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Lessons from lesson observations

“Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better”. This quote from Dylan William (an educationalist and Emeritus professor of Educational Assessment at the UCL Institute of Education) really sums up the reason why lesson observations are so vital to teacher development.

As an ex-teacher, I know exactly how it feels when you receive notification of an upcoming observation. It’s difficult to break the association of observations with feelings of being judged, but this is what we’re determined to do at PLS. We observe our teachers with the objective to get the very best from them, for them to develop their skills and to be able to constantly evolve and learn year in, year out. It’s what we expect from our students, so why not strive for this ourselves, as teachers?

I’ve learnt a few things over my 20-year career, playing the role of both observer and observe, let me share some of them with you now:


Lesson objectives are 100% essential

This is especially relevant if you’re going to be observed by someone who doesn’t actually speak the language you’re teaching. The more informed the person observing is about your lesson, the more accurate the feedback will be. Without clear objectives, it will not be possible for the observer to determine whether or not the lesson has been ‘successful’ or not. Also, and more importantly, the lack of objectives, implies a lack of structure – something students can pick up on very easily.

Lesson objectives need to be clear, simple and focussed. The easiest way to write them is to complete this sentence: ‘by the end of the lesson, my student(s) will be able to…..’. For example:

  • By the end of the lesson, my students will be able to make sentences using 5 new pieces of vocabulary based around the topic of current affairs.
  • By the end of the lesson, my students will be able to write a social media post about a recent visit to XXX.
  • By the end of the lesson, my student will be able to take part in a dialogue using the past simple and past continuous.

Always aim to have 3-4 lesson objectives for each lesson – not just when you’re being observed, but for every lesson. It’s also essential that you share these objectives with your students. Write them on the board at the start of the lesson and then at the end, ask your student whether they have been achieved. If they haven’t, it’s not a problem at all – just add it to the objectives of your next lesson and plan some remedial activities to reinforce and revise that particular point.


Anticipated problems (and solutions) 

This section of the lesson plan gives you the opportunity to pre-empt any issues you think might come up that would hinder the flow or success of your lesson. By anticipating problems, you’re not only preparing yourself for tricky situations, you’re also showing your observer that you understand your students’ weaknesses and differences. Examples of anticipated problems might be:


Problem: one of my students is stronger than the others

Solution: I will prepare extra activities for the stronger student to complete while they’re waiting for the others to finish a task


Problem: students might worry that they can’t understand all of the audio.

Solution: reassure students before playing audio that they don’t need to understand every word, just relax and listen for the gist at first.


Problem: students might have trouble understanding the difference between active and passive voice

Solution: prepare some concept checking questions for passive and active sentence examples


Plan, but know that the plan doesn’t always go according to plan!

The ‘stage and procedure’ section of a lesson plan is really important – writing it gives you the brain space required to think about how the lesson should go and how much time should be spent at each stage. However, we all know that in reality it’s very difficult to stick to rigid timings in lessons. Any observer will be acutely aware of this and will be more interested in how you handle any unexpected detours, rather than whether you’re sticking to the plan minute by minute. It’s very important for a teacher to be able to think on their feet and adjust the lesson to the needs of their student.


Don’t do anything out of the ordinary

It can be very tempting to go overboard when planning an observed lesson, but the observer doesn’t want to see a ‘special’ lesson, they want to see what you usually do. Of course, there’s no problem with showing the observer a couple of your favourite activities/techniques etc. but don’t try to fit too much in and don’t teach differently to how you usually do. Firstly, this won’t result in relevant or appropriate feedback and development suggestions, and secondly, your students will question why all your lessons aren’t like the one which was observed.


So there you have it, just a few tips to help you out with your next observation – hope they help! Here at PLS, we pride ourselves on offering the best support to all our teachers. If you'd like to join our team, get in touch here.

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