Planning

Planning – it’s a love/hate thing.

I like planning lessons, that is, I enjoy planning lessons and thinking about what I might do in that lesson, and coming up with interesting ways of teaching something, or practising a skill, or eliciting a language point, or whatever. I like making or finding or developing a resource. I like thinking about how I am going to make sure I can keep everyone engaged and learning. I like planning.

I hate Planning. I hate the boxes, the “have you thought about whichever governmental whim you are supposed to be embedding”, the “we don’t expect extensive planning but we expect you to show us how you will differentiate for the individual needs of your students” double standards. I hate the hair splitting “ooh, your learning outcome isn’t smart enough, and if you reword ‘write 5 sentences using past simple’ as ‘use past simple to write 5 sentences’ you will be fine” (because students couldn’t give a stuff, because all they really understand is that they will be learning about past simple. Although they can’t self assess against that learning outcome until you teach them what it is…). I hate the stupid “assessment” box. Yes, it does look like I copy & paste, because I do, because I use checking in pairs, self assessing against the answers on the whiteboard, teacher marking and all the rest of it most of the time. I hate the tedious, mechanistic “input > output” simplicity a lesson plan form suggests, as if by achieving said learning outcomes, and assessing said learning outcomes means something. It doesn’t. It means the student achieved that once. Whether or not that outcome is now automatically achievable in any setting is highly unlikely.

I hate the way I find it ard to fiddle with a formal lesson plan and make changes at the last minute, even though I will happily chuck the entire lesson out at the last minute for an exciting but semi-formed idea if, and this is important, if the lesson is not being observed.

But actually, of course, what I really hate is that I have an ok set of lessons for the next few days, but they are missing something and I can’t put my finger on it. And there is no form in the world going to help me there.

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Mrs Khan Goes to the Post Office

It’s generally assumed, it’s safe to say, that ESOL courses should be “relevant to students’ day to day lives”, perhaps more so than any other area of ELT. The ostensible intention of any kind of language education for immigrant population is enabling interaction with the target language society and culture, which leads to a functional/situational model of course design, built around lessons on practical, “everyday” contexts: going to the shops, interacting with the doctor, that sort of thing: what I call the “Mrs Khan goes to the post office” school of course planning. 

The challenge however, is around the definition of “relevance”, which is an entirely subjective concept: what does it mean to say that something is relevant to learners lives, exactly? My interpretation, based on what I know of my students, may be different to that of someone reviewing my scheme of work, who may have some knowledge, but not necessarily as much as me, and certainly will have a slightly different interpretation of “relevant”. An inspector, or other outside observer, may have another interpretation of what is relevant to learners lives, particularly if they are an OFSTED inspector with a focus on governmental priorities and how these are relevant to the learners: basically being a) (more) economically active and b) good little non-critical citizens, grateful for their lot.

A lot of the time, Mrs Khan going to the post office, Kasia talking to the doctor, Mr Wu complaining about his new shoes, or Alessandro talking to his daughter’s teacher are entirely relevant and useful things to cover. I’d love to find or develop some good low level resources for the last one, in fact, as it often comes up when I talk to students about what they want to cover on a course. The trouble with these things, as with any situational syllabus, is twofold. Firstly they are inaccurate representations of real interactions, and second, they are potentially limiting as course design constructs, particularly as students’ language gets more advanced.

The inaccuracy issue is obvious, when you think about it. Go into any service situation, for example, and the interactions are rarely as they appear in published materials. In Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy’s book, Exploring Spoken English they record a series of actual dialogues in real settings, and show that instead of being purely transactional, as in the mind of most teachers and materials writers, service conversations are a mix of transaction (getting things done) and interaction (exchanging pleasantries about the weather, that sort of thing. Even when operating in a second language, or even operating multilingually, this blend of interactional and transactional intention is possible: consider how quickly and naturally our own students drift from task focussed, controlled practice of target language to social focussed conversation, switching between languages as necessary. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t necessarily use these simplified, unnatural transactional dialogues, often because we need the authentic context to engage students, and set up a lesson for a specific language point: ask for the location of something in a supermarket, and you’re more likely to be given an aisle number or even shown directly where it is, than be given tidy directions or prepostitions, but you’re just setting up a lesson on prepositions of place, not making a real claim to be teaching “authentic” language in a real context. This isn’t making it relevant, or meaningful, it’s just taking away the uncertainty of the unfamiliar. 

