English Language Teaching And Applied Linguistics Education Essay

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Supervision has been defined as "an ongoing process of teacher education in which the supervisor observes what goes on in the teacher's classroom with an eye toward the goal of improved instruction" (Gebhard, 1990: 1), while a supervisor is "anyone who has..the duty of monitoring and improving the quality of teaching done by our colleagues in an educational situation" (Wallace, 1991: 107). Here, colleagues might refer to trainees or teachers on a pre-service course such as CELTA and DELTA or in-service/in-house development (INSET). A distinction can be made between 'general supervision' and 'clinical supervision' (Cogan, 1973), the former being concerned with administrative and 'out of classroom' matters and the latter being more concerned with formative methods of classroom training (Wallace, 1991: 107). In categorising clinical supervision, a simple division can be made between a more prescriptive and collaborative approach, as shall be explained in reference to models of supervision.

Goals and process of supervision

In order to assess the role of the supervisor, we first need to consider the overall goals of supervision. Looking at it in its most basic form, we can state that two common aims of supervision are to evaluate and help (Fanselow, 1988: 113). Extending upon this, it is generally agreed that these goals are to: (a) improve instruction, (b) provide opportunities for teachers to develop decision-making skills and explore new teaching opportunities, (c) allow for teachers to reflect on and rectify problems in their teaching, and (d) allow teachers the chance to develop their own personal theory of teaching (Gebhard, 1991: 739). The relative focus of each of these goals will naturally vary depending on the stage of the teaching development involved; that is from trainee through to fully fledged and experienced teacher. In order to reach these goals, a process of supervision is followed. The cycle can begin with a prior meeting to decide on the focus for observation, followed by the observation itself and a post-lesson discussion, where negotiation takes place with reference to possible areas of weakness or concern in which to highlight and hopefully improve in future teaching. Supervisors provide prescriptions for improvement, possibly along with a rating where necessary, of the observed 'performances'. There are many associated difficulties with this process, including the goals of supervision, which shall be raised and discussed throughout.

Models of supervision

Within models of supervision, it is apparent that those most widely considered have developed over time based upon ideas from different areas and theorists. Freeman (1982) and Gebhard (1984) are cited as having outlined a number of approaches to language teacher supervision, moving from more traditional authoritarian orientations to those that are seen as more progressive. Freeman presented three approaches and Gebhard expands on this with five, carrying across some of the ideas laid by the former.

Freeman's three approaches to supervision and development within his 'hierarchy of needs' model are: (i) Supervisory approach, (ii) Alternatives approach, and (iii) Non-directive approach. The three approaches can be seen as a what, how and why way of thinking, as is explained below:

(i) The Supervisory Approach sees the need for clearly understood standards in relation to performance in order to be constructive and the observer's role is more as arbitrator or expert, offering prescriptive advice as a source of authority. Thus, its main advantage lies in this clarity of assessment and the emphasis on improving teaching skills. However, prescriptions provided can be seen as interfering with the learning process according to Fanselow (1977). Also, the 'power relationship' could be potentially damaging and lead to friction. It is important here for observers to focus on positives as well as negatives and to take into account the need to motivate teachers in their learning process, and not to demotivate by being overly critical.

(ii) The Alternatives Approach sees it as important that the supervisor avoids favouring any one approach but rather provides options for the teacher to choose. Here the observer hopes to stimulate the teacher to think critically and broaden their scope of the possibilities available to them, using a more self-exploratory approach that allows for a sense of satisfaction through empowerment. Providing options can reduce anxiety for trainee teachers yet provides them with a certain sense of responsibility in the decision making process. However, a teacher may become demotivated if their choice does not work as well as expected and, in turn, look to the observer for a greater sense of direction. In addition, while this might help to avoid the problem of a power struggle, there may be times when teachers would prefer to be told which approach to choose. While teachers may then feel frustrated and confused, it is during this process that critical thinking and self-evaluation hopefully takes place, which ultimately lead to professional development.

