Posts Tagged ‘observations’

The SLT effect

February 19, 2016 6 comments

The SLT effect is something that happens when a member of SLT enters your classroom. I remember in my NQT year having a Y10 class I struggled to control and a deputy head walking in to my classroom and the class all of a sudden becoming the very model of good behaviour. I’ve seen this effect time and time again, in my lessons and in the lessons of others. I’ve only ever known 1 class be immune to it.

The effect can be welcome, if your being observed for performance management or Ofsted, and it can be unwelcome – like it was I that year 10 class in my NQT year, as I’d asked the deputy to observe to give me ideas of how I could improve the behaviour.

A couple of weeks ago I welcomed a member of SLT into Y13 class, and I experienced the effect in a really different way. The class are normally a really bubbly class who are constantly discussing the maths and asking questions to further their knowledge and help them make sense of the new content, and to aid their application of that content. But this lesson they froze, they responded to questioning timidly and with short answers and didn’t ask any questions themselves. It was like a totally different class.

It got me thinking about the class and why this happened. I can only imagine it must stem from a lack of confidence, perhaps they were worried that our visitors would think they were no food at maths (they are in fact very good). I feel I now need to look at building their confidence to discuss their learning in front of others, and to build their confidence in the learning itself.

Have you experienced similar? Do you have any ideas of how to combat this?

Great teaching leads to student progress

October 31, 2014 5 comments


Today the Sutton Trust report “What makes great teaching?” by Rob Coe, Cesare Aloisi, Steve Higgins and Lee Elliot Major was released. It’s a report I’ve eagerly been awaiting and I very much enjoyed reading it. You can download the report in full here free of charge. It’s only around 50 pages long and I’d say read it, but if your lacking in the time or the inclination I would say you should definitely still download it, and read the executive summary which is only around 3 pages long. This executive summary is a brilliant summary of the report, so I feel no need to summarise it here, but there are a few points I’d like to comment on.

Above is a screenshot of the start of the executive summary which includes the quote:

Great teaching is defined as that which leads to improved student progress.

That, to me, seems the most obvious thing in the world. If the pupils are progressing well in your subject, then the teaching is great. If the students aren’t progressing, then you need to look at what’s going on and put things right. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case in recent years.

Last year I was discussing the progress of my NQT with the SLT member in charge of the department. He had completed the penultimate NQT observations on those in the department and had graded one as outstanding and the one I mentored as requires improvement. We discussed this and he said that there were things missing from the lesson, the sort of things you would expect from all singing all dancing lessons – one example he gave was “he didn’t use lollipop sticks”!!! I found this particularly bad as the class he’d seen my NQT with was his year 9 class and I knew that the class in question had made significant progress throughout the year. More progress across the year, in fact, than any other class in year 9! Which to me proves that the teaching they were receiving was great. This points to an issue highlighted in the report:


I also had a discussion with a HoD at another school who told me he didn’t understand how his AS results had been so poor when he’d had a “consistently outstanding” teacher teaching them all year. My advice was simple: “you need to redefine your conditions for outstanding. If the students aren’t making progress, then you need to try something else.”

I’m glad that this report, and recent ofsted guidance, is signposting a move away from the idea of preferred teaching styles and single lesson judgements. Different things work for different teachers, and different things work for different classes. Context is key. There’s a wealth of ideas and things research suggests works in this report, and I’d suggest trying it out, I will be, but you need to always bare in mind that things that work elsewhere won’t always work for you.

Another key point I noted was the strength of evidence to say that Pedagogical Subject Knowledge was important, especially in maths.


This is something I’ve written about before, and again something that seems obvious. Yet I’ve often heard people say “If you can teach, you can teach anything.” I’ve experienced in my own education teachers that were one page ahead in the text book and it wasn’t effective. We need to ensure our pedagogical subject knowledge is up to scratch, that we know the links between our subject and the misconceptions likely to occur. This is particularly important now, as we are in the middle of massive curricula reform which will see a large amount of teachers teaching topics they haven’t taught before, and we all need to make sure we are prepared.


Teacher observations

A strong theme throughout the report is around observations. The report seems to favour heavily the idea that they are most effective when done in a formative developmental way.


They also have some pointers as to how this development can be helped:


These are ideas I like. I think all teachers should be constantly developing, and striving to improve. Hattie’s research suggests that there us a massive positive effect on outcomes when teachers see themselves as learners and this backs that up. I’ve noticed an uptake in the number if teachers I know undertaking further study, and this can only be a good thing.

