Mentor teacher/Observation in mentoring
What is observation
There is a big difference between seeing and observing something. Observing is watching something or someone in a particularly attentive manner. In first-order observation the observation itself is the main task (Bjørndal 2002). This can for instance be a student teacher who is observing a lesson.
Good observation requires a narrow focus
Good observation can be challenging. Student teachers may easily choose a focus that is too broad. For instance, they might try to observe too many students at a time. In order to narrow the focus of observation, they will need the mentor's help. If the aim is to observe the collaboration between students in a classroom, some indicators of collaboration should be established in advance (Nilssen 2010).
Observations can be both structured and non-structured. Unstructured methods can be used to get a first impression which can help us decide what we want to observe later in the process. With structured methods the observation is planned and we focus on specific activities. We can use an observation form or other kinds of running records to write down observations. Observations can be written down during a situation, immediately after a situation, or a combination of during and after.
There is a difference between the description of an observation and its interpretation. One idea is to create an observation form and divide it into two columns: one column of what we see and the other column of what we think. If we want to know what a particular student spends her time doing, we can make note of an activity at a particular time. If we want to know about the prevalence of a particular behaviour, we can make a note on a form every time this behaviour occurs (Nilssen 2010).
The learning potential is greater if the student teachers create the observation forms themselves instead of simply copying them from a book. Their attitude towards the observation changes, and they get a chance to practice how to refine their focus.
Other things to consider regarding observations are: where the observations should take place (outside or inside?), and how long the observations should be. An observation of interplay processes will take longer than for example charting a student's reading level. A year's observation of a student's reading development is a long stretch of time, but every single observation does not necessarily take long. It is important to remember that the time available is limited (Nilssen 2010).
We need to be aware that bias may influence the observations. For instance, Nilssen (2010) argues that there are commonly norms in daycares and schools that emphasize the positive. The student teachers also tend to seek out positive relationships, and consequently have a more positive than negative attitude. Furthermore, we have a tendency to remember the first and last impression of the people we meet. It is easy to generalize these observations and give them too much weight. Finally, the observer's previous experiences and prejudice will influence what we see.
Observation in mentoring
Observation is an important part of the daily work of a teacher. According to Nilssen (2010) it is essential that the student teachers become more aware of the children are doing in the classroom. In order to become a good teacher we need to learn from the children continuously. We need to know who the children are, how they think and feel, how they cooperate and gain knowledge in different school subjects. Inexperienced teachers tend not to see how different their students are. Through observation we develop a more and nuanced understanding of the children. Additionally, student teachers can use observation as a documentation method when they are doing written assignments.
Nilssen (2010) argues that it is important for student teachers to observe the interaction between the teacher and the children. They need to observe how students learn. Otherwise they risk concentrating solely on keeping discipline in the classroom, not on ensuring that the students learn. If they happens, their focus will be on how they themselves perform, not on the teacher-student interaction.
It is worth noticing that Eli, one of the student teachers, feels that what she has learned the most from during practicum, is observing the interaction between Sara, her mentor, and the students in the classroom. Eli notices that the students are not holding back as much when Sara is there. This is particularly apparent when they are doing mathematics, where a lot of students often have performance anxiety. For Sara it is important that the student teachers watch her teach. She knows that she is a role model, but she makes it clear that she does not want to force a particular teaching style onto them (cf. the importance of talking about the conversation in mentoring). Sara wants the student teachers to not only observe her, but also other mentors with different teaching styles. Within the apprenticeship model, there is an emphasis on the observation and imitation of experienced professionals.
It is important to preserve the integrity of the persons we are observing. This is particularly important with children. When systematically collecting data over a long period of time we need the permission of parents or caregivers. Parents or caregivers should also be made aware that the student teachers have signed an agreement of confidentiality. Observations done in connection with the theoretical part of the education, should be anonymous right from the start (Nilssen 2010).
- Nilssen, V. (2010) Praksislæreren. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.