1.1. Teaching Practicum in Kazakhstan
Teaching Practicum is compulsory for student teachers of graduate level
enrolled in the English Language Teaching Department. Student teachers
take Teaching Practicum at state schools, and follow the Teaching
Practicum Curriculum issued by the Department of High Education of
Kazakhstan. According to the foregoing Curriculum the Teaching Practicum
consists of two periods: five-week period for the third-year students at
the end of the 5th semester, December, and seven-week period for the
fourth-year students at the beginning of the 7th semester, September and
Lesson observation is one of the major components of the Teaching
Practicum. Both Teaching Practicums involve observation weeks: two weeks
for the third-year students and one week for the fourth-year students.
Observation weeks are devoted to observing lessons and familiarising
with the school’s facilities, policies, procedures, pedagogical
practices, and the preparation of timetable.
During the Observation Weeks student teachers have to observe lessons
given by their monitor teachers to be aware of the methods and
techniques of her/his teaching. In addition to it they observe the
relationship between the teacher and students, students’ learning styles
and their behaviour. To get better understanding of the learners’
personalities student teachers are recommended to observe lessons across
other subject areas that are taught for the class they are allocated. At
the same time pre-service teachers observe lessons of other experienced
teachers who display exemplary teaching practices, and novice teachers
to evaluate various teaching techniques at different levels of
During the Observation Weeks student teachers are required to record
their observations of fifteen English language classes for the
third-year students and ten classes for the fourth-year students to be
assessed. Students must have daily entries of their observations
reflecting on various types of teaching or participation experience.
Moreover, student teachers are strongly recommended to conduct peer
observation and provide feedback on at least one lesson per day, and
written feedback on at least two lessons per week during the Teaching
1.1.1 Types of records at the Teaching Practicum and trainees’ problems
There are no fixed observation instruments in the National Teaching
Practicum Cirriculum. Every English Language Teaching Department
compiles their own, in ethnographic or structured format. Some
Departments prescribe that student teachers must keep diaries, whereas
others provide trainees with observation schemes. The former technique
requires that pre-service teachers have to describe their reaction to
the lesson observed, learners, the relationship between teacher and
pupils, school policy in general and their initial teaching experience
in the form of narration. The latter ones are introduced in different
formats; it is either a detailed structured check-list with
pre-specified categories of the teacher’s or learner’s behaviour and the
trainee’s role is to record their occurrence, and accompany with
evidences or jotted comments that they consider relevant to the
observation, or a general lesson reports where student teachers make
notices about plusses and minuses of the lesson observed.
As a teacher trainer at the state University in Kazakhstan I have read,
analysed and assessed more than 200 diaries and observation sheets for
six years. This work has raised my doubts about usefulness of
observation as a learning tool. The comments of trainees are mainly
descriptive; the student teachers note down what the teacher and the
learners have done during the lesson and whether the learners are
“interested”, “involved”, “active” or not. I have noticed that trainees
face problems with identifying the aims of the lesson, means of
transition, teacher’s prompts and learning outcomes. There is very
little analysis or reflection. They observe that the teacher has no
problems with discipline but do not ask themselves why it has been so.
Very few trainees have made any connection between observations and
their own teaching.
I can name some reasons of these problems. The main one is in the little
amount of time that is allotted to TESOL course in Kazakhstan. Due to
this reason, pre-service teachers are formally introduced to observation
skills and strategies. Student teachers need help in observation, but
university supervisor and educational psychology instructor are far too
often in the classroom with pre-service teachers to guide them and
conduct observation, further analysis and reflection in collaborative
way. Another reason is that the format of the observation schemes seems
to limit the student teachers very much. They feel obliged to fill in
the space often repeating the same remarks in subsequent observation
sheets. Finally, observation sheets prescribe categories or tasks in the
form of broad statements without explaining the reason of observation,
what to write and in what sequence. Teaching process is a complex
procedure that covers teaching behaviour, learning behaviour, patterns
of interaction, and patterns of group dynamics. Some aspects of these
procedures are overt, for example, question-answer work, but sometimes
it is far more covert, such as learner’s interest. So student teachers
face the dilemma what is noteworthy to mention, how to interpret
teacher’s, learner’s remarks or behaviour, what size the notes should
1.1.2 Tasks as solution of the problem
In my paper I am looking for some help for my students to make their
observation experience more meaningful. Student teachers should know
that the reason of observation and filling the observation sheets is
that we want them to learn something from doing so, and only then grade
them. The features of a good observer should be made clear to them. They
should realize that the skills of observation can be learnt. The
university supervisor should try to transfer some of her observation
skills by observing a lesson, and analyzing observation sheets after a
lesson she has observed with the trainees in a collaborative and
The main suggestion concerns the format of the observation schemes.
Numerous schedules of observation have been introduced: the Flanders
System of Interaction Analysis (FIAC) by Flanders (1970), the Foreign
Language INTeraction (FLINT) system by Moskowitz (1971), FOCUS by
Fanselow (1977), COLT by Allen, Frцlich and Spada (1984), the Stirling
system by Mitchell, Johnstone and Parkinson (1981). They are valid and
do not require trials. But the main problem with these instruments is
that they were originally designed for educational research and for
in-service teacher development. Some of these instruments, they are
described in Chapter 2.5.2. are recommended for teacher training
education. However, the researchers do not deny the fact that all of
them are complex and require intensive training. Thus for teacher
training education we need reliable observation instruments based on
scientific grounds that develop observation skills gradually and improve
them with practice.
Observation tasks have been introduced by the Professor Wajnryb (1992)
and are widely used in a modified way round the world in teacher
development programmes. She clearly identified the advantages of
observation tasks. They limit the scope of observation and allow an
observer to focus her/his attention at one or two particular aspects.
Concrete subsequent statements provide a convenient means of collecting
data and free student teachers from interpreting the behaviour and
making evaluation during the lesson. A list of questions after a lesson
guide them what aspects of the teaching/learning process they should
reflect on. What is more they allow student teacher to personalize the
data and to view their own teaching experience. Thus the nature of the
task-based experience is ‘inquiry-based, discovery-oriented, inductive
and potentially problem-solving’ (Wajnryb 1992:15).
However, initially classroom observation tasks have been introduced for
teachers’ professional growth but not for teacher training education.
That is why they need to be adapted for this purpose as well. Learner
observation tasks offer samples of categories to the student teachers
without restricting them. Student teachers could decide in which form to
take notes, either putting down actual utterances or jotters. It is
important because it allows student teacher to be independent and
autonomous. Other modifications are described in Chapter 3.
The two main purposes of the tasks can be formulated as to raise
trainees’ awareness about the aspects of the teaching process and guide
student teachers to make their own decision about the teaching process.
In addition to them observation tasks may occur as the basis for further
deeper case study research and provide student teachers with data for
writing a course work according to the National Programme for Teaching
English Language Department.
1.1.3 The problem of assessment of observation documents
At the end of the Teaching Practicum observation sheets or diaries must
be included in the Practicum Folder to be assessed. There is another
problem a supervisor faces. There are no explicit criteria for
assessment student teachers’ observation sheets. Gill S., a university
teacher from the Czech Republic, in his feedback to my request about
Teaching Practicum experience in different countries noticed: ‘What we
use to arrive at these decisions (assess or not assess student’s
observation schedules) is our internal and doubtless highly subjective
criteria’. These criteria include the full answer to the questions,
evidence of student teachers’ ability to describe what they have seen
and link it to the activities of the lesson, evidence of reflection, and
language explicitness. It is evident that all these criteria sound
ambiguously. What should we treat as ‘the full answer’, ‘evidence of
reflection’ and ‘language explicitness’? In my paper I am going to
introduce scientific criteria for assessment of observation for research
purpose and adapt them to observation as a learning tool for teacher
1.2. Learner as a central focus of observation
1.2.1 Learner’s central role in the teaching process
For my dissertation I have designed observation tasks which are directed
to observe and study learner’s behaviour, their attitude to each other,
the teacher and the subject, and guide student teachers to contemplate
about their motives, reasons of these behaviours. There are many reasons
to set a learner in the centre of the observation. Historically, due to
the teacher-centered approach in education, observation was focused to
the aspects of teacher’s behaviours: opening /closing procedures, use of
voice, handling discipline problems and many others. But all humanistic,
language acquisition theories approach to the teaching process that an
individual learner can bring his/her own experience, knowledge, ideas to
the classroom. One of the main aims of the present teaching process is
to help learners to be responsible for their learning progress, to
promote their autonomy in language learning. To accomplish this aim,
student teachers should know individual differences, learners’
subjective needs and preferences. This knowledge will help them ‘to make
instructional procedures more flexible to individual learning pace and
needs’ (Tudor 1996:11) that enhance learners’ involvement into learning
process and learners’ progress accordingly.
1.2.2 Reasons to observe learner’s behaviour
Another motive that drives me the idea to design learner observation
tasks is the reports of my trainees after the teaching practicum. They
have noted that ‘students are of different levels but they are given the
same tasks; tasks for students with lower level should be adapted;
students should have not only group work but individual work; pupils
demonstrate lack of interest in doing some tasks’. These quotes clearly
indicate student teachers’ awareness of individual differences and
importance of individual approach to every learner or a group of
learners. However, student teachers enter the classroom with ‘a critical
lack of knowledge’ (Kagan 1992:131) about pupils. To acquire knowledge
of pupils, direct observation appears to be crucial. This requires
structured guided observation that allows trainees to study pupils’
behaviours, to know their differences and needs to respond them
appropriately through a variety of learning activities in their future
In an extensive review of hundred studies of beginning teachers Veenman
(1984:144) ranked classroom discipline, motivation of students, and
individual differences among students as their first three concerns. The
purpose of compiling learner observation tasks is to change in the
trainee’s knowledge of a class in terms of a progression: beginning with
classroom climate and management, moving to motivation of students and
their individual learning styles, and finally turning to students’
1.3 Overview of chapters
The dissertation is intended to provide university supervisors and
student teachers at Teaching Practicum with four observation tasks that
are directed at observing learners’ behaviours.
Introduction explains the background situation in teaching practicum of
TESOL Departments in High education in developing countries,
particularly in the Kazakhstan Republic. I introduce the motives that
have brought me the idea to develop materials for observation during the
teaching practicum. The subsequent chapters have been divided into
Chapter 2 gives a detailed account of observation in educational
research and in the language classroom studies. Observation is defined
as a direct research methods and a learning tool for data collecting. It
emphasized characteristic features of observation as a scientific method
and its difference from the natural process of looking. Some weaknesses
of observation are specified, among which errors in representing data,
objectivity of data recording and limitation of observable items are
classified and described. Reliability and validity are two key processes
that can enhance the ‘trustworthiness of reported observations,
interpretations, and generalizations’ (Mishler 1990:419). Typology of
reliability and evidences of validity introduce methodological
strategies and judgment criteria for objective assessing of observation
data. To ensure scientific observation an observer must clarify focus of
observation, approach to data collection, and ways of recording
observation data. The paper presents four perspectives on a lesson for
pre-service teacher education: teacher-centred, learner-centred,
curriculum-centred and context-centred focus. Two approaches
(system-based, ethnographic) are described in opposition, and ad-hoc
instrument as a combination of both. Method and techniques of
observation focus on the main instruments that have been developed for
pre-service teacher education: field notes, anecdotal records, diaries,
journals, personal logs, case studies, and checklists, observation
schedules, observation tasks, selective verbatim, rating numerical
scales. They are classified as procedures of a low degree and high
degree of explicitness (Seliger and Shohamy 1989:158) respectively. Data
evaluation is a late and crucial stage in observation method. For
teacher training education evaluation of observation records constitutes
a part of the teaching practicum assessment. In qualitative and
quantitative research two approaches to analysis of the documents are
presented: manual and computer based. A set of procedures and criteria
is specified for manual evaluation.
Chapter 3 describes the details of the learner observation tasks design.
It explains the choice of area for learner observation and the reasons
of modification of classroom observation tasks elaborated by Wajnryb
(1992). Description of the task frame, categories is provided.
Chapter 4 gives self-evaluation account of the designed materials in the
context of the literature review. It explains the choice of the ad-hoc
approach as the most appropriate instrument for teacher training
education. I emphasise the combined features of ethnographic and
structured approach to the design of the learner observation tasks. It
is followed by the evidences of reliability and validity of the
Chapter 5 introduces a brief background about the particular facet of
learner behaviour that is to be focused on doing every observation task.
This is followed by the actual description of the task, its objectives
and the procedure of the work on the task before, during and after the
lesson. I explain the choice of categories and symbols of the task that
student teachers are recommended to employ in their descriptive notes.
