Observing for Impact

Training materials aligned to the 2019 Ofsted Inspection Handbook

How to observe lessons – observing for impact

It is easy to get distracted in planning lesson observations and to focus on what the teacher is planning or doing.
This can often lead to over complex observation sheets, checklists and criteria that endeavour to capture and grade everything that is happening during the lesson, even sometimes against a timeline.
Instead of looking at the teaching – look at the learning.

The one key issue that needs to be resolved during a lesson observation is simply:

What learning is taking place?

Teaching can only be good or better if the learning for all learners is good or better
Whilst this may seem like a simple question it is, clearly, much more complex than it might appear.

What do we mean by ‘learning’?

One approach to this is to ask, ‘what is it that the learners know, understand or can do that was not the case at the beginning of the lesson?’
Learning may include new knowledge, understanding or skills, the consolidation and application of existing knowledge, understanding and skills, or a combination of both.

Which learners are making progress in their learning?

The goal is for all learners to make good progress in their learning during the lesson. They may start at different points of knowledge, skills and understanding, but we want them all to make good progress from their individual starting points. We therefore need to focus on different groups and individuals during an observation to see who is making how much progress.

How challenged are the learners in the lesson and how well do they respond to this challenge?

If learners are to make good progress there needs to be an appropriate level of challenge to their thinking and understanding, as well as in the work tasks set. This may look different for different groups of learners in the lesson, but the challenge needs to be sufficient and achievable for all. The level of response of learners to the challenges they face is part of the accountability of the teacher and the management of behaviour.

How aware are the learners of their challenge and the progress they are making?

To achieve good progress is it usual for learners to be aware of the challenges they face in their work and to be able to talk about the learning progress they are making. If they cannot do this we need to look extremely carefully at other evidence for their learning.

How does the learning in the current lesson fit into the bigger picture and sequence of work?

Few lessons can be seen in isolation. A lesson is usually part of a sequence, and the learning therefore needs to be seen as a process over time. This is why it is important, if not essential, for the observer to know where this lesson fits into the larger sequence to make a rounded judgement about the effectiveness of the learning over time. We do this by talking to learners and asking them about the precedents to this lesson, looking back at past work with them, and assessing their awareness of the wider context of their own achievement.

It is only when the questions above have been resolved and evidenced that the teaching can be evaluated as follows.

Where learning is good or better (for all or some learners):

  • Which strategies, resources and support are creating this good learning?
  • Which of these are making the most impact, and on which learners?
  • How might the learning be even better, and what might enable this to happen?

Where learning is satisfactory or weaker (for some or all learners):

  • Which strategies, resources or support are limiting the learners’ progress?
  • Which needs of learners are not being sufficiently well met?
  • How might the learning be better, and what might enable this to happen?

Of course, there may be evidence of some learners making good or better progress in the lesson and others making satisfactory or weak progress in the same lesson. The resolution of these questions forms the basis of the feedback or conversation with the teacher after the observation, whatever the model adopted.