10 questions to ask in a lesson observation review
Lesson observations vary considerably from school to school, and even department to department in some cases. For some, they're little more than a tick-box exercise. There's no process or structure around how they should work. For others they're a well-designed, planned, and critical part of developing professional educator practices. But there's no point running lesson observations if there's no opportunity for two-way feedback in a lesson observation review.
Like any performance related conversation, there are key questions to ask in a lesson observation review.
Even if school leaders do understand that lesson observations shape better teachers, the execution isn’t always great. Yes, a lesson may well be impeccably observed with copious notes taken down during the time spent in the classroom. But feedback is often underwhelming (if it happens at all).
Lesson observations are pointless if there's no two-way feedback
It's essential that every lesson observation is followed by a lesson observation review where feedback can be shared freely between teacher and observer.
This should take on a two-way approach where teacher and observer feel comfortable to speak openly about the lesson and future plans. Observers should do no more than half the talking – it’s important teachers have the opportunity to share their experiences and thoughts on the lesson as much as you.
But, how do you structure this review session? We’d suggest asking some open-ended questions to get things moving and create wider discussion points.
10 questions to ask in a lesson observation review
1. What makes a good lesson in your subject?
This is a great opener as it’s not directly about the teacher’s own lesson. It’s a bit of a softball to reduce any stress but also importantly to get a teacher thinking about the context of great teaching.
Most teachers (beyond trainees and NQTs) should have a good understanding of what a great subject lesson looks like. If they don’t then this is a good opportunity to frame the rest of the conversation around best practice and ideal outcomes.
2. How hard was that lesson to plan?
We’re all guilty of putting extra hours in to a lesson when we know we’re going to be observed or during an inspection. It’s only natural. But it’s important for an observer to understand how much extra effort went in to the lesson and if the lesson was a typical experience for students.
If you find more effort was put in than is realistically feasible, chat over future preparation approaches. Ideally an observed lesson will be as close to the norm as possible for it to be an accurate reflection. You also don’t want your teachers overexerting themselves due to anxiety about being observed.
3. How do you feel your lesson went today?
It’s important to ask your teacher how they feel the lesson went. We’re all open to missing things, or perhaps we got called out the class for 5 minutes and missed a golden moment. Were they at ease knowing they were being observed? Or were they anxious with your observation playing on their mind? Are they happy with how the lesson panned out? Or did it fall short of what they were hoping to achieve?
4. Would you say that was a fairly typical lesson with that class?
This is a follow-on to question 2 in that it’s partly about the teacher’s own performance and planning. But it’s also asked to better understand the students and how an observation may have shifted their behaviour or learning. If a class is particularly disruptive, for example, it’s good for an observer to know this and use that additional context when delivering upcoming feedback.
5. What are you most proud of in today's lesson?
This allows your teacher to focus on the positive aspects of the lesson and shout about what makes them passionate and motivated when teaching. It’s a useful question to help shape feedback on future lessons as it gives you a clearer indication of what engages your teachers and their students.
6. What didn’t go so well? Would you handle it differently next time?
It’s also important to focus on the things that didn’t go so well. No lesson goes 100% to plan and it’s important to remind your teachers of this. Especially if the lesson went considerably off plan. But by focussing on the more challenging aspects of the class you help staff reflect on how they can improve their planning, resources, teaching or behaviour management next time. Feel free to make suggestions on how things could be handled better next time.
7. Do you think you involved the students enough in the lesson?
Student participation is a key learning tool that should be applied in most lessons. If your teacher answers “no” here, a viable follow-up would be to ask how they could remedy this in the future. What strategies could they employ to better involve students.
8. What do you hope the students took away from their lesson with you?
A great lesson begins with a great lesson plan and a clear lesson objective. If that objective isn’t met, then the lesson was perhaps not as effective as it should have been. Teachers should have their objective at the centre of all they do in a lesson, so ensure your teachers had an objective in mind and use it as a measure of lesson success.
9. Do you think anyone found it particularly easy or difficult? If so, why?
Great teachers don’t just teach a lesson, they respond to how students are engaging with the topic and adapt when required. It’s important that teachers pick up on how the lesson is landing for their class. Did they notice anything not working? How did they adapt? What could they do moving forward?
10. What support do you need from the school to be the best teacher you can be?
It’s a known truth that budgets can be incredibly tight. But that doesn’t mean you should shy away from asking teachers what they need to be the best educators they can be.
Yes, you won’t be able to provide everything that's requested. But by asking this question, school leadership can start to build an understanding of where investments could be made to improve outcomes. They'll also start to understand common trends.
Also, simply by asking this question, you help build a more supportive and trusting culture amongst your teaching staff. Make sure you follow-up with your teachers about their requests, even if the answer is not an ideal one.