In the last few months of 2021, I studied the International House online course on observation and giving feedback. I’ve been meaning to post my thoughts about what I learned and the course itself, but the beginning of 2022 has been a busy time.
I have been observing teaching since I began my high school teaching career in 2010: first with pre-service observation and then peer-observation. As part of my CELTA, I observed teaching and then when I started working as a summer school Director of Studies, observation was part of my job description. Of course, as a teacher, I’ve lost count of the number of hours I’ve spent having my teaching observed. Despite all of this, I’d never had any systematic training that combined input with reflection about practice on the topic of observation. Instead, I had been following my instincts. Thus, when I came across the course offered by IHWO, I decided I wanted to participate.
The course itself was well-structured and nicely paced over six weeks, with the final assignment due a few weeks after the last unit. Although it was asynchronous, the weekly release of new content gave the course a rhythm that I could mesh with my own routines. Each weekly unit consisted of input text, sometimes with associated readings, sometimes with something to watch and always with questions to discuss on the forums and a reflective assignment task.
Two aspects that were real highlights of my experience were:
- The interactions with other participants (and the course tutor) on the forums. Hearing about how things are done in other institutions and the experiences of the other participants as both observer and observee were useful in widening my perspective of how observation is experienced (on both sides). This meant that I was able to consider how other ideas and approaches might work in my context, but also contribute my ideas that others might have chosen to benefit from.
- The feedback from my tutor on my weekly written reflective assignments was great. Not only did she provide a summative comment, but she added comments anchored to specific points in the text as well. This made the assignment experience feel like a dialogue and, indeed, I did respond to some of these in-text comments, thus continuing the dialogue further.
In addition, the final 2,500-word assignment task, asked me to reflect on the existing observation and feedback practices in my context and, based on my learning, propose a plan for improvement. Thus, the overall outcome was a useful, working document that I was able to take with me into the workplace and apply in order to improve our practice with the knowledge that the proposals were based on a solid foundations.
Overall, I can say that I learned a lot from the course and that it was easily manageable alongside a full-time work schedule. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for others who lack formal training in undertaking observation and would like to augment their skills in a structured way.