Learner observation tasks as a learning tool for pre-service teachers

  Allen, J.P.B., Fröhlich, M. and Spada, N. (1984). The communicative orientation of language teaching. In Handscombe, J., Orem, R.A. and

Learner observation tasks as a learning tool for pre-service teachers

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y subjective criteria. These criteria include the full answer to the questions, evidence of student teachers ability to describe what they have seen and link it to the activities of the lesson, evidence of reflection, and language explicitness. It is evident that all these criteria sound ambiguously. What should we treat as the full answer, evidence of reflection and language explicitness? In my paper I am going to introduce scientific criteria for assessment of observation for research purpose and adapt them to observation as a learning tool for teacher training education.


  1. Learner as a central focus of observation


1.2.1 Learners central role in the teaching process

For my dissertation I have designed observation tasks which are directed to observe and study learners behaviour, their attitude to each other, the teacher and the subject, and guide student teachers to contemplate about their motives, reasons of these behaviours. There are many reasons to set a learner in the centre of the observation. Historically, due to the teacher-centered approach in education, observation was focused to the aspects of teachers behaviours: opening /closing procedures, use of voice, handling discipline problems and many others. But all humanistic, language acquisition theories approach to the teaching process that an individual learner can bring his/her own experience, knowledge, ideas to the classroom. One of the main aims of the present teaching process is to help learners to be responsible for their learning progress, to promote their autonomy in language learning. To accomplish this aim, student teachers should know individual differences, learners subjective needs and preferences. This knowledge will help them to make instructional procedures more flexible to individual learning pace and needs (Tudor 1996:11) that enhance learners involvement into learning process and learners progress accordingly.


1.2.2 Reasons to observe learners behaviour

Another motive that drives me the idea to design learner observation tasks is the reports of my trainees after the teaching practicum. They have noted that students are of different levels but they are given the same tasks; tasks for students with lower level should be adapted; students should have not only group work but individual work; pupils demonstrate lack of interest in doing some tasks. These quotes clearly indicate student teachers awareness of individual differences and importance of individual approach to every learner or a group of learners. However, student teachers enter the classroom with a critical lack of knowledge (Kagan 1992:131) about pupils. To acquire knowledge of pupils, direct observation appears to be crucial. This requires structured guided observation that allows trainees to study pupils behaviours, to know their differences and needs to respond them appropriately through a variety of learning activities in their future lesson planning.

In an extensive review of hundred studies of beginning teachers Veenman (1984:144) ranked classroom discipline, motivation of students, and individual differences among students as their first three concerns. The purpose of compiling learner observation tasks is to change in the trainees knowledge of a class in terms of a progression: beginning with classroom climate and management, moving to motivation of students and their individual learning styles, and finally turning to students language proficiency.


1.3 Overview of chapters


The dissertation is intended to provide university supervisors and student teachers at Teaching Practicum with four observation tasks that are directed at observing learners behaviours.

Introduction explains the background situation in teaching practicum of TESOL Departments in High education in developing countries, particularly in the Kazakhstan Republic. I introduce the motives that have brought me the idea to develop materials for observation during the teaching practicum. The subsequent chapters have been divided into specific areas.

Chapter 2 gives a detailed account of observation in educational research and in the language classroom studies. Observation is defined as a direct research methods and a learning tool for data collecting. It emphasized characteristic features of observation as a scientific method and its difference from the natural process of looking. Some weaknesses of observation are specified, among which errors in representing data, objectivity of data recording and limitation of observable items are classified and described. Reliability and validity are two key processes that can enhance the trustworthiness of reported observations, interpretations, and generalizations (Mishler 1990:419). Typology of reliability and evidences of validity introduce methodological strategies and judgment criteria for objective assessing of observation data. To ensure scientific observation an observer must clarify focus of observation, approach to data collection, and ways of recording observation data. The paper presents four perspectives on a lesson for pre-service teacher education: teacher-centred, learner-centred, curriculum-centred and context-centred focus. Two approaches (system-based, ethnographic) are described in opposition, and ad-hoc instrument as a combination of both. Method and techniques of observation focus on the main instruments that have been developed for pre-service teacher education: field notes, anecdotal records, diaries, journals, personal logs, case studies, and checklists, observation schedules, observation tasks, selective verbatim, rating numerical scales. They are classified as procedures of a low degree and high degree of explicitness (Seliger and Shohamy 1989:158) respectively. Data evaluation is a late and crucial stage in observation method. For teacher training education evaluation of observation records constitutes a part of the teaching practicum assessment. In qualitative and quantitative research two approaches to analysis of the documents are presented: manual and computer based. A set of procedures and criteria is specified for manual evaluation.

Chapter 3 describes the details of the learner observation tasks design. It explains the choice of area for learner observation and the reasons of modification of classroom observation tasks elaborated by Wajnryb (1992). Description of the task frame, categories is provided.

Chapter 4 gives self-evaluation account of the designed materials in the context of the literature review. It explains the choice of the ad-hoc approach as the most appropriate instrument for teacher training education. I emphasise the combined features of ethnographic and structured approach to the design of the learner observation tasks. It is followed by the evidences of reliability and validity of the documents.

Chapter 5 introduces a brief background about the particular facet of learner behaviour that is to be focused on doing every observation task. This is followed by the actual description of the task, its objectives and the procedure of the work on the task before, during and after the lesson. I explain the choice of categories and symbols of the task that student teachers are recommended to employ in their descriptive notes.

Chapter 6 indicates further implication of the learner observation tasks into the Teaching Practicum Curriculum. Also three phases how to work with the tasks are given for university supervisors. I have adapted evaluation criteria proposed by Scott (1990) for manual assessment of trainees documents. Finally, some recommendations for future improvement of assessment procedure with the use of computer packages are introduced.

Chapter 2


Literature review


  1. What is observation?


  1. Observation in scientific research

Repeated reference refers observation as a method of data collection and a process involving representations and recordings in which reality is depicted. Techniques of observation are not themselves new: they have been used in scientific research for studying the behaviour of men and animals. Anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists were concerned primarily with describing observable behaviours and activities (Seliger and Shohamy 1989:118) with the systematic recording in objective terms of behaviour in the process of occurring (Jersild and Meigs 1939), and describing these in their entirety from beginning to end.

One could treat observation as a familiar and natural phenomenon that does not need any definition. Hutt and Hutt (1974) give no definition of observation in their book Direct observation and Measurement of Behaviour. The definition of general observation is given by Wright (1960:71) research methods… rest upon direct observation as a scientific practice that includes observing and recording and analysis of naturally occurring events and things. According to Wright (1960:71) observation is direct as no arrangements stand between the observer and the observed, and the records are usually compiled immediately after the observation. In a review article, Weick (1968:360) defines an observational method in more elaborative way as the selection, provocation, recording and encoding of that set of behaviours and setting organism in situ which is consistent with empirical aims.

So, the characteristic features of observation as a scientific method I can define as there should be a limited amount of information to be collected; the data should be recorded systematically and analysed over a period of time; the data should be congruent with the aims; the observation session must be planned; and, fina

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