Classroom watch

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Observing other teachers at work is a good way of spending your induction year release time, says Sara Bubb. You'll learn so much about teaching.

Try to observe a range of teachers and assistants, age groups, subjects and lessons at different times of the day. Observe in other schools too - ones with and without beacon status. It's very cheering to see that everyone has similar problems and fascinating to study the different ways people manage them. Don't always observe experienced and successful teachers. You'll learn a great deal from seeing other NQTs and supply teachers. If you watch your class being taught by someone else you can see the children's learning, behaviour and reactions, and how another teacher handles them.

However, observing a lesson so that you get something out of it is not easy. You need to have a focus for your observation. There is so much to see that you can end up getting overwhelmed. First, decide what you want to observe. Ideally, link the observation to one of your objectives - something that you want to develop. For instance, if you want to improve pace in introductions, arrange to observe that. Notice the speed of the exposition, how many pupils answer questions and how the teacher manages to move them on, how instructions are given, resources distributed, and how off-task behaviour is dealt with. Here are some examples of how some NQTs chose what to observe.

Julian was interested in developing his explanations of mathematical concepts so that he could make things clearer and not get thrown by pupils' questions. With this clearly in mind, he chose to observe maths lessons where new topics were being started. He learned the benefits of rock-solid subject knowledge and scaffolding information. He also gained a broader repertoire of questioning techniques that he was able to try out in his own teaching.

Diana had problems with behaviour management so observed a teacher with a good reputation for control. She gained some ideas, but found that much of this experienced teacher's control was "invisible" - he just cleared his throat and the class became quiet. So, she observed a supply teacher, and someone with only a little more experience than herself. It was hard to persuade them to let her observe, but when they realised how fruitful the experience and the discussions afterwards would be, they accepted. These lessons, though not so perfectly controlled, gave Diana much more to think about and she learned lots of useful strategies. Both teachers found it useful to have Diana's views on the lesson, as a non-threatening observer, so they too gained from the experience.

Miranda's objective was to share learning intentions with pupils so she observed a teacher who had a strength in this area. She not only listened well to the teacher's explanation of what he wanted the pupils to achieve but saw that he wrote different lesson outcomes for each group under the headings "What I'm looking for". As well as focusing on the teacher, she watched the pupils carefully and spoke to them about their understanding of what they were doingand why. This gave her insight into children's learning and areas of confusion.

Once you have decided what you'd like to observe, you need to arrange it. It is useful for your induction tutor to be involved in the arrangements to lend weight to your request and increase the chances of it happening.

Lucy had difficulty arranging observations of other teachers in her school. Her induction tutor was off school for a long time, so she tried to arrange observations herself. She found colleagues reticent. One or two did agree but then cancelled arrangements at the last minute, for fairly spurious reasons. Although Lucy sympathised with her colleagues, she felt that they would have been more helpful had her induction tutor been around to lend weight to her requests. These experiences made her feel even more isolated and confirmed her low status in the school.

You need to discuss what you want to observe with the teacher. Remember that they are doing you a favour and will probably be apprehensive about you being in the classroom so you'll need to be sensitive. Be clear about what you would like to see and why. Ask if you can look at planning related to the lesson. When you are observing, you need to concentrate on what is going on to get the maximum benefit. It is essential to look at teaching in relation to learning, as Miranda did in the case study. One must always be thinking about cause and effect. Why are the pupils behaving as they are? The cause is often related to teaching. Make sure you sit where you can see both the teacher and the children, and look at what high, average and low attainers accomplish. Jot down things of interest. You may want to note certain phrases that teachers use to get attention, ways they organise tidying-up time, etc. You can use a blank piece of paper for this, but a form with prompts helps keep you focused. Ideally, write your own prompts relating to the area you want to focus on. Here are some general prompts for a whole lesson: Afterwards, reflect on the teaching and learning you have seen - ideally in discussion with the person you observed. Perhaps it inspired a brainwave, unrelated to what you saw. Write about what you have learned, and how ideas could be implemented, as a record of your professional development.

Sara Bubb works with NQTs and students at the London Institute of Education ( She also answers questions for students and new teachers in Friday magazine and on the TES website ( Her new book, A Newly Qualified Teacher's Manual, has just been published by David Fulton

* Plan

* Ground rules

* Use of praise

* Redirect off- task behaviour

* High expectations

* Organised

* Resources

* Share learning objectives

* Subject knowledge

* Relate new learning to old

* Explanations

* Deal with mis- understandings

* Voice - tone, volume

* Pace

* Use of time

* Questioning

* Motivating

* Differentiation

* Additional adults

* Feedback to pupils

* Suitable activities

* Plenary

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