Club, spear, operate!

I work at a school that, in its wisdom is continuing with the numerical grading of individual lesson observations. I do not comment publicly on my school’s policies, and indeed this is a practice that has doubtlessly helped the school attain its success, whatever the rights and wrongs of continuing with it now.

The recent observation of one of my lessons , while by no means a disaster, did not go as well as planned. I’m coming to the conclusion that I simply don’t perform well under scrutiny; I doubt I’m alone. In fact, I’ve always suffered from stage fright, which I had to work hard as an amateur musician to conquer. (The key is the realisation that an audience is almost never hostile, which may not always be said for the tone of some lesson observation frameworks).

I digress.Suffice it to say that I made what turned out to be a wrong call in one of those snap decisions over the track of the lesson, which slowed subsequent work and made it difficult to demonstrate students’ progress before the lesson ended. (No matter that we finished the task today with some very good thinking being shown by the class).

I was expecting this criticism, though I think that taking such a narrow view of lesson outcomes defies any sensible rationale. Does it really matter that because a snap decision failed to pay off, it took a class an extra half-hour to complete their work, so long as the result was good?

I was not, however, expecting the other criticisms. The first was that I had not put my objectives on the board at the start of the lesson. It was not sufficient to have a question/title in place, nor the fact that stating the objectives would have revealed the epiphany which I wanted the pupils to reach for themselves (which they duly if belatedly did).

The second was that too much time was spent on gathering factual information – even though it was clearly new information, and that the resource sheets required understanding and interpretation in order to acquire the salient points. I wonder whether this subtlety was even noticed. And here I was hoping that the blobby hatred of anything factual was dying out…

The final criticism was that pupils were not able to give specifics as to what they “need to do next to improve at Geography”. This question reveals a profound failure to understand the nature of learning; one might as well ask what they needed to do to bring about world peace. Non-specific questions of this sort cannot be honestly answered in any meaningful way, so it is not surprising that the pupils floundered.

Geography relies heavily on gaining a holistic understanding of the interactions of a vast number of natural and human phenomena, and trying to reduce it to simplistic linear progression is utter nonsense. Or at least using this as a success indicator is.

As I’ve observed before, in the hands of the experienced, rules can be gainfully broken. Unfortunately, the systems don’t allow for this, while the less experienced (or less imaginative) can fail to appreciate it. I don’t doubt that those doing the observing were dutifully following orders and I accept that the lesson was not perfect; we’re all human! But someone, somewhere devised the tick-list in use without much regard for the reality of teaching and learning, as opposed to mere performance.

It just goes to show what happens if you equip even the most well-meaning with a club and spear and then expect them to conduct brain surgery.


7 thoughts on “Club, spear, operate!

  1. Show your observer Chapter 3 of Dylan Wiliam’s book “Embedded formative assessment”, where he explicitly states that assessment for learning is NOT writing the aim on the board at the start and making children write it down.

  2. I have been in the unfortunate place you describe so often that I think I will get a T-shirt printed, and no doubt will be there again shortly. My school is also continuing the madness of observational “scores on the doors” as part of a system that I have come to call “failpraisal”…

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