Use lesson observations and root cause analysis, the 'Five whys', to help you to become a more reflective practitioner during your training year. Lorna Smith, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Bristol, shares her expert guidance.

by Lorna Smith
14th August 2020

You might have been given some forms or templates as part of your teacher training course which will be useful in supporting your reflective practice.

You will probably have observation forms – one to structure others’ observations of your teaching, and one for you to use as an observer yourself. Both forms work best when the observation process is built around a specific focus – it’s all too easy to try to see too much.

The most useful forms for you, when you are being observed, are the kind that ask for a maximum of three positive comments from the observer, and three targets or points for action arising from the lesson. They start a dialogue. They reflect and shape your learning more effectively than the forms that have a tick-box for every Standard that you’ve hit. Least useful are forms modelled on Ofsted practice, which leave you with an Ofsted grade. Whatever the grade, it probably won’t tell you very much. You need formative, not summative, assessment.

You will probably be asked to complete evaluation forms after your own teaching. Try to avoid evaluating everything. Choose what to evaluate. Your choices should include lessons that went well – often, surprisingly, neglected by trainees – and also what didn’t work. A well-designed form should ask you to consider the following:

  • What went well, and why?
  • Was the learning that you intended achieved, and how successfully?
  • The evidence that you use to support your comments above.
  • An explanation of why learning outcomes were not, or only partially, achieved.
  • An account of the changes you would make if you were to teach a similar lesson again.
  • A reflection on the ways in which your future teaching will change as a result of the evaluation.

If, in your next lesson plan for the same group, you can show that the evaluated lesson has changed your approach, so much the better.

It is very easy and very tempting to fudge an evaluation. You must be rigorous. There’s a technique called ‘Root Cause Analysis’ or, more popularly, ‘The Five Whys’, which might help. It’s based on the premise that if you ask ‘Why?’ five times in succession, questioning each answer in turn, you will eventually arrive at a useful answer. For example, take as a starting point a statement like ‘I had more behaviour problems in today’s lesson than usual’.

Why? Perhaps because students were not engaged with the material. 

Why were students not engaged with the material?

Maybe because I tried a different approach to planning – not so detailed.

Why did you try a different approach to planning?

Because I was short of time, so I borrowed a lesson from my flatmate, who said it would work.

Why were you short of time?

Because I didn’t start planning until too late in the evening.

Why did you start planning so late?

Because I left it until after I’d come back from a night out, instead of doing it beforehand.

There’s the root cause. Trying to be reflective won’t work unless you’re prepared to get down to root causes, painful though it may be.

Being a reflective teacher means being tough with yourself, acknowledging the truth of what you discover, then acting on it.

It quickly becomes a habit, if you apply yourself.

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