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Concourse 2

Development: gathering data and gauging progress


Why measure anything?

You can have the most elaborate and well-designed development programme in the profession, but, if you have no way of measuring whether what you are doing is having a positive or negative effect on your learners (or no effect at all), then you don't know if you are wasting your time.

If you can't measure it, you can't improve it
Peter Drucker

So, here are some suggestions.


Gathering data and stimulating reflection

There are lots of ways to gather data on your teaching or kick-start a development programme.  Keeping a teaching diary and getting someone to come and observe you are two.  Can you think of some more?
Click here when you have an answer.

We can take them one at a time and see what's meant.  Some are obvious, some aren't.

  1. Record your lesson(s)
    Most people now assume that this means on video but it isn't necessary to do that or be sophisticated.  Video is helpful in many ways because it allows you to see what's happening.  However, unless it's quite elaborate, you won't be able to see the whole room or the individuals in it and sound quality is, likewise, often an issue.
    Audio recording is much simpler and less intrusive (it can even be done covertly) and there are few teaching settings in which an audio recorder of some sort is not available.  You were present in the lesson, after all, and can visualise what was happening quite clearly when you play back the recording to yourself.  Others will have more difficulty.
  2. Get an observer to comment on your teaching
    This is often a very powerful source of data but it is sometimes hard to set up in schools where everyone is busy and you need to make sure you have clear tasks for observers to do or they will just get an overall, and rather subjective, impression with not enough detail or focus for your purposes.
  3. Get students to comment on your teaching
    There are really only two ways to do this: face to face or via a questionnaire of some sort.
    Face to face is often better because you can refine the questioning as you go along and respond to what people say by asking them to clarify or expand.  You don't need to do this with the whole of large classes.  You can select a few people as a representative focus group or ask for volunteers.  You still need a clear, focused set of questions to ask, however.
  4. Keep a diary of your teaching experiences
    This requires a bit of discipline and structure but it can be finely focused because you can choose what to record and how often to record it.
  5. Try out something new in the classroom
    Again, this doesn't need to be elaborate.  It can be as simple as trying out a new drilling technique or using Dictogloss or whatever.
  6. Discuss with colleagues
    If you can, get others involved in a development programme.  That way, you can meet, say, once a week and bounce ideas around and share triumphs and disasters together.
  7. Attend lectures / seminars about teaching / read books and journal articles
    This may not be an option where you live and work but, if it isn't, why not try setting up a self-help group to make mini-presentations or read and article and come to a meeting to discuss it?
  8. Be a student yourself
    It's a humbling and often informative experience to become a language student yourself.  It can also focus you on real difficulties.  Try learning a new language from scratch.
  9. Observe others teaching
    Again, in busy schools and institutions, this is often hard to arrange (as is finding volunteers) but if you have a self-help group set up, you can observe each other so everyone gets a chance to 'get their own back'.
  10. Keep records such as notes made on lesson plans after teaching
    This is less elaborate than keeping a diary and simply requires you to take a few minutes at the end of each lesson (or during it, if you have a bit of space) to make a few notes on what went right, what didn't and what changes you should make.  You don't have to do it for every lesson, of course.

Ideas 5, 7 and 8 above are just ways to get you started but the rest are proper data-gathering procedures.  We'll focus on those here.
In this table look through the procedures on the left, make up your own mind what it's good for and whether there are advantages and drawbacks and then click on the eye open to reveal some comments.

Record your lesson(s)
eye open
Get an observer to comment
eye open
Get students to comment
eye open
Keep a diary
eye open
Discuss with colleagues
eye open
Observe others
eye open
Make notes on lesson plans
eye open


Some examples of data-gathering documents follow.
Additionally, there is some advice about how to write questionnaires and the sorts of item-types which are appropriate in the in-service training guide to conducting a needs analysis.  That section is not written with personal professional development in mind but the considerations are the same and you can adapt the procedures to get the data you want.

Observer tasks

These work well whether used by an observer or by yourself when reviewing a recording of some teaching.

You can, of course, write a questionnaire for an observer but simple tasks like this often produce cleaner results.


This can be an effective way to focus your observer (or you, if you are reviewing a recorded lesson) on what you want to discover.  Start with a blank chart and three coloured pens to play with while the lesson progresses.  You can also use a set of blank circles and make pie charts if that's easier.  Clearly, you can vary the parameters to suit what you want to be the focus.


Simple tasks

etc. for the following stages.

Interaction charts

Again, these can be filled in by an observer or by you when you review a recorded lesson.  You need to limit them to short phases or they become unmanageable.


Questionnaires for learners

Again, simple, attractive questionnaires which are for simple responses are often better than requiring written answers from learners because the data are easy to interpret.


This is another way of getting feedback from learners, lesson stage by lesson stage.  Warning: learners are poor at remembering what they did!  Get them to put a cross or a bar on the line.

what we did

Apportioning time

Make a pie chart of a lesson you taught and recorded in some way.  Something like this: Then make another setting out the proportions of time you should have used.
pie pie

Now re-teach the lesson (or a similar one) trying to keep a better balance.

In this section of the site, linked from the left-hand menu is a guide to doing useful classroom research.  Go there for more help.

If you have invented an even better way of getting data about what you do in the classroom, send it to ELT Concourse.