All 9 entries tagged Observation

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April 27, 2020

Stepping Backwards to Move Forwards: A very honest reflection – By Lauren

The end of term was fast approaching and I was, like most, in need of a break. I was so pleased with my progress this term and was very much looking forward to being that one step closer to finishing the course. Then the morning of 22nd March came, my formal observation with my Head of Department. I had avoided having a formal observation with my Head of Department for the past couple of weeks because I wanted to focus on my areas of development and show some improvement.

The lesson came and pretty much everything went wrong. I was settling the class when I realised I was in the wrong classroom and another teacher was lining her class up outside. The starter task took 20 minutes instead of the designated 10, not good when you have decided to include a whole host of activities within the lesson. The students did not seem their usual, engaged selves and I was faced with 30 distant looking faces staring at me. Let me confirm here, these faces were not that of students who were gripped and mesmerized by my teaching, more disengaged and most likely thinking about what they were having for lunch that day from the school canteen. The activities were unappealing and you could see that the students were not impressed as they dismissively wafted the worksheets I gave them and looked at me as if to say “Miss, why are we doing this?” At this point, I received several echoes of “Miss, what do we have to do again?” It is fair to say at this point, I knew things were not going great and I wanted to run out of the classroom; I have never wanted a fire alarm to have go off, anything to leave the lesson. I could picture my Head of Department highlighting the boxes on my observation form, and I just knew that this was not going to be the result I had hoped for. After delivering my verbal feedback she slid the form across the desk; I felt embarrassed and disappointed. I folded the form up and placed it in my bag with the plan to shred it as soon as I got home.

That evening, I was sorting my planner out and I found the observation sheet inside it. I was thinking about the lesson and the bemused faces of my students throughout. I was frustrated that a lesson on Civil Rights with a class usually so involved was so flat. Then I thought about the planning process. Usually, I plan my lessons with the focus in mind and then decide on tasks I know my students will respond to. I didn’t do that on this occasion, I planned to please my observer and ultimately, I planned with ‘outstanding’ in mind, not my students; I had taken a step backwards. Recently, I had changed how I planned which meant that my lessons were more engaging for my students and they were central to the planning process, unfortunately the observer did not see the students at their best because I had prevented that from happening. If I had thought about the tasks properly, I would have known that they would not have bought the best out of my students. However, despite taking a step backwards here, I decided to use this lesson to move forwards. Yes, you could argue I was making the same mistakes as I was in September, however, I was reflecting on them differently and able to identify the problems. I made a promise to myself after this lesson that I would resume my usual planning process and focus on having the foresight to know what tasks would get the best out of my students. This observation highlighted to me the importance of everything I had learnt, sometimes you do need to step backwards to move forwards.

March 31, 2020

Reflecting – “…through a mirror darkly…” Keith

So, term starts, and there you are in the classroom, pen in hand, notebook at the ready, senses sharpened, dutifully primed (Christmas pun intended) by the well-oiled operation of the Warwick CPE induction team (leave that one with you!) and ready for applying yourself to observation. Observing, do it all the time, have done pretty much since birth, should be good at it. Off we go. An hour later and that’s one down. Much as I thought. Kids lined up, came in, sat down, slapped down a bit for being noisy, reminded that underlining is done with a ruler and, according to my notes, did some exercises. Oh yes, I recognised a strategy or two going on: countdowns; gentle rebuke to the disengaged; reminder of expectations. There we are job-done.

A week or two passes, more notes are taken when the sneaking feeling that these notes are all much the same and, dare I say, somewhat dry and moribund. I’m even writing down the topics and annotating the exercise questions? There are now bits of scaffolding jottings in my pad where I have broken away from observing to get involved in the doing (not that there is anything wrong with that per se). But is writing about whether the ladder leaning against the wall is safe, really going to help my classroom practice (short of the classroom’s openable windows being elevated to a significantly lofty location.)? I need to re-focus, and probably even take-a-look at the session we had on ‘observation’ at uni., which, I am sure, would have almost certainly been useful. Ah yes, focus on one aspect, study all the techniques used for BfL or AFL or differentiation. Makes sense. Right, I’m ready to go. I’m focussed. A few lessons pass. A quick look at my notes. What! Is that all I’ve written? Even some of my least diligent pupils would have recorded more than that! Needs re-thinking, but for now I need to concentrate on delivering my first full lessons.

