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Observing Learning in the Classroom

There are many benefits to observing other teachers delivering lessons. Throughout your initial teacher training you will need to observe other colleagues. This should also, where possible, be a range of colleagues and not just your mentor as this will give you a broader range of teaching styles to see and will give you a plethora of ideas to take away with you to apply in your own lessons. It is also good practise to observe experienced colleagues when you are an NQT, especially if your NQT year is in a school other than that your placement(s) were in. They can be really useful to gather tips and tricks on how to engage your learners from colleagues who know the students you are teaching.

Universities will have their own specific lesson observation proforma which is used on your course. It is a good idea to use the one you are provided with as it will help you to know the "assessment criteria" for when you yourself are being observed.

Before you observe a lesson, you should agree the focus of the observation with your mentor. For example, you may be looking specifically at how the teacher uses questioning in the classroom or you may be looking at lesson structure, pace or behaviour management.

During the observation, if you can, look at the teacher's planning. It's important to note here that you should not expect a full written lesson plan - we're talking about the structure of the lesson and the learning activities. Observe the teaching - what is it that the teacher does? How do they do it? Observe the learning - what are the students doing? Talk to the students, when you can, about what they are doing (for example to explore whether they understand the objectives, how much they know, understand and can do). Look at students' notes or exercise books. Be mindful that your observation and questioning does not cause a distraction to the learning though.

Some questions to ask yourself when observing…

How do learners enter the teaching space (e.g. classroom, gym, lab, workshop etc.)?

  • What is the layout of the teaching space?

  • What strategies are used to settle the learners?

  • When does the teacher take the register?

Start of lesson – is the first activity long or short?

  • What is its purpose?

How are the lesson objectives shared?

  • Are they revisited during the lesson?

What is the focus of the teaching and learning?

  • i.e. teacher lead, group or paired work.

  • Why did the teacher plan this?

  • What was the impact?

What different activities are there for the learners to practise their new skills?

How is new material presented?

  • What visual aids or support are there for learning?

How did the teacher start/end the lesson?

How and when were the learning intentions shared?

What were the main learning episodes?

To what extent were learners motivated and on-task?

To what extent did the case students meet the learning outcome / success criteria?

What teaching resources are used?

  • e.g. handouts, slideshows, materials, equipment, etc.

  • How is ICT used to enhance learning?

How does the material match the maturity of the age group?

  • How might it differ from, similar, materials for a different age group?

How does the teacher manage learners’ learning and behaviour?

  • What strategies were used?

  • What are the timings for each activity?

How does the teacher communicate?

  • i.e. verbal and non-verbal, to the whole class, groups or individuals.

Are there points in the lesson at which the teacher assesses the pupils’ understanding?

  • How does the teacher give feedback?

Are adults other than teachers (AOTT) used in the lesson?

  • e.g. technician, teaching assistant, learning support assistant, etc.

How does the lesson conclude?

  • Does the final activity allow pupils to celebrate their new learning and reflect on how they learnt?

  • What homework was set?

  • How were pupils dismissed?

After the lesson, discuss the lesson with your mentor, reflect and make notes on…

  • To what extent were the expectations met?

  • Which learners were above and below expectation?

  • Why was this the case?

  • What factors influenced learning?

  • What was the impact of the teaching on learners’ progress?

  • What are the implications for future lessons?

Where possible, you should always focus your notes in a cause and effect style which is based upon what the TEACHER did and then as a result what was the LEARNING that took place. If you can, try and use the 3Is language of intent (what did the teacher want to happen, what was the purpose of the episode/section of the lesson), implementation (how did the teacher facilitate the learning? what did the teacher do?) and impact (what happened as a result).

Further Reading

Heightman, S. (2009). Reading Classrooms: How to maximise learning from classroom observation. In Capel, S., Leask, M and Turner T. (2009). Learning to teach in the secondary school (fifth edition). London: Routledge.

Taber, K. (2015). Observation [online article]. Available at [accessed 27 July 2018]

Taber, K. (2015). Participant observation [online article]. Available at [accessed 27 July 2018]

Wragg, T. (1999). An introduction to Classroom Observation (second edition). London: Routledge.

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