As a Personal Support Tutor I love doing Direct Observations. I love getting into schools and seeing the wonderful practice of my students first hand, watching how they work and the relationships they have developed, and how they make a real difference to the education and lives of the learners they support.
As a student however, I know that the Direct Observation is perhaps the most nerve-wracking aspect of the course. To a certain degree, there’s only so much planning you can do, as a large part of the TA role is about being flexible and adapting to situations as they occur. However, I’ve put together some handy tips for you on how to really make the most of your observation.
Know the Plan
It sounds obvious, but it’s really important that you have discussed the plan with the teacher ahead of our visit. We’ll be looking to see if you know the learning outcomes and activities for the lessons, the groups you’ll be working with and how to support them, the resources you’ll be needing and how you’ll incorporate assessment for learning. You can also use the planning to help you work out when during the visit you’ll be able to cover certain criteria. This reduces the risk of you being in for any nasty surprises on the day!
Know your gap report
I would suggest that about two weeks before your observation, you print out your gap report and highlight all the practical criteria that could be covered on the day. To maximise your chances of covering as many criteria as possible, make notes of what you can do to ensure you cover them. For example, in TDA 3.4 you may want to write ‘make sure to remind children about putting hands up and consequences of not doing ‘ or in TDA 3.7 ‘ask children how they think they’ve done, and what they should do next time’. By making notes you’re more likely to remember these simple things that will help you achieve more criteria.
Build in time in the playground
The vast majority of behaviour management and communication criteria can be covered outside, not to mention Health and Safety, so even if it isn’t your usual day for playground duty, or if it’s not something you’d usually do as part of your role, ask the teacher if you do a playground duty when we visit. You can cover as many criteria out here as you can in the classroom.
[Don’t worry if you can’t do this though – it’s not a requirement!]
Know the accident, incident and emergency procedures
As part of our discussions, we will ask you to explain these policies and to show us where the accident and incident logs are – you can pre-empt this and show us on our way in, once you’ve signed us in, covering three criteria straight away! It’s really important that we assess Health and Safety on the day, so if you don’t know already make sure you find out.
Build in time for professional discussion
Professional discussion will really help to cover more criteria – we may have questions about the activities we’ve observed, or about displays in the classroom, or extra-curricular activities you run. Make sure you check with your teacher ahead of time that it’ll be OK to have a discussion, bearing in mind that this could be during class time.
Be flexible, be reflective and don’t panic!
Surprises are an inevitable part of life, and of observations. We’ve all had observations where we’ve gone into the classroom and the plan has changed last minute, or a child has exhibited particularly challenging behaviour, or there’s been a First Aid emergency. If this happens to you DO NOT PANIC. Dealing with these situations is part of daily life for a TA, so it’s great for us seeing how you react and adapt to them. And remember, even if something doesn’t go how you’d planned use it as an opportunity for reflection – tell us what went wrong, and how you could overcome this next time.
There is no way to fail an observation, and if something does goes wrong as long as you can tell us what happened and what you’ve learnt from it, you’ll be fine.
Finally, remember that our job as assessors is to help you to achieve as many criteria as possible. We’re not there to performance manage you in any way, and any feedback we give will be constructive and positive. If you have any concerns in the lead up to your observations, just ask your tutor.