Mike Simmons

Deputy Director of the National Forest Teaching School and Secondary Programme Lead for the John Taylor SCITT

Effective mentoring takes time and the results may not be immediate or obvious. There are many metaphors that could be used to portray the importance of appreciating the timescale involved in effective mentoring, and for me it is just like cultivating and tending to a garden. 

It is about creating the right conditions for seedlings to begin to emerge, grow and then, through your intervention, striking that fine balance between under and over-watering, pruning when appropriate, and working towards that end goal of growing a strong living organism that is able to be self-sustainable and withstand whatever climatic conditions they may face.

Our trainees at the National Forest Teaching School (NFTS) have been in placement primary and secondary schools for the past month, and I am sure they are all making progress in the planning and teaching of their lessons and making more confident steps in and around the school even if it is not always that obvious to see.

Two key areas of the effective mentoring that can be evidenced in the NFTS programme are the weekly mentor meetings and lesson observation dialogues taking place. What I wanted to share with you is some good examples of detailed feedback in lesson observations that identify both strengths as well as areas of development. 

These examples of positive observation feedback are subject specific, and clearly identify subject-specific pedagogy to the trainee teacher and are aligned to the teaching standards:

“The lesson on the poem ‘Futility’ (the first in a series of lessons on poems connected by the theme of ‘change’) was appropriately pitched for a top set year 10 group who are already able to analyse the language and methods in poems to a high level. You used appropriate terminology whilst discussing the poem and discussed knowledge of key ideas in the poem.”

“The lesson was broken down into smaller, manageable tasks to introduce a new artist, reflect on the key theme of ‘values’ and allow pupils to work in two different media. This to help keep all pupils engaged. Resources are well planned and implemented at appropriate times during the lesson to both scaffold learning and allow more able/faster pupils to extend their learning more independently. This established a good pace for the lesson.”

“Appropriate pitch of the Geography in the lesson in which you referred back to previous lessons. In this lesson you clearly have a secure knowledge throughout the lesson which did foster and maintain pupils’ interest in the subject, and address misunderstandings (most of the time! Would they survive a lahar on a rubber ring?)”

The examples presented next are also clearly subject specific and I think as you read these you can get a real sense of the areas identified as developmental. What we particularly like about these targets are that they do not give the answer but rather pose the questions to the trainee and allow for the trainees to critically reflect upon the lessons themselves and could form foci for lesson observations being undertaken that week:

“There was a lot of good questioning from you in the lesson. There was also a lot of typical, valid exam-style questions that students answered individually too. Long-term, to take this to the next level (and to help promote good behaviour), really consider how all students could take an active part in the assessment that you were offering to a few. This could be (as you did earlier) giving a set number of questions that students answer. Afterwards, really think how this could be used usefully in a lesson i.e. show of hands for who gets 5/5…4/5 etc. You can then compare this with abilities in the class to judge current progress and inform the next part of the lesson’s sequence.”

“Think about the work that students are completing over the course of the lesson. At times you have been sidetracked by too many questions (especially by Student X and on numerous times you did say ‘last question’) which did affect your ability to impart knowledge and develop understanding through effective use of lesson time.”

“Consider ways that you could demo tasks to smaller groups in order to allow those who understand to get on but give those who are struggling some extra support and address any common misconceptions/errors, without having to work with each child individually. This will be a more effective use of your time and should allow these students to then work more independently on the task.”

An inspirational colleague of mine once said “you water the plants, not the rocks”, and there is merit to that statement. However, in these early stages as the seedlings begin to germinate and grow you may have to look a bit closer between the rocks, check the conditions and continue to cultivate as best as you can.



Website: http://nationalforestteachingschool.co.uk/teach

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For further reading you might be interested in viewing NASBTT’s Member Case Studies

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