What Should Trainee Teachers Look For When Observing Lessons?

[Updated 27 Oct 2020]

I remember being a trainee teacher back in 2005 and going in to observe lessons. The lessons were pretty good, by whatever measure you might use. But I didn’t learn a lot from being there. Like someone with no technological knowledge inspecting the inside of a mechanical object, I just didn’t know what I was looking at.

I mention this because I think observing lessons is actually brilliant. I learn a lot from observing colleagues and I gain a lot from the feedback I receive, when they observe me. So why doesn’t this work for trainees, or even Early Career Teachers for that matter?

I think it comes down to experience. When an experienced teacher observes someone, they can watch the lesson and decide what they would do differently and why they would do it that way, drawing from their own classroom practice.

A trainee or inexperienced teacher cannot do this anywhere near as effectively or independently, in most cases. This is problematic for our trainees. We expect them to go into lessons, taught by our colleagues and expect them to soak up all of the good practice they witness, without realising that they simply aren’t equipped to do so.

So let’s equip them.

Here are some useful questions for trainees and Early Career Teachers to consider when observing. Hopefully, by getting them to reflect on their answers, we might help to focus their attention on what matters.

Lesson Observation Questions

  • Has the teacher demonstrated that they have high expectations for behaviour and progress? How did they convey this?
  • Does there appear to be a routine being followed? If so, what is it?
  • Is the classroom environment suited to the task? (e.g. grouped tables, equipment, use of space, etc)
  • How long does the teacher allow the students to work for, before checking progress?
  • Does the teacher model answers for the class? (If so, what was good about the modelling?)
  • What standard of answer does the teacher expect from the students?
  • How variable is the standard of answer from the students (and how does the teacher respond to this)?
  • When challenged by disruption, rudeness, etc, how does the teacher respond? How effective was the behaviour management strategy? (Did it work? Quickly?)
  • How many students are checked for progress during the lesson?
  • How often does the teacher ask questions? (What follow-up questions are asked?)
  • How could the students’ learning be stretched further?
  • How could the students’ learning be supported further?
  • Are strategies being implemented to teach specific groups, such as boys, Pupil Premium, SEND, high prior attaining students, etc?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives students something to concentrate their attention on. When they begin their own teaching, these questions will naturally form part of the feedback on routines, expectations, behaviour, progress, differentiation and assessment. Having clear anecdotes to return to from their own observations, will help trainees and Early Career Teachers to compare their practice to the practice of experienced staff.

With any luck, they might even learn from us.

Recommended Reading

The one thing that all trainee teachers need to get to grips with early is effective behaviour management. Without this, learning suffers and so does the overall classroom experience of everyone involved. Mastering behaviour management strategies, therefore, no matter what school they teach in, is vital. Tom Bennett’s book, Running the Room, is THE perfect resource for solving behavioural issues as they arise and gives excellent advice on how to create a classroom culture where behaviour incidents are prevented before they happen.

What other questions would you add to the list?

Leave a reply below, or send me a tweet!

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hi!

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2 thoughts on “What Should Trainee Teachers Look For When Observing Lessons?”

  1. Spend some time focusing on and talking with (if appropriate) the pupils. Are they learning? and are they learning what the teacher is teaching? I’ve seen many lessons in my time as a school improvement professional where the teacher seems to be doing all the right things, employing the whistles and bells, following OFSTED guidance so that observers go wow – what an amazing lesson, that teacher was great- yet talking to pupils during the lesson shows a lot are turned off by rapid use of a lot of aids to learning, they are not able to articulate what the lesson is about, and often show little or no progress in their understanding. Look at the learners with equal scrutiny as you do the teachers

    Reply
    • Great point Kath. One way to start the conversation is to just ask the students something simple, like “what are you learning about today?” I would then follow that up with something like “what do you know now / what can you do now that you didn’t know / could do an hour ago?” Keeping the questions light stops the students from clamming up.

      Reply

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