Cambridge Train the Trainer – Week 6

This is part of the series Cambridge Train the Trainer.

What do trainers look for when observing? This is a pretty big question, something I have read a lot on over the last few years. The answer is… well, many things. It really is largely dependent on the context and purpose of the observation. Another question that is sometimes asked is, ‘should teachers submit a plan?’ and ‘what should be included in a plan?’. Again, largely dependent on the purpose of the observation. This week we looked at these points in some detail, and we also carried out an observation, with feedback given on both the lesson plan and the observation itself.

To lesson plan or not…

So from my experience as both a teacher and trainer, I can say confidently that 99% of teachers are never over the moon to be writing detailed lesson plans. Especially if they are assessed. So why do we get teachers to write lesson plans? Here are but a few reasons:

  • They provide the teacher with an opportunity to show their ‘teacher’ thinking. We all know that lessons never really go exactly to plan, however as we become more proficient as teachers, we learn what is likely to occur, what troubles or learning opportunities may or may not present themselves, and what we can, should or should not do in these situations. The plan allows teachers to show this.
  • They allow the trainer time to gauge what they may or may not need to look for. When trainers look at a plan, we like to look at things like interaction patterns, lesson aims, possible problems and solutions, etc. as this helps us get an idea about things such as how teacher-centred the lesson might be, or how well the transitions between activities are going to be, or even if the activities and tasks are linked appropriately. It’s basically our mini time machine that we utilise to look into the future and get a rough idea of what we might need to pay more attention to.
  • They give teachers time to think. So, this may sound a little strange, but lesson plans encourage teacher thinking. Which, in turn (we hope), gets teachers to focus on their teaching, their lessons and their learners and how they might be improved. Almost like forced reflection and forethought.

As always, however, where there are pros there are cons. So, why shouldn’t teachers plan? Here are the main reasons that I have heard over the last few years.

  • Time. Do we really have time to plan for this observation? Are we not already stressed enough as it is?
  • Reality. Teachers do not plan extensively for every lesson they teach, so why do it for observations?
  • Reactive teaching. Many teachers will say that they should not plan because they like to change the plan during the lesson, often using the words ‘reactive teaching’ to express this.

Each of these are ‘valid’ in their own way, however I will go out on a limb here and say that plans are very much necessary and worthwhile as development tools, but it depends on the PURPOSE of the observation. Not all observations need a detailed plan, just as not all observations need to be done by a trainer. Anyone looking to include observations in a development programme should take this into consideration.

What goes in the plan?

Ok, so let’s say we are doing a formal observation for development purposes. What would I have my teachers include in their plans (or the template that I provide)? Well, my ideas were very much the same as those provided by the trainers on the course:

  • Lesson timing and general information (room, start time, etc.)
  • Class profile
  • Teacher’s development points
  • Lesson focus: Primary and secondary aims
  • Timetable fit
  • Language analysis
  • Anticipated problems and solutions
  • Procedure
  • Materials

What about you? Is there anything else you would expect to see in a formal observation?

Carrying out the observation

As I mentioned previously, we carried out an observation this week as well. We watched a teacher named Kate and all gave feedback on her lesson plan and the lesson itself. I won’t go into detail about the feedback, but I would like to talk briefly about the experience. I recently completed a short course on observation with Jeanette Barsdell, and so I felt I was really prepared for this week, and indeed I was. I still thought it was brilliant to be able to do a group observation with other trainers – always very enlightening and something I recommend all trainer to do with each other or with teachers themselves! I found reading other trainers’ comments quite interesting. I think it is very easy for us to pick out what is wrong with a lesson, but really we should also be looking to identify what was done well. And encourage that behaviour. I think this is where practising doing this, and then writing the feedback for this is really important. A must-do activity for all trainers!

Can you think of any questions you have after this week’s activities?

It is not so much a question that I want answered to have a definitive answer. More so, it is a topic that I would like to get other trainers’ opinions on. Should trainers help out at all in observations. If so, what, when and how? I’m really interested in hearing your responses!

That’s all for this week everyone. I hope you all have a lovely week – I will keep you updated!

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