(iii) The Non-directive Approach was developed from Carl Rogers work (1951 and 1961), which was a process of reflection and self-evaluation within a form of counselling. It sees the observer's goal as building a relationship with the teacher and being entirely supportive; it is not to judge or evaluate, but rather to understand and clarify. The teacher's experiences and goals must provide the primary source of learning, with the teacher remaining in control in the decision-making process. However, some teachers may feel anxious and alienated, possibly due to inexperience. In addition, some observers may find it hard to accept such a power-share. The main problem here is perhaps that supervisors are often required to make evaluations in their positions within an institution and thus the decision not to do this might not be entirely theirs to make.

Working within one model can provide focus as well as limiting our scope of understanding and so carries both advantages and disadvantages. Freeman selects the appropriate approach based on the needs and requirements of the teacher involved, though the combinations involved are endless. He also recognises that the three approaches can be seen as a kind of time continuum for training and development from a beginning teacher through to an experienced teacher, where the observer is less of a resource and more concerned with the process of long-term rather than short-term-development and with the teacher choosing their own goals; it is here the observer can help the teacher to clarify the significance of the teacher's own experience in light of their own goals.

Traditional roles and functions of supervision gained from research on teachers and teacher education from several countries are to: direct, guide, model, advise and evaluate teacher's teaching and offer suggestions. However, supervision can be much more than this according to Gebhard (1984: 501), who believes that a supervisor-dominant model does not allow for teachers to make their own informed teaching decisions (Gebhard, 1991) and focuses on experimentation within supervisory techniques, using the following labels in his model of five approaches to supervision:

(i) directive, (ii) alternative,(iii) collaborative,(iv) nondirective, and (v) creative. It is evident that both (ii) and (iv) are included in the previous model and thus do not require further discussion. We can also draw obvious similarities between the first approach of each model as well as noticing a similar continuum of teacher development, as is shown and explained below:

(i) Directive supervision sees the observer's role to direct and inform teachers, model teaching behaviours and evaluate these. There are three main problems associated with this: (i) how to define 'good' teaching and what teaching behaviour actually results in learning, (ii) negative humanistic consequences relative to the 'power struggle' between teacher and supervisor, which can be seen as threatening and inhibit experimentation in teaching practice, and (iii) where responsibility lies in classroom practice. This form of supervision seems far more appropriate for pre-service teachers who may require a greater sense of direction, not yet having the necessary skills and experience to enable them to make self-guided decisions for classroom teaching. Freeman (1982) highlights the value of help and evaluation, stating that beginning teachers prefer models and direction to collaboration, which is supported by research done by Copeland (1982). This has certainly been the case in my experience as a trainee and teacher/trainer.

(iii) Collaborative supervision is more about teacher and supervisor working together jointly on all aspects of supervision within a shared relationship. It is a non-traditional approach involving reflection, experimentation and analysis with the long-term aim of becoming a 'self-monitoring professional' (Stones, 1984: 41). An examination of this approach by Acheson and Gall (1992) revealed that the use of these techniques can radically change the supervisor/supervisee relationship which results in reduced stress and anxiety on both sides and a more positive teacher response to supervision. It focuses on the personal and professional growth of both student and supervisor, which has an obvious appeal; however, while seemingly sound in theory, it may in fact be become rather problematic in practice and involve issues of power balance and struggle that have already been raised. I believe that this form of supervision can work if the circumstances allow for it; for instance, in-house colleagues that have the necessary ability and nature, as well as relationship, to allow for such collaboration. It is in my view and experience, something to aspire to where conditions allow. However, it is important to note that this more progressive mode of supervision, as others, may not be conducive to certain cultures such as those where the supervisor is seen more as an authority and looked at to provide necessary guidance and direction.

(v) Creative supervision sees previous methods as limiting supervision and aims to provide a greater amount of creative freedom. It allows for a combination of methods as well as supervisory behaviours, which requires a shift of responsibility and an application of insights from a variety of fields. This eclecticism seems to offer an almost 'one size fits all' approach and suggests a more holistic ideal that can perhaps cater to a variety of situations and contexts, picking and choosing as necessary; this can then be seen as both a major advantage and disadvantage at the same time, with the freedom of choice but responsibility to do so.

