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Guidelines and Etiquette for Observing HELP Classes
We are glad that you are interested in observing a class at the Hawaii English Language Program (HELP)! In order to ensure a positive, educational experience for you and the teacher(s) with whom you will work, please refer to the following guidelines for before, during, and after observation procedures/suggestions.
Before the Observation
- Check the HELP calendar for the beginning and end dates of each term (http://manoa.hawaii.edu/eslhelp/wordpress/?page_id=636). There are two 8-week sessions in the fall, two 8-week sessions in the spring, and two 6-week sessions in the summer. If at all possible, we suggest that you try to avoid observing during the first week of a term as well as during the final week of a term. An exception to this guideline would be an observation that focuses on teacher or student behavior at the beginning or at the end of a term. In other words, for the fall of 2015, good observation dates would be Monday through Thursday, August 31st to October 8th and November 2nd to December 10th. Classes are held throughout the day with start times from 7:45am to 4pm.
- Compose an email that includes the purpose of the observation (i.e. as a class assignment, for professional development, for a research project, etc.), the type of class you would like to observe (for example, listening, writing, etc.) and the day(s)/time(s) that would work for you. If you know of a specific instructor that you would like to observe, please include his or her name in the email.
- Send the email to the Research Coordinator Graduate Assistant at email@example.com. The Research Coordinator will obtain approval for your observation from the Assistant Director at HELP as well as permission to observe a class from the corresponding teacher. The Research Coordinator will confirm receipt of your request within 72 hours. Please allow an additional five business days after the confirmation receipt for coordination of the observation, though every effort will be made to notify you before five days have elapsed.
- Once you have received confirmation of your observation date(s)/time(s) with the corresponding teacher’s contact information, please email the teacher to see if they would like to meet with you in advance to provide you with more information as to the content of the class, to supply you with any handouts, and/or to discuss additional information related to the observation. Some teachers prefer to meet with their observers, whereas others are comfortable with a quick check-in approximately five minutes before the class begins, so it is always best to check with them in advance to find out their preferences. It is also reasonable to explain to the teacher, in general, the focus of your research or observation. Please ask the instructor beforehand where he or she would like you to sit in the classroom, whether it is acceptable for you to move around from group to group during small group activities, and whether you may participate in class activities.
During the Observation
- Please arrive on time, or early, and plan to stay throughout the entire class period. Showing up late to an observation or leaving early will likely disrupt the class.
- Once you are in the classroom, try to avoid disrupting the flow of the class or drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. For example, please try not to chat with students while the class is in session, to walk around observing individual students while the teacher is giving instructions or lecturing, or to make facial expressions or gestures that could indicate disapproval. The observation should be a positive experience for both the observer and the instructor.
- After the class has ended, thank the teacher and, if possible, the students.
After the Observation
- You should try to hold a debriefing session as soon as possible after the class session while the events are still fresh.
- In general, it is not good etiquette to launch into a critique of a teacher if you have invited yourself to observe the class. If you have concerns, it is better to ask questions to clarify things that happened during the class session (e.g., “I’m very interested in learning more about __________,” or “Could you explain why you chose to do __________?”). In contrast to these examples, a statement such as “In my opinion, __________ didn’t work well” will not likely endear you to the teacher or encourage additional or follow-up observations. The teacher may have planned something that he or she thought would work well, but didn’t, and the teacher may already know (and be able to explain to you) why it didn’t work. If, however, the teacher has asked you to observe his or her class, and has asked specifically for constructive criticism, it is acceptable to give your honest appraisal of the situation. Keep in mind how you would feel if you were the one being observed and the type of feedback that would be most useful to you. Highlighting positive things you saw can also be very encouraging.
- If you prepare a report or paper that is informed by the observation, it is considered common courtesy to offer the instructor a copy. Some instructors will want one and others won’t, but again, the choice should be theirs. It is also requested that you submit a copy of your observation report to the Research Coordinator or to the Assistant Director.
- A short note or email in which you thank the instructor for allowing you to observe is a thoughtful gesture.
This document was adapted in part from a similar form created by the English Language Institute at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.