Even if we do include these fake “real life” conversations, as we should, we can’t restrict course content to them. Anyone who has tried teaching ESOL for employment will recognise the limitations of tying everything to a limited context. The imposed restricted context of these courses leads either to particular language areas not being taught because they don’t fit, or awful shoehorning of contexts which are, if anything, less meaningful to students: adjectives to describe people for example, could be covered in a work setting (“you are looking for a new colleague. Describe her to your partner.”) but good grief is it ever strained, as compared to talking about family or people we know. This applies to any “real life” setting, good to a point, but sometimes, often perhaps, you need to go off the wall a little, and cover something outside of students’ experiences. As they get better and better, you end up needing to cover things outside the immediate reality simply because the language demands it: try limiting second conditional to “real life” and you’re pretty much onto a loser. The negative impact of these limitations is not necessarily reason to avoid these functional settings. Far from it, but we must acknowledge the inauthenticity, indeed, accept that there is nothing terribly “real” about a language teaching dialogue. 

I wonder if sometimes teachers just assume that the learners want language to be set in “real life” contexts: perhaps something of a hangover from ESOL’s association with adult literacy programmes where making it relevant may have been partly to offset reluctance or nervousness around literacy learning for adults. I think that while ESOL learners recognise the pragmatism of such an approach, I think they often lack this kind of motivational barrier: it’s probably pretty safe to say that the motivation of many, perhaps most ESOL learners is pretty high, and they quickly acquire and come to expect an explicit focus on grammar. There’s also the influence from our training, focussed on communicative language teaching, language learning should be about making meaningful communication; and which encourages us to set lessons into a context. Having “real life” as our consistent context is an easy way to satisfy both of these learned responses. Context does not have to be linked to students’ reality, mind you, and actually contexts can arise out of the language, rather than the the language out of the context: teaching discrete, decontextualised sentences to illustrate a grammar point, for example and then getting students to suggest the context after the fact can be an interesting and engaging way to work with language. 

I’ll admit, gladly, that I’m as guilty as the next person of this sort of thing. I like to use topics as an organising principle, and tend to pick these topics from “real life” whatever that actually is, usually in conjunction with the students. What happens within those topics, mind you, is anybody’s guess: I tend to select listening or reading texts based around those contexts, vocabulary arising in them, and on the opportunities for grammar teaching that the context suggests. But then I also see a scheme of work as not so much a moveable feast, but rather a rough guide to be adapted and revised as appropriate, even ignored and abandoned, and so while Mrs Khan may get involved in a discussion about good shops and bad shops, experiences with the doctor, read about money, listen to a text about someone’s life history, learn about present continuous by describing a video, or practice present simple in the context of “a day in the life of a toaster”, she is unlikely to go to the post office.

It’s all about the plan.

It’s been a while since I blogged about planning, but it’s one of those things that comes back again and again. After all, planning is one of those things that suffuses every part of our jobs, it’s just that teachers, and their observers, have a habit of conflating planning lessons with “filling in forms appropriately” which are two different things. Remember, the primary purpose of a plan for a reasonably experienced teacher during any sort of formal observation is to show that the events in your lesson are not happy accidents, but things which happened because you wanted the students to achieve a specific learning aim (remember what I was saying about half-assed definitions of student-centred?) Keep this in mind, and things get a whole lot easier.

Anyway, by way of structure for a post, I thought I would work my way left to right across a “classic” lesson plan, covering the various things which people need to think about during planning. Consider this not so much as a how to, or a top tips, but rather as a series of roughly linked ramblings. After all, I don’t really do Best Practice, indeed, rarely do I go for good practice. I just go for  “practice” and hope for the best.

