Here at Edufolios we talk a lot about finding opportunities to connect with (and learn from) our everyday work as a teacher. Whether you’re a pre-service teacher on practicum or an experienced class room teacher, taking a moment out of your routine, to really stand back and observe what’s happening around you, can be incredibly enlightening.
As a mentor to many a pre-service teacher, I always relished the moments when I could sit back and watch how my class behaved, responded and learned as they worked with their temporary teacher. As a secondary, pre-service teacher, one of the most valuable things I remember doing (and this was over a decade ago – it left an impression) was following one student to their different classes (and all of their different teachers) in one day. In this post, we’re going to explore some questions and strategies for getting the most out of trailing a student for the day.
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Why would you take part in student trail?
Following a student around all day, hopefully into different classrooms (NIT, PE, secondary curriculum) enables you to explore several things very quickly. Here are four very generalised ones:
- What assumptions are you making about learners and are you right?
- What does the whole curriculum look like in a day? – This is especially great if you’re a subject specialist.
- How do different teachers (with their different teaching styles and personalities) teach? What’s their style and how do students respond differently to each?
- How many different teaching strategies are you observing? How are they affecting the learning and behaviour in each lesson – This is the same class remember.
By picking on student and following them around all day you will get to see how they respond to different subjects, to different teachers and, in some cases, to different peer groups as they move between sets in different subjects. By focusing your thinking as you observe you can unlock a wealth of opportunity to connect with and learn about that space between learning and teaching – pedagogy (or teaching strategies). With a bit of luck you will be exposed to a range of strategies and you will be able to make your own call about how effective they might be. Most importantly, you’ll be able to use what learn from your observation, to inform the teaching strategies you choose to use.
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|Use these questions to get some focus on your observations. Never wonder what you’re looking for again!|
How can I get the most out of my student trail?
Taking time out of your own classroom is a big ask. Let’s make sure that you get the most out of the experience with this top tips:
- Have a clear focus for your observations. Use our trail questions to help guide your focus.
- Pick one student and follow them. Make them the focus of all your observations but don’t be afraid to let your mind wander around the room and see how their responses, behaviour et. al. compare to the others in the class. By having this focus on one student, it will make all of the other subtle nuisances of the learning for the class all the more obvious.
- Try and observe for at least half a day or three lessons if you can. In a primary context, it might be beneficial to choose a day when your class are working with other staff. Use your NIT time to observe them and see if you can claim the NIT back later 🙂 Watching them work with someone else will be worth it!
- Try not to tell the student your observing that it’s all about them 😉 . Knowing that you’re observing them might change the way the behave. Instead, tell the class your observing them all.
- Don’t follow the student during break and lunch. Everyone’s going to need a break. If you’re on yard duty then you might want to try and swap for the sake of your student!
- See if you can make time to talk to your chosen student at the end of the day, especially if you have some questions to clarify the things you observed.
Find some Focus
When you start your student trial, have an area of interest that you’re exploring, a theme. We’ve created this two sided document that will give you some ideas about the kinds of questions you could be asking as you observe your student.
Frequently Asked Questions
The answer to this one will vary depending on the focus of your trail. If you would like to be a part of the learning and teaching, then ask the teacher who’s running the lesson how you can help. A simple introduction when you arrive at the door and an offer to help if they need you will let you goes a long way. With a bit of luck, an organisation, the teacher is expecting you. They may even know what it is you’re looking for!
In service teachers, it’s great if you can make this a collaboration. Are you all struggling with finding a certain strategy to deal with a certain issue? Make that the focus of your trail and see what you can learn and relay back to your colleague. Once, I was having terrible trouble with distracted students. Luckily, due to timetabling complications, one of their three lessons of English a week was with one of my colleagues. I managed to organise observing them with him. I watched as he simply drew the blinds and played soft music as they entered. They were completely different! A small change in classroom environment solved my problem!
Pre-service teachers, remember that, if this is a class you’re working with this is an opportunity to form relationships for learning with your new students and your mentor teacher. The thing you must never do, is interrupt the flow of learning. It is not OK, for example, to talk to a student when a teacher needs that student’s attention – perhaps they are addressing the whole class. It would be wonderful, if you and your mentor teacher have time to talk about your focus before the lesson so that they can guide you as you observe and give you the space to get the information you’re seeking.
In relation to topics on which to talk to the students, you could use it as an opportunity to ask them questions that will help you to reflect on your focus for the trail. If you’re looking at planning for example, you could ask them what they did last time and how this connects – That will give you a clue as to the medium or longer term planning involved with this lesson.
Having someone observe your teaching can be very daunting you need to remember and respect that when you come to write up your reflection. The process of writing your thoughts down will help you to gain an even deeper understanding of what you witnessed. However, when writing about observing others teach there are some obvious caveats to attend to:
- Avoid using real names
- Keep it professional and NEVER personal. No matter what your opinion of the technique, if you have nothing nice to write… don’t write it!
- Keep to the focus of your observation and use language that focus on the behaviours, learning (or outcomes) and activities of the students.