Reflective Observation

I’ve been pretty quiet recently – at least it feels like I’ve not been offering much to the conversation. There are several reasons, but a big part of it is that with paid freelance work I’ve really not been able to justify the time to do things for free. I’m not going to apologize for this because I’m sure you’ll all understand that without this work my family and I can’t go on holiday.
But I’ve missed you all, even if you’ve not been missing me.
This will be a quick post, hopefully to be followed up over the next week with another. I’ve been working in a school a couple of days a week, mixing teacher coaching with some intervention classes. It’s been interesting – and enjoyable, at least after the kids stopped swearing at me – so I thought it might be worth sharing a few things I’ve done.
I’m currently reading Mentoring Mathematics Teachers, effectively a collection of research papers published as a book. Now, I don’t teach maths – except in the process of getting the physics right – but I’ve found it really interesting. It’s mainly aimed at in-school mentors for pre-service teachers (PGCE, School Direct or similar) and NQTs. I’ve got a strong interest in how we can support teachers for a longer period than just a year, and in my day job we mentor ‘Early Career Teachers’ to the end of their second year post-qualification. I’m working through about a chapter a week, making notes in the margins, and really need to blog some of the ideas. So it was perfect timing to come to Chapter 9 by Lofthouse and Wright, about encouraging reflection by using a pro forma for observations. I’ve adapted it slightly with a fair bit of success and wish I’d been using it for longer.
As a physics teacher, I feel I should now make the point that teaching is a quantum process which is changed simply by the act of being observed. If you laughed at that, congratulations and please pick up your Physics Education Geek badge on the way out.
observation pro forma
Click for PDF version

There are four stages:

  1. The ‘observee’ defines one or two aspects they want to focus on, choosing a couple of questions for the observer to bear in mind.
  2. The observer makes notes of specific features in the lesson relating to these questions – no judgment, just facts.
  3. The observer poses questions based on these features to prompt reflection and discussion.
  4. Together, the colleagues plan future actions based on the outcome of these prompts, leading to questions for the next observed lesson.
The aim of this structure is to encourage reflective practice rather than “I saw X and you should try Y instead.” In this way both teachers gain from it as there isn’t necessarily a hierarchy in place. It would work just as well when an experienced teacher is observed by a novice, with the questions directing them towards interesting features of the lesson. I can also see it being useful for peer observation – and like all such activities, it would work best when well-separated from any kind of performance management process.
I should emphasize that this is my take on the process rather than a paraphrased version of the original. And, of course, I’m still tweaking it! Currently I’m following up soon after the lesson but wonder if leaving the sheet with the observed teacher so they can think about the prompts more deeply might be worthwhile. I’m numbering the evidence I see and then grouping them in the ‘Reflection Prompts’ section if appropriate – this helps me gather my thoughts and gives more than one relevant example.
EDIT: I recommend reading a great post by @bennewmark, Finding a Voice, for the issues that can arise when an observee tries to replan a lesson based on well-meaning comments from a colleague.
Please help yourself to the printable version, try it out and let me know what you think. Maybe everyone else has something better already – it’s two years since I had a lesson observed! But I’d appreciate, as ever, any feedback or suggestions.

Not Continuing Physics?

I posted almost a fortnight ago about some data I’d like to collect about students who have chosen not to continue with Physics into sixth form. I got a few responses, which I’ve used to adjust the Google form. The questionnaire is now sorted (I hope) and I’d love to get as many responses as possible, so I’m inviting everyone to be involved. Unless there’s a good reason, I’ll close the form at the end of September. I’ve included a field for the institution postcode, so each school or sixth form should be able to get personalized data without messing around with different invitations or codes from me. The questionnaire is primarily aimed at students who:

  • have started AS courses after GCSEs.
  • achieved highly at GCSE, either in Core/Additional or separate Science courses.
  • haven’t started AS Physics.

I’m especially interested in those students who were capable, but chose other subjects. Attitudes to Physics for all students would of course be interesting, but it’s the ‘missed opportunities’ I’d like to know about – those students we wish had chosen ‘our’ subject. I know lots has been done on this before, but Google forms gives us as teachers the chance to collect data to use in our own schools and collate it all.

The link for the form is:

I’d love for this to be shared with students starting AS courses this month. Please feel free to pass this on to colleagues or friends who teach, and I’ll be regularly flagging it up on Twitter. Drop me a line there or via email ( if you have any questions, suggestions or whatever. I’ll certainly blog about the results (if any) and it may become an article if any of the teaching magazines or journals are interested. Hopefully I’ll figure out some way to make the results searchable for individual institutions – make sure your students are entering the correct postcode.

Thanks for your interest, and in advance for your assistance!