‘Watch out lesson observation — we’re coming to get you’

Ofsted is ending its system of graded lesson observation. It’s a subject that leant itself to the theme a conference on June 17 at the University of Wolverhampton’s Centre for Research and Development in Lifelong Education (Cradle). Dr Lorna Page was there and outlines the event.

The first national conference dedicated to the issue of lesson observation was entitled Lesson Observation: new approaches, new possibilities. It attracted lecturers, teachers, researchers and managers from as far afield as Guernsey.

It gave a much-needed platform for delegates to gather, discuss and reflect about the important and timely issue of lesson observation.

Launching the day’s proceedings was Professor Alan Tuckett, who reinforced the significance of the conference at a time when Ofsted finally recognises that graded lesson observations are not an effective or appropriate way to capture quality in learning and teaching.

Professor Tuckett’s aim for the day was that we should all leave pulsating with brilliant ideas about lesson observation.

Dr Matt O’Leary, the first of two keynote speakers, gave an engaging, informative account about the need for teaching to be an evidenced-based profession.

He used the idea of Japanese knotweed being a metaphor for lesson observation — the unwelcome visitor that is quickly colonising teachers’ professional lives.

Delegates were then fortunate to be able to call upon expert voices and join a variety of focus workshops, one of which was my own. It was entitled The impact of lesson observation on practice, professionalism and teacher identity.

The workshops were presented under four themes — making the transition to ungraded models of observation; recent research studies in lesson observation; peer observation/coaching and mentoring; and lastly, innovations and developments in observing classroom practice

I joined Dr Ann LaHiff’s session which explored ‘Maximising vocational teachers’ learning: The developmental significance of observations’. She gave a passionate address to illustrate how lesson observation is a complex phenomena; that it’s more than just ‘watching’.

By the time we paused for coffee, delegates were cheerfully absorbed in exchanges relating to their own experiences of lesson observations. The energy and level of discussion that ensued illustrated how contentious the topic of lesson observation is, both for observers and observees.

Lots of nodding and positive murmurs confirmed that the findings from my own research on lesson observation resonated with the many delegates who attended my session.

Discussions that followed suggested that ungraded observations are being trialled around the country; however, they are bringing problems of post observation feedback, particularly the vocabulary being used by observers — how do you say a lesson is ‘good’ without suggesting it’s a grade two?

While the rain made attempts at dampening the campus’s grounds, the same could not be said inside the canteen where delegates were eagerly sharing their morning’s experiences and tweeting under the hashtag #obsconf2015.

Following lunch, Dr Phil Wood’s impassioned keynote talk called for a different type of observation: lesson study. This type of observation sees teachers planning collaboratively and observing the learners, not the teachers.

Dr Wood gave a compelling argument to state that learning is hidden, only elements of it can be seen — classrooms are complex adaptive systems and lesson study can be used as a system for supporting deep discussion on enhancing professional capital.

How do you say a lesson is ‘good’ without suggesting it’s a grade two?

‘Using lesson observation to promote teacher-efficacy’ was the final session I attended. Terry Pearson facilitated table discussions about whether lesson observation could promote teacher self-efficacy. Furthermore, he encouraged delegates to participate in practical challenges to demonstrate their own perceived self-efficacy. The overarching point Mr Pearson conveyed was we should be using lesson observation to address staff development needs, not to identify staff development needs.

To conclude the day’s events, delegates reconvened to dissect the issues addressed and pose questions that hitherto had been examined during the day.

Far too quickly, the conference came to a close. At the start of the day, Professor Tuckett’s aim was that we would all go away ‘pulsating with brilliant ideas about lesson observation’. I think it’s fair to say not only were we pulsating, we were positively reverberating — all I can say is, watch out lesson observation, we’re coming to get you.


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