Anatomy of an outstanding lesson : January 22, 2013
Outstanding lessons are all alike; every unsatisfactory lesson is unsatisfactory in its own way.
Leo Tolstoy (and me)
It’s all very well writing a book called The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson, but it does rather set you up for a fall. People expect you to be able to bang out Grade 1 lessons to order. Anything less than outstanding would be a bitter disappointment. I’ve reflected a number of times that it must seem like the most appalling hubris to have written the damn thing; teaching a great lesson becomes a minimum requirement. Anything else and I am exposed as a fraud!
Now, I’ve always had high expectations of myself and on those occasions where my lessons have been judged to be less than outstanding I’ve indulged in recrimination and self doubt to the point of obsession. Being considered outstanding at what I do for a living is a matter of professional pride. It’s also a question of credibility; how can I expect to be taken seriously when observing others if I can’t cut the mustard myself?
So, to say there was some pressure to perform when my new Head asked if could observe my Year 11 class this morning is something of an understatement.
We’re currently studying Steinbeck’s classic, Of Mice and Men and in the previous lesson we looked at characterisation. I put the class into home/expert groups and used Question Formulation Technique to get them to generate questions about the various characters in the novel. After going through the process they ended up with a short list of 3 ‘good’ questions which we would revisit and refine today.
So, when planning the lesson I needed to show that students had made progress from that lesson to this. Here’s the plan based on my 2 minute lesson plan questions:
And here is the presentation I used:
I tweeted the plan the night before and had some wonderful marginal gains suggested which I duly implemented. I also worked out that in order to get the individual writing done there wouldn’t be time for students to select their own quotations form the text so I stuck a selection up around the room on what I call my ‘Stuck Stations’. These also contained a model response on Slim – a character they would not be writing about.
In order to build a bit of anticipation I pumped out Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation as students came in and directed their attention to the question on the board and nobbled a student, Arran, to let him know that he’d be leading the feedback on this task, They rose to the occasion magnificently and Arran chaired the discussion masterfully teasing out some fascinating insights on who would make the best prime minister. This gave me time to take the register and chat about the context of the lesson with the Head and the Subject Coordinator for English who were both observing. We use a system called Live Lesson Obs which requires observes to talk to the teacher and students about what’s happening during the lesson so I’d planned for plenty of opportunities to ensure this could take place seamlessly.
After a brief discussion about the learning outcome and what would be expected, I asked students to select 1 question from their shortlist which would enable them to meet the learning outcome. We then used the Deeper Questioning Grid to refine the question so that it was suitably challenging. This was the part of the lesson I was most pleased with and the students all wanted to push themselves to create the most challenging question. Also, it was really clear to see the progress they were making from the questions they’d come up with in the previous lesson.
At this point I got them to select a suitable quotation from those I’d prepared earlier and gave them 10 minutes to Zoom In and Out in response. I made a point of saying that I wanted them to take a risk and write something I would find surprising or interesting. Normally I’d write my response alongside the students but I wanted to keep myself free to monitor what they were doing and talk to the observers about what was going on. I overheard the Head say how much he was enjoying the lesson: always a good sign!
As they were finishing off their answers I gave out highlighters and asked them to make sure they had CSPed their work. My maxim is: if it’s not proofread, it’s not finished. This done, I got them to highlight where they had taken a risk or written something they were particularly proud of. Then they explained how their work met the learning outcome before swapping with a partner for some quick peer assessment.
Here’s a couple of examples of their work:
I knew it had gone well because I’d seen some fantastic work and felt that many of the students in the class had managed to finally get their heads round evaluating the writer’s intentions. And sometimes you just know: everyone was smiling and felt good about what they’d accomplished.
I toddled off for some feedback at break and was delighted (and not a little relieved) to find the Head agreed. Outstanding across the board: nailed it!
So, what was the secret of success? Well, although I spent longer planning than usual I didn’t obsess too much and certainly didn’t waste time creating silly one off resources. There were two main factors that contributed:
1. The effort I’ve put into marking and giving quality feedback which I’ve insisted students act on and given them dedicated time to do it.
2. The quality of the relationship I have with the class and the fact that I have sky high expectations for them.
All the techniques and strategies used can be found in the following posts:
Building anticipation… How to get kids to look forward to your lessons without dumbing down
Building resilience: Sir, I’m stuck! tips on motivation & independence
Developing oracy: it’s talkin’ time! Strategies for improving the quality of teacher talk & students’ questioning
How to get students to value writing - the importance of proofreading