This issue of Behaviour Matters provides you with ways to improve lessons through listening to pupils’ opinions and feedback on tasks

Introduction

So, the lesson has ended, the bell has gone and your students are ready to move on to the next lesson or go out to break. How has it gone? Perhaps the supplementary question that should also be asked is, “How do you know?”

Many youngsters will be only too happy to be moving on to the next event of their day. For teachers and support staff, the priority may be to consolidate, recover and prepare for the next lesson.

Getting a clear and objective picture of how the last hour has gone is often difficult and, for some, challenging. If you are to continue to provide interesting and motivating lessons, undisturbed by off-task or confrontational behaviour, it is vital that you pay attention to your own observations and the feedback that is immediately available from your students.

Plenary evaluations give both you and your students the opportunity to reflect on the lesson, consider how everyone felt and, more importantly, identify what can be learned and then applied to the next session.

It is all too easy to allow a one-off incident, or the opinion of a small group of pupils, to misinform you regarding the overall success of the lesson. It is important to evaluate on a variety of levels, particularly when attempting to gain a clear picture of your behaviour management skills.
Aspects to evaluate include:

  • your own overall impression of the lesson
  • techniques and strategies used in response to individual pupils
  • techniques and strategies used for groups
  • contribution from any support staff in the room.

Plenary evaluations do not need to be time consuming. The last five minutes of any lesson can be well spent in finishing off activities, getting equipment put away and discussing, both formally and informally, how things have gone. The session links well with the five domains of Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL):

  • recognising emotions (what impact did the session and everyone’s behaviour have on your − and your pupils’ − emotions?)
  • managing feelings (what strategies were used?)
  • motivation (were goals set and achieved successfully?)
  • empathy (how did you consider the feelings and needs of others?)
  • social skills (were you all able to apply your skills in a group environment?).

Practical Tips

The effect of plenary evaluations on overall behaviour can be very powerful. The plenary session allows you to express your observations to your pupils, while demonstrating that you consider it important to listen to their own observations.

For younger pupils the evaluation system can be very simple. At, or close to, the end of the lesson/session you can ask them to indicate how they felt. For younger children, the simpler the better. Consider one of the following as indicators:

  • ask the children to use a thumbs up, thumbs down or thumbs sideways sign to indicate their feelings
  • allow the children to use smiley or sad faces (these could be actual faces/masks or pictures).

Don’t forget to include yourself in the feedback session and also be prepared (allow time) to answer any important points that are raised. For some groups it might be more effective to ask for signs or observations at regular intervals during the lesson, rather than waiting until the end. Use a 15-minute timer, stop the activities and ask for feedback: “How is everyone on table one feeling? Any problems? What about table two?”

Be aware and responsive to work ethics. If the pupils are deeply engrossed in a particular activity, don’t feel duty bound to interrupt and ask for feedback!

For older students, the same basic criteria will apply. You are using the plenary evaluations to:

  • be proactive in your behaviour management style
  • demonstrate to the pupils that their observations are important to you
  • learn from their comments, and be prepared to adjust your teaching style in response to observations
  • give everyone a fair opportunity to air their views in a safe environment
  • allow pupils to see and understand how individual behaviour can affect the dynamics of the group.

The thumbs up, thumbs down system (as described above) may also be used for older pupils, but perhaps a more formal method will give you more in-depth information to work with. Try designing your own evaluation form or, even better, design the form in consultation with the students. Keep things simple; the plenary session should take no more than five minutes. Include everyone in the session: pupils, support staff, etc. It is vital that you provide feedback opportunities. The information should be used to reflect and/or change both your behaviour and that of the students in the lesson.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2008

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a wrtier, consultant and trainer.