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Watch the pedagogy

Sitting in on other people's lessons is not the time to switch off. You can gain a lot if you know what to look for. Harry Dodds helps sharpen your observation skills

If you're confused and perplexed by the mass of information you're gathering from your classroom observations, don't worry: it's the same for everyone, and it can seem very daunting.

There are ways of managing it and making it work for you, while at the same time making sure that you aren't swamped by hundreds of bits of paper.


Focus on what you need to know. In the early stages of your training, target the broad contexts of classroom management, and identify effective teacher behaviours.

Try to be in the classroom before pupils arrive. Study the physical environment: what do the wall displays and the layout of the furniture tell you about the teaching and learning style you might expect to see?

Decide where you're going to sit. If it's at the back, you'll have a pupil's-eye view; sit at the side and you'll be able to take a teacher's view as well. If you can listen in to pupils' conversations, that's a bonus.

Good beginnings make good lessons. How does the teacher manage the entry of pupils? Watch for greetings, routines and procedures. How does the teacher make it clear to pupils that they are now in his or her territory, and no longer in the playground?

Look at the teacher's body language. How does he or she establish status and maintain it? Focus on the effects of the teacher's visual scanning and eye contact. How does the teacher signal the beginning of learning? How are resources managed and distributed? How does the teacher signal transitions to new activities? Are the instructions clear?

Pay attention to the teacher's use of voice. What are the effects of the varying pitch and volume? Try to establish the balance between the amount of talking done by the teacher and the pupils. Identify the different ways that the teacher expresses praise and disapproval of pupils' action.

Does every pupil receive a fair share of the teacher's attention? How are the quiet ones encouraged and the noisy ones restrained?

Focus on a couple of pupils for five minutes. What are they actually doing - is it what the teacher thinks they are doing?

How is the lesson brought to an end? Are there established procedures for this?

As you settle in to your teaching placement, you'll become much clearer about what you need to learn, and so will be able to focus on the finer details. Use the qualified teacher status (QTS) standards* as prompts. An observation might help sharpen your insight into standards 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 (high expectations of pupils, treating them consistently, and acting as a positive role model). Be selective: concentrate on two or three areas in a lesson, but expect the unexpected.

There are many other useful areas you should watch out for:

* Describe the teacher's working relationship with the teaching assistant or learning support assistant (standard 1.6)

* Identify more and less effective behaviour management strategies (2.7 and 3.3.9)

* How and when are learning objectives presented? (3.1.1, 3.3.3)

* What kind of feedback do pupils receive during the lesson? (3.2.2)

* What specific actions make for a purposeful learning environment? (3.1.1) Standards 3.3.3 (clearly structured lessons) and 3.3.7 (organising time effectively) will be at the core of any observation. Look for ways in which the teacher:

* makes the lesson engaging and stimulating;

* uses visual aids and technology;

* varies the pace of the lesson;

* summarises important points;

* manages question and answer sessions;

* engages pupils with different learning styles;

* uses pair, group and whole-class activity;

* encourages pupils to take responsibility for their own learning;

* keeps up the pace of the lesson.

Talk to the teacher after the lesson. Ask specific questions, but be tactful about exploring the bits that didn't go to plan.

Finally, return to your notes and reflect both on what you can learn from what you have seen, and on what the focus of your next observation should be.

*QTS standards See the TDA website:


* Agree a focus for your observation

* Have a debriefing discussion after the lesson

* Find time to reflect on what you've seen

* And don't forget to observe outside your subject area if you are a secondary trainee - classroom management issues are very different in, say, science and geography

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