Whilst Ofsted highlight …”120. The judgement on the quality of teaching must take account of evidence of pupils’ learning and progress over time,” many schools rely heavily on brief 20 minute observations to judge the quality of teaching. This emphasises performance over systematic long term teaching impact on progress. The former encourages observation tricks and hoop-jumping the latter focuses on habits and approaches that sustain progress for each child over time.
Supporting teachers to move from Requiring Improvement to Good is often achieved by insisting on a number of non-negotiables. Teachers seek and are supported to tick-off a series of aspects of teaching and learning; they perform a 20 minute section of a lesson by tumbling and jumping between different teaching and learning strategies and approaches to ensure that they tick enough of the criteria to get them over the Good line. The consequence is that observations are high-stakes with Teachers performing a range of tricks that often hamper learning and rarely support the conditions required for students to make good or better progress over time. Teachers then carry the label of their last 20 min observation. Improving teaching needs to move much more toward rewarding teaching that has strong habits that typically create learning conditions that enable students to consistently make good progress.
Student progress is not linear over time. Students make progress when the conditions are right and when they make breakthroughs in their learning (progress is more catastrophic than uniform). The blue line highlights a better description of progress over time (accepting that there will also be ‘dips’ in learning along this blue line). When teaching is good/outstanding it secures jumps in students progress because the teacher habits and typicality of approach maintains conditions for learning that promote and provoke students to make progress more often. The vertical line provides a representation of a lesson observation, scaled larger than reality, but nevertheless highlighting the tiny sample of a students journey measured by observation. We also then extrapolate the judgements made in this lesson and make the assumption that this represents a teachers performance across all of their classes all of the time … it doesn’t.
The bar below highlights how small a sample the 20 minute observation represents compared the learning over time. This sample is very likely to be unrepresentative and hide the typicality and actual quality and effectiveness of teaching. This also only shows one class; if we place 6-8 more blue bars alongside then the sample size becomes even more unrepresentative (or ridiculous). We can be guilty of placing far to much emphasis on the 20min observed sample and place too little weight on the evidence of progress over time or use the conditions, habits and practices to extrapolate progress into the future. If we agree that what matters is the typical quality of teaching and the ability of that teaching to genererate good progress or better over time then we should look beyond the 20 minute observation to seek evidence of progress over time. We should also consider how the conditions for learning in the observation can be extrapolated (with care) to assess the likely progress of students into the future.
We have made too much of progress in a lesson or part lesson. We have not helped ourselves at times by using phrases like, “do the students know or can they do something that they could not at the start of the observation.” In feedback we are often susceptible to making it clear to teachers that we are judging the lesson (20mins) and not them as a teacher. The reality is that measurable progress for students is unlikely in 20 minutes, but that it is possible to examine and judge the conditions present in the lesson that give us reassurance that students have, are and will make at least good progress over time…are they getting a good deal?
The first bar below shows how dominant the sample observation can be on grading a lesson and by extension the teacher that delivered the lesson. Where we weight the judgement heavily on what is observed it tempts a teacher performance; a mad rush to run through a range of strategies that are often detailed on the observation form. The consequence is the teachers teach a lot, students are busy and often bewildered, moved-on, and asked to show how much progress they think they have made. The punctuation in the lesson through questioning, AFL, modeling, peer assessment, paired work, group work, four minutes of writing…. Tick boxes on the form, but in quick combination reduce the conditions required to secure progress over time. Far better to judge the typicality of teaching and therefore the effectiveness of teaching by considering a range of evidence.
If we are to reward typicality of teaching and teaching that generates good or better progress over time then the weighting of our evidence should use a range of sources. The evidence from the observation of the teaching should provide an insight into the conditions that are typical for the students over time. Much more emphasis should be placed on evidence from students, their books, evidence from panning (backwards and forwards) and the data/outcomes for this class.
