Thursday, 6 October 2016

How to observe a lesson

Recently, I was asked by a school to give some feedback on their lesson observation pro forma. My advice was that they shouldn’t use it. They were a bit flummoxed (and probably a bit annoyed) as they’d spent quite a while trying to make sure it guided observers to look for the things they felt were especially important for teachers to include. This, I explained, was the problem.

If we tell teachers what good looks like we undermine their expertise. Rather than doing what they genuinely believe is in their students’ best interests, they’ll simply do what you tell them to do. Instead what we should aim for is intelligent accountability.

Hopefully pro forma like the one below are now a thing of the past in most schools.



But even ones which have had fatuous gradings removed are still problematic.


If you use something like this to prompt observers to look for certain aspects or behaviours then what you’ll get is teachers trying to show you what you expect to see. It’s not so much that the criteria on the pro forma above are unhelpful (although some of them are) it’s that they narrow the focus of the observer to look for these things rather than widen the focus to look at what’s actually happening in the classroom.

The point of a lesson observation should not be to see whether a teacher is slavishly following a checklist, rather it should be to tease out how effectively they are teaching the students in front of them to master specific curriculum goals. Who cares if there’s ‘evidence of differentiation’ but the quality of students’ work is rubbish? Why would it matter if a ‘plenary takes place’ if students don’t remember the content next lesson?

Initially I suggested that observers might be best just to take in a plank piece of paper on which to record their thoughts and observations. As that was deemed acceptable, what they eventually settled on was this:


I’m not claiming this is particularly good, or especially original, just that it’s designed to encourage observers to observe the reality unfolding in front of them rather than to force reality try to fit what’s on their checklist.

Please feel free to point out how it could be improved below.

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