Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Aspects on Learner-Biased Classroom Observational Techniques

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Aspects on Learner-Biased Classroom Observational Techniques

Article excerpt


This paper was designed to explore the means in the field of observing classroom teaching/learning from both a general, and an "English as a Foreign Language" (EFL), viewpoint. The aim was to browse the relevant literature, and lead to consider observation tools which might serve to research in EFL. This paper summarizes the reading by surveying the field of classroom observation, and then proceeds to evaluate the likely usefulness of a number of selected observation instruments.

Keywords: EFL, Classroom observation, Instruments, Language learning

1. Introduction

This paper examines classroom observation as a research activity, with particular reference to observing the learning/teaching of English as a foreign language (EFL) in a specific context. The focus is on EFL because, at a later stage, the author of this paper intends to examine the experience of a group of Chinese students studying English. Although his investigation will be carried out mainly through interviews with the research population, the author would like to add perspective to the study by observing these learners and their teachers in action in real EFL classrooms. This will help verify or perhaps even contradict his interpretation of the interviews, and so serve to add some objectivity to the study.

The author of this paper has browsed interviewing techniques, and gained practical experience through a research paper of real-life interviews. However, he cannot claim previous in-depth knowledge of classroom observation as a research activity. Feeling that it could add a dimension to his proposed research, the author shall examine some of its strengths weaknesses here, as a first step in guiding him to decide on which kind of supplementary instruments might be considered for his purpose. A broad survey of classroom observation as a research activity will be employed, which will hopefully guide him in choosing appropriate observation instruments to pursue areas highlighted as worth investigating after carrying out pilot interviews with the research population. The choice of aspect to investigate will also be influenced by the experience and intuitions gained from some 35 years of learning/teaching English in China.

2. Classroom Research

2.1 Research Traditions

In a survey of classroom research specifically related to language learning and teaching, Nunan (1989) refers to four different traditions (to which the author has appended an example of each):

1) Psychometric studies;

e. g. Pilliner in Cohen & Manion (1985)

2) Interaction analysis;

e. g. Wragg (1970)

3) Discourse analysis;

e. g. Narushima (1993)

4) Ethnography

e. g. Bailey (1983)

In psychometric studies, the researcher investigates the effectiveness of particular methods, activities and techniques by measuring language gain on proficiency tests. In interaction analysis, researchers use systems and schemes for studying classroom behaviours and interactions.

Discourse analysis involves analytical schemes for the linguistic analysis of classroom interactions.

In ethnographic studies, the researcher observes, describes and interprets the classroom in ways similar to those employed by anthropologists when they study unfamiliar cultures and societies. (Nunan, 1989, p. 4)

Psychometric studies concerning product or outcome are mainly "quantitative" in approach. Numerical measurement and statistical means are involved, which investigate the quantitative relationships between various classroom activities or behaviour and language achievement. This research might serve to predict trends, but cannot account for the complicated behaviour of individual human beings.

Interaction analysis is strongly influenced by sociology, whereby researchers use the methods of social investigations in classroom observation. Here, observation of the classroom and analysis of the interaction taking place there, serve to investigate social meanings and inferred classroom climate. …

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