I have to admit that I was pretty terrified about my first lesson observation, the idea of a very experienced teacher watching my every move did not sound particularly appealing. However, as with most of the challenges I have faced in the world of education (including the Teach First assessment centre, doing what feels like a million phonics assessments and an OFSTED inspection) it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. Here are some reflections on the process that I hope will be useful when you too are panicking about an observation:
Don’t worry about somebody watching you…
…because you probably won’t notice them. Yes my mentor was sitting in the room with a tiny laptop. Yes she was writing things down. Did I notice this after the children had come in from playtime? Not for a minute, I was busy asking/answering questions, pointing at stuff and writing on flipchart paper.
Remember the basics!
Did I differentiate? YES. Did I prepare AFL strategies. YES. Did I practise reading a kids picture book in front of the mirror. YES, I DID THAT! But did I read the learning intention…oops. My mentor suggested a post-it or two with a few reminders for next time!
Make sure you have prepared questions in child friendly language in advance
Coming up with meaningful questions and framing them in child-friendly language is very challenging. By planning questions in advance I can ensure that I have a good question for children of all abilities. It’s also a good chance to think about the vocabulary you will be modelling. Will the children understand all the words in the questions? What words will you need to define? Are you introducing too much/too little new vocabulary. In case of emergencies make sure you have inspiration- I have a laminated grid of Bloom’s taxonomy next to my desk so that if I am running short of time I can quickly frame a few questions before a lesson starts.
Address behaviour consistently, do not change anything because you have a visitor
Your mentor isn’t expecting you to be Mary Poppins. Mine told me this. What they are looking for is an appropriate response to behaviour. While it may be tempting to brush off minor disruptions in order to focus on your painstakingly prepared lesson script, the chances are that if you let a misdemeanour slide another will quickly follow. Instead it is important to show your class that the rules apply no matter who is visiting the classroom. Do not try to change behaviour strategies for the day of an observation. I witnessed an awful situation when I was a TA during an OFSTED visit when a well meaning teacher changed the carpet space of a disruptive pupil on the morning of the visit, the boy of course shouted out ‘Do I have to sit here because of the visitors?’
Observations are like therapy
It’s surprisingly theraputic talking to your mentor about your observation lesson. We both laughed about the moment I forgot to spell a VERY simple word. While at the time I was mortified my mentor had actually enjoyed my ‘silly teacher’ routine and told me that she forgot spellings all the time and did the exact same thing. It’s also a huge relief to get advice on what you can do to address your weaknesses, you probably already know what you are struggling with and an observation is a great time to be honest about that and talk through your problem.