LEARNING OUTCOMES/OBJECTIVES/WHATEVER

These tend to come at the top of the page, and heaven knows I’m critical of the obsession with performance goals over learning goals, but still, there does need to be a point to the lesson. These can be things like practice a set of skills, for example, or learn a language point, whatever, as long as you remember, once decided, to rephrase them as SMART outcomes in order to keep those who believe in such things happy. I always think there’s a bit of a weird conspiracy cycle here where everybody says “do smart outcomes because my manager thinks they’re good” probably all the way up several tiers of management until you find someone who actually thinks that “write five sentences using present perfect” is evidence of learning anything. Still, it’s a hoop through which we must jump, so let’s work with it. If you are struggling with this, my tip, unofficially, of course, is to start with an aim or two (practice reading for gist and detail, say, or use present perfect for experience) then write the lesson plan out. Once this is done, and this is crucial, you identify where in the lesson you ostensibly show that the students have learned those things. From there you create your specific outcomes: will be able to read a text and identify at least five details (don’t make it too specific, mind you…. Yes, I know, I know), will be able to answer five questions using present perfect to describe experience, and so on. It’s a cynical manipulation, perhaps, but hey, it works for me.

TIMING

I’ve got to admit, this section is probably my most pointless section, and absolutely always done for the observer. I used to time lessons CELTA style, (3 minutes, 5 minutes, etc.) but have long since abandoned this in favour of clumping together groups of task into 30-45 minute chunks. This is largely psychological: I know, consciously, that if I write 10 minutes on a plan, then this is not tying. However, on a subconscious level this makes me anxious, and I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter, which makes me more anxious, and I slowly retreat into an internalised vicious circle of worry. So I stopped with the whole ten minute timing thing. (But don’t do this on CELTA kids…) The paper planning, if you like, was getting in the way of the actual planning, so I stopped.

PROCEDURE

Sometimes this is divided into teacher activity and learner activity, sometimes it’s just “teaching and learning activity”. Personally I prefer the latter, because when I have the two columns I tend to write “teacher sets up activity” in the first, then actually write a description of the activity in the second. My top tip here is to write the lesson plan from the point of view of the student. Training courses tend to concentrate on teachers, because duh, developing teachers is what training courses are about, and some teachers need to write extensively about what they will be doing during a lesson (bloody narcissists, always writing about themselves!) However, I know that for me, I always write about what the students will be doing first, then fit in my bits round that. I do get moments of fear when I see someone planning a lesson which has things like teacher does X, Y, Z, shows this, explains that, etc. but then says “students listen” or (on a beginner lesson plan) “students listen and take notes”. Don’t get me wrong, I know telling people stuff can work, just not when you aren’t interacting with them, which rather neatly brings me to the next column.

ASSESSMENT

Sometimes this is assessment for learning, which ought to give you a clue. Top of my facepalm moments here is when someone writes Q&A. I mean really? What does that actually mean? To me, it means “I have no idea what to write here but it was OK on my non-specialist PGCE, so I’ll sling it here. Asking some sort of concept checking question, perhaps, with some built in peer discussion before managed feedback, then absolutely. But actually this is terribly straightforward: if you are walking the room, checking what students are doing, giving feedback as appropriate, then duh, that’s assessment. If you are asking students to check answers with a partner that’s assessment. If you are taking in work and marking it, that’s assessment. Piece of cake. And if you thing teaching is just telling people stuff from the front without checking it, then you don’t deserve to be doing it.

RESOURCES

I’m going to be controversial now and say these should be the very last thing to worry about. Whenever I’ve coached people and they’ve started off with “well I want to use this resource” I just want to curl up and die.  You know that they are not going to take kindly to suggestions like “why don’t you change that activity” because that will mean the agony of perhaps not relying on a handout designed to be as homogenous and dull as can be imagine. This is how you do it: three simple questions, in this order:

  1. What do I want students to learn?
  2. How can this best be done? What activities might enable this?
  3. What resources do I need to help me?

