Lesson Observation Forms
What is the purpose of a lesson observation form and 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 teacher feedback and what does and doesn’t work.
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.
The Regulator View - 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 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.
Ofsted has since carried out further research into the reliability of lesson observations for judging the quality of education and published a report in June 2019. It is an interesting document and reflects and supports the existing research in this area. They also list the indicators used in their prototype lesson observation model together with a rubric for scoring the indicators – they needed to use a scoring mechanism in order to compare the outcomes of different observers.
Ofsted study scoring indicators rubric
This aspect is embedded in practice (many examples of exceptional teaching)
This aspect is embedded with minor points for development (leaders taking action to remedy minor shortfalls)
This aspect is sufficient but there are some weaknesses overall in a number of examples (identified by leaders but no yet remedying)
Major weaknesses evident (leaders have not identified or started to remedy weaknesses
Unable to score this indicator as not observed in this time period
List of indicators used in Ofsted lesson observation model
Teachers use subject expertise, knowledge and practical skills to provide learning oportunities.
Teachers ensure there is an equality of opportunity for all learners to access every lesson, as building blocks to the wider curriculum
Strategies to support reading/vocabulary understanding/numeracy are in place for pupils who need it/cannot access the curriculum
The content of the lesson is suitably demanding
The lesson content is appropriate to the age group and does not lower expectations
There is a logical sequence to the lesson
Teachers provide opportunities to recall and practise previously learned skills and knowledge
Assessment provides relevant, clear and helpful information about the current skills and knowledge of learners.
Teachers demonstrate good communication skills
Teachers’ use of presentation allows pupils to build knowledge and make connections
Teachers use relevant and appropriate resources during presentation to clarify meaning to pupils
Teachers possess good questioning skills
Teachers give explicit, detailed and constructive feedback in class
Teachers effectively check for understanding
Teachers create supportive classrooms focused on learning
Teachers create focussed classrooms through their high expectations for pupils
Teachers communicate clear and consistent expectations which are understood and followed
Pupils’ behaviour contributes to the focus on learning
Bear in mind that inspectors were only observing for 15-30 minutes in this study as they were looking to mimic the experience in an inspection environment rather than creating the ideal method for school leadership to assess the quality of teaching. They, therefore decided that 1c and 1h were difficult to assess adequately along with 1b, 2f and 3b. It also won’t be long before they issue a Myths & Facts document cautioning against copying their own lesson observation criteria and insisting that schools are free to create their own.
It is important to view this report in light of its purpose to help Ofsted inform itself of the validity of its methods. It is not designed to provide the best experience for the teacher and therefore does not (and cannot) make allowances for feedback and development discussions. It is a summative assessment. This approach can still have value for the school leadership, especially with respect to measuring performance at different career stages or for the purposes of performance-related pay but it is limited.
The Teacher Unions 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.
Creating Your Lesson Observation Form
A fundamental 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 class. 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.
Most lesson observation forms use the Teacher Standards as a framework to link commentary. The forms sometimes collate the standards into themes relevant to classroom practice generally or link to the themes of Ofsted evaluations of teaching.
For example, you could collect standards under these themes:
Progress and Outcomes
Differentiation and Assessment
Behaviour for Learning and Classroom Management
In our work with schools we created a Teaching over Time audit with a focus on Lesson Observations and the following areas:
Is work challenging enough for pupils? Does it meet their individual needs?
Do pupils’ responses demonstrate sufficient gains in their knowledge, skills and understanding, including in literacy and mathematics?
Do teachers monitor pupils’ progress in lessons and use the information well to adapt their teaching?
Does teaching engage learners and promote positive attitudes to learning?
Do teachers use questioning and discussion to assess the effectiveness of their teaching and promote pupils’ learning?
Do pupils understand well how to improve their work?
Do teachers manage behaviour effectively?
Do teachers use learning assistants effectively? (where relevant)
We have looked at hundreds of examples of lesson observation forms used by schools on our online system Standards Tracker and for the most part, they can be summarised as a list of standards on one side and then a box that records one or some of the following:
a description of what was observed
comments – sometimes with a prompt that these must be evaluative
Areas for Development
Ideas to try
Areas discussed with the teacher (this may be in the lesson or afterwards)
What do others suggest?
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.
The University of York has a simple What? and So what? form that it uses for assessing its trainee teachers. The What? is the observer’s description of what the trainee does in the lesson and includes comments on any specific observation focus. The So what? is the impact on pupil progress and whether it is positive or negative.
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.
Practical Top Tip for Lesson Observations
- “all HA pupils made rapid progress throughout the lesson because the teacher had planned the lesson well and included sufficiently challenging work for those students based on their prior knowledge of their abilities. The HA pupils were given challenging learning objectives and regular feedback throughout the lesson”; or
- “although the teacher had planned the lesson well and included specific learning objectives for SEN pupils, they did not check on their progress throughout the lesson and therefore did not realise that pupil x was struggling with an IT issue with their laptop and therefore had not made the appropriate progress.”
Consider 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.
There is a useful model for helping teachers manage stress called The ABC Cognitive Behavioural Tool. You can find a brief discussion of it here on Education Support’s website where they specifically provide lesson observations as an example of what can trigger stress and links to resources to help manage wellbeing, stress and mental health.
What to Do After the Lesson Observation
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 by clicking on this link to the Carnegie Foundation’s website
Hertfordshire Lesson Observation Criteria
Warwick Grade Descriptors
This rubric provides descriptors for various levels of performance which are not a simple copy of the Teacher standards. Whilst specifically grading lessons has fallen out of favour (at least for qualified teachers) it is interesting to read what is considered to be outstanding teaching. This form does not use the standards but these themes:
- Climate for learning
- Learning Behaviours
- Subject Knowledge
- Lesson Structure and Pace
- Explanations and Language
- Meeting needs of All
Lesson Observation Forms
Simple Lesson Observation Form
A nice and simple Lesson Observation Form based on ten areas:
- Subject Matter Content
- Teaching Methods
- Assistance to Students
- Physical Aspects of the Classroom
Lesson Observation Form for NQT
Another example of a simple form with three areas of focus for an NQT:
- Professional Attributes
- Knowledge and Understanding
- Professional Skills
With Strengths and Areas for Development in the Comments section
Ofsted Research Based Inspection Form
We created this form to reflect the inspection criteria in the November 2019 Inspection Handbook. It is designed to help headteachers focus on the areas of teaching that inspectors will be looking at in an anticipated inspection. It also comes with the usual health warnings around inspectors not grading or evaluating individual lessons. Use with caution!
Ofsted Deep Dive Lesson Observation Questions
This form contains the type of questions asked during an Ofsted “deep dive” lesson observation. A useful guide for colleagues ann perhaps for self-evaluation with respect to curriculum intent and implementation. This is a generic form rather than subject specific.