The model of formative and development observations seems to oppose the recent move to performance related pay, and the report has this to say on it:


The report talks about creating a culture where teachers are comfortable discussing their shortcomings, and working to improve them. But if they are tied to pat progression then teachers may not feel comfortable owning up to them.

I was worried to see in the report that apparently 90% of teachers still buy into learning styles


Which is terribly worrying given the weight of evidence against then. It’s easy to find a bucketload but here’s one to start you off.

As you can see, there’s a wealth of fantastic stuff in the report, these are just a few key themes I’ve picked out that interest me. The mainstream media seem to think the main theme is about “lavish praise” but that’s just a tiny part!

If you have strong views on any of this, or anything else in the report, I’d love to hear then.

I’ll leave you with an interesting page on effective teaching of numeracy:


What are we testing for?

June 30, 2014 3 comments

There are many types of assessment that take place within our schools. Formative, Summative, AfL etc are all buzzwords that relate to some kind of assessment that occurs on a daily basis,  each with a different perceived purpose. So what is the big picture? What are we testing for? Should we be doing it?

I was recently told by someone that they had received feedback from a lesson observation which marked them down for “lack of AfL”. I asked if they had been given anymore information than that and was told that the observer had said “You need to use lollysticks or whiteboards.” This left me a little underwhelmed. The person I was speaking to was an NQT, and I thought that feedback was fairly meaningless and certainly less than helpful.


We’re talking “Assessment for Learning”, not Aussie Rules. The basic premise, as set out by Wiliam et al in the black box series, is to assess in lessons as you go along, to check the class understand what you’re teaching them. In theory, I can see this is excellent practice, but in reality it has in many places become a box ticking exercise. I spoke to a senior teacher this year who described lesson observations as “a game you play”. This frustrated me, I’m a firm believer of trying to be the best teacher I can be every lesson, and I try not to do anything out if the ordinary in observations. (My year 11s did throw the following accusation at me once: “Sir, how comes you pronounced your T’s properly when [the head] was in the room?”- this apparent vocal change was entirely subconsciously!)

That aside, I do think there is place for AfL in lessons, I’m a big fan of whiteboards, they’re versatile, they allow you to check answers from a whole class to ensure they know how to do something. They don’t, however, do some magic and allow pupils to remember how to do things forever. Lollysticks, on the other hand, seem less useful for AfL. I’ve always been told they are “AfL”, but I don’t really see how. You still only get an answer from one person. They may be good for some things (whether they are or not is a debate for another time, but you can read Tom Bennett’s (@tombennett71) thoughts here), but I don’t see how they fit here.

If the feedback was, ” You need to ensure whole class engagement, try using a random name selection method such as lollysticks.” I could have understood it. If it was “You need to ensure the whole class are ready for the task, use whiteboards.” I could have understood it. but to say “You need AfL use lollysticks or whiteboards” just doesn’t help anyone. AfL is great, but use it correctly, ask yourself “why am I doing this?” if the answer is “to tick a box” then don’t bother! If it’s “because it will aid the pupils learning.” Then give it a hell yeah.

Formative/Summative Assessment

This whole dichotomy which is often discussed between formative and summative assessment seems silly. Yes, there’s a difference between checking progress in a lesson on a whiteboard and sitting a test, but surely the point of end of term tests is to see how much pupils have learned? If your class have done half a term on Algebra, and they all got the expanding brackets questions wrong then you need to go back over expanding brackets. Thus the assessment is still formative.

I think many of us are guilty of overtesting to gather evidence of progress. An inevitable consequence of the raft of policy around this area. This itself can lead to issues. A twenty minute end of topic test which takes place at the end of a lesson where pupils have covered the content may give positive results, but the retention may not be there and they may not be able to recreate those results the following week. We need to structure our schemes of work, our lessons and our testing to create sustained progress. To ensure learning that sticks. I’m not sure how we do this yet, but I think a mastery based curriculum may be a good start. I’ve read a lot on memory and learning from Joe Kirby (@joe_kirby) which I want to get deeper into. (IE this but he has other posts too)

I think in class tests are a vital part of what we do, but their primary purpose should be to inform future teaching and learning, with progress monitoring a by product. When progress monitoring becomes the primary gain, we’ve got our priorities confused.

