When Ofsted are on the way
Not long ago, and I’m sure it is a regular occurrence, there was a twitter post along the lines of ‘Ofsted in the morning – what can I do?!’. My reply was quite simple – it’s far too late to be worrying about that – inspectors need only speak to the learners to find out what normally happens, regardless of what you are doing on the day.
I have some simple criteria for the classroom – nothing to taxing and easy to measure:
Are the learners enjoying themselves?
Do they appear to be confident?
And that’s probably about it – all the rest is the fine detail.
Get these two sorted and the quality of the lesson will shine upon the faces of the learners.
Enjoyment is apparent to any visitor, and the elements are part of any lesson plan. Are there a variety of activities, is there hands-on, colourful and active things to do, are the learners engaged and challenged, are they co-operating with one another, and are the tasks designed to encourage co-operation? Do they take the initiative, or wait for guidance and direction at every move? Are they confident to make mistakes and be corrected by each other, rather than by the teacher? Do they encourage and reward each other, or is that the prerogative of the teacher? (In one never to be forgotten lesson in which I was being observed, one learner did something most noteworthy, and someone else shouted with obvious enthusiasm ‘She should get the prize!’ – I’m afraid I don’t run to prizes anymore, but I do keep a box full of stars.)
Confidence is built upon each lesson. Do the learners know how each lesson fits into the scheme of things, and do they have access to the scheme. Do you share the objectives, either in the lesson or in a plan that embraces the whole year? And is that pinned up or distributed at the start of the year? Do they have benchmarks to measure achievement, and are they clear and understandable? (My benchmarks are what would have been needed to get a desired grade on that particular past paper.) Is there a ‘virtual learning environment’, and do you remind the learners each lesson where they can find what we are doing, what we have done, and what we will be doing next? And do you post regular photographs so they can see themselves doing it? An alternative is to put the resources on a public site – I take great pleasure in showing them how to find my stuff, by putting my name and the topic into a Google search and seeing it as the top hit. Are the learners encouraged to seek other sources of learning outside of the classroom? Khan Academy has greatly improved, as has BBC Bitesize and a number of other free resources.
Confidence in the learning process is built by the learners, not the teacher. Can they check their own understanding of learning, or is it done when the teacher marks the stuff and provides feedback. Do you give out answers and solutions or get learners to come to the board and share their methods and solutions? (This year I have been providing exam-board mark schemes with all class exercises and written tasks so that the learners can see if they are achieving the marks allocated.) And why wait until an inspector asks them if they know how they are getting on, or if they understand? Survey Monkey and Socrative are ideal tools for getting instant and regular feedback. I’ve posted feedback on the wall outside my classroom, which happens to be the corridor to the management suite, and done it in Wordle to make it even more satisfying!
When my boss asks if I have tracking sheets and records I’m often at a loss as to what to say. Is it about recording completion of homework, success on homework or class tests, or about learner satisfaction? I provide a handbook with the details and the criteria for the award, and a column for the learners to tick, date or whatever, but that is their responsibility. I keep records of past exam paper attempts, including modular ones with can be brief and easy to do in a short session, but are these really significant? More important is if I am genuinely interested in each and every one of them. Have I spoken to each person each lesson, either by asking a mathematical question or any other device?
Speaking to everyone is what I do, and over recent years I’ve found ways of engaging them that never occurred before. For example, when we need numbers at random for prime factor decomposition, I once thought it clever to use Excel to generate these. Then I bought a Bingo machine – turn the handle and out pops a ball, which a learner can do. Now I go round the room and collect house numbers which we duly factorise. For scale drawings I use local maps – learners stick a label on their home and measure the distance to college. For any statistical data we get it from them, including distance to college. (With this last we were able to utilise converting metric to imperial, all kinds of average, and calculating average speed.) Compare learner data to national statistics, and remember Census at School as a wonderful resource. I try to do something along these lines every lesson. This week we did ratio and proportion, and most classes came up with baking/cooking as something which uses proportion, and it just so happened that my son had sent by Snapchat a picture of his dumplings, which I kept for display, and which led to a discussion on taste, mixture, and what a dumpling equivalent would be in both India and Bangladesh – it all depends on who is in the room.
So the question was ‘who makes the dumplings in your house?’ The trick is simple – put the learner at the centre of the experience, not the teacher. The learner appreciates this, and Ofsted can see it a mile off. But do it from the start, not the night before they are due to arrive!