What went well? I emerged, relatively unscathed. Excellent level of heat generated, possibly accompanied by a flicker of light. What, ‘could be better’? I’m left reflecting, but the next lesson is imminent, so I’m back to a bit more ‘observing’.

The Epiphany. Ah! so that’s what’s been happening. The Teacher ensures the students are admitted in good time, they are settled quickly, they know the routine, they have stuff to do immediately. The teacher glides effortlessly and with minimum instruction to the main focus of the lesson. The students are all, according to their respective needs, and with a relaxed freedom, on task. A flicker of disengagement is smoothly quelled and students are transitioned easily through effortless orchestration from the steady to appropriate, more challenging, tasks. Students are acting as autonomous agents, doing work, at consummative ease in an environment of unspoken, yet understood, boundaries. There is peer to peer support. The teacher is almost subliminally aware of the proceedings. There is a sense of safety and mutual respect, which seems to underpin the whole operation. Assessment of learning leads to a careful transition of tasks achieved effortlessly due to prior preparation. A brief round-up and the class ends. Students are reminded firmly but respectfully of the exit procedure. Staff and students are relaxed and smiling as they depart.

Funny, for all those previous notes and years of experience of ‘observing’, I somehow seemed to have missed all that, until I’d had a go myself.

March 16, 2020

What can be learnt from a lesson observation? – Scott

What can be learnt from a lesson observation? How does this impact upon your strategies for behaviour management?

My current school places a great emphasis on observations and teachers are expected to observe other lessons and be observed. Whilst this can feel like a big workload increase, as a trainee teacher, the lessons I have observed and the feedback I have been given when observed, have proven invaluable, particularly in the area of behaviour management.

Observations can be a greatly effective tool in that they allow colleagues to share quite simple strategies and tools which can be implemented immediately with effective results. I was recently observed by a colleague who noted that whilst there was a core of engaged and participating students, many students were unengaged and entirely switched off and misbehaving as a result. My colleague shared a simple questioning strategy that would hopefully help with behaviour management. Instead of choosing students with their hands up, which allowed some students to, “opt-out,” of the lesson, I needed to begin using a random selection technique which meant any student could be chosen at any time. This meant students would need to ensure they were following the lesson as there was almost a certainty that they would be chosen to speak at some point. This was a simple technique that I was able to implement immediately with a noticeable improvement in behaviour. As well as this, it also allowed me to learn their names quicker, which contributed to the building of rapport, which is crucial to behaviour management, as Cowley (2010) notes, “at its heart, good behaviour is about good teacher/student relationships.”

Recently, I observed a colleague’s lesson that gave me a lot of insight into their teaching philosophy and in turn, made me think about my own. I noticed that the wall displays were a little jumbled and messy. This was in contrast to how displays are normally presented in the classes in my school, very neat and clearly done by an adult. My colleague explained to me that most of the displays had been completed by the students. Part of her teaching philosophy revolved around creating a student centred atmosphere. She was trying to empower students, give them ownership of their own learning and create a sense of community in her classroom and improve rapport and behaviour as a result. Platt (2019) points out that “real motivation comes from seeing success as possible.” By seeing their own efforts proudly displayed on the wall, students received a motivation boost. This really resonated with me as it mirrored some of my own teaching philosophies and I attempted to copy this tactic in a later lesson.

As a trainee teacher, it can be easy to spend all of your time and energy on classroom management. At the beginning of the academic year, I was able to observe a colleague who provided me with some excellent behavioral strategies such as setting clear expectations, eye contact and coming within to proximity to students who were misbehaving. These were simple strategies that I could begin practicing and implement immediately.


