I recently had the opportunity to be observed by 18 student teachers whilst I taught a class of 22 Grade 3/4s. And it did turn out to be an opportunity, despite my reservations about the situation! I’d only met the class very briefly before teaching them and didn’t know the student teachers at all, and the lesson was scheduled to last for 85 minutes in a mobile classroom with no musical instruments, projector or speakers. Plus it was November 1st; post-Halloween sugar-crash day. With all that in mind, I planned several activities that could be adapted and themed together in various ways, with room for manoeuvre if things weren’t going well. I sent my written lesson plan and a file of song resources to the student teachers so that they knew roughly what to expect and could think about how the plan informed the lesson itself.
After the lesson (which was great fun, but describing it is not really the point of this blog), the student teachers all sent me their written reflections. That’s right, 18 different responses to my teaching of one lesson! It was such a different process to receiving feedback, often interpreted as some sort of sentence or reprieve, following an observation by one or two teaching colleagues or Ofsted inspectors. It’s really got me thinking about how we frame and respond to feedback from lesson observations. For example, the student teachers’ perceptions of my teaching were greatly influenced by their own positions in the classroom, and their comments about pupil learning were often based on observations of the children immediately next to them – which prompts questions about what those individual children experienced in comparison to my perceptions of their experience. Evaluations of the lesson’s final activity were particularly contrasting: I prefaced a farewell song with a brief description of the lyrics before singing the first verse through to the class. One student teacher described it as a highlight of the lesson because she liked that my introduction of the song enabled the children to sing it confidently straight away, whereas one of her peers wrote that she didn’t understand the activity at all, having been unable to hear the lyrics clearly from her position at the back of the classroom.
Reading the students’ reflections about my other interactions with the class, there were also several times when I wanted to reply with “That’s not what I said!”, which has left me feeling differently about being observed and about monitoring the progress of whole classes. It shows that one person’s interpretation is just that – their interpretation. Whether a participant or observer, they arrive at our lessons with particular interests, concerns, advantages and difficulties. They are looking for different things and will recall different things from the person sitting right next to them, and from the teacher. Perhaps one of the funniest moments in this process was reading the student teachers’ descriptions of a task part-way through the lesson, where they paired up with the children to work on a rhythm game. Several of them described this as providing opportunities for growth mindset/peer learning/other clever-sounding pedagogical techniques: really, I just wanted a chance to stop for two minutes, watch what was going on, and have a quick drink of water! Hopefully I’ll remember that moment the next time I observe someone teach, and the extent to which my observations are personal opinions and experiences rather than a form of judgment.