Reflection On Classroom Observation Essay



We learn in class that instruction needs to be differentiated, but after the observations, I realized how completely different each student thinks and acts.  One of the visible differentiators, race, has an effect on attitudes and social grouping.  Another, socio-economic status, separates kids by how they dress and act.  Cognitively, students are coming from many different places and hold different misconceptions about the topic under study.  Socially, they respond differently to groups – both in how much they enjoy being grouped and how much work they can get done (they appear to be independent variables).  They also fall at different skill levels in math.  They are motivated in different ways.  Finally, they have interests that are all over the map, and likely change week to week.  There is a ton of diversity in the classroom – no two students think the same way.

My observations showed that many kids were bored throughout the class.  With kids being so different and only one teacher existing up front, it is unlikely that many will find the lesson engaging.  The class needs to be much more differentiated in order to keep everyone interested in the material.  In order to achieve this kind of differentiation, I think the class needs to be run with a very different approach.


I personally have been most motivated in a project-based curriculum.  When I am given latitude to choose a task within parameters, I often find the task interesting and relevant to my life.  When the task requires learning a new skill, I am very focused and eager to learn, then immediately practice and apply, the new skill.  Everyone in the class is doing different things in small teams, so differentiation is obvious, not something that happens to separate the “smart and dumb” kids.  Sometimes, the group as a whole is responsible for the completion of a single task.  In other groups, each person completes the task on their own, but the students cooperate to finish the work.  Skills are learned in context and perseverance through failure is frequent.  Direct instruction is appreciated, but only in small bursts on a need-to-know basis.

In math, there are applications that take minutes and others that take weeks to complete.  Typical story problems rarely seem realistic and don’t require deep thinking.  The goal in my classroom would be to use prompts or situations that require a few days of thought and action to complete.  These problems have multiple correct solutions, as long as the approach can be justified.  As students setup equations they cannot solve, they can come to the teacher as a group looking for direct teaching on the technique.  Students can visually keep track of skills they learn with a “toolbox”, perhaps an envelope, full of cards that represent all of the skills they learned.  Class content would be organized by the types of problems the skill is used for, not the chapter that Pearson decided to put it in.

This type of minds-on approach would be more likely to break the pattern of people who “don’t like math” or “can’t do math”.  It would also add relevancy to the class days of the bored students.  Since the focus is on application, how a student learns a specific skill is also more open-ended.  They could use the teacher, a peer that already learned it, a YouTube video, a web-app, examples online, or even a textbook.  Most likely, they would use a combination of these resources.  It would take some experimenting to make sure students have enough practice to correctly learn the skills, but advances in software for learning math would be most likely to help track this.


In order to have an active, differentiated classroom, basic management procedures would need to be followed on a daily basis.  The start and end of each day would have to be generally consistent: look at the whiteboard for the first instruction (respond to the question or prompt, check homework, etc.) and pack up and sit quietly when a minute remained at the end of class.  In the middle, the teacher needs a consistent, quiet way to call for attention.  Interruptions for absent students, bathroom passes, turning in homework, and small logistical things need to taught explicitly and practiced so time is not wasted during the year.  When students are in the middle of a project, they should be able to walk into class, know what to do, quietly transition into project teams, work, clean up, and leave without a teacher present.  The classroom I observed had some of these procedures in place, but there were still frequent questions about small things that could have been automated.  The more active a classroom will be, the less time there will be for teachers to micro-manage small student issues.

The room itself needs to be setup for cooperative and independent learning.  There should be some tables, some desks, and furniture should be mobile.  To keep the room neat, there should be a procedure for putting the room back to its initial state at the end.  The classroom I observed did this very well.


Kids don’t mind making mistakes.  In games, kids play and screw up all the time.  They lose a life, lose their gun, get swallowed by monsters, or get sent back to the start.  Then they try again, knowing what not to do the next time.  If they played for 20 minutes and then were sent back to the start for something they did wrong in the first minute, they would surely quit.  To prevent the same situation in math class, students need to be taught how to check their work after every problem.  If there is a mistake, they need to get help from another person (teacher or peer), a video, a solution guide, or some other source until they correct the mistake and understand what they did wrong.  They need to keep trying again on progressively harder problems until they get the concept.  Working in groups is one way to learn and fail with other people, offering assistance to others when you get concepts that they don’t.  In the advanced math class in the middle school, peer teaching and frequent use of the solution guide helped most students understand the material with almost no teacher support required.

