This was my first post, originally written in November 2014. Following a request, I added an update in April 2016.
Lesson observation is a contentious topic. Is it unduly stressful? Should it be graded? Is it even valid? Recently, I have been trying to give more effective observation feedback. This is in part prompted by Ofsted’s move not to give grades. I have also reflected on training I and colleagues received from Ofsted inspector Mary Myatt.
Observations are important and one part of the range of evidence informing us about the quality of teaching. I believe it’s most important role is developmental, as a tool to improve teaching rather than just measure it. I therefore tend to the view that giving a grade in feedback can distract from an effective pedagogic discussion. However, I think openness is important: is it right to form a judgement but not communicate it to the teacher? I believe the answer is that single observations are valid but do not in isolation have sufficient reliability to justify a grade. That reliability comes from cross-referencing a range of evidence. A grade can justifiably be attached to this evidence in its entirety.
However reliable an assessment of the quality of teaching is, it can’t of itself improve teaching. Feedback with the teacher has the power to achieve this. I have found training by Mary Myatt has helped improve feedback I give in the following ways.
1. Starting with an overview of evidence used to determine quality of teaching, that observation is only one element, although the one where we feel most under the spotlight.
2. Not using “I” other than in “I noticed…” So as not to give the impression that feedback is based merely on personal opinion.
3. Greater use of questions and take up time to encourage the teacher to reflect (e.g. What was the intended impact? What could have been done there?).
4. Providing more opportunities for comment / challenge from the teacher (e.g. Does that seem a reasonable commentary?)
The extent to which these changes will lead to sustained improvements in teaching remains to be seen, but there are some positive indications:
– Feedback conversations so far do seem more focussed around pedagogy.
– There is a greater openness about observer effects. It is also easier to view these in context when considering a broad range of evidence.
– Conversations have reinforced the importance of responding to pupil needs within the lesson, including giving sufficient time, in the face of pressures teachers may feel to cover curriculum content at all costs.
I hope to return to this topic when it has been possible to assess the long-term impact of the changes in the way I and my colleagues give feedback.
April 2016 Update
My opening paragraph reads like a piece of history now! No-grade observations are now the norm at my school and, I think, most others. The benefits I listed originally still hold true and I think conversations around teaching really have shifted to being developmental and much more productive. There is now an appreciation among SLT and subject leaders that reliable judgments about the quality of teaching and learning should be drawn from a wide range of evidence. Observations are an important element, along with work scrutiny, learning walks, analysis of progress data and student voice. We have worked harder to tie our focus for evidence gathering more tightly into our school improvement priorities with a specific focus each term. Recently these have been the quality of feedback to students & opportunities for them to act on it to improve, and meeting the needs of disadvantaged students. We are now working to improve the quality of feedback that we give colleagues following learning walks.
I welcome comments and it would also be good to hear about how lesson observation feedback is used in other schools.