Chapter 6 indicates further implication of the learner observation tasks
into the Teaching Practicum Curriculum. Also three phases how to work
with the tasks are given for university supervisors. I have adapted
evaluation criteria proposed by Scott (1990) for manual assessment of
trainees’ documents. Finally, some recommendations for future
improvement of assessment procedure with the use of computer packages
2.1 What is observation?
2.1.1. Observation in scientific research
Repeated reference refers observation as a method of data collection and
a process involving representations and recordings in which reality is
depicted. Techniques of observation are not themselves new: they have
been used in scientific research for studying the behaviour of men and
animals. Anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists were concerned
primarily with describing ‘observable behaviours and activities’
(Seliger and Shohamy 1989:118) with the ‘systematic recording in
objective terms of behaviour in the process of occurring’ (Jersild and
Meigs 1939), and describing these in their entirety from beginning to
One could treat observation as a familiar and natural phenomenon that
does not need any definition. Hutt and Hutt (1974) give no definition of
observation in their book ‘Direct observation and Measurement of
Behaviour’. The definition of general observation is given by Wright
(1960:71) ‘research methods… rest upon direct observation as a
scientific practice that includes observing and recording and analysis
of naturally occurring events and things’. According to Wright (1960:71)
observation is direct as no arrangements stand between the observer and
the observed, and the records are usually compiled immediately after the
observation. In a review article, Weick (1968:360) defines an
observational method in more elaborative way as ‘the selection,
provocation, recording and encoding of that set of behaviours and
setting organism’ ‘in situ’ which is consistent with empirical aims’.
So, the characteristic features of observation as a scientific method I
can define as there should be a limited amount of information to be
collected; the data should be recorded systematically and analysed over
a period of time; the data should be congruent with the aims; the
observation session must be planned; and, finally, the observation and
analysis must be objective.
2.1.2. Approaches to observation in the language classroom studies
Observation in the language classroom is treated either as a research
procedure for in -service professional development or as a learning tool
for pre-service teachers. Hargreaves (1980:212) suggests that the 1970s
were a ‘notable decade’ for classroom studies thanks to the number of
projects and the wide range of methodological approaches, and he
identified ‘three great traditions’ of studying classrooms – systematic
observation, ethnographic observation and sociolinguistic studies.
Sociolinguistics studies the aspects of linguistics applied toward the
connections between language and society. These aspects are not of prime
interest for pre-service classroom observation that is why I do not
dwell upon this approach in this paper.
Hammersley (1986:47) proposes that systematic observation and
ethnography are treated as ‘self-contained and mutually exclusive
paradigms’. The further description of both of these approaches supports
this idea. Croll (1986:5) illustrates some fundamental aspects of
systematic observation as follows: explicit purposes which are worked
out before data collection; explicit and rigorous categories and
criteria for classifying phenomena; data should be presented in
quantitative form to be analysed with statistical techniques; any
observer should record a particular event in an identical fashion to any
other. Ethnographic approach involves a complete cycle of events that
occur within the interaction between the society and environment. Lutz
(1986:108) defines ethnography as ‘a holistic, thick description of the
interactive process involving the discovery of important and recurring
variables in the society as they relate to one another, under specific
conditions, and as they affect or produce certain results and outcomes
in the society’. So, systematic observation is described as highly
eclectic studies of an event with pre-specified categories and detailed
analysis is presented in quantitative manner whereas ethnography
describes and interprets events holistically in their naturally
occurring contexts. More detailed characteristics of systematic and
ethnographic approaches are provided in Chapter 2.3.
2.2. Observation as a problem
2.2. 1. Classifications of errors in the process of observation
There is always the possibility of error in the observation process.
Fassnacht (1982:43) reviews Campbell’s (1958) classifications of errors
in representing data in psychological and social studies. Some of these
errors frequently occur when making judgements and primarily concern
a) error of central tendency
b) error of leniency or generosity
c) primacy or recency effect
d) halo effect
e) logical error
A first error occurs in using a rating scale. Hollingworth (1910) called
the effect ‘central tendency’ in a series of judgements about
objectivity of quantifiable stimuli, when the large stimuli are
underestimated and the small ones overestimated.
An error of leniency or generosity could arise in making favourable
verbal judgements using personality scales. Fassnacht (1982:40)
clarifies that in the personality scales a number of questions relating
to one particular personality trait are drawn together and the answers
to these questions are given in the form of ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘sometimes’,
‘often’ which might not reflect objective reality.
A third error occurs as a result of the order in which perceptual events
happen. The problem is that in behaviour testing the first impression
could have a distorting effect on later data collection and thus lead to
errors. Bailey (1990:218) admits that in diary keeping, events that are
embarrassing or painful when they occur ‘often lose their sting after
weeks of reflection’.
A fourth error, halo effect, is described by Mandl (1971) when the
evaluator ‘has the tendency when judging a personality trait to be
influenced by a general impression or a salient characteristic’.
Logical errors or error of theory reveals due to the theoretical
assumptions of the observer. It is now widely accepted that observation
is always ‘theory-laden’ (Phillips 1993:62). He continues that
observations can not be ‘pure’, free from the influence of background
theories or hypotheses or personal hopes and desires. Ratcliffe
(1983:148) supports this assumption in that ‘most research
methodologists are now aware that all data are theory-, method-, and
measurement-dependent’. As Bailey (1990:226) suggests in conducting
‘pure research’ it is better to avoid reading the research literature in
the field, to keep from biasing the results.
2.2.2. The problem of ‘observable’ items
The item ‘observable’ in the definition given by Seliger and Shohamy
(1989:118) mentioned above emphasizes the problem of what items to be
treated as observable in classroom setting. Thus, Smith and Geoffrey
(1968) make valid assertions criticising systematic observation systems:
The way the teacher poses his problems, the kind of goals and sub-goals
he is trying to reach, the alternatives he weighs … are aspects of
teaching which are frequently lost to the behavioural oriented empirical
who focuses on what the teacher does to the exclusion of how he thinks
about teaching. Smith and Geoffrey (1968:96)
McIntyre and Macleod (1986:14) generalize the problem of observable
items and limitation of data obtained through systematic observation
claiming that there is ‘no direct evidence on the actions of
participants which are not overt’. The detailed criticism of systematic
observation is given in Chapter 2.6.2.
2.2.3. Data recording problems
The problem of accurate recording
Data collection, description procedures face problems of the accuracy
and explicitness of records. ‘The crucial problem is to be able to
render interpretable the process of events and behaviour as it occurs
naturally’ (McKernan 1996:60).
Hutt and Hutt (1970:34) emphasise the difficulty of accurate description
of the behaviour. They emphasize the problem with the vocabulary choice
in that there are many thousands of words which describe motor and
language behaviour but ‘unfortunately, the words are injunctive
concepts, learned by usage rather than by definition’ (Hutt and Hutt
1970:34). Other than that, it is frequently found that some definitions
are over encompassing in that they cover patterns of behaviour for which
ordinary language has two or more terms. Lofland and Lofland (1995:93)
recommend employing behaviouristic and concrete vocabulary rather than
abstract adjectives and adverbs, which are based on paraphrase and
The problem of objective recording
Another problem with the written commentary to be discussed is the
problem of objectivity. All researchers agree that the data are often
subjective, reflect personal impressions, inferential and
interpretative. Events may not be viewed the same way by different
observers. ‘It is common to find that witnesses to an accident give
differing accounts of what happened’ (Lofland 1995:127).
Eisner (1993:49) defines objectivity as being ‘fair, open to all sides
of the argument’. He considers that to reduce subjectivity the observer
must achieve correspondence not only in what s/he perceives or
understands but how she or he represents it. Schaffer (1982:75)
continuous the problem of vocabulary choice saying that there are some
aspects of reality which can be described fairly objectively and those
which can only be described subjectively, and ‘it is difficult to know
where the borderline between objectivity and subjectivity lies’.
Scheurich (1997:161) doubts in ‘the very existence of gross material
reality’. He claims that research mainly addresses interpretation of
meaning or constructions of ‘reality’.
To sum the problems with data recording I can suggest that an observer
may describe and interpret an event in subjective way due to personal
bias, theoretical assumptions, s/he can experience difficulty in the
choice of an object/behaviour to observe and words to record an event in
accurate and explicit way.
2.2.4. The choice of an approach to observation
An observer faces the dilemma in choosing systematic or ethnographic
approaches. The main problem of ethnographical approach lies in its very
nature – it is so broad that it demands a highly trained observer to do
a competent and reliable observation. ‘An untrained observer may be
overwhelmed by the complexity of what goes on and not be able to focus
on important events in the classroom’ (Day 1990:44). Pre-specified
coding systems in systematic observation are exclusively concerned with
‘what can be categorized or measured’ (Simon and Boyer 1974). Thus they
may distort or ignore the qualitative features which they claim to
investigate. At the same time limiting the attention of the observer can
help improve reliability.
2.3. Reliability and Validity
2.3.1 Types of reliability
Reliability and validity are the most important criteria for assuring
the quality of the data collection procedures. The criterion of
reliability provides information on whether the data collection
procedure is ‘consistent and accurate’ (Seliger and Shohamy 1989:185).
The researchers suspect that observers may unintentionally impose their
own biases and impressions on the observed situation. Seliger and
Shohamy (1985:185) claim that for different types of data collection
procedures different types of reliability are relevant. Thus they
determine for the ethnographic approach the following types:
a) inter-rater reliability (to examine to which different observers
agree on the data collected from the observation);
b) test-retes reliability (to check stability of data collection over
c) regrounding (to repeat the data collection and compare both results);
d) parallel form (to examine to which extent two versions of the same
data collection procedure are really collecting the same data)
To assure reliability different methodologists suggest involving at
least two observers to carry a ‘sequential analysis’ (Becker 1970:79),
or to achieve ‘inter-observer agreement’ (Croll 1986:150). The idea of
the former procedure is to carry out the analysis concurrently with data
collection in the sense that ‘one may ‘step back’ from the data, so as
to reflect on their possible meaning’ (Fielding 2001:158). Thus further
subsequent data gathering will direct the observer either to abandon or
pursue the original hypothesis. In the later procedure two observers
look at the same events from different locations to categorise these
events and compare the outcomes. Using systematic schemes with
pre-specified categories they refine, or ‘index’ (Fielding 2001:159) the
definitions and categories of observation by ‘applying in a consistent
manner the procedures for data selection, collection, grouping,
inclusion, exclusion etc.’ (Simpson and Tuson 1995:65).
2.3.2 Types and evidences of validity
Just as there are different types of reliability, Seliger and Shohamy
(1989: 102) suggest that there are different types of validity which
provide ‘evidence’ for validity. Thus, their typology of ‘evidences’ of
a) evidence on content validity which demonstrates appropriateness of
data collection against the content to be measured;
b) criterion validity which provides an indication as to whether the
instrument can be measured against some other criterion and compared
with the previous results (concurrent validity), and whether the
procedure is capable of foretelling certain behaviour (predictive
c) construct validity which examines whether the data collection
procedure is a good representation of and consistent with current
theories underlying the variable being measured.
Chaudron (1988:24) gives another term to the content validity and
suggests ‘treatment validity’ which relates to the process component of
process-product study and demonstrates that the treatment was in fact
implemented and that it was identifiable different from whatever it was
being compared with.
For the results of the second language research Seliger and Shohamy
(1989:104) identify internal and external validity. They propose that a
study has internal validity if the outcomes of the observational data
can be directly and unambiguously attributed to the treatment that is
applied to the observed group, and that the interpretation of these data
is not dependent on the subjective judgement of an individual
researcher. Internal validity in this sense relates to three areas:
‘representativeness, retrievability, and confirmability of the data’
(Seliger and Shohamy 1989:104). External validity involves the extent to
which the findings of a study can be generalized and applied to another
situation and the categories of the study are treated as basic, applied,
To achieve evidences of validity items or questions of an instrument
must be analyzed in the process of data collection. A researcher or
observer should obtain information on whether the items are of
‘low-inference’ or ‘high-inference’ (Long 1980), too easy or too
difficult, and whether the items are phrased and easily understood by
the respondents. All these aspects are recommended to examine in the
pilot phase of the research that is likely to be proved by evidences
from a variety of sources, such as additional questionnaire data from
pupils or teachers, interviews, surveys. Another way of examining the
validity of observation is to ask colleagues to study the categories and
to define the purpose of the observation. Simpson and Tuson (1995:65)
treat this method as a useful check on face validity. Thus to achieve
reliable and valid observation an evaluator should take into account the
spatial location of an observer, engage more than one observer, involve
‘low-inference’ categories that do not require complex interpretation
and check agreement of key aspects against independent studies.