Cowley, S. (2010) Getting the Buggers to Behave

Platt, R. (2019) Working Hard and Working Happy: Cultivating a Culture of Effort and Joy in the Classroom

March 09, 2020

What can be learnt from a lesson observation? – Bobo

What can be learnt from a lesson observation? How does this impact upon your strategies for behaviour management?

The lesson I observed was clearly structured and planned in terms of its prior learning, learning objective, and success criteria. The teacher checked on the students’ prior learning at the beginning of the lesson. They were asked to complete a task by the end of the lesson. The learning objective and success criteria were given orally and written on the board. According to the three-phase model of Positive Learning Framework (McDonald, 2013), the second phase for preventing negative behavior is the lesson design. McDonald (2013) also notes that having the lesson objectives and outcomes on the board can be extremely useful in building up a positive learning environment. Routine is also demonstrated as part of the lesson structure. For instance, students stacked their book bags at the center of the table right after they walked into the classroom. They were accustomed to this routine that they did not require any verbal reminder. According to Garrett’s case study, she observes that all teacher participants have a common trace of having routines and procedures in their classrooms. She later concludes that these characteristics help to “create productive, positive learning environments with minimal misbehavior and supportive, respectful relationships” (Garrett, 2008:42). For my adapted lesson plan after my observation, I have taken a more proactive measure for my behavioral strategy. I incorporate a routine and consistent structure in my lesson plans. Each activity consists of objectives and outcomes. The routine of my recent lessons includes a riddle activity at the beginning of the lesson, in which students can utilize this activity as a warmup speaking exercise and reset the atmosphere from the previous lesson they had.

The second element I have identified from my observation is the intrinsic and extrinsic forms of motivational strategies used by the teacher. She triggered students’ curiosity in the form of an iPad self-learning activity. Students had to research online in groups to find answers on their own. McDonald (2013) claims that students tend to have a higher level of engagement with interactive activities and group work. He also mentions that engagement is part of the preventive stage of behavior management. On the other hand, the teacher that I observed also used an extrinsic form of motivation. She had a point system in the lesson to encourage desirable behavior. Garrett (2008) also notes in her case study that the use of extrinsic motivation has its value, particularly in times of preventing misbehavior. Concerning my behavioral management strategy, the observation has encouraged me to adopt a more diverse approach to behavior management. I have adjusted to a more hands-on activity approach in my lesson planning. In my science lessons, I have assigned more exploratory tasks and group work for students to keep them motivated and engaged during lessons. Meanwhile, I also use compliments and praise to address appropriate behavior.

Strategies for behavior management is a complex topic. Despite the numerous ways in which teacher trainees can benefit from observing lessons, lesson observation can have its limitations. As a teacher trainee, we opt to keep exploring and reflecting on different methods of managing behavior.


McDonald, T (2013), Classroom Management: Engaging Students in Learning. [online] Oxford University Press. Available from: (Accessed 29 October 2019).

Tracey, G (2008) Student- Centered and Teacher- Centered Classroom Management: A Case Study of Three Elementary Teachers. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 43 (1): 34-47

March 02, 2020

What can be learnt from a lesson observation? – Lily

What can be learnt from a lesson observation? How does this impact upon your strategies for behaviour management?

Peer lesson observations have provided me with an insight into not just behaviour management strategies but also student response and engagement, therefore immediately indicating how effective the strategy has been. In particular, I have found observing a Key Stage 1 science lesson extremely beneficial for my development.