More often than not it goes the other way round. which is so very very wrong. I’m not saying that a published resource might not give you a better idea, or an interesting new slant on the activity, nor that published resources are rubbish. You just select the resource to match the lesson.

CURRICULUM REFERENCES

Really? You still have to put this? Sorry, nothing I can do to help you, except encourage you to make up a couple of new core curriculum references, just to see if anyone is checking.

BUT WAIT:

NONE OF THIS MATTERS

None of the paperwork, the planning,  the careful trackers, the schemes, absolutely none of it matters unless what you plan turns into a useful, meaningful and effective chunk of teaching and learning. Look at this way, if you get pulled up on skimpy planning this is an easy if frustrating fix. Get pulled up on shonky learning, and you’re looking down the barrel of a long and probably stressful process, especially if your institution hasn’t been able to move out of the Dark Ages and still grades lessons. Quite frankly, you’re far far better off planning light but planning well: just write what you need to remember, maybe add a couple of bits for an observer to show you’re not winging, then go and teach a lesson. Spend time thinking about the students, thinking about creative & engaging lesson ideas, thinking about careful assessment, and useful, relevant content. Don’t waste a disproportionate amount of time (i.e. ten minutes) thinking about the myriad bloody boxes in a word document.
Because when it comes to planning lessons, it’s not about the plan, it’s all about the lesson.

By the end of the lesson…

On Monday, I delivered a reading lesson. I’m quite pleased with the materials, and with the level of analysis involved – reading a pair of texts for gist & detail, then a really meaty dig into the language used – connotation, metaphor, rhetorical questions and collocations. (By the way, the question about man or woman writer was just to get the students to think.)

So here’s a question. Two questions, in fact.

What, exactly, did the students learn?

How did I know this?

To put it another way, what were the learning outcomes? You can see the resources, and therefore the shape of the lesson – have a look and think about it first.

Ready?

This is what I said:

  1. read at least one text and be able to identify the gist
  2. read at least one text and be able to extract grammatical and lexical detail
  3. identify how we can use linguistic features like connotation, metaphor and rhetorical questions to achieve an effect
  4. develop a better understanding of collocations and their meaning.

 

On the face of it, perhaps, the first two are OK and unremarkable (we could say how many details per student, to make it more measurable), but the last two would leave me open to criticism – not particularly measurable and lacking in specificness (because when it comes to SMART the only ones which generally count from an audit perspective are the first two).

We didn’t get round to the collocations, but the metaphors, rhetorical questions and connotations provided plenty of focus for the lesson. What was lacking, I first thought, was an opportunity to put this sort of awareness into practice – we had lots of “input” but limited practice. Thequestion, I think, is to ask what kind of practice would have been appropriate. One activity might have been a series of discussion questions to personalise the vocabulary uncovered in the lesson, although I’m not sure what they would have been: “Have you ever plundered a village after a battle?” “Did you slash your budget when they stopped your benefits?” “Are you moderate or fundamental in your religious views? Why?” etc. (I am being facetious, of course.) Perhaps something around reviewing short texts for other, similar examples. Then again, however, I think the lesson was around awareness raising and moving forward with new vocabulary and the skills to deal with new vocabulary and new images, awareness that a writer may well be playing games with you, applying subtle (or not so subtle) tricks to develop ideas more effectively. There was also a sense of learning about the hidden culture of a language: the use of violent and criminal imagery when discussing politics and finance, for example, or the well meaning jargon of aspiration and opportunity employed by public sector employees and journalists. Not all of this is easily “extractable”, and is often a combination of linguistic features, and perhaps there is no place here for application, not in terms of making the tasks achievable and realistic for Level 2 ESOL students, only for evaluation and analysis. Not yet, anyway. 