2.4. Items of observation
2.4.1 The importance of items
In so far the language classroom observation ‘does not simply mean
watching classes’ (Wallace 1991:123). An observer may record either very
narrowly defined data such as a specific speech act, or more general
kinds of language learning activity such as turn-taking, group work.
Any scientific research or observation is characterised by terms as
‘structured’, ‘organised’, ‘methodical’, and ‘systematic’. To follow
these characteristics any data collection obtains a structure or format,
and guided by some questions or variables. Croll (1986:55) notifies a
variable as a basic unit that represents the process by which a concept
of interest is turned into a set of working definitions whereby the
results of observation or some other data collecting process can be
categorized and measured.
2.4.2 Items of observation in the language classroom
For classroom observation as a learning tool Richards (1998:143)
proposes three perspectives on a lesson for pre-service training to
develop a deeper understanding of how and why teachers teach the way
they do and the different ways teachers approach their lessons. They
1) Teacher-centered focus: the teacher is primary focus; factors include
the teacher’s role, classroom management skills, questioning skills,
presence, voice quality, manner, and quality instructions.
2) Curriculum-centered focus: the lesson as an instructional unit is the
primary focus; factors include lesson goals, opening, structuring, task
types, flow, and development and pacing.
3) Learner-centered focus: the learners are the primary focus; factors
include the extent to which the lesson engaged them, participation
patterns, and extent of language use.
Wallace (1998:68) substitutes the focus on the curriculum with the focus
on the context in which the teacher teaches: the classroom layout, the
teaching aids available and how they are used.
Low-inference and high-inference categoreis
The presentation of items involves constructing sets of categories into
which occurrences must be coded unambiguously. In this respect Long
(1980:3) introduces low-inference and high-inference measures.
Low-inference categories include things that can be counted or coded
without the observer having to infer their meaning from observable
behaviour. Such categories according to Allwright and Bailey (2000:73)
involve the number of times the student raises her/his hands, or the
frequency with which the teacher uses the student’s name. High-frequency
items demand that the observer make a judgement that goes beyond what is
immediately observed. The samples of this type of categories cover
factors like learner’s attention, or the social climate. I can conclude
that observation data should cover categories of observable behaviour
that does not require much interpretation.
2.5. Typology of observation
Typology of classroom observation instruments is worked out by Wallace
(1991:66) and he presents the following oppositions:
1. system-based, ethnographic or ad-hoc
2. global or specific
3. evaluative, formative or research-related
4. teacher-focused, learner-focused or neutral in focus
5. quantitative or qualitative
He admits that some of the oppositions are not clear-cut and overlap.
For example, observation techniques which are primarily evaluative may
be employed for formative purposes, ethnographic approach is treated as
global and qualitative. System based approach can focus on teacher’s
activity and learners’ activities. System-based (systematic),
ethnographic and ad-hoc approaches encompass other characteristics of
the classification provided. Thus, I outline the features of the first
2.5.1 System-based approach
By system-based observation Wallace (1991:67) means the observation that
is based on a system of fixed and pre-specified categories. They are
global in nature, i.e. ‘they are intended to give general coverage of
the most salient aspects of the classroom process’ (Wallace 1991:110).
Any system contains a finite array of categories. The endeavour of all
system-based observation instruments is the analysis of teacher-class
interaction. The two most influential systems are devised by Bellack
(1966:267) and by Flanders (1970:314). Wallace (1991:112) has identified
the characteristic features of the first system as:
1) the data are measured from a transcript, i.e. the data have to be
first recorded and then transcribed;
2) the central place of labelled units of discourse are structure,
solicit, response, reaction.
In the ‘Flanders tradition’ there is a form of documented recall where
tallies are made every three minutes under one range of categories. In
chapter 2.6 the analysis of a range of interaction schemes, their
advantages and disadvantages are presented with more details. They are
widely used by researchers as they are ready-made, well known and ‘it
does not to be trialled and validated’ (Wallace 1991:111).
2.5.2. Ethnographic approach
The observation techniques share many of qualities of ethnographic
practices. Ethnography is a detailed sociological observation of people
which immerses the researcher in an intense period of observation ‘which
guides and informs all subsequent data gathering’. (Radnor 2002:49)
Ethnographical approach is originally developed from the methodologies
of field anthropologists and sociologists concerned with studying human
behaviour within the context in which that behaviour would naturally
occur. Methodologically, ‘anthropological’ classroom studies are based
on participant observation, during which the observer immerse
him/herself in the ‘new culture’. Initial data gathered by the
ethnographer are open-ended and relatively unstructured that ‘allows and
encourages the development of new categories’ (Delamont and Hamilton
1976:13). An ethnographer uses a holistic framework. S/he makes no
attempt to manipulate, control or eliminate variables. At the same time
s/he reduces the breadth of research problems systematically to give
more concentrated attention to the emerging salient issues.
The great strength of the ethnographic research is that it gets away
from the simplistic behavioural emphasis of the pre-specified codes.
(Delamont and Hamilton 1976:37).
The main purpose of the ethnographic approach is the search for meaning
and is based on the description of the studied phenomenon. However, Lutz
(1986:112) warns that not everyone who can write a paragraph describing
an encounter between a teacher and a student is an ethnographer, and he
points out that an observer should be trained in ethnographic methods,
particularly participant-observer field methods.
2.5.3 Ad-hoc approach
The term ‘ad-hoc’ is used to describe something that has been devised
for a particular purpose, ‘with no claims to generality’ (Wallace
1991:113). The ad-hoc approach relates to structured approaches but the
categories derive from a particular problem or research topic. That is
why this system is more popular with practising teachers. What is more
this approach is flexible and eclectic, and involves both quantitative
and qualitative data where each seems appropriate. Wallace (1991:113)
assumes that each different area of concern will yield a different
system of analysis. Ad-hoc approach is considered to be the most
appropriate in teacher-training education as it is basically guided
discovery approach that drive student-teachers to focus and reflect on
an important area of language teaching, and provide a meta-language with
which to discuss. The instrument of ad-hoc approach is known as
observation tasks (Wajnryb 1992) and is described in Chapter 2.6.2.
2.6. Methods and techniques of observation
2.6.1 Classification of data collection techniques
Seliger and Shohamy (1989:158) present classification of data collection
procedures according to the degree of explicitness. On one end of the
scale they set broad and general techniques which do not focus on a
particular type of data and are considered to be of a low degree, while
at the other end they tend to put procedures which are more explicit and
structured and thus reveal high degree of explicitness. Collecting data
by procedures of a low degree of explicitness is done by means of open
and informal description, which tends to be done simultaneously with its
occurrence. Typical procedures of this kind are field notes, records,
diaries, journals, lesson reports, personal logs, life history accounts,
informal interviews with the subjects of observation. Collecting data by
means of procedures of a high degree of explicitness involves the use of
formal and structured types of data collection procedures. Examples of
such procedures are interaction schemes, checklists, observation
schedules, observation tasks, formal interviews, surveys, structured
questionnaires, case studies, rating numerical scales. Different
procedures imply different techniques for data collection. Data obtained
from more structured observations are presented in the form of checks,
tallies, frequencies, and ratings, while data obtained from the informal
observations are presented in the form of narration, field-notes, or
According to this classification I am going to describe a range of
procedures that are applied to pre-service classroom observation.
2.6.2 Observation instruments
Field notes are records of naturalistic observation in the natural
context of the behaviour researched through direct listening and
watching. The main focus of observation notes is accurate description
rather than interpretation. An observer can write down interesting
details on various aspects of school life in general and of the teaching
process in particulars. ‘Each observational note represents a happening
or event – it approximates the who, what, when, and how of the action
observed’ (McKernan 1996:94). McKernan considers field notes as a useful
1. they are simple records to keep requiring direct observation
2. no outside observer is necessary
3. problems can be studied in the teacher’s own time
4. they can function as an aide-memoire
5. they provide clues and data not dredged up by quantified means.
At the same time an observer should consider some drawbacks in the use
of this technique presented by McKernan (1996:96) as follows:
1. It is difficult to record lengthy conversations
2. They can be fraught with problems of researcher response, bias, and
3. It is time-consuming to write up on numerous characters
4. They are difficult to structure
5. They should triangulate with other methods, as diaries, analytic
The case study
Elliot and Ebbutt (1986:75) treat case study as a research technique in
which teachers identify, diagnose and attempt to resolve major problems
they faced in teaching for understanding. Richards (1998:73) considers
case materials help students to explore how teachers in different
settings ‘arrive at lesson goals and teaching strategies, and to
understand how expert teachers draw on pedagogical schemes and routines
in the process of teaching’. McKernan (1996:76) reminds that the
researcher or an observer should use a ‘conceptual framework’, which can
relate to existing science. So, the researcher employs various concepts
to make sense of the observed data.
Richards (1998:76) enumerates advantages for using case studies in
1. students are provided with vicarious teaching problems that present
real issues in context;
2. students can learn how to identify issues and frame problems;
3. cases can be used to model the process of analysis and inquiry in
4. students can acquire an enlarged repertoire and understanding of
5. cases help stimulate the habit of reflective inquiry.
Some research employ both terms equally. Allport (1942:95) has made the
point that ‘the spontaneous, intimate diary is the personal document par
excellence’. Many researchers have kept diaries as self-evaluative tool
of their own experience. The most notable study of a diary keeping
method is described by Bailey (1990). She has used the diary study
approach as one option for the classroom-centered research project
required in the practicum. The resulting journals have focused on issues
related to lesson planning and creativity, time management, problems
faced by non-native teachers of English, classroom control, group work,
and difficult student-teacher relations. Baily’s (1990:218) sense of
result is that diaries were often extremely useful exercises for the
teachers-in-preparation, both in generating behavioural changes and in
Requirements to write the diary entries she identifies as follows:
a) to set aside time each day immediately following the class, in
pleasant place free of interruptions;
b) the time allotted to writing about the language teaching or learning
experience should at least equal the time spent in class;
c) to set up the conditions for writing so that the actual process of
writing is or can become relatively free. It’s difficult in getting
d) in recording entries in the original uncensored version of the diary,
one should not worry about style, grammar, or organisation. The goal is
to get complete and accurate data while the recollections are still
Her studies reveal some problems in keeping diaries. In actual practice,
students experience difficulties in describing events freely, the
process of writing seems to be tedious for them; they do not get used to
criticize, reflect, express frustration, and raise questions in written
form. Some students were reluctant to edit their private journals.
Porter, Goldstein, Leatherman, and Conrad (1990:240) consider the
journal is not a personal diary. They emphasise that the journal is a
place to go beyond notes made during observation by exploring, reacting,
making connections. The journal entries are intended to be polished
pieces of writing. But as diaries, as journal are not assessed. The
problem with assessment is in that there is no rigid regulation about
the frequency of entries per day or week. It depends on the nature and
structure of the course. At the same time writing every week is
considered to be productive since the journal is meant to be ongoing.
Sometimes students need to process what they are reading and make
connections among a number of readings.
Benefits of using journals Porter et al. (1990:287) sees as:
1) students can get help with areas of course content where they are
having difficulty; get a teacher’s response;
2) they promote autonomous learning, encouraging students to take
responsibility for their own learning and to develop their own ideas;
3) students can gain confidence in their ability to learn, to make sense
of difficult material, and to have original insights;
4) the journal encourages students to make connections between course
content and their own teaching;
5) the journals create interaction beyond the classroom, both between
teacher and student, and among students. It allows an ongoing dialogue
between teacher and students;
6) the journals make class more process oriented. Students input can in
part shape the curriculum. The teacher can use this information to
restructure the course.
Anecdotal records McKernan (1996:67) refers to narrative-verbatim
descriptions of meaningful incidents and events which have been observed
in the behavioural setting. They focus on narrative, conversation and
dialogue and provide short, sharp incisive summaries of points that
stick in the mind after the event. Anecdotal records are treated to be
useful in teacher training education because they directly observe
behavioural data which enable students to ‘see’ the incident and gain
‘inside’ perspective. One of the key tasks for the observer is to watch
for the beginning and ending of ‘episodes’ of behaviour. McKernan
(1996:68) sets some disadvantages of anecdotal records that are similar
to diary keeping and journal as any piece of descriptive writing, such
1. they require extensive time to observe, write and interpret;
2. maintainenace of ‘objectivity’ is difficult;
3. observers require training in the use of anecdotes;
4. they are often reported without taking accounts of setting;
5. read out of context, they can be misunderstood and misinterpreted;
6. some observers focus on ‘negative’ or ‘undesirable’ events only.
