Cambridge Train the Trainer – Week 5

This is part of the series Cambridge Train the Trainer.

Observation. It leaves a bad taste in some teachers’ mouths. It’s one of those development tools that is probably done more poorly than well. It’s also one of the most important development tools we have, and it was the focus for this week. We looked at why observation is useful, what comes with observations (feedback, teacher emotions, etc.), and we also looked at feedback and pre-observations chats. Let’s take a quick look at those now.

Why observe?

Ok, if you have been following me for a while, you would have seen that I have written a lot about observation, why it’s worthwhile, and some of the negatives that come along with it. It is a brilliant tool that trainers and teachers should use more often! I’m sure you all have your own feelings about observation. In fact, when we started this week, we were encouraged to talk about how it felt being observed – there was a huge mixture of responses, both positive and negative. Rather than giving you a list of these, I thought I would give you what we were given on the course – the purposes of observation.

  • Training: In training observations, the focus is on noticing and analysing specific teaching skills (e.g. instructions, activity transitions, etc.).
  • Development: Development observations are those in which the teacher and observer agree on a focus for the observation (Peer observation falls into this category as well).
  • Assessment: Assessment observations are those in which the teacher needs to meet certain criteria to reach a pass mark. Usually on accredited courses such as Celta or Delta.
  • Research: These observations involve a number of lessons or sessions on teaching theory, activity, practice, etc. Then, the observation is usually conducted over a number of lessons testing a hypothesis or seeing if something works or not (e.g. wait time and learner participation).

We were asked which of these is more common in our context, to which I said developmental observations, although I believe they all have their place. What about your context? Which would be more common?

Giving feedback

The observation is just one part of the observation focus, as we all know. Then comes the feedback stage (I’m not sure if this stage is more daunting for the teacher or for the trainer at times!). We covered loads of really interesting information, but one of the most would have to be the feedback categories, which I had never seen before:

  • Directive: This is where the observer takes charge and gives ‘direct’ instruction almost. Basically, we say what should be done in order to achieve a certain result.
  • Alternative: Here our role is to focus the teacher’s attention on the lesson and help them come up with ideas regarding certain points. Both the teacher and trainer can give suggestions here, but it is generally the teacher who is in charge of making choices.
  • Collaborative: As the name says, the teacher and trainer work together to come up with ideas for the action points that were raised. Both the teacher AND trainer take responsibility here – this is important to note as the trainer then needs to follow this up (as all good trainers should!).
  • Non-directive: Here, the trainer basically asks questions to get the teacher to come up with their own ideas. Our trainer role is entirely supportive (very few if any ideas are given). Basically, we help the teacher expand on their thoughts! The teacher takes full responsibility here of the choices they make.

Some fascinating points here, for me at least. I can definitely see how some types of feedback are suited for certain types of teachers.

Pre-observation chat

So, before observations, teachers are usually stressed and have a lot on their mind. One great thing that can be done is the pre-observation chat. This is not an assessment of what the teacher has prepared so far, rather this is a chance to get the teacher to put into verbal words what they plan to do. And, as always, there is a little layout for the session which can allow teachers and trainers to notice the necessary points. Here it is:

  1. Content of the lesson
  2. Aims of the lesson
  3. Possible problems

You know, with most of the teachers that I have worked with for observations, we usually have a quick chat before the observation but never really following this formula per se. With that in mind, I look forward to trialling this and seeing how it works out. I think this will fit in nicely with mentoring session somehow!

Next week

This week was very information-heavy, which I didn’t mind. Next week we will be looking at the actual observation itself and a framework that can be used. Super excited, although I think it will be very information-heavy also!


  1. ROWA DOUGLAS says:

    Excellent, Jim! Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tom Godfrey says:

    I always look forward to your reflections. Great work – I know Marie Therese has been following your Blog too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Tom! I’ll keep them coming!


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