‘Just’ watching

‘Losing focus’ by gazzat

At one of the conferences I spoke at last week there was some discussion of the idea of teachers filming their own lessons in order to inform their professional development, an idea I have come across before, and tried a few times myself.

The speaker suggesting this described the reaction of most people he had worked with who had tried this out as ‘OH. MY. GOD.’. The expression of surprise, it was suggested, was due to the amount of things which the teacher noticed happening on video that they were totally unaware of when the lesson was actually taking place.

This was described to be because as a teacher, one is constantly interacting face to face with pupils, and is so caught up with the constant attention this requires that much of the activity in the classroom goes unnoticed.

As teachers we seem to have this constant pressure on ourselves that we must be involved in this constant interaction. It is as if we are not doing our jobs properly unless we are constantly engaging with or structuring pupil’s learning experiences. It is almost a guilt driven thing, I suspect possibly based around the negative connotations of the image of a teacher sitting at their desk marking whilst the class gets on with their work un-challenged. One of the first things I remember from my own training is a lecturer telling us that we should always plan to have a ‘focus group’ for every lesson, who we should intensely engage with to move their learning forward.

Obviously the teacher marking oblivious to the learning taking place is something that should remain in the 20th century, but I can’t help but feel that by constantly guilting ourselves into engaging in this way we are missing an awful lot. Sometimes observing is far more powerful.

Rather than bombard a child with questions to ascertain where their learning is at, why not just watch, carefully consider, and then ask the one question that they need to really guide their thinking forward.

This idea of observation is something that is very strong in the practice of those educating very young children, but it seems to be sadly lacking most of the time for those of us educating older children and young people. Early Years practitioners know that they need to observe what children can do, and how they interact, unaided before they can even begin to think about intervening in their learning. Teachers of older children seem to be more interested in evaluating the learning after the event through testing or marking. This might show you the finished product, but it often tells you little about the process.

Take a creative writing exercise for instance, how long did the child think about that sentence before they wrote it? Which parts of the piece flowed quickly, which did they labour over? When they were stuck for ideas did they turn to a friend, or look around the room for inspiration? Did they actually use all those ‘reminder’ displays you toiled over the laminator to produce? If you only look at the finished product rather than observing the process you can never know…

Next week, in your classroom, why not take some time in a lesson to ‘just’ watch. Put aside the feeling of guilt and you might just see some very interesting things.

Generating ideas in 'Learning Agreement Time'
Transforming Learning for NQTs presentation

14 thoughts on “‘Just’ watching”

  1. Absolutely agree with what you’ve said.Teachers of older students (of which I’m one) have much to learn from ey practitioners

  2. I think you need to be careful of not creating an artificial divide here between those that educate older/younger children. There are examples I can cite that both reinforce and deny the division but I agree with the point that observation is key and this can happen with written pieces of work where the learning can be assessed and the individual given the feedback to move forward with their learning. If you really wanted to be rigourous about it I would try and implement something similar to Graham Nuthall's experiments (his book 'The Hidden Lives of Learners' is brilliant and useful for teachers of all age groups) and this is something I am keen to replicate on a small scale in my school over the coming year.

    1. Thanks for the comment Nick. The divide I have observed is more to do with my experience of Key Stage 2 teachers as opposed to Foundation stage. As this is based on my experience it may be irrelevant to what is happening in Secondary, as current practice with this age group is not really in my experience. I think there are areas where there is a big divide, but my point is that really there should not be as this is something we as KS2 teachers can learn from FS. I am sure there are things that can go the other way too.

      I will have a look at that book, thanks for the recommendation.

  3. “It is as if we are not doing our jobs properly unless we are constantly engaging with or structuring pupil’s learning experiences. It is almost a guilt driven thing, I suspect possibly based around the negative connotations of the image of a teacher sitting at their desk marking whilst the class gets on with their work un-challenged.”

    I can relate to that completely, it happens to me from time to time, especially when Y10 and Y11 are just getting on with their coursework just fine. I sometimes feel guilty or pressured by myself to interact or engage, although the students may not actually need my assistance or guidance.

  4. Thanks for the comment Nick. The divide I have observed is more to do with my experience of Key Stage 2 teachers as opposed to Foundation stage. As this is based on my experience it may be irrelevant to what is happening in Secondary, as current practice with this age group is not really in my experience. I think there are areas where there is a big divide, but my point is that really there should not be as this is something we as KS2 teachers can learn from FS. I am sure there are things that can go the other way too.

    I will have a look at that book, thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Sarah Pinkerton

    This is a valuable post and one which should be shared. You have highlighted key points about the pressure of interacting and engaging with students, one which is most probably shared across the profession. Taking a step back to watch personal as well as student learning can be a huge eye opener; the insight gained can be incredibly valuable and positively impactful on future practices, actions and deliveries within the classroom. It’s a great way to spot individual and group talents, highlight areas for development, and importantly increase awareness of each students learning, engagement, responses and personal teaching practices. Through our work with teachers and encouraging them to take time for self reflection, the response has been immense; recognising that giving yourself the time to ‘just watch’ can have a long term positive effect on teaching and learning and can be very exciting for both student and teacher.

    “Next week, in your classroom, why not take some time in a lesson to ‘just’ watch. Put aside the feeling of guilt and you might just see some very interesting things” This is great, thank you for posting!

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