Tailoring lessons helps students to engage with the learning, as they feel the work is achievable (Griffith and Burns, 2012). This then reduces disruptive behavior in the classroom as students are able to participate in the lesson. Whilst observing the aforementioned lesson I was able to see how the teacher adapted her plan to support her class who were struggling to remain focussed. Instead of writing to document their understanding, students took photographs and recorded their explanations. This documented their learning in a way that was engaging and accessible to the class. Following this observation, I edited a lesson to best suit my class, I prioritised groupwork and documented student learning through captioned photographs. Following this lesson, on reflection, the level of work my students produced was significantly higher than the work they had produced the previous week, where students had lost focus due to written work expectation being too high.

Griffith and Burns (2012) explain that students who feel connected with their teachers feel motivated in their learning. One way in which to establish this relationship is to encourage students to share how they are feeling, thus building their emotional literacy; Shelton and Brownhill (2012) define emotional literacy as “the ability to recognise, understand, handle, and appropriately express emotions”. Increased emotional literacy can enable the teacher to build stronger connections with students and by doing so reduce negative behaviour (Lee, 2006, Sharp 2012). I had previously implemented this verbally in my classroom, but felt it wasn’t having an impact. Whilst observing the opening of the science lesson I noticed the class had a ‘Feelings Chart’. The students were free to move their photograph up or down the chart to show how they were feeling throughout the day, allowing for changing of feelings and more frequent class discussion. Moreover, whilst observing her lesson, I was able to see how the teacher adjusted her tone depending on the student’s mood or feelings. I have since introduced the ‘Feelings Chart’ into my classroom. I found it has helped me to build a greater understanding of my students and build stronger connections, which in turn has improved their behaviour.

Whilst I observed the lesson, I noticed that the teacher addressed low-level disruptive behaviour using non-verbal prompts to get students back on task. This maintained the pace of the lesson and prompted the students in this class to make better behaviour choices. By watching this being implemented in a lesson I was able to see how students quickly mirrored the teachers’ actions. I have since found silent behaviour management techniques to be particularly effective with my students who can be loud or disruptive as my actions are a total contrast to their behaviour.


Griffith, A. and Burns, M. (2012). Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Learners. Camarthen: Crown House Publishing, pp.91-92.

Sharp, P. (2012). Nurturing Emotional Literacy. 3rd ed. Oxon: Routledge.

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

July 15, 2019

What can be learnt from a lesson observation? – Nicoletta

It has been proven that both observing lessons, and having our lessons observed and reviewed lead to better teaching practice (Grossman & Williston, 2002; Hendry & Oliver 2012; Bell & Cooper, 2011), and, as a result, to improved students’ learning outcomes. Both practices have been fundamental parts of my learning journey, providing me with a wide range of behaviour management strategies which have already brought solid evidence of their efficacy in my classroom (Teachers’ Standard 7).

Effective teachers model in their daily practice the strategies that make their teaching effective. Therefore, observing competent teachers and supervisors “in the field” is highly beneficial for trainee teachers as it shows them how the theory they are learning is put into practice in the classroom. Moreover, through observational learning (Bandura, 1977; 1997), the novice teachers acquire the necessary confidence to attempt those strategies on their own, as well an unlimited amount of inspiration. In my professional experience, observing my colleagues’ classes has shown me that learning-productive teacher-pupil interactions, such as effective questioning and feedback strategies, lead to a higher level of engagement which results in improved students’ behaviour. Furthermore, I have observed that praising the pupils’ effort and referring to them by name helps to develop a better rapport, which has a trigger of extrinsic motivation and, as a consequence, it has a deep impact on behaviour management (Griffith and Burns, 2012).

Class observation, meant as review, means being observed by mentors or other experienced teaching fellows. This kind of observation provides the trainee teacher with the opportunity to apply their academic knowledge directly in the classroom setting under the supervision of competent classroom teachers and mentors. Having my classes reviewed provides me with valuable, instant feedback on my teaching, with the opportunity to reflect on my practice and with inestimable practical advice. Namely, following an informal class observation, a fellow teacher suggested that I could try to enforce a whole class reward policy to decrease negative competitiveness. On the next day, I gave my students the task to make a list of four positive behaviours which make a lesson successful for all the students in the class as well as for the teacher. After they all agreed about the content of the list, we established that I would put a piece of candy in a jar every time we had a successful class. Moreover, we also negotiated together the reward. This strategy has not only resulted in improved relationships between the students and enhanced collaborative learning, but has also raised my students’ motivation.