Personal action logs
Personal action logs McKernan (1996:110) defines as record sheets which
document a researcher’s activities over a lengthy time period ‘to get a
full-blown representation’ of a day. Thornbury (1991:141) clarifies the
purpose of log-keeping as ‘to direct trainees’ attention towards areas
they may have overlooked or avoided; to measure the trainees’ assessment
against our own; to make adjustments, if necessary, to the course design
and/or content’. Logs may be kept in chart summary form, describing the
main events with time sampling or in a more descriptive form similar to
a diary. At the same time personal logs (McKernan 1996:111) are
recommended to keep over a lengthy period of time and in connection with
more extensive accounts, such as field notes, diaries and audio
transcripts to validate findings.
The use of check-lists suggests the formulation of well-defined and
‘clearly delineated behaviour categories, which in turn presupposes more
than a superficial acquaintance with the data’ (Hutt and Hutt 1970:38).
It is used to focus ‘the observer’s attention to the presence, absence,
or frequency of occurrence of each point of the prepared list as
indicated by checkmarks’ (Hopkins and Antes 1985:467). Thus a
prerequisite for obtaining reliable and valid data from check-lists is a
set of clearly defined categories. For this reason a check-list would be
unsuitable for recording behaviour with which the observer was not
completely familiar or for recording the complete range of activities in
a free-field situation. The researchers confirm that although in
principle a large number of categories are feasible, in practice an
observer is unable to cope reliably with more than fifteen. Different
methodologists notice that as the number of categories increase, the
problems involved in scanning these. That is why Hutt and Hutt (1970:69)
offer from a practical view to have check-lists as compact as possible,
since they are most commonly used in those situations where the observer
is attempting to record unobtrusively and with the minimum of
distraction to the subject.
The greatest advantage of check lists is the facility and speed with
which they can be analysed, as observer just ticks off phenomenon
against an appropriate category by mere observation. Measures that might
be easily obtained are as follows:
1. frequency with which there is a change in activity;
2. number of different activities;
3. number of stimuli encountered;
4. duration of specific activity;
5. changes in nature and duration of activities with time.
However, McKernan (1996:108) admonishes that the arrangement of the
points is crucial in that sequence in task completion should be logical
and sequential. An observer or designer of this instrument must ensure
1. points to be observed are listed in their actual sequence of
2. all similar attributes are included in categories;
3. all the relevant and specified points are listed.
Over the years numerous schemes have been developed for recording
classroom interaction. Chaudron (1988:19), modifying the analysis
originated by Long (1980), identifies twenty-four various schemes. In
his review Chaudron (1988:17) points out that Long (1980) has included
only those instruments which were designed to observe verbal interaction
in a classroom, whereas the range of categories is great due to various
purposes of observation. Chaudron interprets categories as
a) social interactive (Allwright (1980:169) turn-taking and turn-giving,
Moskowitz’s (1970) ‘jokes’, ‘praises or encourages’)
b) pedagogical (Jarvis’s (1968:336) ‘classroom management’, ‘repetition
reinforcement’, or Fanselow’s (1977:18) ‘solicit’, ‘respond’)
c) objective behaviour (Naiman, Neil, Frцlich, Stern, and Todesco’s
(1978) ‘student hand-raising’, ‘student callout’, or Moscowitz’s (1970)
‘student response -choral’)
d) semantic or cognitive content of behaviours (Fanselow’s (1977:31)
e) type and grouping of participants (Mitchell et al. (1981:19) ‘whole
class’, ‘individuals doing the same task’)
For teacher training purpose Chaudron (1988:18) recommends to apply
eleven schemes among which Capelle, Jarvilla, and Revelle (n.d.),
Moskowitz’s (1970), Politzer (1980), Seliger (1977) are conducted in
real time coding and categories of schemes refer to low degree of
Advantages of interaction schemes as the basis of reflection in
experiential knowledge are described by Wallace (1991:121) and he claims
that these systems
1) objectify the teaching process;
2) provide a reliable record (by a trained observer);
3) promote self-awareness in the teacher;
4) provide a meta-language, which enables teachers to talk about their
5) make teacher training more effective by improving the quality of
At the same time systematic observation schemes have some critics.
Delamont and Hamilton’s (1976:3) main critique is levelled at the use of
pre-specified categories to ‘code’ or classify the behaviour of teachers
and pupils, which can not capture and reflect the whole complexity of
Delamont and Hamilton (1976:8) identify seven criticisms of systematic
1) Systematic observation provides data only about ‘average’ or
‘typical’ classrooms, teachers and pupils.
2) All the interactional analysis systems ignore the temporal and
spatial context in which the data are collected as most systems use data
gathered during very short periods of observation the observer is not
expected to record information about the physical setting.
3) Interaction analysis systems are usually concerned only with overt,
observable behaviour. In the case if intentions lay behind the direct
behaviour an observer must himself impute the intention.
4) Interaction analysis systems are concerned with ‘what can be
categorized or measured’ (Simon and Boyer 1986:1). They may obscure,
distort or ignore the qualitative features which they claim to
investigate, by having ill-defined boundaries between the categories.
5) Interaction analysis systems focus on ‘small bits of action or
behaviour rather than global concepts’ (Simon and Boyer 1986:1).
Delamont and Hamilton clarifies that there is a tendency to generate a
superabundance of data which must be linked either to the complex set of
descriptive concepts or to a small number of global concepts.
6) The systems utilize pre-specified categories.
7) Placing arbitrary boundaries on continuous phenomena obscures the
flux of social interaction.
Walker and Adelman (1976: 136) emphasize the problems of recording
child-child talk and objectivity of incorporating this kind of talk into
the normal flow of teacher-centred classroom. They illustrate that there
is no research instrument to code the spontaneous talk or social
function of jokes and humour. ‘Talk is seen to be a highly complex,
problematic activity, rich in contradictory and bizarre meanings and
frequently with difficulties and confusions’ (Walker and Adelman 1976:
137). This organisation is taken for granted in observation schemes.
McKernan (1996:118) reviews various styles of rating scales – category,
numerical, graphic and pictorial. They all share the common feature of
having a rater place an object, person or idea along a sequential scale
in terms of estimated value to the rater. Rating scales are treated as
helpful instrument to measure non-cognitive areas where an observer is
interested in cooperativeness, industriousness, tolerance, enthusiasm,
group skills. At the same time McKernan (1996:119) notes that all rating
sheets need to
a) include observable behavior;
b) rate significant outcomes as opposed to minor or trivial behaviours;
c) employ clear, unambiguous scales – never to use less than three, nor
more than ten points on a scale;
d) arrange for several raters to observe the same phenomena to increase
reliability of ratings;
e) keep items short and to the point.
Rating scales are opposed to direct observation as an assessment
strategy. Nevertheless, Sattler (1982:33) points out that rating scale
may not correspond with data obtained by the way of direct observation.
He suggests that the internal consistency and ‘inter-rater’ reliability
are important features of behaviour rating scales (Sattler 1982:34).
Another criticism of observational data obtained through ratings is in
that they involve human judgment and the sample of behaviour may be
This technique is described by McKernan (1996:170). Unlike interaction
analysis the selective verbatim techniques is directed at studying
‘selective’ verbal reactions. These are interactions that reflect
effective or ineffective teaching. The procedure involves recording of
the actual words and further analysis. The main advantage of the
selective verbatim technique is in that it allows an observer to
concentrate on one aspect of the teaching/learning behaviour at a time
and it provides an objective non-interpretive record of verbal
behaviour, which can be analyzed later.
An observation task is ‘a focused activity to work on while observing a
lesson in progress’ (Wajnryb 1992:7). Like a selective verbatim
technique it focuses on one or a small number of aspects of the
teaching/learning process but covers nonverbal behaviour as well. The
purpose of the task is to collect actual facts or patterns of
interaction that emerge in a lesson. The advantage of the collecting
information with the help of selective tasks is that ‘it provides a
convenient means of collecting data that frees the observer from forming
an opinion or making a non-the-spot evaluation during the lesson’
To draw general conclusion about the techniques of observation I can say
that some of them suggest either too broad or too narrow studying of the
teaching process. It does not suit the main objectives of the
Observation Weeks at the Teaching Practicum that are targeted to
acquaint trainees with all the facets of the complex teaching/learning
process gradually, to practice and develop trainees’ observation skills.
2.7. Evaluation of documents
2.7.1 Criteria for manual evaluation
The data evaluation process in qualitative and quantitative research is
complex, laborious and time consuming procedure. In social research
there are two main approaches to analysis and evaluation of data: manual
and computer based. In the former case qualitative research evaluation
is treated as ‘intuitive, idiosyncratic and creative’ (Stroh 2000:226).
Due to the immersive nature of the participant observation and closeness
to a subject a researcher is inclined to see things from the member’s
perspective. Thus Cohen and Mannion (1994:52) suggest evaluating
materials by means of two stages: ‘external’ and ‘internal criticism’.
External criticism is concerned with establishing the ‘authenticity’
(Scott 1990:37) or genuiness of material. It is aimed at the document
itself rather than the statements it contains and endeavors to analyse
forms of the data rather than the interpretation or meaning. That is way
it sets out to discover frauds, inventions or distortions. A set of
questions proposed by Platt (1981) can be employed to test observation
material on its authenticity:
Does the document make sense or does it contain glaring errors?
Are there different versions of the original document available?
Is there consistency of literary style, handwriting or typeface?
Has the document been transcribed by many copyists?
Does the version available derive from a reliable source?
Internal criticism deals with the accuracy of the data presentation and
an evaluator has to establish ‘credibility’, ‘representativeness’ and
‘meaning’ (Scott 1990:53) of the document.
Credibility refers to the question of whether the task is ‘free from
error and distortion’ (Macdonald 2001:204). The later may occur when the
comments and discussion were made long time after actual observation, or
when the account has been made through different hands and the author
was not present at the lesson. The task is considered to be
representative if all the aspects of the task have been taken place in
an accurate way. But missing of some categories might occur, then the
question of what is missing, how much and why should be considered.
Representativeness can be affected by the interest or bias of the author
to please the reader, or being under pressure, from fear or vanity the
writer can distort or omit some facts.
The meaning of a document should be established at two levels: ‘the
surface or literal meaning, and the deeper meaning arrived at …
interpretative understanding or structural analysis’ (Macdonald
2001:205). The first type embodies the form of the text whereas the
second one analyses the content of the message from the point of view of
‘tendencies, sequences, patterns, and orders’ (Ericson, Bareaneck, and
Chan 1991:55). Arguably textual analysis should draw to discourse
analysis and concentrates only on language features regardless of social
setting. Whereas Scott (1990:64) claims that a text is deprived from its
real meaning in isolation from the social context. So ‘texts must be
studied as socially situated products’ (Scott 1990:65).
2.7.2 Computer-based evaluation
Computer application in qualitative research analysis arguably brings
some organisation and system into unstructured material and various
paper forms, but definitely is helpful in storing and managing a large
amount of materials in ethnography and statistics in quantitative data
collection. Sophisticated software packages have been generated for the
last years, for example, the Ethnograph (Seidel), QSR NUP?IST (Richards
and Richards), Hyper-RESEARCH (Biber, Kinder) ATLAS/ti (Muhr), SPSS.
Computer programmes are of great help for a researcher and can assist in
simple functions such as text processing and speed search as in more
complicated ones: coding or indexing words and further retrieving them,
building theories, making descriptive statistics and inferential one.
But Gayle (2000) admonishes that a researcher should remember that
computers do not produce results as such, they ‘merely take some of the
laborious data management tasks away from the researcher’ Gayle
Design of the learner observation tasks
3.1. The area of the observation tasks
The area of observation and the structure of the tasks are modified
forms of the classroom observation tasks proposed by Wajnryb (1992). The
learner area covers the same focuses as were originally proposed, such
as ‘the learner as a doer’, ‘the learner motivation’, ‘the learner
level’ except the ‘classroom climate’ task. I have shifted the focus of
‘teacher’s attending behaviour towards the learners’ to ‘classroom
climate’ as this is the first meeting with the group of pupils and it is
crucial to grasp the idea of social relationship between learners and
teacher-learners, to make up a general impression about the degree of
learner’s involvement into the lesson activities, their attitude to the
language studying and the nature of language use at the lesson, either
‘drill’ to practice grammar or ‘real’ (Allwright 1988:13) to
communicate. It should help trainees to become aware of other specific
questions that influence learning process and learner development.
