A longer version of this post originally appeared in English Teaching Professional, issue 60, January 2009. It is reprinted here with the permission of Pavilion Publishing.
As observers, our tendency is to observe and then immediately try to put into words our interpretation of what is happening. Then, when we meet the teacher afterwards to give feedback, we report back on what we’ve written and probably add even more interpretation to the events. The advantage of simply drawing and sketching what you can see is that you are observing rather than interpreting. At different stages of the lesson, you can focus on one particular aspect, sketch it, and then afterwards with the teacher you can look at what happened and interpret it together. Below are some examples of what can usefully be drawn in a lesson.
At different stages of the lesson you can draw the layout of the class to show the position of the teacher and students. So it might indicate if students are working pairs, groups, alone etc. You can choose to draw the layout every five minutes of a lesson or at every change of stage. By building a sequence of such images, you get a full picture of how the layout altered – this often indicates changes in pace and variety of tasks.
In the sketch below, the observer has noted the classroom layout, but she has also added lines to indicate interaction between the teacher and students. (This idea originally appears in Ruth Wajnryb’s book ‘Classroom Observation Tasks’ Cambridge, 1992.)
In this case, the teacher is focusing all her attention on the students near to the front of the class and to his right. An observer could describe such tendencies in feedback afterwards, but by being shown the diagram, the teacher will get a much clearer idea of what is happening, or not happening in this case! You could use a similar technique to monitor interaction between students.
The board can tell us a great deal about our lesson, so having an observer copy down what is on it throughout the lesson is very useful. Again, you could agree to have them copy it every so often to show the development of the lesson. Some boardwork images can highlight the fact that the teacher needs to organise and plan the board more carefully or can also show how well a teacher manages board use alongside the stages of a lesson. Alternatively, if it isn’t too intrusive to the lesson, take photos of the boardwork at different stages of the lesson with your phone and use these study how the boardwork progressed (and might be improved upon) throughout the lesson.