Once when Paul McCartney was talking about the Beatles, he said that to start with everything was really simple, but at the end it was very complicated.
I have been very lucky that I have observed many lessons delivered by many different teachers in many different subjects over the years. I am sure that I have learnt far more about teaching by observing other teachers and reflecting on their lessons than I ever have from being observed myself. I could not count the number of times I have seen a teacher do something that either makes the lesson smoother and saves time, or pushes the learners forward, by using an idea that I hadn’t considered. Stealing these ideas has undoubtedly made me a better teacher.
The best lessons that I have observed have been inspiring and have certainly enabled the learners in those lessons to progress very successfully with their studies. It is a real pleasure to observe this kind of lesson and these lessons give me an extra incentive to improve my own teaching.
Naturally, not every lesson that I have seen hits these extremely high standards and certainly I have never seen the perfect lesson where there was nothing to be discussed and nothing to improve. I have however seen many excellent lessons. These excellent lessons have a couple of things in common. Firstly, the teacher is crystal clear about what they intend to achieve during the lesson – there is no fuzziness about this at all. They know what the objective is and they can communicate this to the learners appropriately. Secondly, the teacher has planned to provoke learning. The teacher has thought through how the learners are going to engage with the material so that they have to think and really engage.
In a lesson that is not so good, often the teacher is either not clear about what the objective of the lesson is or the objective is too big and the teacher tries to cram too many different ideas into the lesson. Either way, some learners will get confused or even switch off because they cannot follow the thread of the lesson because it is not clear to them.
Another source of problems is the teacher planning too much for what they are going to do, rather than planning for how the learners are going to be provoked into learning. This of course may be an artifact of the teacher being observed and assuming that the observation is of their teaching rather than an observation of the lesson as a whole.
These two common problems could be solved if the teacher was constantly thinking about how they can make things more simple. There is no doubt that teaching is a very complex business with many different demands being made on a teacher each day. I have no doubt that teachers need to fight this complexity and find a way to make each lesson as simple as it needs to be, starting with the objective. If the objective is simple and clear then everything else falls into focus more easily. Let’s not forget that the whole purpose of the lesson is for the learners to make progress with their learning so, once the objective is in place, provoking this learning must be the basis for planning.
To start with, teaching appears to be very complicated, but the teacher must make is so much simpler.