The focus of every task is sequenced according to its complexity from
more general to more specific category. For example, the variable
‘learning styles’ requires higher inference categories than ‘motivation’
as student-teachers have to observe not only the language behaviour but
the manner of approaching and processing the activity, and more
descriptive language is entailed in their comments accordingly.
Although, the evidences of language level seem to be easier to notice
but student teachers are recommended to reflect upon the linkage between
all the facets of the previous focuses and their influence upon the
3.2. The frame of the observation tasks
Generally, the frame of every task is similar to the foregoing tasks and
follows a standard procedure. Every task consists of three phases:
before the lesson, during the lesson, and after the lesson. Typically,
the instructions for the ‘Before the lesson’ phase deal with some
preliminary activities. First, pre-service teachers are recommended to
get acquainted with the classroom design, to arrange their own seating
position to observe learners and to contact with the teacher. Sometimes,
student teachers are asked to review some theoretical knowledge in
phsycholinguistic area concerning learners’ motivation factors and
learning styles. Then, to fulfil the tasks successfully student teachers
have to make themselves familiar with an aspect of learner’s behaviour
this or that task is targeted at.
I have modified ‘Before the lesson’ phase and introduced some concrete
samples of learner’s behaviour description, whereas Wajnryb (1992)
provides an area of observation in general. I have borne in mind two
essential factors that drove me in so doing. First, pre-service teachers
are inexperienced teachers; most of them have no practical teaching
experience. That is why they are not aware of the importance of every
detail in learners’ behaviour that they should consider during the
lesson. Second, student teachers are non native speakers. Unfortunately,
the level of language proficiency of many student teachers is low
intermediate, and they experience problems in the use of foreign
language appropriately and give precise description as it is required by
the task. Arguably, the classroom observation tasks can be fulfilled in
mother tongue but perceiving instructions and making field notes,
jotters in English promotes additional practice in second language
acquisition, furthermore it enhances metalanguage practice as well.
‘During the lesson’ phase requires collecting data and event sampling. A
grid or a chart is provided to enable student teachers to do this with
ease. Student teachers are recommended to make some field or jotted
notes in the form of graphic symbols, actual utterances or descriptive
language to recall events easily as the longer period of observation the
more things they need to attend to and ‘the more details is forced out’
All the tasks are provided with examples within the charts so that the
idea is quite clear. Again, some modifications of the charts were taken
place. For example, in the ‘Learner motivation’ task I have added ‘signs
of high/low motivation’ instead of the column ‘Motivation’, as it sounds
more concrete and more comprehensible for inexperienced trainees. ‘High
and low’ variables expose two extremes in learners’ behaviour but make
the task feasible. Typically, pupils demonstrate respect towards their
teacher and obey her/his commands and instructions automatically as
classroom norms of behaviour require. Ccompliance and obedience might
refer to motivating factors but they less help students ‘become
responsible and caring’ (Meece and McColskey 2001:7) pupils. Highly
motivated and low motivated students deserve special attention of
teachers and researchers as the former ones are gradually inclined to
lose their interest to studying without teacher’s support but the last
ones according to numerous research tend to disrupt classroom behaviour
and demonstrate poor results and knowledge. In the ‘Learner as a doer’
task I have substituted the column ‘Teacher’s purpose’ with ‘Learning
activity’ as this notion introduces stages of the lesson, makes student
teachers familiar with metalanguage and assists them with formatting
their own lesson plans in future. The column ‘What learners do’ is added
with the question word ‘how’ as describing the manner of doing an
activity student teachers become aware of the reasons of pupil’s acting
in this or that way. Then I recommend putting down learners’ names as it
will help student teachers to keep in mind individual preferences of
every pupil and to plan lesson activities accordingly.
‘After the lesson’ phase invites pre-service teachers to discuss with
the teacher, analyse and interpret the data they have just collected.
Student teachers are provided with some guided questions to assist them
to draw conclusions and make some useful inferences while their memory
of events is fresh. Reflection phase will encourage pre-service teachers
to contemplate over the events and the reasons of various variables of
behaviour with a view to exploring alternatives which might be
implemented in the future (Gore and Zeichner, 1991:121).
Self-evaluation of the learner observation tasks
4.1. Learner observation task as an ad-hoc instrument
Learner observation tasks refer to the ad-hoc instrument and share the
features of ethnographic and systematic observation. The most prominent
ethnographic feature of classroom observation tasks is that student
teachers intensively observe learners in natural setting during
sufficiently long period of time. Another feature that relates to
ethnographic approach is in that structured tasks, items of charts
promote detailed and subsequent data collection which student teachers
have to document in the form of field or jotted notes using descriptive
language. In addition to these notes observation tasks presuppose
collaboration and consultation with teachers, supervisors and peers at
the pre-observation and post-observation phases to infer meaning from
the data and comment on them. Thus, learner observation tasks combine
descriptive note and interview techniques that are typical for
Observation tasks possess features of systematic research as the area of
observing is specified and every task follows the same structure:
‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after the lesson’ phase. In its turn every phase
consists of some instructions which are similar in format, such as
‘before the lesson’ instructions consists of some practical guides to
actual observation and invites pre-service teachers to review some
theoretical knowledge of the focused area to back up or abandon
theoretical hypotheses; the ‘during the lesson’ phase introduces a chart
with some aspects of the teaching/learning process to observe and fill
in with jotted notes, symbols, or actual utterances; the ‘after the
lesson’ phase involves some tasks in the form of statements to do
immediately after the lesson and some inference questions to reflect on
during post observation session. Student teachers are recommended to
comment on some events immediately after the lesson to avoid the
‘primacy or recency effect’ (Campbell 1958) that can distort the first
impression and misjudge the behaviour. Every chart is introduced with
some categories. But these categories do not refer to pre-specified
codes as student teachers have the right to change or add any
characteristics or description depending on the context. They function
as samples that student teachers can refer to while describing this or
that behaviour, help to describe it in accurate and objective manner and
avoid the influence of background theories and personal bias.
4.2. Test on reliability and validity of variables
Every task presents one aspect to focus on. These aspects can be
observed separately with different groups of learners and in sequence
one by one at different meetings with the same group. An observer sets
the aims to investigate one particular aspect in depth and to have a
holistic view of a specific group respectively. Observation of the next
aspect can add some new data and comments to the previous one, and
subsequently can bring some changes to the hypothesis made before.
Eventually, at final observation student teachers can combine all the
aspects to judge and analyse consistently the learners’ behaviour from
the point of their physical position in the classroom, their motivation
factors, learning styles and language level. The ‘sequential analysis’
(Becker 1970:79) technique allows student teachers to draw objective
conclusions. Objectivity is enhanced by guided categories. The language
of categories is concrete, unambiguous and reflects observable physical
and learning behaviour of learners in accurate manner. But additional
category ‘others’ makes the guidance open and in pilot studying the
language of categories can be modified and added.
The learner observation tasks can be conducted by two observers
simultaneously from different positions. Spatial location of observers
is essential in direct observation (Lofland and Lofland 1995:59), which
is why student teachers are recommended to take positions at teacher’s
desk in the straight-row arrangement or at a learner’s desk in the
horseshoe or modular settings, where they can observe learner’s physical
behaviour, facial expressions and grasp learners’ utterances during the
learning process. Different location of student teachers can bring
additional details to the description of the learner’s behaviour, and
the test of congruency of descriptive data of both observers can check
the ‘inter-rater’ (Seliger and Shohamy 1989:185) reliability and
internal validity of observation. The degree of inter-observer agreement
can be easily calculated in percentage agreement according to the
formula proposed by Simpson and Tuson (1995:64):
number of agreed observations
Percentage agreement = —————————————Ч 100% total number of observations
The ratio should not be lower than 80% to consider the observation tasks
to be reliable. Further discussion with each other and interviewing the
teacher after observation can verify and refine the original description
of learner’s behaviour and categories where the incongruence has
Appropriate comments of student teachers to the categories in the charts
during actual observation and coherence between the comments and the
focus of the observation task will reveal the evidence of the content
validity of the tasks. Moreover, field and jotted notes, comments while
and after the lesson should examine the consistency of tasks with the
current theories on learning styles and motivation, and reveal the
evidences of the construct validity. Criterion validity of the tasks can
be easily measured against parallel questionnaires on learner’s
personality that student teachers conduct doing the assignments
recommended by the Department of Psychology for the Teaching Practicum.
Before applying the learner observation tasks into practice the tasks
are supposed to be checked on face validity, by consulting with
colleagues and methodologists who have some experience in supervision of
the Teaching Practicum.
5.1. Classroom climate
‘Classroom’ and ‘social climate’ are two constituents of this notion.
5.1.1 Classroom as a space and its design
Typically a classroom consists of a group of individuals who work
together in an enclosed room space over a period of time. Numerous
methodologists agree that a place plays an important role in ‘encoding
the cultural and social understanding of the behaviour and actions
appropriate to an environment’ (Lee, Danis, Miller and Jung, 2001:62).
In this view, the classroom is a social and pedagogical entity. It is
the place where a structure of social interactions develops and evolves,
where a number of events happen and influence students’ behaviour. In
other words classroom environment involves more than the interaction
between teacher, learners, and learning materials or activities: ‘they
are social as well as educational actions which will be conducted in a
real-world setting which is characterised by a number of pragmatic and
attitudinal factors’ (Tudor 1996:155). Classroom size, light, furniture,
classroom design, equipment constitute pragmatic factors.
The layout of the classroom with the pragmatic factors inclusively is
supposedly designed in a way that supports social climate in the
classroom and teaching/learning process. While there probably is an
infinite number of ways of arranging a classroom, three are most common:
traditional (three or four straight rows), horseshoe (semi-circular
rows), and modular (a small-scale design).
Seating arrangement, teaching methods and patterns of behaviour
The particular seating arrangement determines as the teaching method as
the students’ behaviour. The traditional straight-row arrangement which
is predominating in most educational settings is designed for
information delivery methodology. It places the primary interaction
focus on the teacher and minimizes student-student communication. With
regard to the horseshoe arrangement, it would be the best if both
student-student and student-teacher interactions are important to the
learning in the class. Classes such as those enhance problem solving
discussion and increase ego involvement of most students. The modular
arrangement is advocated for classes in which student-student
interaction is most important. If groups are formed in the class, this
arrangement permits maximum interaction among students within a group
while minimizing the interference of one group with another. This
arrangement is also recommended for classes which require that the
teacher work closely with individuals or groups rather than primarily
with the class as a whole.
Location within the seating arrangement implicitly verifies patterns of
behaviour and student-student, students-teacher relationship. The
classroom patterns involve traditions, set of beliefs and recipes for
both teachers and students ‘in the sense that there are tacit
understandings about what sort of behaviour is acceptable’ (Holliday
1994:24). The straight-row arrangement requires highly motivated
students who demonstrate respect and obedience towards the teacher. In
the horseshoe arrangement teacher and students share the focus, and
students are supposed to demonstrate mutual respect and tolerant
behaviour towards the teacher and each other. In modular arrangement the
focus is shifted towards students. The behaviour within a group is more
complex as every student with his/her specific character may take active
position. Thus every student may exhibit as verbal as emotional
behaviour and bring some alteration into relationship and social climate
over a span of time.
5.1.2. Social climate
Emotional atmosphere and group cohesiveness
The term ‘social climate’ refers to the emotional atmosphere present in
the classroom. Classroom climate can range from a non-threatening,
supportive, free atmosphere, to classrooms where hostility, frustration,
tension, and anxiety dominate all relationships.
In social and psychological studies the key tenet is the assumption that
the emotional atmosphere, or ‘climate’, in which a group works, exerts a
directive influence on behaviour and people’s relationship. In classroom
situations where conditions of good climate exist, there is opportunity
for students to express themselves freely; moreover, they work more
cohesive as a social group. Group cohesiveness determines to a high
degree the development of cognition of its members. This idea is traced
in various learning theories, such as Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of social
development, Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory, Johnson and
Johnson’s (1989) theory of cooperative learning.
Group power and individual behaviour
Psychological studies of group behaviour have found that individuals
behave differently in groups than they do when they are alone. ‘All
groups posses a power to influence and establish their own norms of
behaviour and attitudes within their community’ (Bany and Johnson
1964:39). What is more all groups tend to make members conform to these
norms and values approved by the group. The values established by the
group can vary in extremes. A group may display an atmosphere in which
the members feel free because of prevailing kindness and friendliness.
In another group, an atmosphere of suspicion, jealousy, or high
competitiveness may exist. The kind of pressure that operates to
influence individual behaviour can be overt and subtle. It can range
from mild teasing to strong ridicule if the group member fails to
conform. But an observer should take into account that a classroom group
does not always give overt evidence of being a cohesive unity. Sometimes
a quarrel over an incident that happened during the play period does not
indicate the class group is not friendly, or a vigorous disagreement
over group work shows a lack of solidarity. That is why every situation
should be treated and reflected within a specific context.
