What to Look for in a Language Class Observation

By Jennifer Robertson Montes posted 07-29-2010 06:06


If you already understand the importance of conducting regular language instructor observations, the next question is what to look for.  As mentioned in a previous article, if you do not have a language background, use your top instructors to conduct the observations.  You can also hire consultants to do this for you if money is not an issue (although that rarely is the case these days!).  Just be sure that the person you choose really knows what he or she is doing.

8 Things You Want to See in an Instructor Observation

Although it takes many years of experience to get to a coaching level, you can still get started if you know what to look for when you observe the language classroom.  We have 34 items on our Steps to Mastery™ Instructor Observation Form which can’t be listed here, but the following are some of the most important skills you would want to see.  The language instructor should:

  1. Arrive to class early to set up and be prepared with a well-developed lesson plan.  All A/V equipment should be up, tested, and ready to go.
  2. Set clear objectives and make them clear to students.  In the communicative classroom, objectives are based on language functions, not grammatical structures.  We have our teachers write the objectives on the board every class and check them off along the way.
  3. Begin each new objective by assessing students’ existing knowledge, even at the beginner level, and give regular comprehension checks throughout the class.
  4. Speak 100 percent in the target language.  At the beginner level, this may start out more like 60 percent in the first couple of weeks, but the goal is 100 percent as the program progresses.  Caution!  Not all instructors have the experience or the ability to teach 100 percent in the target language at the beginner level so they teach the majority of the class speaking English.  If you have some beginner-level ESL classes in your organization, have instructors observe these classes to see that it can be done. This is a very difficult skill and if it is not done properly, you can scare students away.
  5. Keep teacher-talk to a minimum using the 80:20 rule as the goal (80 percent students talking, 20 percent teacher talking).  Teacher-talk will be higher at the beginner level but should decrease as the program progresses.  One easy tip that you can tell instructors is to begin each teaching point with a question instead of a statement.   
  6. Facilitate effective error correction.  This does not mean to give the answer and move on.  It means to elicit the correction from the student who made the error or elicit peer correction. Then have the student try again with the correction.
  7. Use a variety of audio and visual resources for all different adult learning styles.  Adults do not learn the same way as children do, and over time they develop a preferential style for learning (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, environmental).  Be sure the method of instruction addresses all learning styles.  Here’s an interesting article for more information:
  8. Be dynamic, motivating, and fun!  Whether you are teaching children or adults, the language classroom should be a fun place to learn.  Instructors must create an environment that makes students want to come back over and over again.

Coaching your language instructors for success will help your program be successful.  Look for more articles in the future on this topic at: