Observing whom & Jai yen yen

This evening I dug out some of the surviving material from the CELTA course I took in 2005 in Bangkok, Thailand (much of it is gone, gone) and have spent a pleasurable hour or so floating through it (and lots of memories, many regrettably vague!). How come? Well, it’s all part of my attempt to excavate more of my own CELTA training experience whilst in correspondence with Anne Hendler as she competes a CELTA 688 kilometers north of there, in Chiang Mai.

I thought I’d just post up a few quick snaps of some of what I found along with some brief thoughts.



Above is part of my peer observation sheet for the first teaching practice session. As you can see, I recorded the names of all the learners in a ‘ground-plan’ of the classroom, and the seating arrangement follows the typical ‘horseshoe’ set up. I think I remember that Pe and Pu were brother and sister. Leila wasn’t Thai – I think she was Cambodian. Most of them were in their 20s, but Watt was older. I remember anticipating reporting home to my friends that it turns out there’s both ‘beer’ and ‘porn’ in the classroom in Thailand (*bad joke limpy horn sound*).

Looking back, I really quite like this observation task! The second question gets us identifying a certain type of learner, the dominant engager. And it continues thus – all of the six prompts on the observation sheet focus exclusively on the learners:

3. Which students ‘hide’?
4. Which students work with in pairs/groups? And which simply sit back and listen/wait?
5. Which students appear to be fluent (but possibly inaccurate)?
6. Which appear to be accurate (but possibly hesitant and lacking confidence)?

I’m not sure we had any instruction to think about feedback to give each other for TP1; that was essentially just for a trainer alone to deliver that initial time around.

I don’t do this for TP1 observation as a trainer presently, but now that I see this I’m definitely considering giving it a shot (rather than focusing primarily on classroom management basics)*. Why? It appropriately prioritizes the focus on the learners and learning before the teacher and teaching (cue Caleb Gattengo quote: “the subordination of teaching to learning”!).

Questions 5 and 6 above also nicely introduce more of a language awareness element with the concept of fluency vs. accuracy…but still entirely grounded in the students’ voice and actions.

*The fact is we do give trainees very similar learner-focused observation tasks, but not at TP1 on Day 2.


Apparently I brought a certain amount of enthusiasm to the teaching practice peer observation tasks. Also, once upon a time I’d much rather write in margins than in the main body of a document (?!). Additionally, it seems that I was mindful of the dangers of drawing too-quick sketches of dogs onto whiteboards. As evidence of all three of these things, I submit the following:




Next, a little excerpt from the ‘tips for the course’ sheet we got at the start of our course. I love the framing of this ‘be like the locals and chill’ suggestion.  Of course, it doesn’t apply only to Thailand. During my time as a trainer I’ve come across a handful of trainees (a *very* small percentage of the total) for whom the stress and pressure of the course has precipitated the blowing of a gasket!

I used to do a lot of yoga – I’m now rather out of practice. But if I weren’t, I’d lead trainees in anti-stress breathing and stretching sessions at least throughout Week 3 of every course (crunch time). As it stands, I consistently advise trainees to keep up with and/or instigate whatever stress-busting, happy-place sustaining, energy-activating regime they can do during the course. Because of the importance of jai yen yen.


*In Thai, jai = ‘heart/spirit’ and yen = ‘cool’..and doubling up an adjective (yen yen) is an intensifier. 😉



As a final comment for today, I’d like to take it back to the top and the TP1 observation task that was fully focused on the learners.

Have you ever had an opportunity to observe a colleague’s class? No – I mean, observe a colleague’s class, the students in a classroom? Why don’t we do more of that? Why, when we do get set up to peer-observe (it’s often all too rare, isn’t it) is it more often than not approached as a teacher-watching exercise? We need to watch learners learning. We need more chances to be a fly on classroom wall and really look at, listen to, and feel how learners act, what they say, how they listen, etc., etc. We really don’t need to worry about the teacher in the slightest – just carry on, Steve! I’m just over here, busy watching them. Carry on. Do you.

It’s wonderful and all, but maybe never mind observing fellow teachers. How about more learner observations? Take the teacher out of it entirely. To put it the way Adrian Underhill does, we need opportunities to just observe learners learning and sufficient time & space to dig into better understanding “what they do when they do what they do“.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Observing whom & Jai yen yen

  1. Can’t remember where I first saw this idea, but how about getting another teacher to teach your group, so you can observe your own learners as a kind of outsider, without having to worry about the teaching itself?
    I like that list of questions as an observation task, which could be used as an in-service self-observation task too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s an interesting idea and possible if you co-teach a class. Of course, the learners are likely to be different with another teacher than with you…..
      It’s an excellent idea to have teachers watch students, rather than the teacher as IME teachers can forget about the people in their classes which often leads to them blaming lesson problems on the students rather than looking more widely inwards and to whether they actually planned that class for the specific class in front of them or just pulled out a ready planned lesson.
      Wow that’s a long sentence. Sorry, I’ve just woken up. Great blog anyway.


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