For a new teacher trainer in charge of revamping a somewhat outdated and inadequate teacher development programme, I’ve been feeling a little bit a pressure lately. But luckily the ELT world has a vast amount of literature to support teacher trainers such as myself. Common books you are likely to hear about related to this area include titles such as Professional Development for Language Teachers by Richards or the Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education, which is a book written by many well-known ELT heavyweights including Richards, Graves, Ellis and Farrell. Whilst these book deal with the whole spectrum of teacher training and development, Barsdell’s ELT Lesson Observation & Feedback Handbook, as the name implies, deals only with lesson observation. So, let’s get into the breakdown.
As previously mentioned, the book is about lesson observation, however Barsdell goes into detail about the whole process, from setting up and organising to the post-lesson feedback from both the teacher and trainer perspective – aspects which are often overlooked in many development programmes. The following is the chapter list:
- Types of lesson observation
- Setting up a formal observation
- Decoding lesson plans
- Lesson plan feedback comments
- Assessing teaching practice
- Teaching practice feedback comments
- Preparing written feedback
- Giving face-to-face feedback
- Alternative ways to manage oral feedback
- Alternative ways to observe a lesson
The book also includes a number of useful photocopiable proformas including a lesson plan checklist and blank lesson plans for grammar/function and lexis focused lessons.
Plainly put, I like this book, and let’s go through the reasons why this is. First of all, Barsdell gives very clear, succinct, to-the-point explanations of the main aspects of the lesson observation process. She also makes clear what parts are essential and what parts are non-essential but nice to have. Furthermore, in chapters four and six, she has provided the reader with a number of comments to be used when giving feedback to teachers. Now, having written hundreds of report cards for my learners, I have a pretty good understanding of how hard it is to come up with the right comments to use that convey the ideas you want appropriately. Doing the same for teachers is even more demanding and potentially even more face-threatening. To that end, I would say that these two chapters are amongst the most useful of the book.
Of course, though, it would be remiss of me to say what the book lacks, which in reality is not that much. It has almost everything that a good handbook needs: clear explanations, examples, resources and ideas for alternative treatments to suit different contexts (some of these are really quite interesting). However what I would have liked to have seen is an example completed lesson plan, lesson plan reflection, feedback, etc. Without these, it leaves the reader with an understanding of what is needed to be done, how it is needed to be done, however with no real example of which to base it off.
Another interesting point that the author could consider is something that Pete from ELT planning suggested (find his review here)… a blog or series of blog posts to go along with the book. These could give a little bit more detail to some of the areas of the book that covered only the basics and be a good platform to demonstrate the feedback comments in practice. Perhaps a forum could even be created for teachers trainers to comment on how they are using the information from the book?
Note: After writing the above paragraph, I went searching and found Barsdell’s new blog. It is still in the early stages, but I’m sure there will be more content very soon.
Barsdell’s ELT Lesson Observation and Feedbook is a well-written, easy-to-follow handbook that deserves a place on all teacher trainer bookshelves right next to the well-known titles mentioned initially. This book is aimed at teacher trainers in general, however I would say that new teachers trainers would benefit most from reading it. Being a new teacher trainer myself, I can say that I have benefitted from this greatly, and so I know that other new teacher trainers are likely to do so as well. I have found the proformas at the back of the book extremely useful, and, whilst I haven’t followed them word for word, they have been the base for the new observation checklists and lesson plan proformas for my school. €20 well spent in my mind!
Hopefully, this review has given you more insight into what to expect from the book. If you have any other ELT books that you would like reviewed, be sure to get in contact I’ll see what I can do!
- Title: ELT Lesson Observation & Feedback Handbook
- Author: Jeanette Barsdell
- ISBN: 9781983308000
- Pages: 125