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#LessonObs (part 1)

Reflections on lesson observations inspired by the seminar “The role of lesson observations in England’s schools” hosted  by the Teacher Development Agency  and Teach First

A video of tonights seminar can be found here http://new.livestream.com/L4L/tdt

First up – @ProfCoe

Pre-Keynote blog can be seen here. Slides from the keynote can be downloaded from here.

The most powerful comment for me from @ProfCoe actually came in the Q and A session at the end. “I’m in favour of lesson observation but I just think we should be better at it”. Boom! How do you like them apples?

I found this keynote refreshingly grounded in research rather than ideology. What works best? How do we know? How are we acting on this information? Are we acting on this information?

I found it fascinating enough to spend a large amount of time today thinking about who is observing and why?

Who? – in essence largely observation is undertaken by someone Senior. Be it a Line Manager, Head of Department, Senior Leader, Performance Manager, Inspector, Advisor… however what makes these observations valid? What training, if any, has allowed people such as myself to rise to the dizzy heights of observer more often than observee.

Why? – For me, I only ever consider it a privelege to be in a classroom. It’s the best mechanism for stealing ideas and always has been. My practice has always been influenced by the practice of others. I believe this has been for the better. However, observations for judgement can result in a fear or threatening atmosphere. As a Head of Department I have liked to observe lessons just to see if schemes are working. More than ever tonight I’m conscious as to how my presence has made others feel. I’m optimistic that I haven’t always been the spectre in the corner, however how can one say this has always been the case.

I recommend anyone reading this takes the time to watch and look over the slides.

What followed was a quick succession of mini-notes from guest speakers. All advocating their judgements based on their particular experience.

@Informed_edu spoke about Lesson Study. I found his examination of top down/bottom up effectiveness massively interesting.

Instructional Leadership (Top Down) has an effectiveness score of 0.42 (apparently rather good).

“Observations and feedback by an instructional leader. Lectures. Teaching Guidelines”

Leadning Teacher Learning (Bottom Up) has an effectiveness score of 0.84 (more than double the above)

“Peer Observation. Developing capacity of teachers to teach what students need to learn. Collaborative. Enquiry approaches.”

He offered one of the most accesible summaries of Lesson Study I’ve seen.

Plan – Teachers working in 3’s plan a series of learning activities. They predict how the teaching causes and impacts on learning. This results in a thought process linking Pedagogy to learning.

Observe – Watching the learning activities in progress the teachers reflect on whether the learning predictions made are the same as the learning being observed.

Reflect and Plan – How effective was the learning in the observation phase compared to the prediction in the planning. Reflect, review and retry!

@LearningSpy probably provided the sensationalist quote of the evening. He presents some of his thoughts in a pre-seminar blog here

“The cult of the outstanding lesson is retarding learning.”

He offered thoughts on whether in observation you see the performance of students not the learning. “Learning is invisible” being a theme of the evening.

“Rapid and sustained progress” was quoted from the Ofsted framework. @LearningSpy argued he felt you could have one or the other.

He offered an alternative to lesson observation and feedback. Find teachers with good results, assume they’re doing something right, watch them and try and replicate the good practice you see.

@MaryMyatt gave a perspective as a practitioner, teacher, loca authority advisor and inspector. She was clear to indicate she was a constituency of one and only represented her own views.

She opened with 3 important points

1) with the vast investment in education “82 billion” some kind of quality assurance is going to happen to ensure children are getting a reasonable or better deal.

2.) Lesson observation is merely one of these factors. The others being; work scrutiny; talking to pupils; the extent pupils are engaged in their learning; information form pupils as to the typicality of lesson; quality of teaching and evidence of learning; hihg expectations; support and challenge; strategies to meet individual needs; literacy across the curriculum; behaviour for learning; social moral… and she was clear not all would be seen (by any means) in one 20-30 minute observation.

This point utilised points that lesson observations offer support to help triangulate judgements. Data needs context to be complete. The lesson provides the context.

3) what would you offer in place of lesson observations?

She offered her thoughts that teaching and learning was likely to be good or better in lesson study type models rather than those using gradings.

She offered that no one should be made to feel like a “muppet”. High Challenge / Low Threat.

There should perhaps be collegiate enquiry rather than judgement. As practitioners we need to “get out more.” Formative and discussion processes have better impact for improvement. There is no need to be bad to get better.

– videoing a major force in the future of improving practice

– student perceptions of teaching is a valuable source of information.

– as a profession we’re in the black with pupil good will. Largely pupils want more and there is currently more goodwill than anything to be feared.

Finally she offered a discussion point – Are we talking to ourselves? As a profession we need to take hold of the conversation and utilise or establish organisations to take our thoughts forward.

@AlisonMPeacock was up next with a brilliant opening. I’m a Primary School head and we do not have observations.

She called this an Alternative Improvement Agenda. She spoke with real power about there being quality of learning for pupil and adult in an environment of learning.

She spoke about formalising the practice already in place. Having high quality conversations at the end of the day – How did (name) do today? These offer reflection and help support improvement.

Lesson Study, utilised at Alison’s school, formalises the informal. It focusses on the needs of children.

She said her school had “created a culture of trust”.

She moved on to pupil voice saying if primary school pupils had been present at the seminar their view would have been very interesting and accurate. There are so many times they are eager to tell you what went well. Times they went home so excited and eager to return the next. Times they went home with still so many questions they want to ask.

Finally, and for me perhaps most interesting was her point that this process is “messy”. The talking culture required is not an easy process to formulate or measure. An intangible sense of energy and enquiry.

She suggested this was perhaps another way of looking at school improvement and would provoke a massive debate as to how we engage children as learners.

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Categories: Lesson Observations

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