At the end of the lesson I asked the students to think about what they had learned in the lesson. They wrote down things like these:

All good – focussing on the language we looked at. What was really striking was that without prompting and reminding the students didn’t consider the reading as part of the learning, despite the clear outcomes shared at the start. I could have reviewed them with the students more carefully, but I suspect that this would simply have been parroted back to me in the student feedback activity.

All of which brings me back round to the learning outcomes themselves. I was tempted, in an attempt at micro-rebellion,  to write on my scheme of work for the lesson a super-SMART outcome for the lesson: “Students will be able to read two texts on ESOL policy and identify 8 details from those texts, and those texts alone” This, after all, would be the only reading outcome we could honest say has been evidenced as part of the lesson. It would not have worked had the outcomes been reviewed. “Too descriptive,” an observer would say, “What are the students going to be able to do as a result of that activity?” “be able to do”? I don’t know. I know that this group of students can read a text and make sense of it already. Therefore the lesson was merely giving them practice in it, so “students will have had practice in reading a text. etc.” would have been a much more honest outcome. This would have come under fire, of course: “it’s not SMART. Where is the evidence of learning? It’s not enough just to practice – you need to supply evidence that something has been learned.”

I could have not had the reading outcome at all, perhaps, and focussed on the language analysis later on, but again, my erstwhile observer would have (rightly) slammed me on this one too: “You should have had a reading outcome as well for a two hour lesson where students spend over a third of that time reading.” And round and round we go.

My students were right, of course. The texts were primarily a way into the language, but not the primary aim of the lessons. Learning outcomes are knotty like that – the quest for evidence of learning can make the expression of that learning problematic. After all, the only real evidence I have of the students’ reading skills is that they can read those two texts, not that they are capable of universally applying those skills in any setting. And with language, particularly complex, idiomatic language, it can be hard to evidence an understanding without applying that language, but sometimes application of that language can be hard, or even unrealistic, and even when it is apparently possible, it still doesn’t mean that the students have learned anything in a replicable manner. 

That’s not to say a lesson shouldn’t have clear aims/objectives/outcomes. I like my unplugged lessons, and there is always room for emergent language in lessons, but there needs to be a balance between these and more clearly focussed lessons. But the semantics and purpose of outcomes needs to be evaluated and considered more carefully rather than the usual blind acceptance we go for. 

Gnarly: Adrenaline Teaching and Learning

It’s funny really. Give me an empty week and a bunch of things to do in that week and I’ve got to be honest my productivity won’t be brilliant. That’s not strictly true: the stuff will get done, of course it will, but I will inevitably be left with a slight sense of “surely I could have done more?” At the time of writing, however, I am definitely not looking at an empty week. Next week is an Internal Quality Review – essentially a mock inspection – for our department, during which time I am also looking down the barrel of my own graded observation. I’m also not the only one. There are several teachers in the department also under threat of graded obs, as well as a general “crumbs, evaluative observers!” feeling on every level in the team. 

