John Hattie recently added to the debate about observing teachers and highlighted that ultimately what matters, is what students are doing during the lessons. Hattie rightly points out that much has been said and done about observing the behaviour of the teacher. However the ultimate gauge of the effectiveness of the learning experience should be evident in the student, their engagement and their learning.
It therefore makes sense that lesson observations should focus on what the students are actually doing and what they have learnt.
Contestants on My Kitchen Rules are judged according to the food that is produced, not for the activity that takes place in the kitchen (although I’m sure that the show’s ratings come from the characters and the drama!)
The quality of the chef is evident when tasting the food. The proof is literally in the pudding! Whilst viewers see what is happening behind the scenes in the kitchen, the contestants are not judged for the process nor the dirty pots and pans left in the kitchen but for the food that they serve.
Whilst the criteria for judging the meal that is served are fairly evident (taste, presentation, temperature, time between courses etc), learning is far more complicated and much more difficult to measure.
By definition, teaching is effective when it enables student learning.
However what each student actually learnt in a single lesson may not be clear. Progress can be incremental. Measuring the difference between what each student could do at the end of a lesson when compared to what they could do at the start of a lesson is not always feasible.
Hattie’s often quoted research about effectiveness highlighted that the teacher is the factor that has the most significant impact on student learning, that schools have influence over. The quality of teaching that the student receives is the key factor that school’s have most control over and must therefore leverage.
It is therefore essential that in helping teachers be the best teacher they can be, we must look at what the teacher does AND what the students are doing.
Are all students engaged in their learning?
Are all of the students in their ‘learning zone’ – sufficiently challenged but not overwhelmed?
Are they learning or being kept busy?
What can the students do at the end of the lesson that they couldn’t do before?
What is the teacher doing to optimize theses outcomes for all students?
What could the teacher do more of (or less of) to increase each students’ time in the learning zone?
It is imperative that lesson observations look at both the teacher and the students.