Original Field Notes





A. Understand typical developmental progressions and ranges of individual variation within and across development domains

1) Student developmental characteristics

Female -------------------------------------------------------------------

Physical: Asian-American, average body type

Cognitive: in advanced math as a 7th grader, has ability to focus like a laser for short periods of time and get a lot of work done

Social/Emotional: VERY chatty in 1-on-1 situations – spent most of the work time on most days chatting with one of a few friends in the class quietly.  Friends in class were white or Asian.

Moral: generally respectful

Male -------------------------------------------------------------------

Physical: Hispanic, tall, mature for age

Cognitive: seemed very capable, but did not apply himself at all in the class.  Appeared bored by the step by step lessons and long worksheets of problems (busywork).  When I noticed he wasn’t doing the worksheet I gave him, I asked him to do the hardest problem on the sheet.  He didn’t get it on the first try, but after I pointed out his error, he figured it out.

Social/Emotional: Very outwardly social.  Sat next to a girl that he seemed to like and flirted with her.  Also talked to a number of other students in the class.  Friends spanned multiple races.

Moral: hard to gauge.

2) Teacher behavior that reflects understanding of the developmental characteristics of students

Teacher didn’t try to fight students from being social in class, as long as the volume was reasonable for other students who were working.  He joked with students and then brought them back on task, encouraging them to do their work, non-confrontationally correcting errors as he saw them.  Throughout all of the periods, he was incredibly patient and relaxed.  When students did something disrespectful or significantly wrong, he told them clearly to stop.  When students had small interpersonal issues, he told them to work it out between themselves.  When people were doing something small they shouldn’t be, he looked at them and rose his eyebrows – that worked every time.

From watching a number of students, I was amazed at the individual differences that showed through in class.  Students had different levels of social engagement, different misunderstandings, different levels of engagement, and different ways to be motivated.  It seemed crazy to teach everyone the same things at the same time.  Instruction didn’t seem sufficiently differentiated to account for such a variety of students.

The biggest deal-breaker seemed to be engagement.  Once kids stopped wanting to learn, it became very difficult to help them or get them to start trying again.  Boredom seemed prevalent for students with both high and low grades – for the kids who could figure things out quickly, they either whipped through homework and were bored or didn’t waste time with busywork and became bored.

The instructional practices of the teacher didn’t seem to address engagement and boredom particularly well, but he did a great job of getting student attention and entering into conversations that the students wouldn’t have with many teachers.  He used jokes, eye contact, and facial expressions very effectively to start conversations.

B. Understand differences in how students construct knowledge, acquire skills, and develop habits of mind.

1) Description of student cognitive development and its variations

There were TONS of misconceptions in algebra class.  Math rules were applied all over without an understanding of when they were supposed to use a given rule/technique (unless it was for the section they just learned).  Additionally, students were quick to give up whenever they failed, even when they got the answer right and felt like they were failing.

2) Instructional strategies that reflect levels of student cognitive development

The teacher used guided practice to lead people through a problem and show them what to do in a few examples.  He also used non-examples to clarify when not to do something.

Based on the way they were learning, it seemed that students learned one concept/approach at a time and practiced using it for that specific context.  However, I don’t think they spent much time learning when to apply a rule.  While teaching the distributive property, I found students over or under-using it within a mix of problems that didn’t ALL need to use it.  I gave them explicit instruction through a small game to teach them when to use and not use the distributive property.  It seemed to help clear up misconceptions.  In general, I think more time needs to be spent explaining when and why to use rules, not just how.

D. Understand the impact of individual experience, talents, prior learning, language, culture, and family and community values on student learning

1) Observe/interview a student.  Describe impact of individual experiences and prior learning on student learning.

Did not complete interview, but interacted 1-on-1 during advisory time with an 8th grade girl in algebra class.  She talked a lot about her brother, her boyfriend, and her cousin in the military who she played cards with.  She was very talkative in the small advisory.  In class, she was much less talkative and seemed to be an average student, generally not getting things on the first try, but capable of understanding with targeted feedback and support.

