The Outstanding ESOL Lesson

Now there’s a title to drag traffic to my blog, if ever I heard one, so I’m sorry if you’ve come looking for that silver bullet to magically get OFSTED off your back. I’m afraid I’m not about to tell you.

Or at least, I can tell you, individually, what you, as an individual, individually, MIGHT want to do. You may or may not get a 1, but I can probably point to a whole bunch of things you should be doing in a given ESOL lesson. First up, you have up to date and “living” ILPs, i.e. the learners know absolutely what their targets are and these are linked in some way, if not to the lesson at hand, then to the scheme of work at some point around the lesson. You need a proper scheme of work, you need a lesson plan to show the observer that you haven’t just made it up on the fly based on immediate assessment of learner needs (the FE establishment does not smile upon dogme, indeed, most of FE, even the bit that calls itself ESOL, doesn’t know what it is). You must have learning outcomes, SMART as you can, and the learners MUST know what they are and MUST be able to reflect on them (smiley faces will do at a pinch): be aware that there is no room for emergent language in the UK ESOL classroom unless carefully recorded and reflected upon, because a) learners need to know what they have been exposed to so they can, hopefully, do something more about it after the lesson, and b) you will get asked something like “but how do you know they had learned?” as if evidence of doing someone once in a lesson was evidence of learning. (It’s not, by the way, but again, the establishment is still catching up on that one.) It is evidence of a stage on the way to learning though, so there are no excuses for not doing this, and checking this at the end of the lesson…

Oh look, I’m very sorry, but none of this is going to guarantee you a grade 1. However, if you are asking what makes a grade one ESOL lesson, then you are asking the wrong question. I get asked that question a lot, or at least something related, like “how do I not get a 4 again?” and it’s doing my head in. Yes, graded observations suck: stressful, unproductive and largely antithetical to professional development. Hopefully the tide is turning against graded observations, but getting a practice that longstanding changed is going to be a toughie. Until then, there are some things which are expected of you and you can’t get away with just throwing them out there on observation day. So you’re just going to have do it: suck it up, and live with it. Apologies for the arrogance, but I reckon I know pretty much every argument both for and against everything you dislike in ESOL, and by and large there is very little you can do about it.

What you really really need to do, the rigorous and robust action plan you really need to put into place is to practice some rigorous honesty and develop some robust guts. Look properly at what you do, and look at it with principle. Actually reflect properly and actually make changes properly. Don’t just look at things from your point of view, try to imagine how it would feel to be a student in front of you. How are they feeling? They are giving up their time and, in some cases, their money to come and sit in front of you and you are spending two hours boring them shitless waffling at them incoherently about the third conditional. Ditto expected practices like target setting. It is now So embedded in definitions of good practice that you have to do it, there is little or no room for discussion or debate with the powers that be.

Oh and while we’re here, don’t blame the students for things not working, not because it’s never to do with them, but because the vast majority of the time it isn’t. Also while we’re on blame, don’t blame the interactive whiteboard, or the markers running out, or the temperature of the room, the direction of the wind, or the huge spot growing on your chin. If you’re getting cross with stuff like this then you are almost certainly not concentrating on the thing you need to be concentrating on: to whit, you.

Anyone can read a book, or listen to advice, but if you want to get better, then you want to start by looking critically at you. Stop obsessing over the grade and approach your practice with principle. An observer should have sound reasons for their comments, but before you can criticise them for not doing so, what about you? Do you know why you did things they way you did? Yes, the observation is about the learning, but would you like to take a guess at the single biggest influence on classroom learning over which you have any control? It’s you, just you. Only you can change that.


One comment

  1. I really wish bad teachers stopped blaming the environment. They are bad because they don’t recognise their own constraints and lack of preparation. It really is my pet hate.

    Obviously I can’t mention to said teachers otherwise they will be hyper critical and incredibly defensive. Anyhow, good points mentioned for almost all observations to be honest.

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