Ways of seeing

28th February 2003 at 00:00
Observation time is precious, so make the most of it, says Lynn Huggins-Cooper

One of the best things about observing students in schools is the licence you have to walk about, watching teachers work, taking in the displays and enjoying the ambience that makes each school special. When a secretary asks me, "Shall I show you to the classroom?", I've always demurred, preferring to go the "pretty way", looking at what is going on around me.

Teachers (no matter how long they have been teaching) should be like caddis fly larvae - bumbling along corridors, picking up gems here and there, adding to their stash. By the time you've been teaching a few years, you should have a glittering array of goodies to offer your pupils.

It's not that you can't be original, but it won't be long before some old lag tells you not to reinvent the wheel. What they mean is that many wonderful things have been going on for years, albeit often under other names. (I didn't have circle time when I was at school, for example, but circa 1969 we had sharing time, when we all took turns to speak and be heard - sound familiar?). So put your own slant on things, be original and exciting, but observe others, collect what you admire, and make it your own.

As a student, you are in a unique position. You have many opportunities to observe teachers at work. Make the most of them. There are some amazing teachers out there, and most of them are only too pleased to share their ideas.

Be aware, though, that those who trained in the past 15 years or so are used to having people traipsing through their classrooms on a regular basis. We have been observed until we have reached the point where we could give a class on life cycles in full frog costume in front of a coven of Ofsted inspectors without turning a hair - and come out of it smiling. Some teachers who trained earlier may have misgivings about being observed, although this is tending to disappear as the culture of "my classroom, my kingdom" disappears and observation becomes the norm.

Observation etiquette may seem obvious, but I've seen students forget things in their panic or excitement. So always remember:

* When you are introduced to the teacher you are observing, make eye contact, smile, and give a firm handshake.

* Thank the teacher for allowing you to observe. Ask if there is somewhere in particular you should sit.

* Don't get in the way. Before the session, check if it is appropriate for you to sit in with a group and become part of an activity, but make sure you know what is expected.

* Ask questions after the session, but at a convenient time when the teacher isn't preoccupied with pupils.

* After the session, without being too familiar, comment on what you found interesting, what you think looked good, and so on. Everybody warms to praise.

There are many other aspects to a classroom, including the way the room is set up, displays presented and resources managed. These are interesting to observe, but above all, focus on the teaching and learning that is going on. Ask yourself:

* How does the teacher calm the students and bring them to a state of readiness to learn?

* What relationship does the teacher have with the students? How do you know this?

* What stimulus is the teacher using?

* How does the teacher use questioning to promote thinking skills and problem solving?

* How does the teacher manage transitions - for example, sending children from a briefing session into group work?

* How does the teacher keep students on task?

* How has shehe planned for differentiation?

* How does the teacher monitor progress as the session unfolds?

* Can you see the teacher changing course if the lesson is not progressing as planned?

* How does the teacher bring the class back together to review the session? Again, watch out for transitions.

* What evidence can you find that this lesson has added value to the pupils' learning?

* What has the session taught you about the teacher's teaching philosophy and style - do you want to be like herhim?

Lynn Huggins-Cooper is a PGCE lecturer

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