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Practical ways to assess teachers’ impact on student learning

David Chapman, Head of School at Aston University Engineering Academy

There is a long-standing tradition of using classroom observations in the assessment and development of teaching in education systems across the world (O’Leary 2020). This is because understanding what’s working well and what isn’t in lessons, and the impact this has on teaching practice and students’ learning, is pivotal to school improvement.

Aston University Engineering Academy (AUEA) is the UK’s oldest and biggest University Technical College. As such, we offer pupils between the age of 13–19 a different route to training and qualifications than a traditional school. It’s our mission to provide the very best academic and technical education.

Rethinking lesson observations

One way to assess the impact the teaching is having on learning is through a lesson observation. But it’s long been argued this isn’t always the best method.

They only offer a ‘snapshot’ Wragg et al. (1996) with the observation and events filtered ‘through the interpretive lens of the observer’, (Wragg, 1999). In other words, we see what we want to see.

Findings show a collaborative approach can be a more effective way of improving pupil learning and teaching practice (Cordingley et al., 2003, 2005a, 2005b, 2007).

So, we wanted to rethink how we approached observations.

More pupil-centred

Studies show students’ behaviour is an indicator of how learners pay attention and how engaged they are in learning the content (Goldberg et al., 2021).

But how can teachers best detect this when the willingness of a pupil to raise a hand isn’t always the best indicator of engagement? That’s why we’ve encouraged teachers to look beyond the obvious and focus on ‘small giveaways’, like a student’s body language.

‘[To detect how engaged students are in learning] we encourage teachers to look beyond the obvious and focus on “small giveaways”, like a student’s body language.’

Because it’s not possible to watch every pupil we suggest teachers focus on five students. They can be any combination of gender and ability and sit together. How they interact and respond act as a benchmark for the rest of the class.

By observing what impact the lesson has on pupils rather than what we assume it has, teachers can make small but critical improvements. Sometimes it’s recognising the dynamics of the class and changing the seating plan, or realising a set of instructions would work better as a visual.

Regular review

Video affords teachers a ‘window into practice’ to engage, experience and reflect on teaching and learning in the classroom’ (OECD, 2009).

It is a tool that could also be harnessed more widely to support the improvement of teaching practice globally. In their pilot study, Cross et al. (2022) take this one step further by exploring the use of 360-degree video combined with VR.

To make it easier for our teachers to capture what happens in their lesson, we decided, in consultation with staff, to install cameras from ONVU Learning in some classrooms. These provide a 360-degree view of the lesson with audio recordings. The teacher is in control of the recording and it’s their decision if they want to press record; and if they do so, whether they want to review the footage by themselves or with a colleague.

We’ve also supplied staff with a time-stamped desk pad to note down what went well or didn’t go as expected. It could be they want to assess how long it took for students to respond to specific instructions or why one group took longer to settle. This means they can go straight to the clip they want, and we suggest only spending a maximum of 20 minutes reviewing it.

One maths teacher thought she’d explained a complex problem in a simple way to the class, but when they handed in their work it was clear several students hadn’t grasped it after all. She decided to review a clip of the footage with a colleague and together they identified where there was a disconnect between how she thought she had taught the problem and how the lesson had been understood. She then made the necessary tweaks.

Best in class

Given the time pressure teachers are under, it’s key to make sure development opportunities are relevant to their needs and don’t add to their day to day.

Creating regular opportunities for staff to share their professional experiences and personal reflections is beneficial. Studies show ‘teacher co-operation to be an important engine of change and quality development in schools’ (OECD, 2009, p. 122). If the teacher is happy for us to share a video clip of their lesson, we find they can be useful coaching tools for line managers and for informal peer on peer sessions, and our mentors use them with early career teacher’s so everyone can learn from one another.

Giving teachers the chance to self-reflect on how their teaching impacts on students in real-time can be empowering and motivating as it allows teachers to make the small tweaks that can make a big difference to student learning and outcomes. It also promotes an environment where everyone learns from one another, helping teachers to feel more valued and trusted; and when teachers thrive so do their pupils.


Cordingley, P., Bell, M., Rundell, B., & Evans, D. (2003). The impact of collaborative CPD on classroom teaching and learning. In Research evidence in education library. EPPI-Centre, Institute of Education.

Cordingley, P., Bell, M., Evans, D, & Firth, A. (2005a). The impact of collaborative CPD on classroom teaching and learning. Review: What do teacher impact data tell us about collaborative CPD? In Research evidence in education library. EPPI-Centre, Institute of Education.

Cordingley, P., Bell, M., Thomason, S., & Firth, A. (2005b). The impact of collaborative continuing professional development (CPD) on classroom teaching and learning. Review: How do collaborative and sustained CPD and sustained but not collaborative CPD affect teaching and learning? In Research evidence in education library. EPPI-Centre, Institute of Education.

Cordingley, P., Bell, M., Isham, C., Evans, D., & Firth, A. (2007). What do specialists do in CPD programmes for which there is evidence of positive outcomes for pupils and teachers? Report. In Research evidence in education library. EPPI-Centre, Institute of Education.

Cross, S., Wofinden, F., & Adinolfi, L. (2022). Taking in the complete picture: Framing the use of 360-degree video for teacher education practice and research. Teaching and Teacher Education, 111.

Goldberg, P., Schwerter, J., Seidel, T., Müller, K., Stürmer, K.(2021). How does learners’ behavior attract preservice teachers’ attention during teaching? Teaching and Teacher Education, 97. 

O’Leary, M. (2020). Classroom observation: A guide to the effective observation of teaching and learning. Routledge. 

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. (2009). Teaching practices, teachers’ beliefs and attitudes. In Creating effective teaching and learning environments: First results from TALIS (chapter 4).

Wragg, E. C. (1999). An introduction to classroom observation (2nd ed.). Routledge

Wragg, E. C., Wikeley, F. J., Wragg, C. M., & Haynes, G. S. (1996). Teacher appraisal observed.  Routledge.

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