The Observer

With my current S3 Modern Studies class I have been working on enabling them in shaping what we do. Last term through using a detailed survey on what goes on in class, sharing it with them and inviting them to analyse the results (in part this was also about developing their skills in analysing complex information).
In school we are trying to improve through the vast majority of staff taking part in a Teacher Learning Community related to AIFL – but one of the persistent challenges is making/finding the time to visit one another’s classes and give some feedback on what we are doing. We are also seeking to create templates that allow for a consistent approach when observing one another. It is a tick box sheet which runs the risk of foisting mechanistically similar lessons on us all and I’ve felt that it needs to be trialled before any roll-out.
These things all coalesced recently when I asked one of my S3 pupils to take the tick-box sheet and observe my lesson. It would be a challenge for both of us – for her, to metaphorically step outside of the class and what they were doing and try to take in the range of learning and teaching activities that were going on – and do so whilst trying to make sense of a bit of paper referring to QIs! For me – encouraging a pupil to take a warts and all look at learning and teaching in our class (without the possibility of sugar-coating that a colleague might add).
I gave her no prism, no advice and no conditions – it would be entirely up to her what she wrote.
In the lesson itself I did nothing differently to what I would normally do – there’s simply no point to any evaluation if it is of a false single impression!
A brief chat at the end of the lesson was followed up a couple of days later with a much more detailed dialogue as she explained her choices and comments and detailed her reasoning. I also explained and talked her through what those pesky QIs were referring to.
What struck me was firstly, the pupil’s remark that in thinking that the noise level was greater as pupils entered the room – may simply have been down to the fact that she was observing it – noticing it whilst not being part of it. That there were clearly things that ordinarily she would not see/hear or in any way notice – as she would be focussed on what she would be learning.
Some things were left off of the ticks – as the concepts/jargon were not clear but following our discussion, a second observation would be able to address these things too.
In any case, the tick boxes were almost an utter irrelevance to the quality dialogue about lesson organisation, assessment, behaviour management, pupil motivation and much else besides. I was given more feedback and insight into my lesson than from most if not all observations I have ever had.
As someone who has supported and encouraged pupil voice throughout my career, it has been a powerful reminder that there is a huge and continually untapped resource for improving learning and teaching within each of our own classrooms. It is also clear that there is nothing to fear from seeking out and listening to the views of our pupils – and plenty to gain.
The next stage will be to share some of the dialogue and outcomes with the rest of the class – and to work on what we’ve agreed are areas for me to improve upon. As well as this, I’ll be keenly sharing what I’ve done with colleagues and encouraging them to do likewise.

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