How to ace lesson observations: 10 tips for PGCE students
The final placement season for PGCE students is rapidly approaching and with it, lesson observations become more frequent and more important. It’s easy to forget the basics when you’re being observed – especially now there is so much focus on children’s learning in a single lesson – but the way you handle simple logistical classroom issues can make the difference between success and a trainee kicking themselves.
Here are some must-do’s you can’t afford to forget:
Sort out your stationery
A classic, you’re in the middle of your pacey starter and everything’s going to plan – until a kid puts their hand up because their whiteboard pen has run out. There isn’t a spare and you spend what suddenly seems like an age scrabbling about for a replacement, before finally “lending” your own.
Raid the stationery cupboard several days before the observation, and make sure every table is fully kitted out the night before with everything the kids will need.
Computer says no
Interactive whiteboards and use of media look great in lessons, until the computer decides it needs a vital software update halfway through your video clip. Don’t rely on media too heavily and have a backup plan in case of emergency. If you must use video or the internet, double-double check it all works properly the night before – and again in the morning.
The good idea fairy
This mystery apparition visits teachers the night before an important lesson observation, instructing them to deviate wildly from their planned activity in favour of something new, untested – and of course much more impressive to watch. Banish it. Stick to doing something that you’ve done with the class before. The kids will be more familiar with it and will settle down more quickly, helping you to relax into the lesson.
Teaching assistant (TA) deployment
If you have a TA, make sure they know what your plan is and who they’ll be working with, as far in advance as possible. They will need to be busy – not just a second observer. Again, stick with routine rather than a brainwave you came up with while lying awake that morning.
Be clear – what are your children learning?
Perhaps the most bold, underlined, unwritten rule in the trainee teacher’s handbook but often the very one that gets forgotten. Make a clear point of what the lesson is about – what will your class be able to do at the end of it that they couldn’t before? Ideally you’d want this in neon writing, flashing across your classroom wall, but as long as it’s visible to everybody and you remember to mention it at least once, you’ll be fine.
This is particularly applicable to younger classes. When moving from teacher input to independent activity chaos can ensue as children barge past each other to get off the carpet, fuss about with water bottles or stop for a quick chat at the bin while pretending to sharpen their pencil. To put it simply – make sure you get them from A to B as quickly and quietly as possible.
Do not disturb
During an observation you may want to work with a settled group, in which case the last thing you’ll want is an increasingly noisy queue of children forming at your chair, waiting for you to check spellings they’re not sure about. Have a signal to indicate that you’re unavailable for the time being, and familiarise the kids with it well in advance. It may be as simple as a timer on the board or a hat that you wear.
Make sure all the kids’ targets are up-to-date well before the observation, and that they’re familiar with them. The observer is near enough guaranteed to ask a few of them what they are and where to find them. This goes for targets in other subjects too – some observers can’t resist a good snoop in the books stacked on your shelf to check that they’re up-to-date.
Remove rogue insects from the room beforehand
It might sound daft, but there is nothing more disruptive to any lesson than a rogue wasp that’s infiltrated the room and started strafing pupils. You’re going to look a fool to the class whichever way you deal with it – whether it’s a direct hit with a rolled-up notebook or 10 minutes spent flailing around trying to do so. It might be best to keep the windows closed, if possible.
They’ll always find something
If it’s a particularly crucial observation, of course you’ll worry, but try to remember there’s no such thing as a perfect lesson. Observers will find something you can improve, whether it’s a fundamental flaw in your subject knowledge or closing the blinds another inch so that the sun doesn’t get in that one kid’s face. It’s annoying, but worth being mindful of – you don’t want to walk into the classroom beating yourself up before your lesson’s even started.