We are beginning to get an impression from other schools of the way inspectors observe individual lessons. It looks as though it would be best for us to prepare a series of one-off "secondary-type" lessons for the inspection week with the teacher "up front", teaching the whole class. We are quite serious about this because we want to show our teaching in the best light. But it is not a primary way of working, where many lessons have the teacher in a low-key role and the children may be carrying on work from before. What do you think?
Certain factors are pre-requisites of effective teaching, whatever style and form that takes, and will be evident in the work of good teachers, be they charismatic and high profile or low key and unobtrusive. Indeed, many teachers will adopt a range of styles and approaches, depending upon circumstances and the needs of pupils at a particular time.
The characteristics of effective teaching have been consistently documented by OFSTED. They include knowledge and understanding of the subjects and curriculum areas taught and certainly enthusiasm for them as well. The ability to plan well, to assess and build on what pupils know and can do, to make the best use of time and resources, to support, inspire and challenge the learner in terms of involvement, achievement and progress would also be expected. All this certainly implies an ability to convey things clearly, to gain and hold attention, to arouse curiosity and spark enthusiasm.
There is another quality that brings us to your particular dilemma. That is what the OFSTED handbook describes as the ability to "employ methods and organisational strategies which match curricular objectives and the needs of all pupils". It is largely that, together with the complexities of managing the curriculum, that make it inevitable that teaching and learning, whether primary or secondary, are not a series of fits and starts, of clearly defined beginnings and endings, of clear, convenient breaks at the end of lessons.
Inspectors will usually come to observe at the beginning of sessions, though they may leave before the end, especially where the lesson extends into a second period. They will be reluctant to come in where sessions are well underway, since it would be distracting. At the beginning of the period, even where work may be largely progressing from a previous lesson, it is likely that the teacher will draw the class together for review, advice or some change of emphasis.
It is probable, too, that before the lesson ends there will be an opportunity to observe the teacher, displaying at least with a group, her ability to instruct, clarify, question, demonstrate or encourage.
But inspectors will also look for evidence of learning that is built on what has gone before, that is characterised by continuity and progression, matched to pupils' development and needs and engages them in a protracted way and not just intermittently. They will hope to see children with a clear understanding of the purpose of their study, able to organise their work, to secure and use the necessary resources, to know when they need help and to learn collaboratively.
Inspectors understand that effective teaching, whether primary or secondary, is complex and not comprised merely of disparate skills or demonstrated in individual lessons. Just remember to make clear from your general planning that individual lessons are almost certainly part of a larger sequence or whole, whether they be those where the teacher is playing a prominent "up-front" role or where the children's active involvement and work constitute most of what is on view.
Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax 0171-782 3200. e-mail:letters tes1.demon.co.uk