How to observe lessons: advice for training teachers

Author: Lorna Smith
Published: 05/08/2019

Lesson observations while training

In the early days of your training, your initial observations of others’ teaching can be bewildering, as there’s just so much going on. You might find it easier if you take some points from one or two of the headings below as focal points for each lesson, and cover them all over a sequence of lessons rather than trying to do it all in one go. You’re making the task manageable. Stay flexible, however, and be ready to re-focus if you see something interesting going on.

Classroom management

Watch how the teacher brings a class into the room: 

  • Is there 'meeting and greeting'? Do students automatically slip into drilled behaviour and actions, like getting out books or folders, taking out materials, or do they have to be told? Can you identify any teacher behaviours that say clearly to students, 'You're in my space now, and it's for learning'?

  • Is there something for the class to do immediately they enter the room (e.g. a starter activity on their desks, an interesting image on the board)?

  • How does the teacher gain the attention of the class?

  • How does the teacher deal with questions from students before the lesson proper begins? Does s/he spend time on theme there and then, or ask them to wait until later in the lesson?

  • How are resources and teaching materials distributed?

  • Evaluate the 'classroom climate' – does it feel purposeful. Is there a strong teacher presence? Is there a strong sense that we're going to get on with things quickly, but without rushing?

  • There may be some behaviour management issues to be dealt with. How are they managed?

Management of learning

If it's possible and appropriate, ask to see the lesson plan:

  • How is the lesson designed to ensure progression? Is it related to assessment objectives, or assessment foci, or to attainment targets? Does the teacher share these with students? ls what it is that they will learn during the lesson? How? Is the statement of intended learning re-visited during the lesson?

  • Is there evidence of a differentiated approach to meet the needs of individual pupils? How is it managed? (Look particularly at pupils with SEN or EAL requirements). 

  • In what ways is the lesson structured and sequenced?

  • How would you describe the pace of the lesson?

  • How are changes of activity ('transitions') managed?

  • Are instructions clear? How does the teacher check that the instructions have been understood?

  • Are approaches varied, with different activities, and move between whole-class, pair and group work, for example?

  • How does the teacher manage feedback to students? What evidence can you see of praise and reward? Is there evidence of ongoing teacher assessment, or of invitations to pupils to peer- or to self-assess?

Questions for you to ask yourself after every observed lesson

  • Did learning take place? Did every student learn something?

  • Was the learning as specified in the lesson plan / learning intention?

  • How do you and the teacher know that the learning was effective? How was the learning assessed?

After the lesson

Always try to have a discussion with the teacher as soon as possible after the lesson. Be very tactful, particularly if there were any behaviour management issues. Try a formula like, 'I was interested in the way you managed X. What's the best way to deal with a student like that?'

Find something positive for a comment – 'I really liked the way they just automatically moved into groups', and remember to thank them! 

Lorna Smith

Lorna Smith is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Bristol where she teaches on the English PGCE course.