To conclude, based on my experience so far, class observation has been a powerful tool which has had a deep influence on my behaviour management strategies. Through class observation, I could witness first hand how motivation impacts on learner behaviour.


Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Bell, M. & Cooper, P. (2011). Peer observation of teaching in university departments: A framework for implementation. International Journal for Academic Development, DOI:10.1080/1360144X.2011.633753.

Griffith, A. & Burns, M. (2012). Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Learners. Carmarthen, Crown House Publishing

Grossman, S. & Williston, J. (2002). Teaching strategies: Strategies for helping early childhood students learn appropriate teaching practices. Childhood Education, 79(2), 103-107. DOI: 10.1080/00094056.2003.10522780

Hendry, G. D. & Oliver, G. R. (2012). Seeing is believing: The benefits of peer observation. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 9(1), 1-9.

December 10, 2018

What can be learnt from a lesson observation? – Mike

What can be learnt from a lesson observation? How does this impact upon your strategies for behaviour management?

The term ‘Lesson Observation’ often connotes being observed for quality assurance and feedback on practice. However, as a trainee, observations offer an excellent learning opportunity to see different pedagogy and strategies that can later inform your own teaching. Although focused on university teaching, Bell, Hendry and Thomson (2013) highlight the usefulness of watching colleagues teach for your own practice. They mention that pigeon-holing ‘observation’ in terms of peer review means that staff miss out on the important learning gains that can be made by watching another person’s practice. When observing simply for one’s own learning, their qualitive and quantitative research showed that 19 of the 20 people who participated in the study later implemented something new that they had observed into their own practice.

Being at the start of my career, lesson observations have proven valuable learning experiences. It allows one to reflect on different styles and what sort of things may work for you. Entering another’s classroom comes with a certain etiquette that Peter Master (1983) highlights. As the foreign agent in the room it is important to not be too imposing. Master points out that making endless notes will detract from you being able to fully observe the lesson and so short sentences that can be expanded on later are best. This is approach I myself took while observing.

I believe that it is probably natural as a trainee to want to observe with a special focus on behaviour management as this, in my experience, was the most daunting aspect before beginning to teach. Observing colleagues offers a useful chance to pick up key strategies and tricks. I noted in observing a Citizenship lesson that picking students to answer questions as opposed to asking for hands created a calmer learning environment where the teacher seemed to be in complete control of the discussion. This was something I later implemented into my own practice.

As useful as these observations are, when it comes to behaviour management, I have found that the best type of observation to learn from is actually ‘the unseen observation’ that is, an observation of yourself. Immediately after the lesson I will jot down my thoughts about what went well and what didn’t. Later, typing and expanding on these notes into an established reflective framework allows for true reflection to occur. In one particular lesson I faced behaviour management issues that I was able to see where down to an unclear task which was frustrating for pupils to complete. Rather than remedying the situation with sanctions, I went back to the drawing board and redesigned the task so that it was differentiated and clearer for those who had proved difficult and I told the class that they were to complete the task again. This time, without the confusion, I faced nearly zero behaviour issues. In this sense, my behaviour management was not improved by a strategy observed in another, but a failing of which I had observed in myself.


Bell, A., Hendry, G. D. & Thomson, K. (2014). Learning by observing a peer's teaching situation. International Journal for Academic Development. 318-329

Master, P. (1983). The Ettiquette of Observing. Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc (TESOL). 497-501

October 01, 2018

Vocabulary – Kate Glavina

I have always had an interest in and fascination for the power of vocabulary and remember well the excitement I felt as a child when I successfully tried out a ‘new word’. For example, in Junior 4 (now Year 6), I was introduced to the word ‘consequently’ and wove it into my conversation as often as I possibly could. When my sister, later, introduced me to ‘subsequently’, I was quite transported.

