Asking children for teaching feedback can lead to valuable insights. Karen Thornton reports.
LOUISE Raymond used to talk too fast and use long words that her pupils did not understand. She knows this because they told her. "You never forget it when young people tell you," said the former deputy head of Sharnbrook upper school, Bedfordshire.
Inviting pupil feedback on teaching styles may seem to be asking for trouble, but converts say it can revolutionise what happens in the classroom.
Mrs Raymond, now director of Bedfordshire's school improvement network, had a disaffected student who misbehaved in every lesson. "When we asked him to look at a different year group and at other pupils' behaviour, it held a mirror to his own," she said. "He said 'do I behave like that?' and changed."
She says the technique has helped one initially sceptical teacher. Pupil observation was "the most profound piece of professional development" he had experienced.
"The children said he only questioned pupils to the right (of the classroom), and that they often felt intimidated because he wandered up and down," said Mrs Raymond.
"That guy was an experienced teacher getting fantastic exam results. But the environment for those young people became better because he looked at his practice a bit more."
Next term, pupils at the Nobel school in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, will evaluate newly-qualified teachers and trainees. Youngsters involved in a successful pilot last year will help train the Nobel pupils on the best way to deliver constructive criticism to teachers.
Assistant head Barry Burningham said previous teacher guinea pigs had said pupils had given them much more positive feedback on lessons than they had expected, or than they got from adult colleagues. "Young people have a different take on what we do in school. All the teachers who participated said it gave them another way of looking at classes; they changed their use of language or managed the classroom in a different way."
At Lipson community college in Plymouth, pupils act as mentors to younger children and specialise in areas such as drama and information and communications technology. Lucie Acraman, 15, said: "You feel more proud of how school is because you have helped make it that way.
"A lot of the teachers find it difficult when they first come here (because of the higher levels of pupil involvement). But they adjust and we all help each other."
Adam Targett, also 15, said: "We help young students and sometimes teachers with ICT. Some do not have as much knowledge of software as us. It develops our skills and reinforces the knowledge we already have."