Observing and Providing Feedback to Teachers of Adults Learning English

This brief highlights the rationale for and importance of teacher observations and giving feedback in order to improve both programmatic and teaching aspects of an adult ESL classroom. 

B. Marshall
S. Young
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Oakland Adult and Career Education
Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages
Target Audience

This brief highlights the rationale for and importance of teacher observations and giving feedback in order to improve both programmatic and teaching aspects of an adult ESL classroom.  The authors describe three types of observations (formal, walk-through, and alternative).  They also provide examples and observation guides and tips for observing teachers (e.g., setting goals for observations, informing teachers, interacting with teachers). They emphasize a collaborative model of supervision (see Supporting and Supervising Teachers Working with Adults Learning English to create a positive and productive experience for observer and teacher.

Note: This brief is a companion to Supporting and Supervising Teachers Working with Adults Learning English and Managing Programs for Adults Learning English.

Required Training

None, but further in-depth study would enhance the use of this resource.

What the experts say

Call this brief supremely useful for administrators whose job it is to observe ESL teachers in adult education programs. Short and to the point, it offers practical clear information on one of the most sensitive tasks of supervision, observation and follow-up feedback. It promotes ideas such as collaboration, reflective communication, and peer observation, a collaborative approach to teacher observation that encourages a mutual learning experience and teacher reflection. 

This brief can be useful to adult ESL program administrators by offering models and tools for teacher observation and feedback beyond the annual formal performance review. Furthermore, the discussion—throughout the paper—of collaborative supervision presents an alternative to purely evaluative or top-down observation and feedback. The article argues that “effective and collaborative” supervision “involves understanding teacher and learner characteristics and needs, approaching supervision from a developmental rather than an evaluative perspective, and engaging in reflective communication (p.1).”  For some programs and program administrators, these may be new and potentially liberating concepts.  Sometimes, even though they both strive to serve the learners in their program, there may seem to be a gulf between administrators and teachers. The underlying call here to collaborate, along with the tools to do so (e.g., reflective questions, walk-through observations, teaching portfolios, unseen observation), may help bridge such gulfs.

The brief cites several publications from highly respected sources.  The theory—or more accurately—the main idea integral to the document seems to be that supervision of adult ESL teachers is an important and accepted part of promoting and improving adult ESL instruction.  Furthermore, through the references it cites and the practitioner knowledge inherent within the document, the brief appears to assume that a collaborative approach to supervision aids in teacher and program improvement.

This article has some shortcomings, but they don’t negate its potential use for adult ESL practitioners. Defining and giving examples of important terms (e.g., collaboration, reflection) at the outset would help assure that readers understand the context of the article. The brief contains several examples. However, a specific, step-by-step example of a walk-through observation and one of the alternative formats could help administrators more fully understand “how-to” actually use these tools.  It might also be useful to hear actual pros and cons of these approaches—from both administrators and teachers (e.g., do all teachers actually feel comfortable with the walk-through observations or do some feel that these walk-throughs are evaluative or intimidating).  Furthermore, some suggestions are not appropriate for certain settings particularly given the part-time nature of the field (e.g., if a teacher is teaching two evening classes a week for about two hours, portfolios are not an option).

Practitioners might benefit from a detailed discussion of the format, language, and expectations of the two example forms.  Many, if not all, of these shortcomings could easily be addressed in a longer article.  Until such an article is written, though, the underlying ideas, models, and examples are useful to administrators and teachers of adult English language learners.


  • Three approaches to observation are discussed: formal, walk-through, and alternative.
  • The information would be equally applicable for both trained ESL professionals and those who are new to the field because it aims to set up processes as well as specific observation tasks.
  • There are numerous concrete examples in each section: for example, questions supervisors might ask before an observation; notes to write after a visit; checklists from CAL and the CAELA project. The examples—particularly the observation review checklist and the instructor checklist form—provide practical tools for programs.  In addition, the brief cites resources that provide “an extensive collection of language lesson observation task and data collections… (p.1).”
  • The authors discuss how to connect observation results to teacher  support and professional development, a major responsibility of supervisors.
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