Related views and research

Boydell (1986) believes that we need to think carefully and critically about the aims and objectives of supervision and whether these need to be reassessed. Stoller (1996) talks about how supervision is generally viewed negatively by teachers, who often don't appreciate it, especially when following a more traditional approach. A study by McGarvey and Swallow (1986) in Wallace (1991: 112-3) found that, while there are definite crossovers between a more prescriptive or collaborative approach and there are certain benefits to the former more traditional style, such as confidence in planning and presentation, trainees were found to be overwhelmingly in favour of the latter, more progressive style. However, a study conducted at The University of Warwick showed how initial teacher trainees may find a guided approach of supervision helpful, in spite the current movement towards a more reflective approach (Kennedy, 1993). Supervision is always challenging and the biggest challenge of all is to turn negative attitudes into positive outcomes that include benefits for professional development and improved instruction. According to Stoller, this can be done using a more interactive approach, rather than directive. Abbs (1986: 21) advocates 'intelligent exploration' which is described as "the autonomy of teaching and the freedom to learn". The term 'supervisor', as someone who provides supervision, does not really fit into this process of autonomy and self-discovery, thus preferring to use the term 'visiting teacher' and 'visited teacher'. This would then suggest some kind of overhaul of the way in which we consider supervision and the observation process in general. Approaches that are characterised by honest dialogue and constructive feedback will lead to professional growth and result in positive experiences and outcomes for all involved.

Acheson and Gall (1980) state that the goal of supervision is to help teachers reduce the discrepancy between actual teaching behaviour and ideal teaching behaviour, though defining the latter is a complex and thorny issue. There seems to be little agreement on what constitutes good teaching (Stones, 1984). In defining improved instruction, Gebhard (1991) sees the relationship between teaching and learning as complex and states that it is generally agreed that not enough is known to specify improvement to student learning in all contexts, with far more research being required to determine best practise within specific contexts and thus what to base our supervision on. Perceived improvement does not need to rely on learning outcomes alone, but can focus on more specific aspects of teaching (Zahorik, 1986: 21). It is important to mention here that ideas about what constitutes 'good' teaching practice will naturally vary and change depending upon the specific place, culture and expectations involved. Indeed, effective teaching occurs when we achieve our goals by means of procedures that fit the social context of the classroom (Roberts, 1998: 163).

In order to reach the goal of improved instruction it is necessary to focus on establishing and working toward more acceptable teaching methods within particular teaching contexts, rather than prescribing a 'best' way to teach. Supervisors can help teachers with their journey of exploration in teaching behaviour and making informed decisions. For this to happen, the usual method(s) adopted needs to include activities that focus on teacher development such as action research and self-exploration, where teachers have more time to reflect and solve problems in their teaching, as well as develop a personal theory of teaching which includes a conceptualisation about the complex relationship between teaching and learning.

We will now look at the three basis steps involved in the process of supervision in relation to issues already discussed. These include (i) preparation for teaching practice, (ii) during lesson (observation), and (iii) post-lesson discussion.

(i) Preparation: This is where a planning conference takes place in the form of a meeting to discuss and agree upon a set agenda along with objectives that should include specific areas of concern which may require development, plus a decision made on the method of data collection for later analysis and referral.

(ii) During: classroom observation, which should be systematic and non-judgmental, adopting an objective approach and analysis. A suitable time should be arranged for both parties.

Observation is complex in nature and a multi-dimensional research strategy (Borg, 2006: 246). There are three phases of observation provided for different contexts: diagnostic, formative and summative. For whichever purposes observation is carried out, is usually necessary to record data in some format. Purposes for using observation forms are: to provide guidance and structure, to increase objectivity, for specific data/feedback, to increase consistency and provide a record of the lesson for the purposes of teacher development. Fanselow (1988: 117-8) suggests various means of collecting and describing data that includes methods of organising notes and what to focus on, as well as coding systems available. The purpose here is not to 'judge' the teacher, but this is seen as unavoidable in some cases where it is required to make an evaluation. Fanselow sees relating our preconceived notions of good and bad teaching as limiting our observations and the grouping of data making it difficult to evaluate anyone.