As I’ve said before, I wear multiple hats at work, a little teacher training, a whole lot of teaching ESOL students and a significant chunk of mentoring/teacher development. This does still create tensions, but if I’m honest I generally find these quite creative, productive tensions. However, this places some responsibility on me to support fellow teachers at times like this, as well as get my stuff together for my own observations, plus a slight backlog on general day to day planning and so on owing to a colleague being off sick, things are feeling a bit, well, busy, shall we say. 
Thing is, busy is good. Busy is good for me. Not mentally over-stretched like I felt last year (if that’s a sign of weakness in your book, you know where you can stick that book), but busy with things I largely understand. I have about two and a half working days til the first lesson of the observation window, with only one or two significant gaps in which to get my shit together. This is partly due to bits of time before now being taken up with some cover, partly because I reach whole new heights (depths?) of non-productivity when I try to do anything more complex than marking when I’m at home, and, as I said, partly because when I do have the time, I never feel like I quite use it properly. But this pressure really focuses the brain, and the sensation is really rather satisfying, almost pleasurable, in fact. 
Take my evening class today, for example. I’d planned a lesson on the scheme of work as I sometimes do, thinking “I know what I want to do that day, but I’m not sure what resources to use yet” (remember kids, don’t let the resources tail wag the lesson dog) and then reaching the hour before and being acutely aware that I still hadn’t found the resources. In that same hour, I had to invigilate an assessment, so could only really partly get my head round what I wanted to do. In fact, the detailed lesson and plan all fell into place in a very clear, focussed 25 minutes during which, as an added top bonus, a colleague asked if she could come peer observe me. Obviously I said yes to the colleague, but I did need to get myself out of the room and really really get my head on the case: at times like this I get a bit flouncy, and at the same time a bit terse; basically a bit of a diva. The lesson, you may be pleased to hear, was very satisfying all round. Many positive student comments and only a teensy little bit of winging it/padding at the end (mini whiteboards in pairs and 1 minute to find answers to questions like “who can find a synonym for…?” etc.) because the main task overran and the follow up task needed more than 15 minutes for some decent learning to happen. 
There is a big chunk of arrogance and self assuredness at play here. I know I can knock together all the necessary paperwork, for example, pull my socks up on my schemes, polish my learning outcomes and generally get on it. I know I can do all this and spend time supporting people. I know that when the supporting people bit is done, I will batten down the hatches, lock the doors and get the bulk of the prep done, I also know, however, that if I write a full lesson plan at this point for a lesson next Wednesday, the lesson I teach with it will go to pieces. 

A more important factor than arrogance, however, is the adrenaline rush, insofar as teaching can be described as a high adrenaline activity. I think I get a little bit of a buzz out of the slight sense of danger that it could all go horribly wrong. Rather than inducing fear and panic, somehow it helps me stay centred and focussed. It’s not the wisest philosophy ever, but it works, and I rather like it. 

Processs, Product and The Perfect Lesson Planning Form

I’ve been experimenting with the five minute lesson plan recently. I’m not in the mood to add links, but it is very easy to come by: just Google it. Basically it’s a single page lesson planning proforma with lots of boxes and arrows which you complete by hand. It’s been formally approved at college as a possible lesson plan for observations, so I thought I would give it a try. To be honest, it’s got a bit of work to go on it. Most of the page is taken up with stuff about the lesson, leaving not much room for detail about what is going to happen in the lesson itself, which for me rather defeats the object. I mean, the point of a lesson plan is to help you to decide what is going to happen in the lesson and when it is going to happen. The clue is in the name, right? Well, perhaps.

The Big Kahuna Form
This is the traditional full fat one you use for lesson observations. You know, it probably has lots of boxes for things like learning outcomes, timing, teacher activity, learner activity, differentiation, assessment, self evaluation/reflection (which I usually just delete: why use a box when you have a blog?). It’s probably got some checklists on it for things like equality and diversity, embedding maths and English, all that stuff. The thing I like about this is its ability to spell out to an observer precisely why I am doing something in class. LOOK, it says, THIS IS THE DIFFERENTIATION BIT. AND THIS IS WHERE I AM EMBEDDING SOME MATHS. AND THIS IS THE ASSESSMENT BIT. AND IT’S NOT JUST A LUCKY ACCIDENT. This is what this plan is for, for me, anyway.

The Five Minute Lesson Plan
If the Big Kahuna is full fat, this is semi-skimmed. There’s still space for stuff like assessment and differentiation, but you’re supposed to be able to fill it in by hand, in no more than five minutes. A nice idea, and I think with a bit of tweaking, this could work, although I like the idea of a lesson plan for an observation being a bit more “in your face” in its approach to showing an observer why you are doing things. When done well, it gives them, and you, nowhere to hide.

