A Mini-Modeling Adventure Using Peer Observation

Brad Deacon, Nanzan University



  • Key Words: Teacher Development
  • Learner English Level: All
  • Learner Maturity Level: All
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour or so
  • Activity Time: one class period or more

At some point all teachers, like travelers, search for new adventures; we seek ways to develop professionally by incorporating fresh ideas and teaching methods in our classrooms. Eager to learn new material myself, I asked a colleague if I could participate in and observe his six-week university course. As I started modeling (in NLP: observing and later "trying on" his behavior) I soon discovered there is much to learn from others. What follows is a brief summary of the experience and advice for those ready to take advantage of a similar project.

First, I found a colleague whom I was interested in modeling and explained that this represented a valuable opportunity for our professional growth. Then I observed his class and took notes in a journal on various areas of interest such as class activities, delivery, and teaching style. While observing I would often "act as if," or imagine, I was teaching in my peer's position. In his class, I also gathered information by assuming the position of a student and that of an observer. After imagining myself in all roles, I then approximated this model while teaching my own classes. Finally, I noted the results, including similarities, differences and general comments, in my journal. This I shared with the teacher I observed and consequently we both improved our teaching.

Throughout, I embraced an attitude of curiosity that grew stronger as I became more interested in modeling. I wondered how closely I could successfully mesh our styles and methods and increase my teaching range. In informal conversations, I ascertained some of his beliefs, such as "learning is fun and interesting" and "if the teacher isn't learning, then the students probably aren't either." Adopting his teaching attitudes and beliefs were helpful too. Later I tried on these beliefs in my classes and noticed exciting changes in my teaching.

I discovered that this was an excellent way to develop without attending a special course or paying expensive tuition fees. By quickly applying and teaching some of the same material as my model, the classroom material and techniques were easy to remember. To illustrate, one activity I observed was storytelling followed by student repetition of that story in pairs. I then told the story in my classes, had my students re-tell it in pairs, asked them to act as if it was their story, and then share it with another person for homework. Afterwards the students became naturally convinced of the effectiveness of learning through teaching. I encourage them to use this experience, as I have, as a reminder of how best to learn.

After observing my colleague's class, we would often eat lunch and discuss my observations, and his teaching beliefs, attitudes and reflections upon the class. This was a valuable opportunity for me to consolidate my ideas and for him to gain immediate comments on his class. We also enhanced our learning through information shared in my class journal. At the end of the course I presented it to my colleague, who wrote in it: "Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I'm going to photocopy it and try out many of your fine ideas! I was really able to learn a lot from reading this." Clearly, maintaining a journal is a valuable method of feedback and a practical way to remember classes. In our collaboration, we became better teachers through exchanging feedback and encouragement.

The following are some tips to help you maximize your experience when you decide to model another teacher. First, think of a few colleagues whose skills you would like to replicate and who will allow you to watch or participate in their class. Second, try both observing and being observed. (I will start being observed soon!) Third, follow or fashion a plan as outlined in the second paragraph of this article. In such a plan you might observe and then, create, adapt and use your model in your classes. You can improve your modeling skills by acting as if you were your model and envisioning yourself from another position as an observer, and then again as a student. Fourth, keep a journal and at any time add notes based on your modeling experiences. Last, maximize peer observation by cultivating the symbiotic relationship that develops through exchanging feedback.

Having read this far, you probably already have several people in mind that you would like to model, and you may realize that you can become a more effective teacher by modeling peers. As you contemplate your self-development and how best to take full advantage of this opportunity, consider the following words of the author, Daniel J. Boorstin:

  • The traveler was active: he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience.
  • The tourist is passive: he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes "sightseeing."

When you choose to be a traveler wonderful things happen. Who knows, you may even become hooked on continually developing, allowing yourself to seek opportunities to learn from others to keep your learning alive and fresh. Enjoy the adventure!