The power of a rich vocabulary and its impact on educational attainment is well documented. In her book Proust and the Squid, Dr Maryanne Wolf reflects on the absence of literacy and asserts that: ‘When words are not heard, concepts are not learned.’ The OUP has recently published a language report entitled 'Why Closing the Word Gap Matters' in which the point is highlighted that the size of a child’s vocabulary is the best predictor of success on future tests and children with a poor vocabulary are three times more likely to have mental health issues. The motivation for Robert Macfarlane’s recent, beautiful publication The Lost Words was a reaction to the revised edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary (2007) which had ‘dropped’ around forty common words related to nature, such as bluebell, heron, bramble, fern, heather… Macfarlane describes his poems as ‘spells’, intended to be spoken aloud to ‘summon lost words back into the mouth and the mind’s eye’. The importance of a wide vocabulary and the best approach to teaching young children seems a relevant, current debate.

Reflecting on the findings of Ofsted’s 15/16 review of the curriculum and assessment in English, HMI Sally Hubbard reported at a NATE conference (Autumn 2017) on the reading curriculum and in particular asserted that the most-able readers in the primary schools visited, lacked understanding of words that linked to ‘knowledge’. She stated that teachers should use their subject expertise to ensure that pupils can cope with vocabulary that is ‘lexically dense’ and ‘content-specific’. She emphasised the importance of vocabulary and ‘knowledge of the world’ and teachers’ appreciation of how language and understanding the world go hand-in-hand. She talked about the demands of the Key Stage 2 Reading SAT and the requirement for children as readers to be able to, amongst other skills, be able to explain the meaning of words in context and explain how meaning is enhanced through choice of words and phrases.

These language demands were viewed further through the focus of the research by Isabel Beck around Three Tier Vocabulary. In summary, Tier 1 words are those common ‘everyday’ words to which children have plenty of exposure and which quickly become a part of their vocabulary. Tier 2 words are not used commonly in conversation, but are more often found in written materials, whether fiction, information or technical texts. They will be used, for instance, by authors to enhance a story, for literary effect (e.g. misfortune; dignified; faltered) or to provide particular detail in an information piece (e.g. relative; vary; accumulate). Tier 2 words are not context specific but highly generalisable – and often express concepts that children are familiar with but in a more sophisticated or nuanced way. Tier 3 words, by contrast, are technical terms specific to content areas (e.g. lava; circumference; aorta). Recognised as new and ‘difficult’ words, they are often defined by the author of a text and sometimes scaffolded as through a glossary. All three tiers are important for comprehension and vocabulary development although Tier 2 and 3 words require more ‘deliberate effort’ than Tier 1.

In considering this model, Hubbard argues that teachers are good at giving attention to ‘Tier 3’ words - will anticipate them in their planning and offer children explicit instruction around them through such strategies as pre-teaching key words; providing a Word Wall; exploring spelling patterns, word families, derivations. What is lacking, however, is attention to Tier 2 words which, being ‘non content specific’, children will encounter in multiple contexts. It is therefore crucial for teachers to engage children in a consideration of words across different contexts. As an example, Beck outlined an occasion where she read nursery children a story in which there featured the word ‘reluctant’: Lisa was reluctant to leave her teddy bear in the laundrette. In exploring this concept, she asked the children to share a time when they had felt reluctant to do something and the children typically replied thus: . I’d be reluctant to leave my teddy at my friend’s house; I’d be reluctant to leave my drums at my step-mum’s… All of the examples offered by the children, related to leaving something behind. Beck modelled further: I’m reluctant to ride a roller-coaster. Some children are reluctant to eat spinach. Could you tell me something you’d be reluctant to do? Much to her delight, one child replied: I’d be reluctant to change a baby’s diaper.

