4 Insights to Improve the Lesson Observation Experience

Lesson observation works best if the observer adopts a data-driven analytical approach. Done right, lesson observation can be a powerful experience in professional development and growth for both the observer and the teacher being observed.

A class activity - Lesson observation
A picture speaks a thousand words in a lesson observation.

As a senior teacher, former school principal, and a mentor to beginning teachers, I have had the opportunity to observe many lessons of varying subjects and levels. Observing a lesson is a privilege. It gives you an insight into a teacher’s thought processes and his beliefs about how and why lessons are supposed to impact learning outcomes.

Observing a lesson is a privilege. It gives you an insight into a teacher’s thought processes.

In this article I wish to share some of my insights into the lesson observation process. The process may or may not be the same as the one experienced in your context. Feel free to add to the discussion in the comments.

Insight 1:

Listen to the teacher’s thinking during the pre lesson observation stage.

Listening carefully to the teacher at this stage will provide some understanding of what the teacher plans to do during the lesson. Usually at this stage the teacher will provide the lesson plan. This is an opportunity to go through the plan and obtain clarification.

In one such session, the teacher I was going to observe said that she had a clearer thinking of what to do during the lesson after such a discussion. If a pre lesson discussion is helpful to the teacher, this is a good sign that both the teacher and the observer are off to a good start in forming a more professional relationship based on trust and genuine interest in helping each other out.

In another session, I asked a teacher what he would like me to focus on during the lesson. This gave the teacher some choice on an area that might need further development. In any case, it is vital to reach some kind of agreement about what the observer expects during the lesson.

I have also found it useful to inform the teacher in advance of the school’s (or national authority’s) standards. One of the standards expected of teachers is to engage the students in intellectually challenging learning. If this is not in the lesson plan, it is definitely the prerogative of the observer to raise it during the discussion.

Insight 2:

Be an active observer.

On the day of the observation come in early. This is an opportunity to see how the teacher and the students greet each other before the lesson starts. You do not want to miss anything!

I find that bringing in the official forms into the classroom are a distraction. Our task is not to fill in the form during the observation! I prefer blank foolscap papers usually divided into three columns to fill in the time, my observation and my analysis. I leave the analysis column blank until the lesson is over.

During the lesson I become an active observer, recording what the teacher says and looking out for students’ questions. Sometimes recording what the teacher says is not easy if they are talking fast. I am also interested in how the teacher responds to the questions. I try to get a feel for the atmosphere of the classroom. What kind of rapport is there between the teacher and the students? When there is a group activity I sit quietly next to the group listening to the discussion and make notes. I also take pictures and videos of class activities.

Insight 3:

Analyse the lesson by referring to the data collected.

One of the hardest parts of being an observer! As I said in the first paragraph, the observer has to adopt a data-driven analytical approach to the lesson observation process. I realise that the current lesson observation form is insufficient to make an informed judgement about the overall quality of a lesson. The form relies too much on the judgement of the observer. To overcome this problem, I designed the SSLE form which my school has agreed to adopt. This is the Survey of Student Learning Experience and it contains five questions.

  1. What is the lesson about? What is the most important thing you learnt in the lesson today?
  2. What did you enjoy / not enjoy about today’s lesson? Provide details and examples.
  3. What difficulties did you encounter during the lesson? Provide details and examples.
  4. What questions, if any, would you ask your tutor about today’s lesson?
  5. What would you like your tutor to do differently in  the lesson?

With the agreement of the teacher, students fill this form five to ten minutes before the end of their lesson. For the analysis I find it helpful to write down my initial thoughts and impressions about the lesson. Next, I would check if these thoughts are supported by the data – my recorded observations and students’ comments in the SSLE. I have found that the SSLE gives credence to the analysis as the student’s voice is a powerful force to encourage reflection on the part of the teacher. Finally, insert the data and judgement into the form where appropriate.

Insight 4:

Think carefully about how to provide feedback.

Now this is the most challenging part. You want to be honest and provide specific feedback, not sugarcoat the comments. Allow me to share one effective approach. My inspiration for this approach comes from Adam Grant’s Stop Serving The Feedback Sandwich. Here are some of the things I say during the feedback process.

  1. “This is what I found from my recordings and from what the students say. I would like to know what you think to see if you agree with this.”
  2. “Is it ok to share with you how I felt and how I think the lesson can be improved further?”
  3. “What would you like to do for the next lesson if there is an opportunity for us to work together again?”

 

What are your thoughts on the lesson observation experience? Please let me know in the comments below.

 

Feature image courtesy of Flickr, US Department of Education.

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