Eyeing up the teacher

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Observe lessons to hone your own classroom skills

Can you believe that you're more than halfway through your induction year?

It's a good time to take stock and think about whether you're making the most of induction. You'll never get such a good deal again.

I'm sure it doesn't feel great from where you are, but next year you won't have a 10 per cent reduced timetable, the chance to get out on courses or to observe colleagues, or anyone to mentor you, monitor your progress and give feedback on how your teaching is going. If you've felt under scrutiny you might feel pleased at the thought of drastically fewer observations and meetings, but many teachers in their second year feel a little lost and neglected after the intensity of the training and induction years.

You'll find out so much about teaching and learning through observing others at work. Try to watch a range of teachers and assistants, age groups, subjects and lessons at different times of the day. Watch teachers teach in other schools, too - ones which have a good reputation and those which do not.

It's cheering to see that everyone has similar problems and it can be fascinating to study the different ways people manage them. If you watch a class you've taught being led by someone else, you can see the children's learning, behaviour and reactions, and how another teacher handles them.

It's even worthwhile watching teaching that you don't like because it makes you think about your own practice and almost forces you to articulate your educational philosophy - something we do too little of.

Don't always observe experienced and successful teachers. You'll learn a great deal from seeing trainees, newly qualified teachers and supply teachers.

Diana wanted to improve her behaviour management so she observed someone with a good reputation for control. She got some ideas, but found that much of this experienced teacher's control was "invisible" - he just cleared his throat and the class became quiet. How depressing! So she watched a supply teacher, someone with only a little more experience than herself. These lessons, though not so perfectly controlled, gave Diana much more to think about and she picked up a lot of useful strategies.

Observing a lesson so that you get something out of it is not easy. You need to have a focus, because there's so much to see you can end up 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 watch 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.

Once you've decided what you would like to watch you need to arrange it.

It's useful for your induction tutor to be involved in the arrangements, particularly for observations in another school. Their involvement will lend weight to your request and increase the chances of it happening. You need to discuss the observation with that particular teacher. Remember that they're doing you a favour so be clear about what you'd like to see, and why.


If possible, read the lesson plan, paying particular attention to the learning objective. Is it useful, and is it shared with the pupils?

Choose somewhere to sit which is outside the direct line of the teacher's vision, but where you can see the pupils and what the teacher is doing.

When the pupils are doing activities, move around to ascertain the effectiveness of the explanation, organisation and choice of task. Look at different groups (girls and boys; high, average and low attainers; and pupils with English as an additional language) to see how everyone's needs are met.

Think about the pupils' learning and what it is about the teaching that's helping or hindering it. For instance, what was it about the teacher's delivery that caused pupils' rapt attention, or to fidget? Note what pupils actually achieve.

Teachers aren't always aware that some pupils have only managed to write the date and that others have exceeded expectations. Avoid teaching the pupils yourself or interfering in any way, however tempting it may seem!

Pupils will often expect you to help them, but once you help one, others will follow. This will distract you from your central purpose, which is to observe - and your so-called helping may annoy the teacher.

Think about the teaching and learning you've seen and try to talk about it with the teacher. Take note of a few key things that could impact on your teaching. What are you going to do differently?

* 'I've just watched an AST doing group reading. It was amazing! I've learned more observing her for 20 minutes than in the whole PGCE'

Primary NQT

* 'Everyone says that observing other teachers is great, but nobody seems keen for me to come to their lessons - they keep making excuses'

Secondary science NQT

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