The advantages and disadvantages of blind observations
A “blind observation” means someone such as your Director of Studies doing everything that an observer usually does (e.g. running through your lesson plan with you before the lesson and having a feedback session after) apart from actually stepping into the classroom and watching your lesson. This means that the feedback session is much more based around your own awareness of what went on in your classroom. Some people might find this idea a little strange, and there are advantages and disadvantages to this method of doing lesson observations, some of which are listed below. Please note that the number of possible disadvantages given does not mean that I do not recommend blind observations, because I actually think it is a good thing to do if you do it the right way – tips for which are included below.
The advantages of blind observations
It is easier to convert into everyday awareness in your lessons: By making sure you are totally aware of what is going on in your classroom so you can describe what happened to your observer, you can train yourself to be more aware of what is happening in your lessons everyday.
Scheduling is easier: As the “observer” doesn’t need to be free at any particular time to come into your lesson, you won’t have problems of managers cancelling observations at the last minute due to scheduling emergencies. This also means the teacher can freely choose which lesson they want to focus on. There is, however, even more pressure than with normal observations to have a feedback session as soon as possible after the lesson, before the teacher forgets the details.
It’s good practice in observing someone else: The skills of being observant, writing a lesson up and giving a fair assessment of the lesson without focusing too much on the faults are all useful for when you observe someone else.
The teacher should act naturally because there is no observer in the classroom: This positive factor can be used as a way of teachers preparing themselves gently for a more high pressure “real” observation later or as a way of recovering from an observation where they got nervous and blew it a bit.
The students act naturally because there is no observer in the classroom: This is a particular benefit if you have a shy class or one that has been observed recently and might be put off by having a stranger in the classroom again.
The disadvantages of blind observations
The teachers might not take it seriously: There is something about knowing that someone is going to be in your room judging you that really focuses the mind, and you might not get the full benefit if blind observations are seen as an easy option. Ways of focusing the mind in blind observations too include: a meeting before the lesson to decide what you will be focusing on during the lesson; deciding to write out a full lesson plan; giving yourself marks; and completing a written feedback form before the feedback session, after the feedback session and/ or after you have had a week or so to think about how it went.
It might distract from the teaching: For those teachers who are not too distracted by having someone in their class observing them, having to be aware of lots of things you would normally ignore might throw you off your rhythm even more than a normal observation. Ways round this include concentrating on just one or two points of what goes on (e.g. student errors or classroom interactions) and planning a lesson with lots of pair and groupwork so you have time to look around and notice stuff.
It is more labour intensive for the person teaching the class: Because the person teaching the lesson has to write up the feedback and describe what happens to someone who hasn’t seen it, it can put more of a time burden on them than more typical observations do. The lessened stress of not being watched partly makes up for this, and observation tasks and feedback forms can be designed to make the additional time not too bothersome.
All the feedback has to be written down after the class: This means a free time has to be scheduled to do it, preferably before teaching another class, and that teachers have to be disciplined about doing so.
The teacher can’t take the students’ viewpoint: One great thing an observer at the back of your class can do is see things from the same position as your students, e.g. see if they can read the writing on the board, and this is difficult to reproduce in your own class. If you can get into the habit of stepping to the back of the classroom any chance you get, however, this is a great classroom routine to develop.
There are some things the teacher can’t possibly become aware of about their teaching: Some things just need another person’s eye, e.g. noticing things about your handwriting, accent, verbal ticks, or body language. Once you have had an observer who has seen your class point these things out, though, you should be able to notice them much more easily during a blind observation. The simplest solution, then, is to alternate blind observations and “normal” observations.
You can’t write and teach at the same time: Some observation tasks such as counting each S-S (student to student) and T-S (teacher to student) interaction are not possible for someone who has to teach the class at the same time. The only solutions are to choose easier observation tasks or to ask the students to monitor each other during groupwork, e.g. making each group of three a pair of speakers and one observer.