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Should I risk it?

However well prepared you are, there are bound to be problems in the first year of your teaching career. Whatever it is that's keeping you awake at night or sobbing on the school secretary's shoulder, our experts can lend a hand

Q: I've got an impending observation with an awful Year 8 class. I've planned a lesson involving active learning, quite fun, but it involves five of them acting and the rest listening, making notes, then responding.

I'm going to try it with other Year 8 groups first, but still, it feels risky with this particular class. The observer is specifically assessing the quality of learning - so if I do a textbook lesson, he isn't going to rate it highly, is he? But if my Year 8s are all messing about, then my active learning lesson won't work either. Any suggestions?

A: Sometimes just having another adult in the classroom, like your observer, can help a lot with awful behaviour, but you can't count on that.

A carefully written lesson plan that points out exactly what you want the observer to notice is probably the key to success - and in addition to outlining what you're going to do, explain why you're doing it, to prompt your observer into positive responses.

Structure your pupils' activities precisely, and give them plenty of support. Begin by stating your learning objectives, and then work with pupils to establish a set of criteria to help them judge the success of the activity. End your lesson with a very explicit plenary designed to get them to tell you (and your observer) what they've learned from the lesson.

Make your instructions clear. Keep up the pace and don't let any one activity run on beyond pupils' attention span.

Prepare printed sheets to support pupils' note-taking - a list of the main headings and success criteria will do.

Take the risk of giving your pupils some responsibility for their learning - you and they will learn far more - and you'll convince your observer that you are more concerned about promoting learning than about your own performance.

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