First Step: Send in the Swot team

3rd April 2009 at 01:00
Teach, reflect and improve. This method is simple and effective, and will help you see what pupils really learn.

Reflecting on a lesson, absorbing what went well and analysing what went badly is what newly qualified teachers (NQTs) do every day. But how can you ensure you learn from each lesson and adapt your skills?

It's an approach used often in business, but adopting a Swot analysis approach, where you study your lessons' strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, could be a good starting point.

However you choose to reflect, Lee Buckingham, teacher and NQT mentor at William Ford Church of England Junior School in Dagenham, Essex, advises letting the dust settle before rushing into a post-lesson analysis. "I would never expect instant feedback for an observation," he says. "NQTs should always give themselves time to reflect, rather than coming to a conclusion straightaway."

New teachers also often fall into the trap of being too focused on the lesson that has just gone. Mr Buckingham points out: "You should always try to change one thing. But make it something that improves your practice and that you can develop. Appreciate that it takes time to develop as a teacher, don't think of it as `If I'd done that instead, it would have been solved.'"

The temptation, particularly after a lesson that appears to have gone awry, is to focus on classroom management. When reflecting on any lesson, it is important to go back to before it even began.

James Williams, lecturer in education at the University of Sussex, recommends starting at the planning stage with the learning objectives and how they influenced the structure of the lesson. He advises: "Ask yourself, `how did I get the children to engage, what was the first hook into this lesson?'"

Trying to look beyond the immediate emotional response of a lesson is difficult. But using a Swot analysis to assess the activities and their link to the learning objectives will often tell you why something did or did not work. "Question yourself about who is doing all the work in the lesson. One of the most common mistakes is that children are not doing enough," he says.

The beginning and end of a lesson can set not only its tone, but also the emotions a teacher takes away. Good analysis needs to take this into account and look beyond the precise time frame of the session. If children are coming from different parts of the school, or coming in with excessive post-playtime exuberance, it needs to be taken into account. Similarly, the ends of lessons are opportunities for teachers to gain feedback and look at how they've performed.

One approach is to ask pupils for their point of view, says Liz Townend, professional development adviser for South Gloucestershire local authority.

"Asking the children for their point of view can feel scary, but their advice is usually helpful," she points out. "One way to do this is to get a colleague to teach your plenary while you sit in and find out what the children have learnt."

For the brave, videoing all or part of a lesson can provide useful insights into your success or failure. Before videoing a class, decide on the small element you are going to look at and, most importantly, check with the senior management team the legal protocol in your school on making recordings.

"Watch it in the comfort of your own home. You'll be amazed at how you can identify the behaviour led to the things you and the children said and did," she advises.

What's most important in your analysis is how much the children have learnt. Make sure that anything written down in your post-lesson analysis is informed by what the children know, understand or can do at the end that they could not at the start of the lesson. And remember, it is not a process to go through alone, it's not just about completing paperwork and telling people what they want to hear. It should highlight areas for development.

"Being an NQT is a fast-paced process," says Mr Buckingham, "take every opportunity to see best practice, explore different approaches and go to other schools." Remember, finding good examples is part of the role of the mentor, make sure you use them."

Next week: Advice for Scottish NQTs

What to think about this week

- Don't analyse your lesson immediately - let the dust settle so you'll be more objective.

- Don't just focus on the lesson that's just gone, think about your overall teaching style.

- Use pupil feedback or video technology to get another view on how you've done.

- Think: "What can the children now understand or do at the end that they couldn't do at the start?"

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