Video-Based Observation on Teacher Development Projects

One of the challenges on large–scale teacher development projects is observing enough lessons to arrive at some general conclusions about teachers’ classroom practices, before, during and after an intervention. Various factors related to budget, human resources, and geography do in fact mean that project evaluations often involve very modest numbers of observations, relying more heavily on self–reported data through, for example, questionnaires. COVID, by limiting travel, has made collecting observational data from classrooms even harder. One assignment I worked on for the British Council recently explored how video might be used to address such issues and facilitate the collection and analysis of a larger number of lessons on teacher development projects.

The first part of the work involved a literature review. The initial aim was to review material where video had been used to evaluate teacher development projects, but it soon became clear that very limited work of that kind was available. So I expanded my searches beyond education, including material from other fields, for example, medicine and engineering. Also, while it was clear that video had been widely used (a) as part of observational research and (b) to support teacher professional development, across disciplines there was little evidence of its use to evaluate changes in behaviour following a development project.

In the end 25 recent papers were identified, and these were analysed for insights into the benefits of using video to evaluate behavioural change, the challenges of using it for this purpose, and ways of using it more effectively to study how interventions impact on what people do. As a result of the review, a number of recommendations were also made for the effective use of video in evaluating behavioural change. If you are interested in reading more about these issues, the paper is available open access at

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Incongruence in Pre-Service Teacher Education

“Teacher educators seem to agree that, to be able to support their student teachers’ learning, they themselves should be good models of the kind of teaching they are trying to promote. However, it is clear from the literature that this congruent teaching is not self‐evident in teacher education”. (Swennen, Lunenberg, & Korthagen, 2008, p.531

Two kinds of congruence are important in teacher education. The first is congruence between theory and practice – i.e. between what student teachers are taught and what teacher educators do on their courses. The second is congruence between modelled and target practices – i.e. between what teacher educators do and what student teachers will be expected to do in their own classrooms. Both these forms of congruence are linked (see Figure 1): as far as possible, the effective educational practices that student teachers learn about will be enacted in the work of their teacher educators who, at the same time, are providing a model of appropriate future professional practice for student teachers.

Figure 1: Congruence in teacher education

It is often the case, however, that a concern for congruence does not characterize the design of either whole pre-service teacher education programmes or individual courses within them. This can be illustrated with particular reference to assessment. On one programme I know of, student teachers study principles for effective assessment (see p2 here for an example of a useful checklist for assessment in HE) but the manner in which assessment takes place often seems to be at odds with such principles. So, while, for example, they learn about the importance to assessment of clear objectives, reliability, validity and feedback:

  • student teachers receive limited prior information about assessment formats (such as the nature of a forthcoming examination)
  • it is unclear to student teachers what they need to study prior to an examination (scope of the assessment)
  • student teachers are assessed against skills they have not been given opportunities to develop
  • content not focused on during a course appears in an examination
  • the scope of the content to be assessed is unfeasibly broad
  • assessment emphasizes the recall of facts
  • assessment rubrics are vague
  • student teachers receive no or limited written feedback to explain assessment outcomes
  • multiple pieces of work contribute to a final score but the breakdown of marks in the result is not explained
  • assessment criteria are not pre–defined or referenced when results are communicated
  • assessment is entirely summative
  • different teacher educators (even those co-teaching a course) assess in very different ways.

Collectively, such practices create strong tensions among the theory of assessment that student teachers are taught, what teacher educators do, and the assessment practices future teachers are expected to adopt. These tensions can have a negative impact on student teachers; for example, they may come to believe that what they study on their programme and what happens in actual educational practice are not connected. It is thus important to minimise such tensions (not only in relation to assessment but also for teaching and learning more generally) and this can be achieved through a process of reflection and alignment in which teacher educators ask themselves (and – given the value of collaborative reflection (pdf download) – ideally one another) questions such as these:

  • what educational principles regarding teaching, learning and assessment are the student teachers studying (on this programme or course)?
  • to what extent are my teaching and assessment practices as a teacher educator aligned with such principles?
  • what factors might explain any lack of alignment?
  • what changes in my approach would strengthen the congruence between what the student teachers are taught, what I do, and what we would like them to do as future teachers?

