The ABC of ELT

What quantum mechanics can teach us about lesson observations

There is a very famous thought experiment called Schroedinger’s Cat. Rather than try to explain it myself here is a nice little video that explains it far better than I could.

This makes me wonder about teaching observations.

A class might be great or awful but observing it can certainly change a good lesson to a bad one or a bad lesson to a good one.

  • Students can panic
  • Teachers can panic
  • Teachers can try to impress
  • Students can “behave” where normally they wouldn’t

As such we can say that a lesson being observed can produce both a higher and lower quality performance and, depending on personality type and observation conditions it will affect which results come out.

Different factors in Observation

  • Warning over observation.
  • Consequences of observations.
  • Frequency of observations.
  • Style of feedback post observation.

these can all affect the observation due to:

If a teacher receives plenty of warning then they may well do extra preparation that they would normally, however without being warned they may panic.

If they are high consequences then the teacher may panic more, but they may also put more effort in.

If a teacher is observed more frequently they may feel more relaxed, and more used to the whole process. On the other hand they become tired of the whole system and feel it unnecessary.

If feedbacks are basically telling off sessions by another name then a teacher may panic more during the observation (especially after making a mistake) or the teacher becoming more defensive when being observed.

However, if the feedback session are encouraging and draw out good points as well as areas for growth then the teacher may enjoy the process more, though could possible just ignore the feedback.

My Observation preference

Personally, I love observations and have tried to encourage an approach where a teacher can observe me with as little warning as possible. This is possible due to my many observations as a new teacher here in Dnipro where the consequences were clearly laid out as being for our development and not likely to result in a sudden termination of contract.

As such, I now no longer desire the softly softly approach and would rather have a much more confrontational approach picking up on all the little things I could do better. I know what I do well (obviously, I wouldn’t object if you mention it again) but it’s what I don’t know that I’m doing badly or not as well as I could that I need help with.

So, just like in physics being observed affects the results we get. How can we make our teaching observations lead to the best outcomes? Over to you.

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

2 Replies

  1. Well, without being observed my class has the possibility of being great or being terrible. The fact that I am observed means that it needs to be one or the other. If I am observed often enough the observer will get a fair idea as to which is the more likely. So I suppose, if we follow the Schroedinger’s Cat experiment, the answer would be to be observed as much as possible.

    However, back in the Newtonian world, for me the answer is something similar to your experience. Create an atmosphere whereby observations are about improving yourself as a teacher rather than being evaluated.

    One thing I liked when I was starting out was to be asked what I wanted the observer to focus on. I thought I had an issue with my instructions so the DoS focussed on this area, although he also mentioned other things that were good/bad. I found this to be extremely useful as it forced me to refelct on what I wanted to work on.

    1. I don’t follow why you should be observed as much as possible. If you are Observed the observer will only see the results you produce when observed, this may be the same as when not observed or it may be different, to some degree it is impossible to say (and becomes a useless statement) because if you don’t observe how can you know but it certainly is true that teachers are different when being observed which is the point of Schroedinger’s cat. Observing infludences the outcome.
      Observing a lot just means you influence the outcome…A lot.

      On to the more practical point. I like the idea of asking the DoS to focus on for the same reason you gave. It forces the person being observed to reflect first.

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