Observation Skills for Effective Teaching: Research-Based Practice
reviewed by Janine S. Davis - January 13, 2016
Title: Observation Skills for Effective Teaching: Research-Based Practice
Author(s): Gary D. Borich
Publisher: Paradigm Publishers, Boulder
ISBN: 1612056776, Pages: 320, Year: 2015
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Reading Gary D. Borichs book, Observation Skills for Effective Teaching: Research-Based Practice, provides a similar experience to the ways that preservice teachers I have known think about effective teaching. At first glance, the book seems to take on too many topics and feels unwieldy; however, it comes together and assumes a bigger role than it seemed intended to serve over time. I cannot say whether that was due to the varying circumstances in which I read the book, from riding a train to exercising on a bike, or whether it simply made more impact the deeper I read; however, reading this book with an open mind made a great deal of difference to me, similar to the way teachers approach lesson planning and delivery, and their interactions with students.
Borich focuses on guiding preservice teachers in observing practicing teachers, and expands this concept by using research, detailed explanations, classroom interaction scenarios, and observation instruments. A detailed table of contents and a list of dozens of tables and figures guides the reader to various sections of interest. The books format, which includes perforated pages, means that all sheets can be torn from it. This is ideal for the observation instruments at the end of the text, but inconvenient for the rest of the book, since I hope readers will refer to it often. The books tone is generally informal and conversationalfor example, Rules, rules, and more rules! Is that what you think when you hear the words classroom management? (p. 84).
Borich uses literary quotes to start each chapter, which provides a creative touch, but those and many other features feel overused, or at least too common in teacher educator texts. These features include the list of activitiessometimes as many as nine or tenat the end of each chapter, and the use of real-life examples and classroom dialogue to begin many chapters. Some notable exceptions include targeted questions that ask students to tally classroom events, such as the number and length of teacher/student exchanges. As with teaching, viewing these activities with an open mind makes their inclusion feel more meaningful. Students may not complete all the included activities, but having a wide variety of options allows for a choice of assignments that potentially deepen the ways preservice teachers think about their classroom observations. For example, a preservice teacher might choose to discuss expected grades with a teacher prior to a summative assessment (p. 218), but opt out of using specific observation forms from the appendix in certain situations if they do not serve their specific needs.
Borich proposes various lenses for observation that mostly seem to be things to look for in the classroom, including lesson clarity, task orientation, and measurements of student success, and are expanded in later chapters. The Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium and other professional standards inform these lenses. They are similar to other observation instruments and research findings that are frequently cited among the references. While not much space is devoted to describing how these lenses might be turned inward on student teachers who might later consider their own practice, this kind of shift would be a useful additional chapter if there are future editions of this book.
Although the intended audience is student teachers, the book could pivot toward university supervisors as well. In my journey to accept this text, I considered using it in a course on general instructional design and delivery that incorporates an extensive practicum experience, as many similar teacher education courses do. Separating facts from interpretations of observation instruments is a useful skill for those who use them. Especially useful are Borichs descriptions, examples, and pros and cons of different note formatssuch as ethnographic, thematic, and anecdotal. These conceptions of observing and recording will serve current and future teacher-researchers well, particularly if they use these types of field note methods in collecting research data. Another memorable diagram and idea is the Dimensions of Teacher Warmth and Control (p. 72).
Overall, the book may be longer than needed. It often includes unnecessary detailthree pages are devoted to outlining how a student conducting an observation might begin entering, being present in, and leaving a classroom. Some matters that might seem to be common sense and easily known by most people are expanded in great detail. On the other hand, the text could use more support for claims such as peer observations often are more conducive to the professional development of teachers than administrator observation (p. 24) or to accompany such statements as in one study (p. 76) that did not go on to name the actual study. It is likely that extensive citations were removed to create a more user-friendly narrative, but this is a case where more support would be warranted and useful. Beginning teachers could seek out those studies they wished to learn more about or conduct similar investigations on their own if this help was provided.
Finally, the observation forms at the end of Observation Skills for Effective Teaching are designed to clarify and quantify classroom observations; however, some of the forms revert to judgment without clear support. One example is a General Observation Form that asks the observer to rate lesson clarity, student engagement, and student success in basic academic skills on a series of continua from clear to unclear or high to low (p. 244). This kind of form might lead to what most of the other forms seem designed to avoidsnap judgments about classroom quality absent actual observation. There is also outdated clip art on the observation forms. More digital integration with this book might solve some of its issues; removing the tearable pages, shortening the length, and including more modern images or video could to bring the text to life.