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Building a Picture of Professional Development - Caroline, Primary Teacher in Bristol

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 29 June 2009 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 13 October 2010 by ncetm_administrator

Building a Picture of Professional Development

Using Lesson Observations to Explore the Effective Teaching and Learning of Primary Mathematics

Caroline Besley, Primary Teacher in Bristol

Earlier this year, I ran a mathematics project at a local primary school. Teachers were keen to make lessons more collaborative and stimulating; they had noticed that teacher talk dominated lessons and that children were becoming increasingly passive in their learning of mathematics. The Head teacher and I designed a programme of professional development: an INSET day on the effective teaching and learning of mathematics followed by a series of demonstration lessons and workshops. Through a link with Bath Spa University teachers were able to write up their work for accreditation at Masters Level if they wished.

It was with some trepidation that I agreed to give demonstration lessons as I was not sure that I had any authority to do so! However, as the project progressed, it became clear that having the chance to observe another teacher teach was fundamental to our programme of professional development. While I have a repertoire of lessons which I am fairly confident will go well and tend to tick the boxes for OfSTED inspectors and prospective employers, I was not sure that doing what might be called ‘model lessons’ would be most useful in this arena. After all, the project was about moving forward rather than sticking to what was safe. 

The thinking behind the demonstration lessons was that they would give teachers an opportunity to focus on an area of mathematics teaching that they were interested in developing and to observe their classes learning. On this premise and after discussion with the class teacher, I would plan then lead a session which aimed to bring in the aspects of teaching and learning that the teacher wished to see and which had a using and applying approach embedded within it.

These lessons proved to be an important part of the project for several reasons. Firstly we found that they provided a brilliant way of creating a dialogue about the teaching and learning of maths. Often teachers teach in isolation; having a shared experience allowed us to discuss which parts of the lesson were more effective, which parts were less effective and to ask questions about why some things go well and some things less well.

Secondly, teachers were free to engage with the lesson in the way that their children did and experience what it was like to be a learner in a maths lesson and so make judgements about what works well from a new perspective. They also had more space to talk with the children about their learning and understanding which proved useful for formative assessment.

Finally, giving teachers a chance to observe rather than be observed was much valued. As one teacher put it, ‘You came in, you taught our children and you didn’t judge us.’ Instead teachers were free to make judgements of the teaching and learning that they saw and to see that we all do the same sorts of things – just sometimes we are more effective and sometimes less. 

The demonstration lessons have also been a very important part of my own professional development. I feel more confident about doing these lessons now and am developing a keener feel for delivering lessons which will demonstrate the aspects of teaching and learning that teachers want to see.
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