What went well: great use of vocab sheet for EAL student and thumbs up/thumbs down (standards 5, 6)

Even better if: improve your pacing so you have time to fit everything in, use more group work to increase engagement (standard 4)

If you’re anything like me, the above will stir up some fairly dark memories of your PGCE year. Observation after observation…improve your pacing. Nice activities. Get the kids out their seats. Use an engaging hook to interest the students. Let students find information for themselves. Limit teacher talk. Etc etc.

This isn’t a blog pillorying the “bad old days” of three part lessons, mini-plenaries, discovery learning and role-play group work – it’s about the way we observe and give feedback. To illustrate, let’s shift the footing of our feedback above:

What went well: lots of student practice

Even better if: your explanation were clearer

Is that a good EBI? To be sure, the content is a lot better. I can get behind feedback focused on clear explanations in a way that I can’t get behind group work to increase engagement. But that doesn’t mean it’s good feedback, because it doesn’t tell the novice teacher how they can actually improve.

The problems don’t stop there. The traditional model of observe lesson –> give detailed feedback is flawed for two further reasons:

  1. It focuses on too many things at once: if you are discussing the novice’s AfL, explanations, behaviour management, differentiation etc all in one go, then there’s just too much to take in. How can a novice teacher who is barely managing to be one textbook page ahead of the students be expected to also seriously consider and implement feedback like this?
  2. It’s non-repetitive: many elements of my lesson which I receive feedback on don’t repeat themselves. So if my explanation of fractional distillation wasn’t sequenced correctly, then feedback of “make sure you have done boiling points of alkanes first” doesn’t help me till next year (by which time I’ll have forgotten it). So maybe you could go for “make sure your explanations are sequenced correctly” which also doesn’t help me because it doesn’t tell me what to actually do.

I think part of the problem here is that this is potentially a good way to observe expert teachers. I’ve always found extended discussions about all aspects of a particular lesson to be fruitful with expert teachers. You can really dig in to why they did what they did and how they might have done it better in a way that is beneficial for the observer and the observed (I even wrote an observation form to guide that process).

But novice teachers aren’t expert teachers, and I’ve recently realised that my approach – which I thought was helpful and supportive – was probably neither helpful nor supportive.

Getting better faster

Following some recommendations, I got myself a copy of Get Better Faster by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo. This is a good book. A very good book. So good, that I think it’s not too bold a claim to say that there is a duty on everyone coaching novice teachers to read it.

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The book is a direct route to improving teachers, and improving them fast. It covers behaviour, academic rigour, planning and more – all in a very clear, systematic fashion. There’s a lot of amazing stuff in there, and below is my take. I don’t follow the method exactly, rather putting my own twist on it. But I hope that I am at least following the gist of what Bambrick-Santoyo is trying to get across. I’ll give you my main takehomes, then share what that might look like in practice. Since I’ve started doing this, my trainee’s outcomes have improved so quickly that I’m embarrassed I did it any other way.

Takehome number 1: follow the waterfall

When observing a lesson, don’t plan to watch the whole thing. Go at the start of the lesson and watch until you see something that the novice could have done better. Wait another minute or two to see what the outcome of that was, then leave. You don’t need to see any more of the lesson. Bambrick-Santoyo uses the phrase “waterfall” to describe approaches like this, where you start at the top and work your way down (1) (Note that you can also do this by video instead of going in person).

My trainee is with Teach First, which means he’s going to continue teach the whole lesson once I’ve left, but if you are working with a PGCE student then either you can just stop doing your official observing and muck in with actually helping, wandering around the room supporting students or whatever.

Takehome number 2: go granular

Your action step is then tightly focused on the thing that the novice could have done better. And tightly here doesn’t mean short: it means achievable very quickly. It starts with an intent, and then goes into an action. For example:

 Action step: manage student participation in do now by:

  • Narrating compliance 
  • Circling the room on a pre-designed route, targeting your hotspots
  • Ensuring that you are facing as much of the class as possible during circulation
  • Using a quiet but strong voice when interacting with students slow to get started
  • Ensuring that any interactions with students responding to you are short, sharp and don’t force you to get dragged in (minimal invasion, economy of language)

The action step is the intent, the bulletpoints are how you would actually go about doing it.

Takehome number 3: have a shared language

The phrases in bold all relate to very specific techniques, most of which are from Lemov and Teach Like a Champion (which you should also read). Each one is meaningful to the trainee as they have been the topics of previous meetings and training sessions. If one needs further clarification, we will watch a video or read an article together. This enables me to pack quite a bit of information into a couple of words. If you don’t have this shared language your action steps will become clunky and difficult to write and implement. If I say to my trainee “you didn’t narrate compliance” he knows what that means, and I don’t need to say “little Johnny got started a lot quicker than anybody else, it would have been great if you could have pointed this out loudly to the whole class as a way of encouraging others to get started too.”

