Observing lessons and giving teacher feedback

Posted on 25th March 2019

In an article for TES, Bedales Head of Sciences Emily Seeber argues that feedback given to teachers on their lessons focuses too much on student behaviour, and that the ‘knowledge quartet’ offers a more useful alternative.

Emily observes that constantly discussing students’ behaviour perpetuates a toxic blame culture in teaching, and that blame has no place in observation. Rather, she proposes, “We observe, we discuss, and we should move forward as observer and observee”. To this end, she recommends the knowledge quartet, pioneered by Tim Rowland and colleagues as a model for observing maths lessons, and now beginning to have an impact in a range of other subjects. Essentially, it is a way of categorising what we observe in lessons into four basic groups: foundation, transformation, connection and contingency.

Foundation is the general pedagogy, knowledge of educational theory, subject knowledge and school procedures and processes. Transformation is about how the teacher makes their subject knowledge into something that the students can learn. Connection is about how the learning links, how the teacher ensures that lessons flow and students make good progress. Finally, contingency is how the teacher deals with the unexpected. Creating learning from the unexpected is the mark of an expert teacher.

Emily concludes: “A simple, but effective way to use this model when giving feedback to a teacher is to frame the discussion around one point from each group. Limit the discussion to four questions. As the observer, you have to reflect on the lesson, synthesising what you have observed from each category into one question to ask the teacher. This reflective process, followed by discussion, ensures that you are both learning from the observation.”

The full article can be read on the TES website here (subscription may be required).

Emily Seeber | Tim Rowland | TES