L is for lesson observation

I watched an episode of that seminal contribution to English culture, Waterloo Road last week, for the first time in ages. I wrote about Waterloo Road in What makes a good ICT role model? if you’re interested, but basically it’s a soap set in a school which has to be the most dysfunctional school anyone has ever come across. The kids are alright (as some pop song said once), on the whole – but the adults…..

Anyway, in this particular episode the boss of the school (not the headteacher) decreed that the deputy headteacher she had just appointed would observe lessons, with no warning to staff or discussion with them. Leaving aside the fact that in any normal school that sort of thing would probably cause a few ‘issues’, it probably wouldn’t even achieve anything of much value anyway. In my opinion, observations of ICT lessons in particular should follow the following principles and practice, in addition to generic ones that would apply to any subject.

Is the use of ICT good?

Going back to Waterloo Road, if you ever have the chance to watch it take a look at the interactive whiteboards. They invariably show a screenful of text which nobody would be able to read from the third row backwards (yes, the kids are sat in rows). That sort of display is pointless, because it achieves nothing useful. Therefore it’s a bad use of ICT.

Does the teacher have good enough ICT skills?

If the teacher is using ICT, or expecting the kids to use it, then her skills ought be up to scratch. I think saying “The kids know more about it than I do” is a cop-out. If you don’t have the skills you need to use ICT properly, then acquire them.

There may be a wider issue: does the school as a whole make adequate provision for training teachers and for their professional development? If teachers are told ‘you must use ICT in every lesson’ (a dreadful, anti-educational and anti-intellectual injunction in my opinion), then there is a moral obligation to provide them with the skills and the confidence with which they can do so.

Does the use of ICT achieve more than could be achieved otherwise?

A useful guideline here, I think, is to ask whether the use of ICT does one of the following:

Support: the technology helps you do what you were doing already, but more efficiently.

Extend: the technology is helping you do something different, but you could actually achieve the same without using technology.

Transform: You’re doing or teaching something different – and you could not really do so without using ICT.

You can read more about this approach to impact on the Edfutures website.

Are the pupils using the ICT well?

Not just in a technical sense, but are they displaying good practice?

Are the pupils self-aware in their use of ICT?

In other words, do they know why they are using it? Have they made, or would they be able to make, an active choice to use it (or not to use it)?

Is the curriculum good enough?

I haven’t said anything about the curriculum or scheme of work yet, but this is crucial. If the context and activities are poor, or not open-ended enough to allow for development, that will be reflected in individual lessons, probably in the form of being boring.