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Remote Teacher Education

COVID–19 has made remote teaching a necessity for educators around the world. Levels of preparedness for this sudden transition have varied, with the result that many educators have faced the challenge of adapting rapidly and learning by doing, while continuing to support their students as best as they can. One of my current projects focuses particularly on teacher educators and the competences they need to support teachers remotely.

While much has been written about the digital competences that teachers and students need, less work is available on the knowledge and skills that remote teacher educators require. Some sources I have found useful are:

One recurrent point from this literature is that working online is different, in terms of both educator roles and the skills they need. Another is that the direct transfer of face–to–face teaching strategies will not be effective in an online environment.

While frameworks such as TPACK and CoI were designed with teachers in mind, they are helpful in thinking about what online teacher educators need to know and be able to do. From TPACK, we can conclude that teacher educators will need a sound general knowledge of and familiarity with technology, a more specific understanding of the technologies that can support teacher learning and a knowledge of how to use these technologies pedagogically in a teacher education context. According to CoI, effective online learning environments are characterised by social presence, teaching presence and cognitive presence. Online teacher educators, therefore, need to be able to create supportive social conditions, appropriately designed and facilitated teaching, and concrete, contextualised and deep learning.

In the project I have been working on (which was supported by the British Council) , we were particularly interested in in–service language teacher educators working in less well–resourced contexts. Over 400 respondents from 71 countries completed an online survey and told us about their experiences as remote teacher educators. Some key findings were that:

  • almost half of the respondents had their first experience as remote teacher educators in 2020
  • smart phones and mobile internet connections (rather than laptops and tablets) were the technologies that were most widely used to support teachers remotely (although the cost of mobile data was often a concern)
  • common remote teacher education practices among the respondents were online video meetings, live online workshops and social media group discussions
  • WhatsApp, video conferencing apps and e-mail were the tools teacher educators used most commonly to share content with teachers (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Sharing content remotely with teachers (N=426)

When asked about the competences they needed to work remotely, the three most common answers provided by the teacher educators were ‘creating a positive online learning environment’ (89.2%), motivating teachers to be active in online groups (80.8%) and helping teachers improve their own digital competences (79.1%).

Reflecting on their experiences in 2020, these remote teacher educators were quite positive; most felt that working online had been challenging but also enjoyable. They also felt that they had access to the support they needed for this new role. One general challenge, though, was that among the teachers they worked with remotely, levels of digital competence were often modest.

While an interesting start at developing a better understanding of remote language teacher education practices and the competences that remote teacher educators need, surveys of this kind (and this other relevant report) are limited into the insight they can provide into important questions about processes, quality and outcomes. More work is needed, then, to examine

  • what exactly remote language teacher educators do
  • the factors that shape their pedagogical approach as remote teacher educators
  • the quality of remote teacher educator practices
  • what teachers learn through remote teacher education
  • the kinds of support remote teacher educators need.

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Communities of Practice

Several teacher development projects I have worked on recently have adopted a communities of practice (CoP) model. In the context of education, this places great emphasis on creating a network of teachers who learn together and from another, over time, with a common focus on improving their competence as practitioners. The British Council uses the term ‘Teacher Activity Groups’ (TAGs) to describe groups of teachers who engage in this form of collaborative professional development. One recent example of a TAG project is ‘English for the Community’, which was delivered in Romania by the British Council in partnership with the Romanian-American Foundation.

Over two years, some 150 primary and secondary teachers of English formed nine TAGs that met monthly. Each TAG was supported by two facilitators. Participation was voluntary and during their meetings the teachers engaged in various kinds of activities, such as sharing experiences from their classrooms, reading and discussing texts about aspects of language teaching and watching and reflecting on videos of teachers conducting classroom activities. At the end of each meeting teachers also did some action planning, thinking ahead to what new ideas they could try out in their own classrooms. In between the monthly meetings the teachers and facilitators kept in touch through WhatsApp and Facebook groups.

