How ‘Making Every Lesson Count’ helped me to make every observation count
Joe Burkmar, Partnership Director at Wessex Schools Training Partnership
I have been in charge of a SCITT for five years now and one of my biggest bugbears has always been inconsistency in the quality of feedback that trainees receive. In my experience, there are typically three categories of “feedbackers” (you can decide which one you are):
- The ‘over communicator’
This person gives reams of feedback, comments on every aspect of the lesson, and writes more than all the students in the class put together.
- The ‘yeah not bad’
This person is an experienced member of staff, who tends to be happy that they have gained a free lesson. They may also use the dreaded phase, “how did you think it went?”
- The ‘nails it’
This person discuss the lesson beforehand with the trainee and decides what they are going to focus on. They give constructive feedback that focuses solely on this point and the trainee teacher feels genuine improvements.
So, how can a trainee improve if they have no idea what they should be focusing on? Also, as a course leader, how can I make it really difficult for people to be a “yeah not bad” or an “over communicator”?
After a few years of trialling things like scripts and booklets, I spent three hours with education consultant Chris Moyes and all became clear.I decided that the trainees needed a common language with their observer, one that can be the same in two different school placements. They needed a clear criteria for success and focus on the key elements of teaching. I spent ages looking for a structure that could do this, whilst being conscious that I am not creating teaching robots who just follow a script.
Enter ‘Making Every Lesson Count: Six Principles to Support Great Teaching and Learning’ by Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison. Reading this book changed it all. Whilst chatting with Chris we decided to see what it would look like to use ‘Making Every Lesson Count’ (MELC) as the criteria for outstanding teaching. It worked, straight away, and I think I yelped with excitement.
So how does it work? The book includes six principles of teaching: Challenge, Explanation, Practice, Modelling, Questioning and Feedback. Each one of these principles has its own chapter with a wide range of techniques. For example, in ‘explanation’ there are numerous strategies that effective teachers use e.g. strategy number four is “become a storyteller”. The explanation of “become a storyteller” describes clearly how this could be included in lessons with real-life examples given for a range of subjects.
I therefore decided that, during the training year, trainees would focus on one of the principles of MELC. For example, you could ask all of our trainees at the moment what they are working on and their answer should be ‘questioning’. They would spend five or so weeks on this principle and attempt to become an expert. They are given a chance to revisit their weakest areas at the end, but essentially it is a mastery model.
So let’s take ‘explanation’ as an example. At the beginning of the ‘explanation’ section that runs from September to mid-November the mentor and the trainee will decide which of the ‘explanation’ techniques they would like to try in their lessons. This will then be the focus for the lessons that day or week, and the observer will only give feedback on how well this technique was used in the lesson.
In his way, the trainee is clear on what they will be trying to embed, whilst the observer is looking out for exactly how effective this has been. All observers also comment on planning and behaviour management. This allows these vital skills to always be developed and the trainee to gain a range of inputs on these. Also behaviour management and planning are not explicitly included in the MELC book itself.
If the trainee does embed this technique in their teaching then they try a new one, adding to their repertoire, but if they do not embed it then they keep practicing it until they are confident. At the end of the section on ‘explanation’, they should have a number of techniques that they have seen in their lessons, been given focused feedback on, and would be confident to continue using in their lessons. They then work on the next principle, in our case ‘modelling’.
With this structure in place, I knew I needed to make this “Headteacher proof”. This is where a Headteacher could go to observe a trainee and know exactly what feedback they need to give and how this should be communicated. This was a struggle but here is how I’ve done it.
During the lesson the observer creates a list of all the great things they see in the lesson that are not related to the three key areas of behaviour management, planning or the MELC focus. The observer then only gives focused growth feedback based on the three areas of behaviour management, planning and the MELC focus. The trainee and the observer then focus on the reality of the lesson. What happened? How were the explanations? Were they clear? They then set the next logical steps and a clear target for the next lesson, maybe including the MELC focus or not, depending on the success.
At the start of the year, this was working sporadically, as the observers were commenting on the behaviour management and the planning but not the MELC focus as they did not have access to the book at the time of the observations. So I made these cheat sheets, which allow the observer to see what the technique should look like when completed effectively. This can then be used in the feedback session with comments made on how effectively the trainee completed all the steps included in ‘explanation’.
I now genuinely believe that the quality of the feedback received by the trainees is much more focused, hugely more consistent and improving their teaching at a much faster rate. It also has a lot of benefits for me as the course director because I know what all my trainees are focusing on at any point and can now plan the content to suit this. For example, just before the trainees started the ‘modelling’ section of the year, I demonstrated all of the MELC ‘modelling’ strategies and explained them to all for the trainees, knowing this would be used in the next five weeks of lessons.
I want to say a huge thank you to Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison who wrote a simply brilliant book, with so many excellent techniques in it. I also could not have come up with the whole structure without coaching from Chris Moyes.
Joe Burkmar is Partnership Director at Wessex Schools Training Partnership