The Blank Piece of Paper Plan
Also known as the “back of yesterday’s handout” plan, or the “tapped out using the Notes app on my phone on the train” plan. You are probably thinking that for me, most formal lesson plans for are not so much there for my benefit, as for the benefit of showing to an observer that I know what I am doing. You’d be right: my preferred planning document is indeed a blank piece of paper. Usually it starts off as a few bullet points, aims in the top margin if necessary, then decorated with swirls and arrows and comments and extra bits, and crossings out and so on.

The No Piece of Paper Plan

This is where the lesson arrives fully formed in your head,or simply that the stages are so clear, or familiar, there is just no point in writing them down. It’s unusual, for me. Like I say, the process of writing helps me to plan. But for some people this can work and does work well.

Processes & Products

There is a distinction here between planning as a process and a plan as product. Planning on a blank piece of paper is a process, a way of thinking through what is going to happen, whereas the formal plan is more often a product. I’m not allowed to pace the office talking to myself, which is my other way of thinking things through (*call me an auditory-kinaesthetic learner, however, and you and I will have to step outside for a Quiet Chat) so I am limited to scrawling notes on pieces of paper. Very often I will never look at the plan during the lesson: it is the act of planning which is important for me, not the plan itself. That said, I don’t do one plan for the observer and another for me, because that, to be honest, is just stupid. If you can find time to do this then you can find time to plan a better lesson. If the situation requires a full fat plan, then I plan straight onto there and print it out for the lesson.

I suspect that no plan suits everybody all the time, partly because if there were it would have made its way round the world by now. This, for me, is a good thing, because it shows up the diversity of not only the different types of lessons and learners we teach, but also the diversity of who we are as teachers. What works for me may not work for you. What works for me teaching a teacher training session may not work for me when I am teaching an ESOL class. What works for me with Level 2 ESOL may not work for me with Beginners.What works for me on Monday may not work for me on Thursday.

Isn’t that wonderful?

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On-plan, off-plan?

So yes, planning. I blogged last week about planning lessons and so I thought here’s time for another one. It stems from a conversation I had with a teacher earlier this week about two bits of feedback they had got. The first was that in an observation she had gone off plan and the observer felt she should have stuck with the plan. In the second, the observer felt that the lesson would have gone better if it had gone off plan.

There are two points here.

The first is this: lesson observation in a professional context is a stressful one, even when it is developmental as part of a probationary process. That stress can, and does, make teachers behave differently. One gambles on a hunch quite a lot when teaching a lesson (or we can call it reflection-in-action if you want to hang a naff quasi-psychological term on it). Something appears to be going wrong with the planned activities, so you make a change to the lesson. Fair enough. But during an observed lesson, at least one which is linked to performance management systems, the pressure changes. Do you play your hunch or do you stick to the plan? It takes a lot of guts to gamble in this context, even though the gamble might be the right thing to do. I couldn’t tell you know exactly how I would react, although I think I am confident enough now to play my hunches.

The second point is around the feedback. The two bits of feedback here are based on two different lessons and as such are entirely different reflections on entirely different lessons. The trouble with observation feedback sometimes is that it is hard for the observee to separate out feedback on that lesson from suggestions about what one should always do. (By the same measure it is also hard for an observer to separate out what is “normal” in your classroom and what is “just happening on that day” but I can tell you now that if you try something for the first time during an observed lesson then it will show up like a flashing light.) When getting feedback you need to clarify whether something is a general point of practice, or whether it’s just that day. When I give feedback like this, I make a point of saying “in this lesson…” versus “in general…” because that helps teachers reflect and develop more.

Recommendations based on a single lesson observation need to be developed and worked to see if they are general principles that the teacher can apply or specific suggestions applicable to that lesson alone. Some of that is the responsibility of the observer to say which it is (although I would challenge any observer to lay out that any practice is a universally applicable practice), but mostly it is the responsibility of the teacher to take on the feedback and try the changes, even the ones they are unconvinced by, and decide their own system of practice. Learning about teaching should be a process of examination, exploration and experimentation: observation can help that in so many useful ways that to rely on unexplored absolutes applies false expectations to that process.