The evaluation of the project indicated that it was effectively delivered, highly appreciated by participants, and, above all, transformative in its effect on teachers’ understandings, confidence, attitudes and classroom practices. One aspect of TAGs that teachers consistently valued was the manner in which they reduced the feelings of isolation that teachers often experience. As one of the facilitators put it

“The TAGs were informal meetings, we all had the opportunity to talk, to share our ideas, just to share experiences and I think it was very important for us as teachers to see that other teachers struggle with the same issues that we do, we are not alone”.

The sense of belonging provided by TAGs also had positive consequences for how participants felt as teachers. One teacher explained that

“Another change was the boost in my confidence and motivation. I realized that I wasn’t alone in my struggles with the difficulties every teacher has to go through”.

Increased confidence and motivation also meant that teachers were more willing to innovate in their classrooms – in the words of another teacher, “I became not so afraid of trying out new things”.

Effective CoPs can bring about a transformation in teacher identity; in this project, teachers who initially saw themselves as isolated, uncertain, unable to effect change and often helpless in the face of pedagogical challenges developed new identities as valued members of supportive groups and who were willing and confident in their ability to make their lessons more enjoyable, motivating, interactive and productive for their learners.

Several factors (such as its extended nature, competent facilitators, teachers’ motivation to develop and practical and relevant content) contributed to the effectiveness of this project and these are pertinent to the design and implementation of teacher development initiatives more generally. Of utmost importance too was the positive, open, supportive and non-judgemental professional learning environment that TAGs created. The relatively modest scale and voluntary nature of this project may have also contributed to its success; CoPs through TAGs, though, are also being applied on a much larger scale elsewhere, for example in India and Egypt and there is evidence from such contexts too that teachers see much value in being part of sustained professional development networks.  

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Teacher Appraisal

I hope you have all been keeping safe.

A couple of years ago I was commissioned by the British Council to write a literature review on teacher evaluation in ELT. This was published in 2018 and is available here. Late in 2019, the Regional Center for Education Planning (RCEP) invited me to produce an updated and expanded analysis of teacher appraisal more generally (i.e. not specific to ELT) and this has recently been published. There are two documents:

Teacher Appraisal Working Paper
Teacher Appraisal Policy Brief

The Working Paper is a detailed analysis of the theory and practice of teacher appraisal worldwide while the Policy Brief provides a more concise overview of key issues.

Teacher appraisal can be defined simply as the process through which judgements about teacher competence are made. Factors that enhance this process are analysed in the reports, leading to this definition of effective teacher appraisal:

A multidimensional but coherent process which acknowledges the complexity of teaching, is grounded in sound standards, employs a range of good quality measures, utilises input from a range of appropriately prepared stakeholders (including teachers themselves), has discriminatory power, facilitates fair decisions, gives teachers at various points of their careers appropriate levels of support, and contributes to teacher professional development, career advancement, positive school cultures and improved student outcomes. [Borg, S. (2019). Contemporary perspectives on teacher appraisal: A working paper. RCEP, p. 2]

While the field of teacher appraisal is characterised by a large theoretical and research literature, concrete accounts of how teacher appraisal systems operate in language education contexts around the world remain limited. Evidence is also scarce about the effectiveness of language teacher appraisal systems – i.e. how far they support professional development, career advancement, positive school cultures and improved student outcomes.

One reason that evidence of this kind is important is that while it is possible to design what looks (on paper) like an effective teacher appraisal system, it is only through the systematic evaluation of what happens in practice that judgements about effectiveness can be made.

I would be interested in hearing about your experiences of teacher appraisal around the world, for example:

  • Do you work in a system or institution where teachers are appraised?
  • How often does appraisal take place?
  • What criteria are teachers appraised against?
  • Who conducts the appraisal?
  • What kinds of evidence are used to assess teacher competence?
  • How are the results of teacher appraisal used?
  • What benefits does teacher appraisal have for teachers, institutions and students?

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