High stakes external exams

These are the output of our education system, what we are always building towards. It seems strange to put teenagers through such tribulations at an age when hormones are flying etc, but I’m not sure what the answer is. We need to have some form of qualifications that distinguishes each of us. @Bigkid4 has some good suggestions here. If you have any ideas I’d love to hear them.

This post is part of the #blogsync initiative for June 2014, you can read the others here.

Reflections on the spring term

April 3, 2013 2 comments

Well, that just flew by. I can’t believe how fast it went! Christmas seems only a few weeks ago. So what has happened, and what have I learned?

I have completed stage one of a project I was involved in with a PE teacher who is one year on from me in terms of his career. The first stage of the project involved each of us observing the other as if it were a formal observation. It was brilliant CPD for both of us. I got to see a PE lesson that I rated as a good with outstanding features. I got to give feedback and discuss the lesson and the grading process with him, got great feedback on my lesson (also graded good with outstanding features) and again had some great discussions about the lesson and the grading process. I was paid a huge complement as part of my feedback when my collegue said: “you ooze pace, but manage to do it in a calm and relaxed manner.” he also noted, “you can tell this is the standard of lesson their used to, and not a one off lesson for observations sake.” This second comment ties in strongly with my philosophy on teaching. I think we owe it to the pupils to give them the best lessons we can, to enable them to meet their potential and succeed on reaching their goals.

This has been a common theme for me this term. I have had a number of conversations, sometimes heated, on the subject. We took part in a peer review a few weeks ago where SLT from two other schools came in and along with our own SLT observed a lot of staff. Each department was given three lessons where an observer would be circulating the lesson. In the staffroom after they announced the time slots a colleague said, “that’s alright, I only have to plan two good lessons.” This irked me and I questioned this. I outlined my theory that we should all be trying to be at least good all the time. There was a little argument and a couple of others seemed to take their side, claiming it was impossible given the time to plan good lessons every period. I disagree, and think if the time is running out then you need to work smarter, not harder. A well planned and resources lesson can be tweaked and used again with a different class when the topic is next met. Marking can be kept on top of by implementing smarter working systems and doing a bit at a time, etc. Thankfully though, it seems from other discussions I’ve had that most of my colleagues are in fact in my camp on this one.

This term saw my first foray into teaching further maths a-level. Having finished FP1 and most of FP2 I have really renewed my passion for higher level maths. It has encouraged me to start researching higher maths for fun, this has meant though that maths books and education books are both now ahead of novels in my reading priority list. Reading is something that I have lost time for in general as well. This has been due partly to the hours I work, but mainly the fact I have a young baby at home and I spent all my free time playing with her. I do miss reading a little, but the precious moments I have with my daughter are far more important, after-all, the books will always be there. She will grow up and lead her own life. I am hoping to incorporate more reading time once she has gone to bed during next term though!

I have been excited by the blogsync initiative pioneered by Chris Waugh this term. It has given me a chance to express my views on topics and has given me a vast array of blogs and papers to read which have helped me to evaluate and improve practice. (Finding time to read these short entries is much easier than whole books!)

I have had another PGCE student take some of my lessons this term and have again enjoyed the experience and found that observing others is key to improving myself, be it said PGCE student, or the more senior members of staff I’ve observed. The whole process of helping develop students has been great and I have asked to be considered as a possible mentor (for NQTs; ITT students or even both) next year.

All in all, I have enjoyed this term and feel renewed and invigorated by the challenges ahead. The next half term is to be my last with my current classes (We change timetables at spring bank), and the ones I lose next year I will miss. None more than my year elevens, with whom I have built a great relationship. They were the first class I took over at this school, and I will miss them all. I just hope they leave with the best grades they can and go on to achieve all they want in the future!

There are also some changes being made to staffing at school. The vice principal is moving on to a headship and a couple of the department are moving to schools closer to home to cut down on their commutes and give then more time with their families. This means next year will be very different. I will miss those leaving, but wish then the best. I do, however, think that it is good to have some changes, if everything stayed the same we may find ourselves complacent, familiar, taking our foot of the gas. We have come a long way in the last two years, but our work is far from over and I know the staff staying are committed to taking the team on to the next level. I am looking forward to seeing what next year brings, for me; the team and the school as a whole! But first, there is the small matter of the summer term and external exams for us to sink our teeth into.

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