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Feb 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 1

ISSN 1755-9715

ELT Lesson Observation & Feedback Handbook

Jeanette Barsdell from the UK has 30 years of experience in the EFL industry.  She has been a teacher. DOS, Cambridge trainer, center manager and EFL business entrepreneur, opening language related businesses and training centers internationally.  She is now a freelance consultant, writer and short course provide. She runs a blog for lesson observers at: , email:

Most people become a Director of Studies (DOS) because they are good in the classroom and have gone on to do further teaching qualifications.  So, from a teaching background they are thrust into a complex managerial job that requires skills and knowledge well beyond that of teaching.  A key part of the DOS role is assessing lessons, which may be in response to negative learner feedback, for a recruitment process, a marketing tool, a teacher training course or for ongoing in-house teacher development.

Whatever the reason for lesson observation the DOS is in a very tricky and pressured situation with powerful potential outcomes based on their judgment.  Get it wrong and for example, you can lose valuable customers, demotivate or lose the teacher leading to staffing and recruitment issues. The DOS also risks their own credibility through potentially poor understanding of what is happening or weak feedback skills, a worry that can be compounded by observing older, or more experienced, or argumentative teachers, or perhaps not working in their native language.

In addition to the causes for anxiety there is very little published or online practical support available for new lesson observers. The subject is covered in some more advanced training courses, and there are academic articles and some books geared to the more practical but these tend to be aimed at teacher trainers rather than DOS’s. In a network of schools, observers can at least get to support each other, and in the best companies there are regular observation training sessions, but in single unit schools a DOS is often quite isolated, sometimes being the only teacher with higher qualifications and not having anyone trained to talk the issues through with. 

Consequently when I work with DOS’s, almost without fail they want help in this area. The comment I most often hear is: I don’t know what to say to the teacher. Unpicking what this means I find that the DOS will observe and understand that there are problems in a lesson but they are not quite sure why they are happening, what the root cause is. They are also unclear on what the priority of the teacher’s need is, what is the first issue to resolve and then how to articulate the issues and suggest constructive ways to improve.  Conversely, they also struggle with very good teachers for the same reason, how to state and evidence the positive comments in a useful way.

The handbook is a designed to give very practical support to DOS’s with the entire observation and feedback process, which they can dip into and adapt to their own individual contexts. The material starts with different types of lesson observation, including peer, formal and marketing.  Each description is accompanied by the necessary management considerations, which might be cost, reporting structures, potential in-house political issues or time requirements.  As a naïve first time DOS I set up a peer observation system without clear guidelines. Although there were some successes I found that teachers didn’t necessarily link up with the teacher they would learn most from and without a clear feedback process it risked becoming something of a gossip fest!  I also hadn’t added in the cost of covering the teacher’s lessons so my Director wasn’t too pleased at a raised salary bill.

The book then focuses on the process for setting up a very formal and full observation, which can be tailored for different contexts. There is photocopiable material, which help to standardize the lesson plans within a school. The book has tips for the DOS including things teachers say to avoid submitting a plan!  My favorites are ‘I am an intuitive teacher so I don’t need a plan’ and ‘I like to see what mood the learners are in before I teach’.  Included is an easy to use checklist to make sure all bases are covered. Within the book there are different checklists for quick reference.

The chapter on decoding lessons plans is packed with practical ideas for working out if a plan is likely to lead to a successful lesson or not. For example, noting the interaction patterns at each stage and calculating if the amount of overall T/S is over 30% which suggests the lesson is likely to be slow paced, heavily focused on the teacher, and not very learner centered.

There is also a chapter that helps the observer in teaching practice to understand the skills shown and those still needed by the teacher.   For example, the observer may see weak instruction sets, which lead to confusion and student time off task. The book offers practical solutions such as advising the teacher to start all instruction sets with a verb and to script complex task instructions before the lesson.  The material helps the observer to evidence their comments, moving the lesson critique from mostly description to an approach of:

description + analysis + potential revised outcome if needed

The material is supported by extensive suggested commentary notes that can be used for oral or written feedback. . The idea is that the DOS can dip into the notes and use what they want depending on their own context.

There is a chapter on giving oral feedback, the key to which is preparation.  Most DOS’s cite oral feedback as the most challenging aspect of the observation process. Firstly consider what you as an individual are bringing to the process, what are your biases, personal tastes or lesson bugs? Think about how you will feel when you observe one of your favorite tasks taught in another way, which may be an improvement or not! Also, be clear in your own mind what you want from the process.

The next step is to have confidence in your written feedback. Talk it through with someone else if you can. One tip is to give your commentary notes to another observer and ask them to decide what they think the key lesson developmental points are. If you don’t have someone to talk it through with I suggest you leave it alone for a day and come back to it the next day, often our perspective shifts with time.

If you have prioritized your feedback and have a maximum of 3 clear developmental points plus at least 3 lesson strengths, then rehearse what you want to say. Keep it simple and kind.  Make sure you have time and a comfortable space to give feedback and that you have a follow up organized.  Good luck!

The Lesson Observation and Feedback Handbook is available in paperback form on Amazon.

Or as a digital download from


Please check the How to be a Teacher Trainer course at Pilgrims website.

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