In light of the survey findings shared by Hubbard, I thought it would be interesting to use the lessons I observe as a Link Tutor, as a lens through which to consider the idea of Two Tier vocabulary instruction. The first opportunity was a science lesson with Year 1. The Learning Objective shared with the children was displayed on a whiteboard: I can describe the physical properties of a variety of everyday objects made from different materials. The trainee asked the class what was meant by the word ‘variety’. One child responded by saying it meant ‘lots’ and the trainee agreed and moved on. In reflecting on this interaction with the trainee after the lesson, in light of the Three Tier Vocabulary model, we established that ‘variety’ fitted the classification of a Tier 2 word – i.e. it is not context specific but used in a range of different contexts. The trainee could appreciate that instead of confirming ‘variety’ meant ‘lots’, as though the words were synonymous, there was, in fact, rather more ‘unpacking’ to be done around the definition. Having a number of something (even ‘lots’) is a prerequisite for having variety, but does not in itself mean there is necessarily difference between them. Considering other contexts in which the children might have encountered the word ‘variety’ would have been valuable as well as then making the link between the meaning of the word in the context of the learning objective and the resources on the children’s tables to be investigated in their science activity.

In a different school, I observed a trainee teaching a grammar lesson to Year 5. The objective was To Build Cohesion Within A Paragraph. The trainee began the lesson by asking the class ‘What does ‘cohesion’ mean – talk to your partner.’ After a moment or two, she took an answer from one child who said ‘time connectives and conjunctions’, to which the trainee replied ‘Yes, well done.’ Of course, this isn’t in fact the meaning of the word ‘cohesion’ - the child had quite cannily offered a phrase spotted at the top of the worksheet on his desk which related to the grammatical terms one might deploy to create text cohesion and which was clearly going to be the focus of the next exercise . The trainee did not explore the meaning of the word further – neither in a wider context, nor in a grammatical one. Part way through the lesson, the trainee drew the class together for a mini-plenary during which she asked a particular pupil to read their work aloud and then asked ‘How can you make that sentence cohesive?’ After a pause, the child said ‘I don’t know’. As an observer, I sensed that the difficulty lay in the fact that the child didn’t know what ‘cohesive’ meant and without further comprehension of the term, could not articulate a reply. Reflecting on the lesson afterwards, the trainee agreed that anticipating the need for discussion around the term ‘cohesion’ would have supported the children’s understanding of the task, their engagement with it and the progress made during the lesson. Out of interest, I asked the trainee how she would define the word herself – in what other contexts she might encounter the word - and she gave me a lovely response: I think of the word in the context of RE – in relation to ‘unity’ – and also the idea of cultural cohesion – and I also associate it with ‘glue’ and sticking things together – oh that ‘adhesive’? In terms of exploring nuance and a range of contexts, this trainee was well able to see the wide applicability of the term cohesion and the merit, in future, of better anticipating those words at the planning stage of a lesson.

In conclusion, I have found this focus a very interesting one as there has always been an instance of a Two Tier word occurring early in the lesson (e.g. ‘equivalent’ when exploring fractions in maths; ‘map’ when discussing story structure in English) the exploration of which has been pivotal to the children’s understanding and, crucially, their capacity to make progress by the end of the lesson. We need to be alert to Tier Two vocabulary – anticipate it when planning – give it attention during teaching. To this end, Jo Dobb and I have created new SBTs for the 18/19 cohort of core Primary and EY PGCE trainees. These tasks will build on work we will do with the students on the ‘taught programme’ to introduce the concept and model the process. We are confident it will have a positive impact on children’s vocabulary development and subsequently (one of my favourite words) on pupil progress. Finally –since we have been thinking about vocabulary development, let me leave you with a topical book recommendation – take a look at ‘What A Wonderful Word’ by Nicola Edwards – a wonderful gift – or indeed why not treat yourself?

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  • Very interesting, thank you for sharing. Great CPD reflection. by Joel Milburn on this entry
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