Step 2: Observe instruction.
        The observer collects data by using the methods determined in the pre-observation conference,
which may include use of an observation instrument or (in the case of an unfocused observation) taking
exact notes on all significant behavior. There are a variety of techniques that the observer can use to
gather data on classroom activities. Some techniques provide a more detailed picture of what is

Observation/Feedback Approach                                                                         2b-3
occurring in the classroom setting; others focus on specific aspects of the learning environment. Smith
and Garner (1995) identify several observation techniques.
                unning Transcript. The observer records the lesson in a rough narrative form,
               including quantitative comments where relevant (such as "It's hard to hear you" or "No
               one answered," and timing activities.

                rids. The observer records comments under specific topic areas. For example, if the
               focus of the observation is teacher action/student action, grid headings would be
               "teacher" and "student."

                ally Sheet. The observer records the type of participation seen in the class. For
               example, to determine the level of teacher talk vs. student talk, use three headings,
               "teacher," "student," and "silent." When the teacher talks, draw a seating chart and
               note when each student participates.

                esson Plan. The observer records events in the class under headings such as
               "Presentation" and "Practice," to provide information on how the flow of the lesson

                ime Notation. The observer records the length of time of each activity or step to get a
               sense of the pacing of the lesson. It's easiest to do this if you record time at regular
               intervals, such as every 10 or 15 minutes.

                ialogue Recording. The observer records the actual words spoken by the teacher, or
               the teacher and the students, or the students. This information can be used to
               determine how clearly the communication is, what type of interaction takes place, who
               is interacting.

                ideotape. The videotape is as an objective a record of a class as possible. It's
               important to focus the camera on both the teacher and the class.

       Observation sessions will tend to flow more smoothly if the observer remains unobtrusive. As
Pennington and Young (1989) note, observations work best when the observer:
                rrives before the class begins (to allow some minimal contact with students and an
               introduction to the class before the lesson begins);

                its in an inconspicuous place where both students and teachers can be seen well
               (generally at the side or back of the room);

                voids distractive behavior during the observation (such as frowning, moving about, or
               making unnecessary noise); and

                esists the temptation to give any kind of verbal or nonverbal input or feedback during
               the observation (either to students or to the teacher).

2b-4                                   Professional Development Resource Guide for Adult Educators
        Step 3: Analyze data.
        The observer analyzes the information she or he has observed in order to assess the strengths of
the practitioner and to identify areas wherein further improvement is needed.
        Questions that may help the observer in the data analysis are:
                 ave any patterns become evident during the instructional process?

                 hat occurs in the classroom when . . . ?

                 ow does the instructor respond when . . . ?

                 ow does the instructor monitor and assess progress?

                 ow does the instructor accommodate diverse learning styles?

                 re there any noticeable changes in student behavior as a result of teacher behaviors or

                 here does the instructor seem particularly strong?

                 hat are the instructor's potential or existing areas of weakness?

                 ow well has the instructor met the objectives of the lesson?

(Note: The narrower the focus of the observation, the more specific the questions.)

        Step 4: Conduct post-observation conference.
        It is important to conduct a post-observation conference as soon after the observation as
feasible, given the schedules of the participants involved. This conference provides the opportunity for
both the instructor and observer to reflect on the lesson and for the observer to share the data collected.
The feedback focuses on practitioner strengths and potential areas for improvement and/or attainment
of goals established during the pre-observation conference. The CASAS Implementation Measure
(1993) describes techniques for the post-observation conference. It is important that the discussion be
informal, while the observer:
                 eminds the instructor of the area(s) targeted for observation;

                 sks the instructor how he/she felt about the session. Observers may also ask for areas
                where the instruction went especially well or did not go as planned. Gathering this
                information from the instructor will make the discussion much less threatening;

Observation/Feedback Approach                                                                         2b-5
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