When we get feedback from a lesson observation we should hopefully leave with some constructive new ideas or strategies to try out to sharpen our professional practice. Yet, how often do we leave a little frustrated and think if I could just go back in time and teach that lesson again it could have had even more impact? Inspired by some of Doug Lemov’s ideas here is the concept of lesson feedforward which is the idea that before the observed lesson takes place the teacher meets with a person who will review the lesson and feedforward rather than feedback. This will enable the teacher to more fully reflect on the lesson prior to the actual lesson taking place. It can also be done as part of a ‘lesson study’ approach. For example, we used it in school through our work on Teaching Squares. See blog here…
The structure of the meeting is important. The teacher should begin by presenting their lesson going through their ‘5 minute lesson plan’ and their resources. The reviewer then asks clarifying questions such as enquiring as to how many are in the group, what are the learning needs of the group, will there be TA support etc.. This helps the reviewer in their evaluation of the lesson. The reviewer then identifies the positives or ‘bright spots’ of the lesson explaining why they think it will work well. This helps the teacher to think about really accentuating these aspects of the lesson. The reviewer, hopefully through getting the teacher to reflect on their own lesson through questions, will help the teacher shape some areas for development. The following are lists of questions which could be used to explore this.
What might students have misconceptions about?
What, if any, are the missing steps to a lesson?
Which explanations could be even clearer?
How will the lesson impact on the behaviour of the students?
Is there enough challenge in the lesson?
Is the subject knowledge of the teacher at an appropriate level to teach the lesson?
Does the questioning provide opportunities for students to think?
The teacher then leaves the meeting with affirmation about the positive aspects of their lessons and one or two areas for development. There shouldn’t be any more than this so that the teacher can really focus on these aspects of their lesson. Crucially, the great aspect of this is that the teacher gets the feedback before the lesson which enables the students learning to be even better and the teacher to hopefully deliver an even better lesson.
I recently used this format with one of our NQTs Sam Stones. Here are his thoughts on the process.
A view from Sam Stones
The collaborative feedforward was invaluable and provided an excellent opportunity for improvement and reflection. The very nature of feedforward means that both teachers and students alike benefit hugely from the process.
Much like a typical lesson observation, the feedforward gave me an opportunity to explore both strengths and areas of development. However, the feedforward process was particularly invaluable as I was able to respond to this exploration before actually delivering the lesson.
The lesson in question involved a Year 10 Business Studies class looking at organisational hierarchies and the challenges of centralisation and decentralisation. A result of the feedforward, Pete suggested that the students be given an opportunity to create a hierarchy for our own school. This activity gave students a chance to apply their theoretical knowledge to a real business scenario, thereby facilitating a deeper understanding of the topic and its real life application. Indeed, it is often true in the subject that students find it difficult to marry theoretical concepts up with their real life counterparts, yet this lesson improvement provided students with a great tool to address this exact difficulty.
Had this suggestion arisen as a result of feedback and not feedforward, this specific class would not have benefited from this tweak and subsequent improvement to the lesson. Indeed, it would also have been a year before I had another opportunity to improve and redeliver the lesson to a new cohort.
Feedforward also presents a number of additional benefits. As a teacher new to the profession, the process can instill confidence which in itself can be detrimental to a new teacher’s success.
The process furthermore provides the teacher and observer with an opportunity to challenge one another and discuss planning methodology. This discussion alone can result in the teacher or observer picking up a new idea which can be taken back to faculty and trialled in a range of different settings. Feedforward provides a platform on which best practice can be debated. It provides those involved with an opportunity to challenge, adapt and build upon the ideas of one another. It’s a great example of collaboration and joint professional development (JPD).
Feedforward also allows new ideas and strategies to be discussed and trialled. Such ideas and strategies may not be trialled where there is no opportunity for teachers to discuss their implementation. Feedforward therefore promotes risk and change where risk and change may otherwise be unseen.
I am confident that feedforward has improved my teaching. It improves my willingness to take risks, as I can discuss these risks in a safe environment before getting on stage to perform. The process reminds me that lesson observations are about developing and supporting, both of which help me to professionally challenge myself in the pursuit on continuous improvement and educational excellence.
Of course, it is easy to believe that time constraints may leave teachers wondering how they could possibly engage with the feedforward process, however I firmly believe that feedforward is very much a case of sharpening the axe before cutting down the tree. If the process results in a teacher picking up only one new strategy, it must still be remembered that one strategy is all it may take to change your approach and help you benefit from longer term planning efficiencies.
If you haven’t already, give it a go. I’ll certainly be booking another feedforward in the coming months and until then remain excited about the discussions which I know will arise.
So, you can see this is a really great way of thinking about lesson observation. It’s great to see how much lesson observation has moved to a much more developmental and supportive process linked to CPD. This tweak in practice can only add to this. Why not give it a go in your school?