5.1.3 Gender differences in behaviour
There are some stereotypes of gender differences in behaviour such as
that boys are generally more aggressive, physically and verbally, and
enjoy taking risks whereas girls are more sociable, more nurturing and
more compliant. Teachers are aware of this phenomenon and they tend to
challenge ‘disruptive’ boys and not girls during questioning sessions.
Children’s interaction with each other is also affected by the gender
composition of their working groups. An anonymous reviewer in the
studies of Pica, Holliday Lewis, Berducci, and Newman (1991) has noticed
that ‘the concept of gender is a relational construct and very much
influenced by interlocutors’ perceptions of each other during social
interaction’ (Pica et al., 1991:369).
5.1.4. The description of the task
The overall task (see Appendix 1) is targeted to raise awareness with
student teachers about the factors that enhance positive classroom
climate and classroom discipline respectively. The second task relates
to gender differences in physical behaviour and attitude to each other,
the teacher and the lesson in general. Another concern of the task
involves studying students’ preferences for seats within different types
of seating arrangements. The more advanced aim is to give student
teachers a hint about the type of communication as well as the amount of
communication that learners produce in different classroom arrangement.
This task is accomplished during the first meeting of a trainee with the
class group. Student teachers are recommended to take a position aside
from the pupils’ desks to notice facial expressions, emotions and any
other physical motions every time the teacher attends to an individual
or small group of learners. I have chosen the procedure of teacher’s
attendance to learners as a measurement of learners’ behaviour. Although
it does not indicate the frequency of occurrence of learners’ behaviour
but it gives a student-teacher the idea about the techniques of
classroom management, student-student, and teacher-students
relationships in particular. For example, if a learner is doing another
task different from the lesson objectives the teacher keeps the
situation on alert and might attend to the pupil immediately.
A grid of learners’ seating arrangement should give student teachers a
rough idea about the method that the teacher employs as it is described
above. Gender indication is important as it provides a good picture of
social climate and relationship, and teacher’s techniques of classroom
Student teachers are guided with some graphical symbols that reflect
this or that physical behaviour which typically occurs in the classroom.
At the same time pre-service teachers feel free in adding any other
symbols for different behaviour than is indicated in the case if they
notice during observation. I have introduced graphic symbols to put
against every student on the grid without verbal description as symbolic
indication is more feasible. This technique permits pre-service teachers
to capture non-verbal behaviour that occurs very fast in real time. The
system provides graphic symbols that are internationally recognised and
comprehensive. Moreover, graphic symbolic indication simplifies the
design and further analysis. Graphic symbols reflect concrete non-verbal
behaviour and allow an observer to keep and recall the events that have
happened during the lesson very easily. After the lesson student
teachers have more time to describe the behaviour they observed in more
precise words while reflecting on the influence of physical behaviour of
students on the classroom climate.
Student teachers are guided with three additional tasks. They are
recommended to make some field notices on the learner’s response to the
teacher’s attendance. Fixing actual utterances that are produced by
learners should promote further recollection of the type and the amount
of language produced by the pupils in different positions. Another task
provides the idea about learners’ behaviour and comfort while changing
their positions. Pre-service teachers should capture the ‘action zone’
(Shamim 1996:123) of students where they feel free in movements without
disturbing each other physically. Finally, student teachers are asked to
notice and fix the behaviour of learners in two time intervals, at the
beginning and at the end of working on the task in a new seating
arrangement. In so doing student teachers should infer learners’
preferences for seating arrangement and the amount of time they can work
After the lesson student teachers are recommended to comment on all the
tasks mentioned above immediately. During further post-observation
discussion they continue their reflection on the relationship between
seating arrangement and social climate in the classroom. Analysing
gender-related differences in physical behaviour pre-service teachers
will infer learners’ attitude to each other, the teacher and studying
process in general. As it was mentioned above analysis of the type of
utterances and their amount will lead student teachers to infer the
influence of seating arrangement on learners’ involvement into the
lesson and their progress in learning accordingly. Finally, student
teachers will plan their future lesson in accordance with learners’
comfort and preferences for seating positions that provides effective
classroom management and eventually enhances pupils’ learning progress.
5.2. Learner motivation
5.2.1 Types of motivation
Motivation is an internal drive that encourages somebody to pursue a
course of action. If we define the goal and if that goal is sufficiently
attractive we will be strongly motivated to do whatever is necessary to
achieve that goal. A positive relationship between motivation and second
language achievement is arguable among researchers but in general
language teachers acknowledge that strongly motivated learners are
easier to teach than those who have no such goals.
The best known categorization of motivation in language learning is the
distinction between integrative and instrumental motivation. An
integrative motivation involves an interest in learning foreign language
because of ‘a sincere and personal interest in the people and culture
represented by the other language group’ (Gardner 1985:6). The term
‘instrumental’ describes a situation in which students believe that
mastery of the language has ‘some practical value and advantages of
learning a new language’ (Gardner 1985:10). The language is treated as
an instrument in their attainment of such a goal. Learners can, of
course, have both integrative and instrumental motivation as it is
impossible to separate two kinds of motivation in every situation of the
learning process. Muchnick and Wolfe (1982:273) found evidences of both
strong integrative and strong instrumental motivation in the same
5.2.2 Constituents of motivation
Constituents of integrative motivation
Motivation is ‘subjective experience’ (Good and Brophy 2000:217) that
cannot be observed directly, but it can be inferred from students’
physical behaviour. The key dimensions that demonstrate strong
motivation are ‘effort’ which learners put into their learning,
‘persistence’ with which learners continue doing their work in a
determined way, and ‘activeness’ which is defined as frequency of
participation in classroom contexts. But the first two variables demand
high inferences from more observable learning behaviours such as working
independently on the task for a long time, consulting with the teacher
or the peer when uncertain, working at home with additional material, or
display of hilarious emotion in response to the teacher’s reward.
Although the relationship between frequent participation and second
language achievement remains uncertain it clearly indicates interest to
foreign language studying.
The choice of tasks according to the difficulty, the level of
aspirations, the amount of effort exerted, and the persistence that
learners displayed while working on the task reveals one of the variable
of learner’s motivation, their sense of efficacy. As Dцrney (1998:119)
in his review of Bandura’s (1993) article asserts that people with a low
sense of self-efficacy tend to dwell on the obstacles they encounter
rather than concentrating on how to perform the task. In contrast,
people with a strong sense of self-efficacy approach threatening
situations with confidence, they are focused on the task rather than
‘self-diagnostic focus during task-involvement’ (Dцrney 1998:120).
Student teachers can easily infer this variable from overt learner’s
cues on their immediate reaction towards the task they face; learners
might complain and mumble about the difficulty, or they approach to the
task immediately with or without accompanied exclamations about
Constituents of instrumental motivation
Instrumental motivation variables are in some way more direct, and more
observable. Learners’ attitude to teacher’s rewards and feedback make
these variables salient. These variables link task performance to the
product that students appreciate, and corresponds to the ‘expectancy +
value’ theory (Feather, 1982:33) which holds that the effort students
are willing to expend on a task is a product of ‘1) the degree to which
they expect to be able to perform the task successfully, and 2) the
degree to which they value those rewards’ (Good and Brophy 2000:221).
Numerous researches confirm that students do not invest much effort in
tasks that are not assessed and valued even if they know that they can
perform the task successfully. But it must be admitted that rewards are
more effective for increasing effort than for improving quality of
performance. Moreover, most researchers agree that praise and rewards
are motivating with routine work rather than novelty.
Commonly used types of rewards include: 1. material rewards; 2. activity
rewards and special privileges (opportunity to play games, use special
equipment); 3. grades, awards, and recognition (honour rolls, displaying
good papers); 4. praise and social rewards; 5. teacher rewards (special
attention, personalized interaction). Williams and Burden (1997:135) in
their extensive review of research on the place of rewards in motivating
people notice that material rewards gradually decrease interest in the
activity. Whereas system of rewards set up as classroom management
motivates towards good behaviour and positive changes, informational
feedback rather than controlling is likely to increase motivation
towards certain tasks as it enables learners ‘to identify specific
aspects of their performance that are acceptable and capable of
improvement … and helpful to them to move into the zone of next
development’ (Williams and Burden 1997:136).
Finally, we should not deny the role of competition which is seen to be
the predominant way to encourage learners to strive to improve their
performance as the nature of competition with its prizes and rewards
drives learners to volunteer an action and actively participate.
5.2.3 Description of the task
The aim of the task (see Appendix 2) is to raise awareness of student
teachers about overall role of motivation in the learning process, and
the degree of learners’ motivation to the learning process. Another aim
is concerned with factors that are likely to exert a significant
influence on learner’s willingness to make personal contribution to the
task fulfillment and learning process in general.
This task is accomplished during the second meeting with the class after
they have made their first impression about the pupils’ behaviour and
relationship with each other and the teacher. Student teachers are
recommended to observe six pupils of different gender and language
level. The restricted number of target pupils will focus student
teachers attention and makes the task more achievable, as they need some
time to outline the learning situation and make some descriptive
comments. Student teachers are free in choice of the number of female
and male learners as it depends on specific a class. The number of
female and male pupils can be equal or different.
Student teachers are guided with some observable evidences of low and
high degrees of motivation. The choice of these signs reflects various
factors that determine pupils’ commitment or lack of it. For example,
the facts when a pupil ‘attends the task at once/ after the teacher’s
reprimands’, ‘does not obey teacher’s instruction’ reveal pupils’
positive or negative attitude to the task, or the learning process.
Observing the behaviour when a pupil ‘complaints about the difficulty of
the task’, ‘enjoys working on difficult task’ student teacher can infer
pupils’ sense of efficacy whether they under-estimate their capabilities
or not. When a learner asks the teacher or his/her neighbour when
uncertain it is likely to exert positive attitude to the task. But
student teachers should be careful in labeling this desire as
integrative or instrumental motivation since pupil responds to the
teacher instruction, which might be formulated as getting a good mark,
or interesting challenge. The fact when a learner works independently on
the task for a long time demonstrates her/his effort invested in the
task. But at the same time working for a long time seems to be ambiguous
in determination this motivation as integrative or instrumental as it
closely relates to students’ language competence, his/her attitude to
the task and task instruction. So, student teachers are asked to comment
on the manner of working on the task, and emotional behaviour. The fact
when learners are glad or upset with teacher’s reward overtly displays
pupil’s instrumental motivation, whereas attitude to the feedback should
be treated in accordance with the context. Student teachers should judge
whether negative or positive feedback is given and its effect on
learner’s behaviour. It might raise positive emotions and hilarious
exclamations, or frowning and mumbling on the part of learners. The last
sign ‘pleas teacher to get a better mark’ is the salient evidence of
The frame of the task involves four columns. In the first column the
names of learners should be put down beforehand. It allows student
teachers to start their observation from the very beginning of the
lesson. In the second column opposite the names of the target learners
an observer makes some notes about physical, emotional and language
behaviour. This task seems to be similar to the previous one. But this
time student teachers have to be concerned with student’s willingness
and interest to the task and learning process. In the third column
student teachers have to outline a specific learning activity. After the
lesson they will analyze which tasks promote negative or positive
attitude with learners. In the last column an observer has to give any
other comments on the situation and motives that caused this behaviour,
and defines whether this situation refers to the instrumental or
After the lesson pre-service teachers are recommended to make brief
comments on the relationship between learners’ behaviour and learning
activities in order to define which learning activities, instructions
promote instrumental or integrative motivation. The third comment that
students have to make concerns attitude to the task with different
gender. They should be aware of whether motives of female and male
students are different in approaching and accomplishing the tasks or the
At the post-observation session student teachers should reflect on the
role of motivation in the learning process and its influence on the task
fulfillment. They might think of the degree the pupils judge their
learning capabilities, and the level they value their efforts invested
in the task. It will direct pre-service teachers to take into account
the degree of challenge pupils face and adequate feedback they expect.
Finally, student teachers should consider all these factors in their
further planning of lesson activities, formulating their instructions
and anticipate appropriate rewards for every task.
5.3 Learner as a doer
5.3.1 Learner as an active participant and reasons of participation
Humanistic, communicative language teaching theories advocate the
assumption that learners should be actively involved in day-to-day
teaching practice. In its turn in order to encourage learners to take
active position in learning process and be more responsible for their
progress teachers should take into account that learners perceive,
approach tasks, process and solve problems in divergent ways. The reason
of it arises out of learners’ intelligence, expectations, aptitudes,
strategies and learning styles.