Sheal (1989: 96-99) provides a list of a number of possible forms for use based upon a series of workshops conducted and designed to train classroom observers. Of course, the style and format of observation and the forms used will vary depending on place and context, but should aim to fulfil their purposes. Four main types of observation form are: (i) frequency tabulation, indicating both teacher and student behaviour; (ii) structured description, a narrative of what occurs in the classroom with various sub-headings for focus and structure; (iii) checklist, recording the presence or absence of particular types of behaviour; and (iv) rating scale, focussing more on evaluation over behaviour. The latter is obviously the most subjective and thus open to bias and disagreement; it is also relatively easy to use and complete and thus very popular. It will also help to meet the requirements of any given course that requires a form of assessment and evaluation. Overall, the study seems to prove that improving observer objectivity and reliability is a long-term process and states the case for systematic observations. It is important to select the correct technique depending on which best complements the focus of classroom observation as each technique lends itself to the observation of different types of classroom behaviour; essentially, it must be guided and systematic (Day in Richards and Nunan, 1990: 54). In addition, it is imperative that the observer be well trained in whichever means of data collection chosen and some will naturally require more training than others.

(iii) Post-lesson: feedback conference, which includes discussion from the teacher's perspective working together to diagnose and solve problems, as well as identify successful classroom practices. This should take place fairly soon after the observation so it is relatively fresh in the minds of teacher and observer, but long enough so as to allow for a period of reflection before coming together for discussion. The goal here is to guide the teacher in the analysis, interpretation, and modification of instructional practices based on objective data. It is this objective data and reasoning that provides a form of evaluation, rather than the supervisor themselves. The overall process involves the following: analyse data cooperatively, reach agreement, interpret data and reach decisions about future actions by considering alternative approaches. It is also important that the observer be selective with their analysis so as to avoid overloading and demotivating the teacher; this can also be avoided by making sure that positive aspects are focussed on, hopefully in as much detail as constructive criticism, in order to present an appropriate balance. The impact of feedback on learners seems not to be as powerful as supervisors might wish it would be (Turney et al., 1982a in Roberts, 1988) and evidence suggests that the experiential learning of the student teacher will be the most powerful influence on their development. It is possible then to conclude that the overall process adopted is far more important than the product itself.

In my experience as a teacher-trainer, I have often used a technique whereby I begin and end with positives and thus sandwich the more negative aspects of necessary feedback. In doing so, I attempt to gain as much as this from the observee as possible using a guided-approach, if necessary. However, the views of how a taught lesson is perceived via comments and exchanges can be very different between observer and observee and often lead to issues of resentment (Fanselow, 1988: 114). It is essential that the observer focus on the teaching behaviour in relation to effective student learning rather than the teacher themselves, which can then help to avoid any potential for any kind of emotional confrontation that might come about from perceived personal attacks. The key trait here seems to be on flexibility, moving away from prescription to a more supportive mentoring and communicative relationship.

The focus of supervision has more recently been on development over training, the latter being seen as limiting due to more complex aspects of teaching requiring a longer process of attention. Supervisors can contribute to this development by turning away from the usual 'cycle of supervision'. Making all of these decisions jointly and working towards a shared understanding can help to eliminate stress and anxiety, as well as encouraging teachers to be more responsive. To be most effective, teachers should play an active role in all aspects of this process and be allowed to come to their own conclusions with guidance from the supervisor. Trust can come from joint effort without external evaluation, avoiding the possibility of resentment or conflict that can take place within power struggles where positions of superiority are concerned.


If there is a better way of working in supervision, the possibility to actually change the supervisor's role in practice is generally pessimistic as there are "too many forces working in a different direction" (Blumberg, 1977). Institutions and teachers/supervisors first need to recognise the problem before beginning to address it (Stones, 1984). There is, thankfully, evidence that change is possible and enough of it to warrant a proposal, though there are a wide range of instructional models and it is up to each institution to decide on the most appropriate for use. Each one will carry its own advantages and disadvantages, but the current evidence would suggest that the most promising is a collaborative inquiry based approach involving everyone and a shift towards diagnostic evaluation. As a final point, it is also the observer's responsibility to learn from the process of supervision and to continuously monitor our own behaviour in ensuring that it is always informed by principle (Maingay in Duff, 1988: 130).