Observation Tasks

This is a growing collection of observation tasks that may help teachers focus on some key Demand-High issues.

Feel feel to download them and use them!

Each task contains a brief explanation of what it is focusing on. There is also a description of what might be seen in a typical contemporary classroom compared with a Demand-High “tweak”.

Teachers: Use these as the spark for a peer observation or for reviewing your own lessons that you have recorded on video.

Trainers: Use these to talk through with pre-service trainees or in-service teachers. Set an observation task and then compare notes when they report back.

Observation Task 1: Does the task obscure the learning?

  • Does the teacher end up doing an activity for its own sake, losing sight of the purpose, and missing the learning opportunities it throws up i.e. does the task (or its instructions, set-up, structure, point-scoring, checking  etc) obscure the learning that is supposed to arise from the task?

Demand High Observation Task 1 Does the Task Obscure the Learning AU & JS

Observation Task 2: Learner involvement in answering the teacher’s questions: Tracking the question pathway

  • Does the teacher tend to close down questions almost as soon as they have been asked? If not, how does the teacher extend the answering to explore learning?

Demand High Observation Task 2 Tracking the Question Pathway AU & JS

Observation Task 3: Learner involvement in answering the teacher’s questions: Teacher strategies

  • How involved are a wide range of learners in answering each individual question from the teacher?

Demand High Observation Task 3 Questions Teacher Strategies AU & JS 

Observation Task 4: Self-observation: Learning to see Learning

  • Can you see some of the learning movements that are happening during a lesson that you teach?

Demand High Observation Task 4 Self Observation – Learning

10 responses to “Observation Tasks

  1. I think you’ve destroyed the IRF formula formula for class interaction so well done. I’m fed up with seeing either classes with just Q and A or Q A and ‘good’ and ‘great’ and ‘amazing’. Or as the online modules on the VOA site says “good job!”.

    I think we ask too many questions and lessons end up being more an interrogation or a court room witness questioning situation. We are obsessed with quantifying and closed answers but after all they are far easier to measure and get to where we want to be i.e. the end of the lesson having fulfilled our objectives. I’m thinking more and more that it is our objectives that are the problem. Either they are too defined or maybe it’s the wording or perhaps we should just backtrack after the lesson to see what was accomplished.

  2. I think that withholding validation as to a right answer is a good idea. Jim demonstrated this today in his session in Moscow – Can Teachers Teach? However, withholding validation or deliberately not rubber stamping a student’s response doesn’t have to always involve the strongest student – who PREDICTABLY more often than not gets the answer right. If from monitoring while students are exercising either of the receptive skills, the teacher catches a weaker student with a right answer, This learner can be nominated to provide the answer that the teacher will know to be correct, validation can be withheld to give others the space to continue learning and ultimately when the validation does come, the first-nominated student (not the strongest) might feel encouraged. By contrast stronger students when providing the correct answer when nominated to do so might sometimes (might, only might, I don’t want to overstate this) feel a bit smug as his/her response closes the interaction following a first (and only) nomination.

  3. But what is the right answer?? I’ve done many exercises form grammar books where there have been several answers besides the one in the book. Then some students say ” well, this isn’t what people actually say” and they have a point. Some exercises are made just to practise X point. If we run through the lesson we might just say “the answer is Y” but if we take this as an opportunity we can get into the nitty gritty of language. I find that students above int rarely give completely wrong answers in that what they say is a demonstration of their interlanguage. Thus, if they give a past simple answer instead of a present perfect I wouldn’t say “wrong”. I’d want to dissect why they think it, find the mistake then build back up until they get the answer or idea.

  4. It seems you have to be called Phil to comment here…. So I’ll add a quick thought here….

    I work in a general FE College in the UK, and I do staff development work in different departments (not just ESOL). Questioning technique are such a big area in pedagogy – these tasks will be useful for me… but really useful for other members of staff doing peer observations.

  5. I feel I should comment, but I don’t know what to say at the moment. Phil Longwell (Teacherphili)

  6. Phil is a great name and I mean that most sincerely folks. In Turkish, the word ‘fil’ means elephant, which brings much ridicule my way when I am there as I am not exactly the slimmest person around. This has got nothing whatsoever to do with this thread. Sorry Jim.

  7. I’m not called Phil… can I comment anyway?

    I think one of the most important lines in Task 3, just sneekily slipped in near the end, is:

    8. How does the teacher ensure that a final “correct” answer is clear to all or that no unhelpful or confusing ambiguity remains?

    This is so important! I’ve often observed teachers who seem to have really embraced the refreshing notions of opening questions out to more/all learners, staying silent/just smiling while they discuss their ideas, delaying confirmation of the [right] answer(s) until the last possible moment, i.e. that magical millisecond between edge-of-your-seat desire for resolution and abject boredom with how long it’s taking… and then miss it. They’re so busy comfortably enjoying the just-smirk-and-watch-them-figure-it-out process that they forget the original point of the whole thing… to arrive at some answers! Maybe there isn’t one answer, but surely there shoould be something the learners can feel more certain about, after all that tantalising uncertainty.

    In short, these simple observation tasks look like really interesting ways of getting more self-awareness into our everyday teaching. Thanks for sharing them!

  8. George Milne-Day

    Again another non-Phil (a Philistine? As opposed tot he polyfilla above?) but in regards to the observation task 2 one useful method might be to leave the room when the learners are doing a listening or a reading. One of the learners then brings me back into the classroom when all the learners have finished reading or listening (and this could mean repeating the listening several times). Then I can elicit the answers as described in the observation task 2 above without knowing the answers myself. the learners cannot look to me as a source of answers and so must justify their answers, perhaps in disagreement with their classmates. The focus, therefore, is on the process (what Adrian might call the inner work bench (i think!)) rather than the product. Finally we would look at the answers given in the teachers book and then listen or read once more to understand why these are the correct answers. As Laura says above, the learners do want to know the answers but by removing yourself as “the keeper of the answers” the learners are forced to consider why they think “b” is correct. Further processing is done by their need to justify their answer, which perhaps contradicts a classmate’s, without being able to look to the teacher to quickly rubber-stamp their opinion.

    I only discovered demand high today but i hope what I’ve said is on topic.

  9. Noeline Lewis

    I too, met Demand High today for the first time, while searching for ways to “exploit learner language” more. These observation tasks are great, and have just tested the questioning techniques on my kids to much hilarity! Can’t wait try them out in class tomorrow and to use the observation tasks with my colleague who’s doing DELTA with me.

  10. Was hoping to see more on hands-on language work done by the students. The way I see it, and being a teacher of teenagers mostly, that’s where we’re losing the teenage learners. It’s all become way too predictable for them. And the Q & A dynamics falls right in that category of predictability.
    Will keep on searching the blog. Truly enjoyed the proposed observation tasks, particularly 1 and 4, with 4 being the most critical, in my view.

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