Learning styles, or some learners’ preferences in approaching and
processing tasks, are considered to be salient and can be obtained
through observing learners’ behaviour. Tudor (1996:114) considers that
learning style is characterized as ‘a practically-oriented construct: it
is based on … the analysis and grouping of observed behavioural
Various researchers define learning style as ‘a consistent pattern’
(Gregoire 1970:234), ‘relatively stable indicator’ (Keefe 1979) which
consists of distinct behaviours or characteristics a person learns from
and interacts with his/her environment. This definition shows that the
term ‘cognitive style’ refers to a very complex set of processes and
involves different psychological and cognitive variables. Birkey and
Rodman (1995) point out that, just as there are ‘striking differences in
the way people learn and process information…there are significant
differences in how learning styles are defined and measured’. Different
researchers have constructed a great range of bipolar schemes and
numerous measuring instruments, such as questionnaires, scales, surveys,
to investigate student learning styles.
5.3.2 Areas of learning styles
Reid (1995:x,xi) have grouped different dimensions of learning
preferences into three main spheres: cognitive styles, sensory styles,
affective/temperament styles. Cognitive learning styles refer to how
people learn rather than what they learn. It relates to learners’
‘habitual modes of processing information and, in a general sense, of
organizing their perceptions of and interaction with their environment’
(Tudor 1996:108). Keefe (1979:4) defines learning style as a
‘characteristic of cognitive, affective, and physiological behaviors
that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive,
interact with, and respond to the learning environment’. Thus, the term
‘cognitive style’ is used to refer to a very complex set of processes,
and encompasses various stylistic variables. The most famous and
developed variable with application to language learning is field
dependence – field independence (FD – FI). Sometimes called global
versus analytical thinking this variable reflects on how learners think
and process information. The FD learner is one who processes information
globally. This learner is less analytical, not attentive to detail, and
sees the perceptual field as a whole. This whole resists analysis or
decomposition. The FI person on the other hand can easily break the
field down into its component parts. S/he is typically not influenced by
the existing structure and can make choices independent of the
perceptual field. FD persons are more socially oriented, they ‘benefit
from positive peer interaction’ (Violand-Sanchez 1995:53) and tend to be
sensitive to approval (Chappel 1995:160). They also need more explicit
instructions when material to be learned is disorganized. FI learner,
because s/he does not need the approval of others, ‘might be the more
confident language learner, actively speaking out in class and taking
risks’ (Day 1984:74).
Sensory style refers to how people use their senses (seeing, hearing,
touching, testing or smelling) in perceiving new information and
materials. In learning context the first three of these senses dominate
learners’ perception. That is why learning styles are often categorized
to a person’s strongest sensory system: visual, auditory, and
kinesthetic/tactile. Visually oriented learners prefer to read and to
obtain information by means of visual stimulus; such learners react fast
to stimulus provided by posters, flashcards and charts. Auditory
learners are comfortable with oral teacher’s instructions, listening
activities and discussions. Kinesthetic/ ‘hands-on’ (Oxford and Ehrman
1993:196) like lots of movement and enjoy working with tangible objects.
These learners are good at dramatizing dialogues, playing games,
especially which involve physical motions.
Affective learning styles involve temperament of a person. Temperament
refers to basic dimensions of personality that are grounded in
psychology and explain individual differences in the developmental
process. Buss and Plomin (1984) developed a measure based on the
following three dimensions: emotionality, activity, and sociability. One
of the polar dimensions of affective learning style is
extroverted-introverted style. Extroverted learners enjoy conversation,
role-plays and other highly interactive activities. They are very
expressive and speak a lot, but do not mind being interrupted. Whereas
introverted learners are stimulated most by their own inner world of
ideas and feelings. In the language classroom they prefer to work alone,
listen carefully, but dislike interruption.
5.3.3 Description of the task
Although, learning style according to the foregoing definition is viewed
as relatively fixed and non-changeable, Singleton (1989:157) argues that
it is possible to help adult learners to explore their own preferences
and to shape their learning approach to suit the requirements of a
particular learning task. Thus the main goal of observational tasks (see
Appendix 3) is to help student teachers to get to grips with pupils’
learning preferences, and thereby to be able to adjust teaching
materials and respond to learners’ subjective needs in their future
planning, and apply some techniques that can enhance natural learners’
capabilities, habits and develop other skills through training.
Student teachers are recommended to obtain information about learning
styles during the third meeting with the group. This time pre-service
teachers have to observe language and learning behaviour of students,
which is accompanied by emotional and affective state. Linguistic
behaviour comprises language production that is organisation of speech,
complexity of utterances, pitch of intonation, and speed of production.
Observing these variables student teachers can reveal affective styles
of their learners. For example, if a learner produces utterances in a
low voice without haste and emotions, an observer can assume that this
learner refers to introverts and thus s/he requires patience to be
listened to. Observing learning behaviour that is the way students
approach and process a task, materials they use, manner of solving a
problem, their social behaviour student teachers can obtain information
about pupils’ cognitive and sensory styles. Trainees should notice
whether a pupil uses additional aids such as pencils or fountain pens to
highlight some information in the textbook, or whether s/he faces
her/his partner during pair-, group work. These situations characterise
a visual learner and a FD learner respectively with regard to
Violand-Sanchez (1995) and Oxford and Ehrman (1993) research mentioned
Student teachers are given some examples which describe the language and
learning behaviour, and the manner of approaching and processing a task.
These examples cover all three groups of learning styles. It is
noteworthy to mention that one example might comprise more than one
learning style. Thus the characteristic ‘respond in a low voice but
accurately’ might describe an introvert and FD learner, whereas ‘speaks
fast but with errors’ includes features of an extrovert and FI pupil.
But the expression ‘produces long utterances without haste and emotions’
may define an introvert but FI learner. Some examples display sensory
preferences only. For example, the behaviour ‘highlight some passages
with fountain pen or marker’ reveals a visual leaner, ‘gives the answer
to the comprehension question after first listening’ is the feature of
an auditory learner. The characteristic ‘volunteers to go to the
blackboard’ displays the feature of a kinaesthetic learner but at the
same time s/he might be an extrovert as well. Thus all these
characteristics make student teachers be aware about the complexity of a
child’s personality and give them a hint about affective, cognitive and
sensory preferences of learners in accomplishing learning activities.
During the lesson student teachers are recommended to make notices in a
chart with four columns: learning activity, name of learners, what and
how learners do the activity, comment on the learners’ preferences.
Columns are given in the sequence of the typical lesson and
observational procedure: the activity is nominated by the teacher by
giving instructions, then a learner either volunteers or is nominated by
the teacher to fulfil the instruction, after it a student teacher
observes the way of doing the activity, and finally s/he comments
briefly about student’s manner of doing and infer learner’s preferences.
After the lesson a student teacher should discuss with the teacher and
group students according to their learning preferences. This information
will be very important for student teacher in their future planning of
activities, in grouping of students particularly. They should take into
account whether the activity presupposes grouping extrovert and
introvert pupils together. The information about sensory preferences is
important in planning the techniques to accomplish a task. If the number
of visual learners prevails pre-service teachers should prepare some
visual support to their oral instructions.
Later, during post observation session, student teachers are recommended
to reflect whether learning activities and instructions that they have
observed coincide to learners’ preferences. At the same time student
teachers should consider the objectives of the lesson whether they were
achieved successfully with or without catering for learners’
preferences. More advanced task for student teachers is to think about
the learning activities which suit student’s natural learning styles and
develop other skills through proper instructions.
5.4 Learner level
5.4.1 The multilevel class: reasons, teacher’s/learners’ problems and
Teachers and researchers have polar opinion to multilevel,
heterogeneous, or ‘mixed capacity’ (Bruton 1997:109) classes. If some of
them advocate placement of students with different levels of proficiency
and capacities in one group others strongly disagree with this approach.
Arguably, every class is multilevel because learners begin with varying
degrees of literacy in their first language as well as in English
experience. Other factors that add to diversity in the classroom and to
rate of progress in learning English are the learning style preferences,
learner expectations of appropriate classroom activities, motivation
factors, interests and initiatives that were discussed above. Bruton
(1997:112) refers these factors to ‘natural’. Another source of wide
ranges of capacities in one class he named as ‘institutional, since
grouping is institutional’ (Bruton 1997:111). The attitude of teachers
to multilevel classes constructively depends on whether ‘mixed
capacities classes are intended … for pedagogical or economic reasons’
(Bruton 1997:111). If the arguments are pedagogical the teacher goals
will be convergent to reduce the gap between learners, whereas economic
considerations might increase this gap.
The problem of multilevel classes is related to teachers and to learners
as well. Teachers face the pressure of catering for differing learning
needs, interests, motivations and abilities. It is with this implicit
goal in mind that they plan their teaching strategies. For learners,
heterogeneous classes might result in boredom and frustration; and the
feeling that there is inconsistency and injustice in assessment. Many
teachers admit that they try to meet everyone’s needs in their classes,
all the time, even though they know it is ultimately impossible.
However, it is not denying that most of the teachers in planning their
lessons and activities meet the needs of only those learners whose
skills fall somewhere in the middle. Thus, they deliberately frustrate
those with lower skills, and bore the more advanced learners (Boyd and
Boyd, 1989; Wrigley and Guth, 1992). Other researchers and teachers
confirm that low level students are catered in more degree than bright
students. Bova (2003) in her conversation with other teachers suggests
that ‘the exceptionally bright are being left to survive without the
attention that the lower level pupils get’. She has proposed that
‘typically learners of lower level achieve beyond the expected levels
commensurate with their abilities, whereas gifted children do not
achieve at the same differential’ (Bova 2003).
5.4.2 Criteria for grading learners’ level
There is another question that arises from the discussion. What are the
criteria that teachers use in grading students’ level as low or high,
bright or poor? Millrood (2002:131) draws to teachers’ opinion about
unsuccessful learners and lists key features of low level learners as
poor communicative skills (both receptive and productive), low language
competence, which covers ungrammatical structures, limited vocabulary,
mispronunciation; and knowledge – processing problems, which involve low
memory capacities and poor meaning comprehension. To overcome these
learner problems there is a great number of teaching ‘supportive’
(Millrood 2002:132) strategies, such as increasing the teacher’s waiting
time, giving the learners short and clear explanations, offering them
cues, and building their confidence by praising them for their
participation and achievement, the grading of questions and expected
responses, the types of prompting and probing; individual tasks with
private and public feedback; group-, pair- work; categorizing home study
activities, self-access activities and project work (Bruton 1997:115). A
more general approach was found in the role of classroom context, which
is viewed as a facilitating resource capable of creating a zone of
proximal development with supportive ‘scaffolding’ (Vygotsky 1978)
necessary for the learner to progress.
5.4.3 Description of the task
The main concern of the task (see Appendix 4) is to raise awareness of
student teachers about the extent the task or activity match pupils’
level of capacities. Student teachers will observe the teacher-class
interaction. In the case if there is an opportunity to observe and
record pair-, or group- work students can make some notes of pupils’
language production as well.
Before the lesson pre-service teachers are recommended to consult with
the teacher about the language and communicative level of pupils in the
class. Full description of pupil characteristic about their language
production and perceptive skills, communicative abilities might be time
consuming. That it is why grades of pupils can be helpful as a rough
measurement of pupils’ level of competence. At the same time an observer
can judge objectivity of these grades while making records of actual
During the lesson student teachers should observe language and
communicative behaviour of pupils. The aspects of the language behaviour
cover the accuracy in the use of grammar, and pronunciation, the size
and organization of vocabulary (Meara 1996:37, 45), the complexity of
grammar structures and construct of utterances; in so far communicative
behaviour covers fluency of speech production, the choice and
combination of ‘grammatical forms and meaning’ (Canale and Swain
1980:12), adequate initiation and response in actual performance.
At the lesson student teachers put down all the notices in the chart
with five columns. The first two columns they should fill in before the
lesson, where they fix the names of pupils in the class, and their
grades provided by the teacher. In the third column an observer outlines
the learning activities. It will help to recall the context and join
learning activities with the teacher’s strategies. Later student
teachers might refer to them as a sample in their own teaching practice.
In the fourth column student teachers should fix concrete facts or
evidences of the pupil’s level of competence, such as concrete grammar
mistakes, mispronunciation, speed of production, or make some jotted
notes of actual utterances. These records should help student teachers
in their judgment about the level of pupil competence. Finally, in the
last column student teachers are recommended to observe teacher’s
strategies that s/he employs to adjust the learner level of
comprehension. There are some examples of teacher’s strategies that are
set before the chart. I have appealed to the ‘supportive’ (Millrood
2002:132) strategies mentioned above.
