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The Lesson Observation Form

With Standards Tracker, our users set up their own bespoke lesson observation forms using our drag ‘n’ drop form building tool. This is great for setting up the form but what does a good lesson observation form look like?

Should it have judgmental scores for example? How long should it be? Should one-size fit all?

To answer some of these questions we have looked at the research on the effectiveness of feedback and what does and doesn’t work.

Observation forms can be either summative, formative or both in their nature.

We know from extensive research in the US that the reliability of lesson observations for performance assessment requires numerous observations to have taken place, preferably by several different observers. Putting that issue aside (and for another article) let’s look at the purpose and use of lesson observation forms in different contexts.

Ofsted and Lesson Observations

Let’s get this one out of the way at the outset, nothing seems to raise anxiety in a school more than an Ofsted inspector observing a teacher’s lesson.

Ofsted themselves seemed to acknowledge the limitations of the efficacy of observations when they discontinued the practice of grading individual lesson observation forms.

An Ofsted lesson observation form would have previously graded the quality of teaching, the achievement of pupils, behaviour of pupils and leadership and management (all where there were deemed to be sufficient evidence to make that judgment)

In their recent Myths and Facts document they reiterate:

‘Ofsted does not award a grade for the quality of teaching or outcomes in the individual lessons visited. Inspectors do not grade individual lessons. Ofsted does not expect schools to use the Ofsted evaluation schedule to grade teaching or individual lessons’.

They followed up with a report on the 6 models of lesson observations that they researched from around the world (well the US mainly) and were keen to point out that:

The evidence collected from lesson observation remains an important element of the ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ judgement, as well as for making judgements about the effectiveness of leadership and management. It is therefore a fundamental part of inspection that deserves focused attention.

For the school’s purposes, this doesn’t mean that grading can’t take place and be part of an observation form but it does raise the question of the validity of that judgment as a single piece of evidence. This can only be a summative, judgmental observation as it doesn’t provide meaningful feedback for the teacher. It can still have value, especially with respect to measuring performance at different career stages or for the purposes of performance-related pay.

The Union View

The unions have adopted a rather negative view of observations with a view that they should be limited to three per year with a total time of up to three hours per year. How this might be in the best interests of a newly qualified teacher requiring coaching and development through (in part) observation and feedback is puzzling.

Beyond, the polemics they do accept elsewhere that observations can have a positive role to play and have also set out an observation protocol which contains many sensible suggestions, e.g. feedback should be given orally and then in writing.

They still seem to adopt an adversarial approach to observations as something being done to teachers rather than for their benefit – presumably on the basis that unions get involved when observations go wrong and they, therefore, have a somewhat negatively biased view of observations as a whole.

Lots of detail or just a few boxes?

A real question to ask yourself before designing a lesson observation form is how much can be accurately observed and recorded in the lesson given the time available. Creating too many areas means that too little time can be given to each and the form becomes a tick-box exercise rather than a more meaningful record of both judgments and pointers for development.

Some basic parameters are beyond debate – you need to record who is in the lesson, who is teaching and the focus and purpose of the lesson. Then things become a bit murkier. The design of the form may have a rubric for recording performance at different levels with descriptors. These run the risks of teaching to the form rather than necessarily teaching that lesson in the most effective way.

Some observers such as David Didau feel that any form of lesson observation form that might direct or focus the attention of the observer or the teacher are unhelpful. He suggests either a blank piece of paper or at the very least two boxes on the form asking: “What does the teacher do?” and “What do the students do?” together with some follow-up questions for the teacher.

On the flip side, standardised forms based on a framework of performance allow for the capture of information in a coherent way which enables the school or organisation to better plan support and training. Measuring areas of strength and weakness across the organisation or organisations allows for more efficient use of budgets and planning for training.

This standardisation could come in the form of simply tagging a form with them (e.g. behaviour) and the collating the number of instances of this tag appeared across all observations for the term. This becomes a lot easier if the school is using some form of an online system which can automatically collate this data. We introduced a tagging feature for all the forms created in Standards Tracker so that schools could identify patterns with the forms.

lesson observation form

The Psychological effect of a lesson observation

The Carnegie Foundation in the US published some very interesting research and conclusions on the biopsychosocial mode challenge and threat and how it relates to teacher feedback. In layman’s terms if the teacher perceives the observation as a threat it will evoke an automatic reaction of raised heart rate, sweaty palms and release of stress chemicals.

If the observation is seen as a challenge the body responds in a similar way but crucially the brain remains open to reflection and has not completely shut down in a fight or flight mode. A teacher being critiqued can view the same feedback either as a threat to her core self or as a challenge for improving her abilities.

“If the teacher positively appraises his own abilities, has knowledge of the evaluation process, trusts his relationship with this administrator, and has a sense of belonging in the school community, it is likely the teacher will experience this evaluative moment as a challenge— an opportunity to share his strengths and receive feedback on how to improve.”

Both the design of a lesson observation form but crucially the explanation to the teacher of the purpose of the form and the use of the information collected will help determine the response by the teacher

Post-lesson observation forms

The real power of observation comes from the ability to discuss the lesson with the teacher and to listen and provide feedback. Listen to what the teacher considered had gone well or badly and answer questions they may have about aspects of the lesson.

The Carnegie Foundation identified this process as essential and created a Pro-forma to guide the conversation. The guidance text within their protocol help appraisers steer the conversation in a consistent and ordered way to help ensure that the conversation is constructive; gives the teacher a strong voice in the conversation. The protocol also includes a feedback form for the teacher to follow which helps them prepare to answer the questions they will be asked by the appraiser. The research and documents can be found here:

Lesson Observation Form examples

We have collected examples of templates and rubrics and prompt sheets from around the Web for you to consider when creating your own lesson observation form.

Your lesson observation form can be re-created in Standards Tracker so that it is easy to complete and ready to hand, saving you and your team time printing off forms and filing them in folders.

Research and guides