All entries for February 2020

February 24, 2020

What can be learned from an observed lesson? – Rachel

What can be learned from an observed lesson? How does this impact on your strategies for behaviour management?

Research has shown that observing teachers is equally as helpful as feedback alone (Hendry and Oliver, 2012). As a trainee, I have found it to be highly beneficial for improving my practice and deepening my understanding of pedagogical approaches. For example, I recently observed a year 8 English lesson at another school, with planning as my main area of focus. From this observation, I was able to gain a better understanding of how a well-structured series of lessons, clear success criteria and formative assessment can have a positive impact on student behaviour.

In this lesson, I observed the three components required for a ‘flow state’: ‘clear goals, immediate feedback, [and a] balance of challenge and skill,’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 2014). For example, at the beginning of the lesson, students were asked to recall the success criteria of a journal entry. Student answers were based on previous lessons and showed their understanding of not just what to do but how to do it. I noticed that immediate feedback was given, and misconceptions were addressed if required. Following this, students were then challenged to apply their knowledge through group research and group writing. Finally, students used their knowledge of the success criteria to provide feedback to each-other. I could see in the lesson that students were motivated and engaged by this; they were often helping each other to be successful in the tasks and the environment in the classroom was collaborative and engaging. Following a conversation with the teacher afterwards, I also learned that this series of lessons related directly to an upcoming assessment.

Following this lesson observation, I concluded that my plans to date had not been focussed enough, which could be having a detrimental effect on student behaviour. For example, I had recently created a medium-term plan that explored the literary and linguistic features of non-fiction but had not included (or considered) how this connected with the assessment at the end of the unit. This lack of focus could add a sense of confusion amongst students, result in a lack of ‘flow’ from lesson to lesson and ultimately impact negatively on behaviour. Consequently, I have re-evaluated my approach to planning and developed a clearer understanding of how planning relates to both formative and summative assessments.

After observing this lesson, I realised the scope of content I wanted to cover in each unit was too broad, so I have now adapted my medium-term lesson plans to focus clearly on a small set of core skills and knowledge outlined in the curriculum. As part of this new approach I am also directing attention to only one text type at a time (i.e. a formal letter or the opening to a story).

After reflecting on a year 8 class that I teach, I realised that a few of my students can be quick to disengage, which may be because they do not know how to be successful or if they are progressing. I could see I had not been communicating clear goals early enough or regularly enough in the unit, and I had not given students enough opportunities to build self-efficacy through peer and self-assessment, which could be affecting their motivation in class. By using formative assessment more consistently, I could help facilitate a stronger sense of ownership amongst students and therefore significantly increase their motivation (Brookhart, Moss and Long, 2008).

As a result of the lesson I observed, I now appreciate how clear expectations can impact positively on student motivation and how planning to ‘make accurate and productive use of assessment’ (Teachers’ standard 6) can help promote ‘a safe and stimulating learning environment’ (Teachers’ standard 1).


Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice: Seeing is Believing, The Benefits of Peer Observation, Graham D. Hendry and Gary R. Oliver, 2012. p.1

Educational Psychology Review, Theoretically Speaking: An Interview with Mihaly Csikszentmilhalyi on Flow Theory and its Usefulness in Addressing Contemporary Challenges in Education. Karen Stansberry Beard, November. 2014. p.6

Educational Leadership: Formative Assessment that Empowers, Susan Brookhart, Connie Moss and Beverly Long, November. 2008. p 57.

Department for Education: Teachers’ Standards

February 17, 2020

How has your teaching philosophy originated and what are the impact of your touchstones?

Chemistry is a subject that I view clearly as an expanding stack of component units. Higher level concepts grow block by block from an understanding of core basic principles. This makes it easy to teach in some ways but it also makes students who miss a block quickly feel lost. I believe that Chemistry and other science subjects become much easier once you can build a robust mental framework to systematise the subject and understand how its component units of knowledge link to and build upon each other. Whilst we do see that some students have a better natural strength at systematising than others (Bressan, 2018), my own personal experience is that this skill can be strengthened in all students through good science teaching and clear scaffolding. Before joining high school teaching full time, I tutored Chemistry and was regularly surprised by the performance jump that could be achieved by seeking out entrenched misconceptions and then rebuilding back up.

Secondly, I believe that students are more likely to excel when they are motivated by intrinsic interest in the subject material. I believe that students should have some choice in where to apply their extra energy beyond their core studies and I don’t demand that all my students need or want to become chemists in the future. In my opinion, interest in a subject can be fostered by showing how it can be applied in real life and either being a good role model for students or by finding them positive role models when you yourself do not fit the bill. For last year’s International Women’s Day, I asked three female friends to record short videos for my students to talk about the difficulties that they face as women in high profile roles and how they have persevered to excel despite the odds.

