The Important Role of the Observer


Give students a 'framework' for listening, observing, and analysing their peers' performances.  Students who are trained in this way may learn MORE by watching and listening carefully than they do when taking their own turn as a 'speaker'.

In role-plays, discussions and practice presentations, students and their teachers may feel that the main 'learning' occurs as each student has his / her 'turn' to speak.  The remaining students may see little value in paying attention while a series of classmates each have their 'turn'.  Both the speakers and their classmates lose out in such situations. 

Actually, there may be as much or more 'learning value' in having all students observe and offer feedback. 

The actual 'speaker' is primarily focused upon completing his/her task, and has little or no opportunity to reflect.  However, the listeners are free to observe a wide range of issues related to both content (opening statements, signposting, clarity of ideas, concluding remarks) and delivery (eye contact, expressions, gestures, pace, intonation and more...).  An observer who notes that a classmate has done something particularly well can resolve to try to do the same thing when his/her own turn comes.  Where an observer notices weaknesses in a peer's performance, the observer can think about how his/her own performance can avoid those difficulties. 

Finally, observers can be taught to help their classmates improve by highlighting things their classmate did well, along with a comment as to how this strengthens the performance.  As students mature in the role of observer, they can also be invited to offer their classmate one (only!) useful suggestion – designed to help their classmate be even more successful next time.  [See detailed suggestions for a “2 + 1 Feedback” framework for classroom use in a separate article.]

Have you considered training students to observe, assess and offer feedback to their peers?  Handled well, everybody benefits, including you.

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