After the lesson student teachers are recommended to share their
findings with the teacher and discuss the language behaviour of the
learners whose level appears to be different from the designed before.
An observer can present a fresh look at the situation and it should help
to create new techniques and approaches that suit learner’s expectations
and level. Another task for student teachers is to comment on the
congruency of the student’s level of competence and the level of
difficulty of the tasks. In the case if these levels do not coincide,
student teachers should comment on the overt linguistic or communicative
problems that pupils faced at the lesson.
At the post observation session students should reflect on the extent
the task should be challenging for learners. Considering the data they
have student teachers are recommended to contemplate over the
appropriate activities and instructions that match learners’ levels and
capacities and develop their progress in the language and communicative
competence. Finally, pre-service teachers should reflect on the
connection between learner’s social and physical position in the
classroom, learner’s motivation, learning styles and learner level.
Implementation of the learner observation tasks
6.1. Phases of the observation period and their objectives
Learner observation tasks can be easily embedded in the Teaching
Practicum Curriculum. To conduct observation effectively student
teachers need to be prepared to the observation period itself. So,
observation period consists of three phases: pre-observation, actual
observation and post-observation. During the pre-observation period a
supervisor is recommended to explain the key elements of the learner
observation tasks, such as active reflecting, constructing of personal
meaning through thinking about new ideas and comparing previous own
learning experience and ‘reappraising old assumptions in the light of
new information’ (Wajnryb 1992:9), initiating that is encouraged by
guided-discovery and inquiry nature of the ‘before the lesson’ and
‘after the lesson’ tasks. At the same time a supervisor should explain
that samples and categories provided do not limit the range of learners’
behaviour and student teachers should generate their own categories.
Learner observation tasks do not require special training but some
introduction about the general structure of the tasks is recommended.
The actual observation student teachers should conduct with the groups
of learners that they are supposed to teach in active phase of the
teaching practice. But observation of other groups of learners can
enlarge student teachers’ experience in observation and increase their
knowledge about learners’ behaviours, styles, and motivation factors.
Learner observation tasks are recommended to conduct one per lesson in
the sequence provided. Finally after fulfilling all the tasks separately
the combination of all of them can expose the whole picture of the
learner’s characteristic and the group as a social setting. To achieve
this aim four observers are given one observation task but different
from each other to do during the lesson. After the lesson they combine
and discuss their data about learners from different angles to draw the
holistic picture about their physical and learning behaviour, and refine
descriptions of categories observed. At the post-observation phase which
is conducted once or twice a week student teachers and their supervisor
discuss and analyse the data collected. Debates and analysis of the
tasks will serve as a ‘resource base for their (teacher student) own
teaching and classroom decision-making’ (Wajnryb 1992:16).
6.2. Criteria for assessment of learner observation tasks
To assess the learner observation tasks I suggest using four criteria
for evaluation of research observation proposed by Scott (1990) which
were described in Chapter 2.7.1. and can be adapted to learner
observation tasks: authenticity, credibility, represententativeness and
meanings. Authenticity tests a task whether it is genuine, complete and
of ‘unquestioned authorship’ (Macdonald 2001:204). Unfortunately quite
often student teachers deliberately present deceptive data, they tend to
copy descriptions and comments of their peers rather than conduct their
own observation. Sometimes due to the lack of language proficiency and
analytical skills student teachers experience difficulty in describing
events and interpreting their data. Therefore supervisors are
recommended to check whether there is cohesion between aspects of
observation and comments; a sense in comments and reflection;
consistency in literary style; and compare different versions of the
student teachers tasks. To test observation data on credibility a
supervisor should take into account who produced the document, why, and
for whom, so as to be assured of its quality. The problem is that
pre-service teachers tend to present data in more pleasant way not to
hurt her/his teacher monitor, or from the fear of revenge. So I draw to
Scott’s (1990) social nature of the text and assume that classroom
climate, student teacher’s relationship with pupils and a monitor should
not be neglected. The classroom observation tasks constitute a
representative sample if they reflect all the aspects of the original
document. At the same time they should be treated as guidance so not
every aspect of observation might occur at the lesson. The blank can
emerge due to the teaching approach or inattention of an observer. The
latter version can lead to wrong assumptions and destroy accuracy of
data presentation. That is why a supervisor should consider every case
Meaning of the observation data involves two levels: ‘literal’ and
‘deep’ (Scott 1990:58). The first meaning can be derived from the level
of language proficiency of student teachers. Learner observation tasks
are recommended to write in the target language. The reasons of it have
been explained in Chapter 3.2. It is rather complicated for student
teachers to make notes in foreign language. But student teachers must
possess the intermediate level of the language proficiency, so
descriptive language of behaviour and manner of doing should not reveal
great problems for them. Thus, a supervisor should take into account the
language literacy of pre-service teachers. The deeper meaning is more
difficult to assess. Here a supervisor should analyse the content of the
text, and coherence between the aspects of observation and comments to
To sum everything up I can suggest that a supervisor should assess the
tasks from different angles. Nothing can be taken for granted. The
layout of the tasks, the amount of the comments and their
appropriateness, method and additional sources for data collection
should be considered. To ensure objectivity of assessment tasks can be
assessed by two supervisors.
Computer assessment of ad-hoc observation needs further investigation
and research. I should not deny practical problems in implementation of
software packages in assessment of observation tasks: poor material and
financial resources of institutions in developing countries. Moreover,
most supervisors are computer illiterate and it requires much training
for them to become competent users of software packages. But in future
it is highly recommended to include computer packages in the evaluation
process as it can assist and complement ‘manual’ approach and present
valid data analysis and assessment.
Before the lesson:
1. Arrange to observe a lesson. Make sure you are seated in a position
where you are able to observe students’ physical and emotional behaviour
when the teacher attends to individuals.
2. Make familiar with the sample chart. Be aware that you will probably
have to modify it.
During the lesson:
1. Make a grid of learners’ seating arrangement. Note on your diagram
whether the students are male (M) or female (F).
S2п MS7п FS8п MS3п M(Phil)
S4п FS9п MS10п FS5п F
S6п MS11п F(Angela)
2. Notice and put the symbols according to student’s physical or
emotional behaviour every time the teacher attends to him/her. You may
like to add others as you observe.
3. Try to record some field notes on student’s response to the teacher’s
4. Notice any changes in seating arrangement during the lesson.
5. Try to put symbols of physical behaviour when students attend to each
other working in pairs or in a group at the beginning and the end of the
– eye contact with the teacher
– hand raising
– no emotions
– doing another task different from the lesson objectives
– physically bothering other students
After the lesson:
1. the seating arrangement, classroom discipline and social climate;
2. balance between teacher’s attendance to the students’ at the back and
at the first desks;
3. balance between teacher’s attendance to female and male learners;
4. gender-related differences in physical behaviour;
5. comfort and attending to the task by the students at the first and
the back desks;
6. the type and the amount of speech production by students at the first
and the back desks;
7. any changes in students’ behaviour after seating arrangement was
altered (if happened)
What is the relationship between seating arrangement and social climate
at the lesson? Does seating arrangement influence on classroom
How female and male learners’ behaviour is different?
What is the relationship between learners’ physical behaviour of
different gender and their attitude to each other, the teacher and
learning in general?
What is the relationship between location of students, and the type and
amount of utterances they produce?
What is the relationship between seating arrangement and the nature of
the learning process? (teacher-centred or learner-centred)
Before the lesson:
1. Arrange to observe a class.
2. Make yourself familiar with the chart below. Consider the
evidences/signs of physical and language beahaviour that indicates
students’ willingness and interest to the learning process. For example,
– asks the teacher when uncertain;
– attends the task at once;
– attends the task after the teacher’s reprimands;
– does not obey teacher’s instruction;
– enjoys working on difficult task;
– volunteers to participate in a competition (game);
– complains about the difficulty of the task;
– work(s) independently on the task for a long time;
– is glad with a teacher’s reward;
– is upset with the teacher’s feedback;
– presents additional material for home work;
– pleas teacher to get a good mark;
You may wish to add some other signs.
3. Choose a range of six students of different gender and language level
to comment on their motivation for learning.
During the lesson:
1. Consider these students’ behaviour in class and describe the learning
activity in which this behaviour occurs. The far right column is for any
other comments, such as the manner or emotional behaviour, whether the
motivation is descried as instrumental, or integrative.
Student’s nameSigns of high/ low motivationLearning
activityCommentMarka) e.g. Finishes the task first
b) Filling the gap in grammar exerciseThe desire to get a good mark, as
he enquires about the grade he can get, instrumental
Petera) e.g. volunteers the answer
b) Comprehension check after first listeningIs fully involved into the
After the lesson:
1. Consider the data you have collected. Comment on the linkage between
the columns 2 and 3.
2. Which learning activities enhance integrative motivation and which of
them promote instrumental one?
3. Which type of motivation prevails with female and male pupils.
How important is that the teacher should know different motivations of
her students for learning the language?
How important is the role of feedback and rewards. What activities
should be praised?
How do students judge their own learning abilities? Do they over- or
under-estimate their capabilities? What is the degree they value their
efforts to the learning activity.
How does students’ motivation influence on the task performance?
In what way might this data effects you when you plan a lesson with this
group of learners?
Learner as doer
Before the lesson
1. Arrange to observe language and learning behaviour of students at a
lesson. Describe the manner of doing and materials they use. For
example, students might
a. respond in a low voice but accurately;
b. speak fast but with errors;
c. produce long utterances without haste and emotions;
d. think for long time before giving the answer
e. highlight some passages with fountain pen or marker;
f. volunteer to go to the blackboard;
g. give the answer first to the comprehension question after first
h. finish fill-in the gap exercise on the blackboard first;
i. face his partner during the pair-, group work;
j. use colloquial expressions in the cues;
k. volunteer to dramatize the dialogue
2. Think of the learner’s affective (extroversion, introversion),
cognitive (Field-dependent, Field-independent), and sensory (auditory,
visual, kinaesthetic) preferences in accomplishing learning activities.
3. Make yourself familiar with the chart below.
During the lesson
1. Observe the lesson from the point of view of what and how the
learners actually do.
2. Make notes in the chart below.
– outline the learning activity;
– describe the action and the manner of doing;
– comment on learners’ preferences, for example, whether the learner is
good at working independently, or in cooperation with the partner,
receiving or producing the language.
Learning activityLearner’s nameWhat & how learner doesComment on
learner’s preferencese.g. presentation of the dialoguePhilipdramatizes a
dialogue with emphatic intonationEnjoys and good at acting, prefers to
produce language. FI, kinaesthetic
After the lesson
1. Together with the classroom teacher group students according to their
2. Considering the data you have collected which activities in the
lesson do you consider the most valuable for the learners? Explain your
What is the congruency between learners’ behaviour, preferences and
To what extent the teacher should cater for learning preferences in
planning a lesson? In what way learning activities can develop students’
Which approaches, materials, or techniques are you going to employ which
suit student’s natural learning styles and can develop other skills in
future planning of the lesson?
Before the lesson:
1. Arrange to observe a class.
2. Meet with the teacher and find out the learner’s language level. Have
the student’s grade as a key. You might have made your assumptions about
their level during previous observations.
3. Make yourself familiar with the chart below.
During the lesson
1. Look for overt evidence of the students’ level. Consider language
competence (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation), communicative
competence (fluency of speech production, initiation, adequate
response). Try to make records of students’ speech production.
2. In the far right column, record the strategies used by the teacher to
adjust learner level. For example,
– varying speed of speech;
– varying complexity of language;
– varying length of wait time;
– calling on stronger students’ for ‘model’ answers;
StudentLevel/gradeLearning activitiesSigns of levelTeacher’s
strategiesAngela3vocabulary work; matching pictures and words3
mismatches among 6 total wordsappeal to another student as a
modelFarid4Text reading speed of the reading is fast but mispronounced
two wordsrepeats with raising intonation, asks to correct;
reminds the rule of reading of –ph combination After the lesson
1. Share your findings with the teacher. Talk about any students whose
level appears to be different from that designed before.
2. Consider the data you have collected. Is there the linkage between
students’ level and the level of difficulty of tasks?
3. Was the level of difficulty of learning activities appropriate to the
level of students?
4. What were the overt language problems during the lesson?
To what extent the task should be challenging for students?
How can you construct the instructions of the tasks in accordance with
the level of competence of your students?
Is there any connection between seating arrangement, learners’
motivation, learning styles and learner levels?
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