Things I wish I'd known

24th October 2003 at 01:00
The key to successful observation is solid preparation, says Sue Cowley

It's mighty scary having someone watching your lessons, particularly when you're not all that experienced in the classroom. But it pays to take a positive attitude, looking at an observation as a chance to show what you can do, rather than a test of what you're doing wrong.

Make sure you're properly prepared. Have any worksheets ready well beforehand, rather than risking a last-minute rush at the photocopier. Get a "proper" lesson plan written out and ensure that exercise books are marked and up to date.

When priming the children, I favour a not entirely truthful approach, telling them: "Mrs Bennett is coming to watch our lesson to check how well you're working." If the class is on your side, you might prefer to be honest, asking them to work and behave well to help you out.

The temptation when being observed is to stick to what you know will work.

Although there's no harm in doing this, don't be afraid to experiment, using original approaches or unusual resources. These will help you engage the children and show that you are innovative and willing to take risks.

Think carefully about the key moments: how you get the children into the room, how you explain the work, how resources are handed out, how the lesson will end. Take care with your timing - it's tempting to overrun in an attempt to cram everything in. Better to finish too early and take the chance to review what's been achieved, rather than hear the bell go and have a chaotic finish to the lesson.

Make sure you keep the lines of communication open. If possible, meet up with your observer before the event to explain what you'll be doing. Check whether he or she wants to sit and make notes, or to help out with the lesson. After the observation, make sure you chase for feedback while the lesson is still fresh in your mind.

Don't rely on your observer turning up at the right moment. In fact, as with Ofsted inspections, Sod's law guarantees he or she will appear just as the class decides to down tools and riot. If things do go wrong, the key strategy is to stay calm. Don't panic and lose your rag: shouting and turning red are unlikely to impress.

A final thought: observations aren't just a test of your own practice.

Watching your colleagues at work is one of the best ways to develop your teaching. If you're not offered the chance to do this, take the initiative and ask.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book , Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99. Contact: sue@suecowley.co.uk

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