Thirdly, I have a strong focus on creating a classroom environment where wrong answers and concepts may also be shared in a way that leads to positive opportunities for learning. This comes from my first experiences of teaching working as an English instructor at Tsinghua University, Beijing. My students had very strong evaluation and study skills and so I mistakenly thought that they would actively participate in class. However, it quickly became apparent that they were uncomfortable making a mistake in front of others and asking for responses from the class led to long, awkward silences. I learnt from this experience and nowadays it is important for me that my students feel comfortable to speak in class without fear of embarrassment; mistakes will be accepted as opportunities for further learning. This is particularly important in the cultural setting of China where a strongly entrenched culture of face makes people acutely concerned about embarrassment. In order to begin to foster this atmosphere, I begin each year by laying down expectations for behaviour when other students speak and how we should all behave when incorrect or incomplete ideas are raised. In order to reduce the number of occasions where a student has nothing at all to contribute, students who are stronger will more regularly be asked questions that sit higher on Bloom’s taxonomy (analyse/evaluate/synthesise) whilst weaker students are asked more simple questions involving direct recall (Armstrong, 2018).


Armstrong, P (2018), Bloom’s taxonomy [Online] Available at: (Accessed 1/11/2019)

Bressan, P. (2018), Systemisers are Better at Maths, Sci Rep, 8, 11636

February 10, 2020

Better together: why teacher education needs universities as well as schools

The link below takes you to an article written by Clare Brooks and Jo McIntyre and informed by discussions in the Russell Group of ITE Providers. Kate Ireland from CTE is also part of this group and as such has contributed to this discussion:

February 04, 2020

My teaching philosophy – Virginia

Think of a tree. Think of its trunk, of its branches and its ever-changing leaves, but, most importantly, focus on its roots. Hone in on the notion that this tree would falter without its support and nourishment and place in the earth. My teaching philosophy gravitates around the importance of catering to the mental health of my students while fostering a community in the classroom — a philosophy that is rooted in what I felt I lacked in school and touchstones that grew out from that empty space.

The importance of a healthy emotional environment in a classroom setting cannot be stressed enough. Children need established dialogue and vocabulary around mental health to better understand where they, themselves, stand (Hodgman 2012). A study carried out by Danby and Hamilton (2016) noted that teachers believed that “‘the term mental health was not suitable for use with children’”, and I think there’s fault in this. In San Francisco I became quite familiar with Waldorf education and found our beliefs toward education and teaching around mental health paralleled. From those years forward with this system in mind, I’ve placed a vast emphasis of my teaching to focus on fostering emotional stability as it feeds into social behaviour.

Bluntly put, community lacked in my classrooms so I sought to find my own. In my adopted communities I found a place of safety, but it wasn’t until high school when I found a classroom where I felt completely heard and seen. That CP Biology class freshmen year mirrored many of the qualities I valued in my communities outside the classroom and this stirred value into school allowing me to see it in different, more formatively positive light. That teacher made me feel as if I was truly cared about as a human and set in stone how important a community classroom can be.

From a young age I’ve been told that I’m someone who is fearless and whom children gravitate towards. In being a teacher, there is power in having charisma and a personality (Cowley 2010) and this seemingly naturalness and ease I have with children is something I want to use to inspire confidence to harness a strong sense of self-efficacy in my students in order for them to persist and achieve (Lefrancois 1997 p.366). Let it be noted, although outwardly confidence seemed to exude from me since childhood, it wasn’t until I had developed a strong sense of mental health paired with safe communities did that confidence reflect inward.

When we are at home with ourselves, we are at home with the world, and my hope for my students is that through effort on my part they can better find solid ground to root and grow. Let’s go back to the tree and its roots. Just like those roots in the tree, a student without community and educational support simply cannot flourish. I want to be a teacher who is in tune with children’s emotional needs, who understands the value of community outside of the home unit and in the classroom, and who wants each kid to find their courage to better have the tools to be able to find a growing and loving community after school and beyond.


Cowley, S. (2010). Getting the Buggers to Behave, Bloomsbury Publishing, London. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central.

Hamilton, P. and Danby, G. (2016). Addressing the ‘elephant in the room’. The role of the primary school practitioner in supporting children’s mental well-being. Wrexham: Pastoral Care in Education, pp.90–103.

Hodgman, L. (2012). The emotional environment | Croner-i. [online] Available at:

LeFrancois, G (1997) Psychology for Teaching (9th edition) London: Wadsworth

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