Takehome number 4: practise

In the action step above, we went into the lab and looked at the route the trainee was using. I pointed out that by coming out into the middle of the lab he was turning his back on a number of students who were ones he shouldn’t be turning his back on. We worked out a route that took him around the class to his most troublesome areas (hotspots) but always allowed him to keep his eyes on the rest of the class. He then practised walking that route and showed me exactly what he would do the next lesson.

Moving on

Next time you go into the lesson, you are looking to see if each of the bulletpoints have been hit. If they have, then you keep watching until the next point of error and repeat the process. If they aren’t hit, you leave at that point and figure out a better way to break down the step and practise it. And that’s pretty much it: rinse, repeat.

Below are some of my notes and action steps from mentor meetings this year. I’m incredibly grateful to my trainee for letting me share them – the action steps belong to him, and we hope that others might find them helpful.

Meeting XX/XX/XXXX

All of previous action step completed

New action step: 

Manage transition from silent Do Now completion to class review by: 

  • Using your script “pens down [wait, look around, Least Invasive Intervention] get out a purple pen [wait, look around Least Invasive Intervention], thank you – eyes on me please” 
  • Being hyper specific in the means of participation at all points – regularly and frequently: “Adam is going to answer the question and I will write the list on the board, nobody is to call out or make any comment you will get a chance later/equivalent” 
  • Employing the art of the consequence to enforce your expectations 

 Meeting XX/XX/XXXX

Previous action step observed with year 7 and mostly complete. Carried over as AS anyway as it still needs a bit of work with other classes, especially the art of the consequence.  

  • Using your script “pens down [wait, look around, LII] get out a purple pen [wait, look around LII], thank you – eyes on me please” 
  • Being hyper specific in the means of participation at all points – regularly and frequently: “Adam is going to answer the question and I will write the list on the board, nobody is to call out or make any comment you will get a chance later/equivalent” 
  • Employing the art of the consequence to enforce your expectations 

 Meeting XX/XX/XXXX

Session last week was termly review. Today we looked at observation of year 7s and video of year 10s. Strong practice in the latter using mini-whiteboards to review work. Suggestions for improvement: 

  • Use of no opt out to come back to students who got questions wrong  
  • Use of right is right to ensure that student response is more specific e.g “ethical issues” should be “embryo cannot consent” 

From year 7 lesson it was clear that previous action step has been achieved in terms of transition from Do Now to whole class questioning. Next step relates to specific targeting of students in order to ensure high engagement, including the art of the consequence: 

  • Employing the art of the consequence to enforce your expectations 
  • Avoid general behavioural management strategies like saying “shh” to the whole class 
  • Single out students who are complying “well done Daniel for starting to write” 
  • Single out students who are not complying “David your pen is still in your hand, but Daniel has started to write already” or “David you need to start writing now or you won’t learn” etc 

We also discussed how to teach osmosis and building diagrams. We then looked at concentration gradient and how models like balls rolling down a hill are limited in scope. We will discuss the outcome of MAT’s planning for teaching diffusion next week.  

 

Observation of year 9:  

Last action step with notes in italics: 

  • Employing the art of the consequence to enforce your expectations use of clipboard method to take students’ names 
  • Avoid general behavioural management strategies like saying “shh” to the whole class this was not observed but was an occasion where you said “there shouldn’t be any whispering” – instead try “Daniel, you should not be whispering.” If it is difficult to figure out who it was then give the general instruction but then use radar to scan and identify.  
  • Single out students who are complying “well done Daniel for starting to write” didn’t observe this 
  • Single out students who are not complying “David your pen is still in your hand, but Daniel has started to write already” or “David you need to start writing now or you won’t learn” etc as above 

New action step: 

Continue to build on all the gains you have made in behaviour management by: 

  • Specifying students both for compliance and non-compliance (as opposed to general announcements) 
  • Not launching any questions out to the class as a whole without specifying Means of Participation 
  • Challenge every instance of calling out even if the answer is correct. Example script to be used in conjunction with art of the consequence:
    “I know you are all very eager to answer questions, but I don’t want anyone to call out as it means not everybody gets the chance to think. If you do call out I will write your name down and if you do it again you will get a detention. Now, without calling out, does anyone know how many electrons are in beryllium?”
    *student calls out 4*
    “Ok I was very clear when I said I did not want anyone to call out even if it is right, so I’m putting your name down. If you call out again you will get a detention. Now, to everyone again with a hand up please, how many electrons are in beryllium?” 

 

 

(1) This isn’t exactly how Bambrick-Santoyo uses the phrase but I think it’s useful to use it like this.