With the emphasis on rewarding and promoting teaching that secures progress over time then perhaps feedback and judgements should highlight typically good or typically outstanding or typically requiring improvement or typically inadequate as more appropriate judgements on the quality of teaching. The importance of progress over time to a judgement is highlighted in this table…
This rewards those teachers that work hard, have good habits and the professional ability to generate that conditions in a classroom that secure good or better progress over time. This means that we should have stickier judgements for individual teachers. The first bar below highlights the range of grades that could be achieved in an academic year by a single teacher due to the high stakes nature of 20 minute observations (the observation providing a label to be carried by that teacher until the next observation). Where the emphasis is more around typicality then judgements are stickier and more reflective of the typical quality of teaching (shown by bar two). This will have the effect of polarising teaching judgements. Where teaching uses effective approaches and habits that secure progress over time the evidence will always be in books, in the planning, in the student voice, the routines, shown in the quality of feedback, in the purpose and meaningfulness of the learning journey…where this happens good and outstanding teaching becomes securer over time. Where the opposite is true, where teachers rely on the performance, mark less, plan less, have less purpose and less focus on the journey and the outcomes the typicality of teaching will require improvement…and that is likely to be true for all classes … and we are back to the importance of habits that sustain student progress over time.
What would observation criteria that emphasised the importance of progress over time look like? Here is an example that places progress over time as the key determinant on the typical quality of teaching. Below this are an indication of the approaches that would contribute towards securing the conditions required for securing progress over time…
The form, therefore, indicates areas that may be observed that are more likely to support good progress over time. These are not prescribed or essential, neither are they a set of tick boxes to be checked to determine the grade. When the key determining judgement is progress over time, the 20 minute lesson observation is no longer a performance or does it necessitate the teacher jumping through hoops. Whilst the lesson could be all singing and all dancing it could also be students sat silently redrafting a piece of work for 20 minutes or performing or engaged in a piece of art etc. This approach frees teachers to not change practice under observation; secure in the knowledge that the observer is measuring progress secured over time not the number of tricks and hoops-jumped in 20 minutes.
Prescribe adequacy, unleash greatness…
All of which links to the trendy ideas around moving from tight to loose. To get to good it is often about being tight; using non-negotiables to raise the bar. To move through typically good to typically outstanding it is about loosening or unleashing greatness. You do this because teaching is a craft not a science; the ability to facilitate 30 teenagers often of mixed ability to make good progress requires an awareness, a professionalism and ability to keep all students progressing. Sometimes that is about engaging, inspiring, provoking responses and sometimes that is learning vocabulary, a spelling test, redrafting, testing, feeding back, being diagnostic and closing gaps. The best person to judge this interplay is the teacher. We need to recognise this and use observation to judge teaching impact over time and not on how many boxes a performer ticked in 20 minutes. This should empower teachers who then have greater freedom and…
- Purpose (secure student progress to give them a better chance in life)
- Autonomy (you decide how you secure student progress)
- Mastery (it is a craft not a science, be creative and innovative – seek mastery in teaching to drive progress) (Dan Pink)
Where a teacher has taken on a class, from another teacher or at the start of the year there needs to be a shift in the emphasis placed on the different parts of the evidence. An early judgement on typicality would extrapolate the observed conditions, judge the likely impact of habits, use teacher planning and dialogue to consider the likely typicality and impact of teaching over time…and re-visit later to judge impact. The longer the teacher has a class the more the emphasis will shift to actual measurable progress over time from their starting point with the class.
As we reward progress over time (making it a determining judgement) we need to increasingly compare actual (external) outcomes with our typical gradings of teaching. There has been a poor relationship between the quality of teaching judged through lesson observation compared to actual outcomes of the students; class performance often does not stack up well against observation data. A focus on progress over time should generate a greater link between the judgements on typicality teaching and student outcome.
So ticking tricks in 20 minutes is mis-leading and does not focus on what matters. What matters is that students receive typically good and outstanding teaching every lesson so that they make progress over time. Those teachers that create the conditions for progress more often should be rewarded, for it is the impact of this teaching that supports students to make progress over time that counts. The freeing/loosening nature of this view on teaching and rationalising the part that observation has to play in judging teaching releases professionals to teach anyway they choose, without ticking any prescribed boxes, so long as students make progress over time and this is reflected in a triangulation of evidence then teaching is typically good and outstanding and these judgements are stickier….and that feels right.