Chapter 16 - Observation  pp. 114-119


By Kathleen M. Bailey

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Observation, as the term is used here, refers to the purposeful examination of teaching and/or learning events through systematic processes of data collection and analysis. Such events may occur in untutored environments (see Chapter 12) or in formal instructional settings. This chapter focuses on observation in language classroom environments. (See also Nunan 1992: 91–114.)

In language teaching and applied linguistics, classroom observation has historically served four broad functions. First, pre-service teachers are often observed in the practicum context by teacher educators, who typically give them advice on the development of their teaching skills as a regular part of pre-service training programmes (Day 1990). Second, practising teachers are observed either by novice teachers or by colleagues, for the professional development purposes of the observer. Third, practising teachers are observed by supervisors, course co-ordinators, department heads, principals or headteachers, in order to judge the extent to which the teachers adhere to the administration's expectations for teaching methods, curricular coverage, class control, etc. Fourth, observation is widely used as a means of collecting data in classroom research.

In each of the four contexts outlined above, teachers and learners have often been observed by outsiders. Recently, however, teachers themselves have undertaken classroom observation for a variety of reasons. These include peer observation for professional development purposes (Rorschach and Whitney 1986; Richards and Lockhart 1991–92), peer coaching (Joyce and Showers 1982, 1987; Showers 1985; Showers and Joyce 1996) and action research (Kemmis and McTaggart 1988; Mingucci 1999).