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The ethics of discussing lessons

In this article Ellie Overland describes the importance of observing classrooms or thinking about lessons you have seen in video footage or even ones you were in yourself as a pupil. She outlines the importance of thinking about key features of the lesson rather than making judgements on the quality of the teaching.

Beginning teachers are encouraged to gain as much experience as they can in schools both before they apply and once they have embarked upon teacher training. Watching teachers in the classroom is the best way to see some of the best practice and some of the challenges that teaching brings.

It is important is to think about the purpose of being in a classroom environment and how we discuss our observations and understanding of the events and processes taking place. When beginning teachers are in the classroom they are not there as inspectors or people assigned to make judgements about what they are observing, but are there to learn from what they are seeing. Any notes or further discussion on classroom observations should therefore reflect that privileged position of being given access to a classroom.

Most teachers are very happy to welcome others to observe, but others can feel more guarded. On arrival at the classroom it is important to be on time and courteous to the class teacher. The more you build a rapport with teachers the more they will share with you about the class they are going to teach and their selected approaches. All teachers have different styles and personalities that they bring to the classroom. You will also find they adjust their practice and approaches depending on the pupils they have in their class. When observing you are looking for these adaptations and the approaches that you think might work best for you. Just because something does not resonate with you it does not mean it is bad practice. It is important to remember this when you are discussing what you have seen at a later date or in writing your notes.

Writing notes is a really useful thing to do when observing in schools. Not full essays but a few notes to remind you of what you have seen. If you are interviewed for a place on a teacher training course you will be asked about teaching and it is useful to have some examples you are able to discuss, whether these are from formal observations, looking at video footage (e.g. from within this course) or remembering lessons you have been in as a pupil yourself. These key questions are useful to help you frame your notes and the focus of your observation within the classroom:

*What was the key focus for learning and progress within the lesson?

*Did the pupils learn what was intended? How could you tell?

*What did the teacher do during the lesson? Did they ask questions? Impart knowledge? Interact with all of the pupils?

*What did the pupils do during the lesson? Did they ask questions? Understand concepts? Engage in activities?

*How did the teacher manage the classroom, for example how did they gain the attention of pupils? How did they organise resources? How did they address any inappropriate pupil behaviour.

You may find it useful to become involved in the lesson yourself if it is appropriate. You may work with individual pupils or a small group to support them with a task. You could ask the teacher if there is anyone who might particularly benefit from your help. Talking to pupils and asking them questions on their understanding as the lesson progresses can actually give a great insight into the learning taking place in the lesson. Do not be afraid to talk to the pupils, after all you are thinking of teaching a whole class of them at once! If you are fortunate enough to become actively involved in the lesson then you can write notes on what you have seen immediately afterwards.

Having examples of lessons to discuss in your interview for teacher training will be really useful but remember you are just beginning. It is not a time to make a judgement on the teaching you have seen but to talk about things you would like to develop yourself as a teacher and to show that you have a full understanding of the complexities of teaching in classrooms.

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Preparing for Teaching

Manchester Metropolitan University

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