Life without lesson observation grades

How do you develop good reflection, teaching effectiveness and the right amount of ambition in your staff? How do you develop this without breeding a culture of unhealthy competitiveness, pride and where people put their career progression before their students. We need to be good teachers, not just be seen to be good teachers. This school might have hit the mark.

Class Teaching

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In April 2014 we stopped grading lesson observations.  This post looks at why we did it (and why every school should) and what we’ve noticed since.

Why we stopped grading lesson observations

  • Judging a teacher on a 30 minute snapshot of their work is ridiculous.  It ignores the other hundreds of hours they spend in the classroom (and out of it) that makes a huge contribution to the outcomes that their students achieve.  Would you call Pele a poor footballer because of this miss, or acknowledge his greatness based on the 1281 goals he scored in 1363 games?
  • If we are serious about being a ‘growth mindset’ school, how can it be right to label our teachers in this way?  Instead, why don’t we focus on useful, formative feedback?  By grading teachers, we are suggesting that only ‘requires improvement’ or inadequate’ teachers need to get better, which again is not…

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Life without lesson observation grades

Why I will change how I mark work

Marking in the past has been something that was monotonous, time consuming and  purposeless. Of course I believed in assessment for learning. I believed in the importance of good feedback and giving students specific goals. And yes, I did this verbally and after assessment tasks I would write notes to parents if there was something specific a student needed to work on. However, when it came to those reading group sheets or those day to day tasks, I could not see the point. Time after time, I would see my countless comments of encouragement and instruction ignored. The same mistakes repeated. Until eventually the comment became a tick, to quite literally just tick the boxes.

I had first heard of the green pen feedback idea whilst observing a teacher in Australia who had taught in the UK.  Whilst teaching in London schools, I have seen a range of different marking methods and policies. One thing all these schools have in common is:

Marking is important and they expect the kids to respond to their specific feedback.

Each lesson has a clear learning intention. In the younger years this takes place in the form of a sticky label (sometimes) in child friendly language with a few dot points on what they are looking for in particular. When the class teacher is discussing this with the class it may be referred to as the WALT and WILF of the lesson or the learning intention and success criteriaIn the older years, students often write the learning intention at the top of the page religiously as they would the date. 

Some schools adopt the pink for positive, green for growth approach. It was exciting to see the students lapping up the ‘next steps’ green feedback I had given them the day before. They were given an opportunity to take ownership of their learning because they had been trained to do so by their teachers year after year and given the time to in the lesson. The had the opportunity to improve. Other schools might use the phrases “What went well…Even better if…”.This is good differentiated learning without all the fuss.

Teachers are selective in their marking and creative in their planning too. If they think its not beneficial to mark they might do the activity on whiteboards instead. They are purposeful and the students are given time to act on the feedback they have been given. Teacher’s  keep each other accountable and participate in whole school book scrutiny.

It may be important to note that UK teachers are well supported with teaching assistants who are well trained and seen as professionals in their own right (but more on this at another time).

However, even with extra TA time, creating learning intentions for every lesson and marking to that criteria, whilst also giving differentiated feedback and tasks for students to act upon, increases the workload. The extra pressure is evident in teacher turnover and morale (more on this later too). So should we care? Does it actually make a difference in education?

Phil Beadle seems to believe so, stating in his book ‘How to Teach’ that marking “is the most important thing you do as a teacher”. Other bloggers (Chris Hildrew and Mark Miller) do too, and provide us with a great spring board to look at where to go with marking and feedback. The real gold nuggets however exist in Sue Swaffield‘s work from the faculty of education at the University of Cambridge.

So there are quite a few things that I’ll be doing differently now and there is still so much more to learn and observe in this area. What good practices have you observed in the areas of assessment, marking and feedback?

Why I will change how I mark work