What makes LessonVU uniquely valuable? According to ONVU’s Director and former teacher Andy Goff it’s because it’s the only way to see ‘real lessons and the real incidents in them’. From a ‘moment of confusion’ to a ‘close inspection of a random student during a challenge’, a teacher can select what they choose to review, when they see it, and who to share it with to continually improve their teaching.
That this doesn’t reflect usual experience in the classroom is not a surprise. The problem, Andy points out, is that there are three uses of observation – ‘observation as development, observation for development and observation of development’. The first (for example a trainee watching a more experienced teacher) and the second (experts or colleagues offering advice) have been eclipsed in most schools by the third – a judgment call that can create caution, fear and teachers who stick to a limited repertoire of techniques that have worked for them in previous observations.
In recent times grading lessons has been shown to be ineffective but there is still often a focus on box-ticking and advice from the Government and unions focuses almost extensively on observation for performance management.
Observations are also limited by the presence, perceptions and skills of the observer. The presence of observers causes a ‘Hawthorne Effect’ that influences class behaviour while some observers have pre-conceived ideas – we collated some humorous examples of these in our recent #nobservation blog. And even the best observer won’t be able to concentrate for the full lesson and see every pupil’s reaction – missing ‘critical incidents’ that affect teaching and learning. Using a portable video camera might help an observer reflect on missed incidents but will also maintain and increase the Hawthorne effect.
One short-lived idea aimed at removing the Hawthorne effect was the ‘observation classroom’ – where a classroom wall was replaced with the two-way glass we’re most used to seeing in police dramas. This was initially praised – but many schools would find it difficult to create the space while many teachers would be unsure of who was watching them and what they were thinking without the reassurance that an observer in the room might give.
Enter LessonVU – our solution that normalises observation while giving the opportunity for detailed and retrospective examination of lessons. A LessonVU camera is discreet and gives a 360-degree view of the classroom. The negative aspects of the ‘observation classroom’ are removed by giving the teacher control of the footage and what is shared – evidence from Microsoft shows that this doesn’t affect the quality of observation.
The result is genuine observation for development. Andy makes the key point, ‘the impact of limitless, real, retrospective observations is that teachers can be curious – when they can see the whole lesson ideas emerge’. They can also share specific parts of the lesson with colleagues, mentors and external coaches. Dan Thomas, Executive Headteacher of the Learning for Life Partnership MAT, one of ONVU’s customers, agrees that ‘the only way to achieve effective non-threatening self-review is to use discreet video technology’.
LessonVU can also be used effectively for observation as development. Andy points out that ‘a key challenge for new teachers is developing the situational awareness (‘what we used to call ‘eyes in the back of the head’’) that experienced teachers have’. Directly observing an experienced teacher’s full lesson might be too complex to give useful clues but focusing in on specific incidents in detail can give the new teacher practical steps to move forward.
Using LessonVU to avoid coaching for observation of development also creates a change in culture. As Ofsted inspector John Dabell wrote, ‘teachers are now claiming back lesson observations for themselves and video-enhanced observations are proving to be a flexible and formative tool for ‘bottom-up’ professional growth and positive change’.