2) Observe a NON - European descent Caucasian student.  Describe classroom engagement, behavior, interest in content, and academic achievement that may be impacted by language, culture and family.

I observed a (different than above) 8th grade Hispanic boy.  In the classroom, he sat next to another Hispanic boy and appeared completely disinterested in the content.  Despite the mostly white class, most of his interactions were with the other two Hispanic boys in class.  When approached, he acted more confused than I think he actually was.  Once, he responded to me with a giggling “no speak-y English”.  I simply rose my eyebrows at him and then proceeded to ask him to complete a problem to show me that he understood the content.  After multiple prods, he complied.  His English is quite good, for the record.

From the kids I interacted with 1-on-1 in advisory or in the halls, it seemed that the kids were fairly different in class and out of class.  Part of this effect was whether or not they had friends in the class – the same quiet kids were much more social when they were with their friends in another context.

Culture played a huge role with many of the Hispanic boys in classes.  None of them worked in class, took notes, or worked on homework problems.  There seemed to be a collective persona that needed to be upheld of being too cool for school.  Hispanic girls were far more likely to do their work and pay attention in class.

E. Understand the impact of life styles, culture, and social economic status on learning

1) Compare and contrast – low socio/econ and high socio/econ student: classroom engagement, behavior, interest in content, academic achievement

One low socio/econ student was paired with a paraprofessional for special support – he was fairly disconnected from the rest of the class and never talked to anyone.  His clothes looked old and he wore the same shirt a couple times in my short observation.

More generally, there was a huge discrepancy in how social kids were based on their apparent socio/econ level (based on clothing and appearance).  Wealthier kids were significantly more social across the wide class group.  Poorer students tended to be quiet or only social with a small friend group.  They were also more socially engaged with the teacher and appeared to pay attention or be disruptive, but not quietly zone out like the poorer students.  From handing back tests in the lower math classes, academic achievement was more likely to be high with wealthier students, but there were students failing from all groups.

Kids clearly grouped off by socio-economic lines in many cases.  The lunch room was particularly concerning – black students had their own table, as did the Muslim girls.  Asian boys and also broke off into their own group.  The others were mixed in with dominantly white student tables.  In class, the Hispanic boys and Muslim girls were distinct groups.  Kids with nicer clothes all chatted with each other during work time.

Interest and engagement was most likely negatively affected by student culture amongst the Hispanic boys.  The lower math classes had almost no Asians, as they were all in the advanced classes.  Culture, race, and socio-economic status clearly impact learning, but I’m not sure that it is for the same reason in each group or individual.

G. Understand the principles of effective classroom management and develop a range of strategies to promote positive relationships, cooperation, and positive, productive learning environment.

1) Identify observable artifacts of the classroom management plan.

  • Homework tally (a space on the whiteboard where students indicated problems they got wrong and want to go over at the start of class)
  • Overhead projector setup with homework answers from previous day.
  • Problems assigned each day of the week written in the same place each day on the board.

2) Describe the room arrangement.

The desks were arranged in rows with pairs of rows pushed together.  Students all sit next to exactly one person and have neighbors nearby.  During work time, students rearrange desks.  The teacher’s desk is in the back corner. The projector/overhead are up front.  The whiteboard is not accessible and is only used for logistical things.

3) Identify the classroom routines and procedures.

  • Class starts the same way with yesterday’s answers on the board and the homework tally cleared for students to fill in.  Students go to their seats and quietly correct their work.
  • “Pack-up” is a quick saying the teacher uses at the end of class to signal to students to 1) sit down, 2) pack their things, 3) clean up, and 4) shut up (one down, three ups).  When everyone is quietly sitting in their place ready to go, they are dismissed – the bell does not dismiss students.

4) Identify rules and consequences.

A “love and logic” poster hung on the wall describing the consequences to the teacher’s common sense rules.  If something inappropriate is happening, he will ask you to stop.  If it continues, the intervention becomes stronger until a private meeting is necessary.  Further action is taken from there if the problem continues.  These seemed to be no long list of rules anywhere.

5) Identify strategies used that incorporate teaching of social skills, motivate students, and address misbehavior.

He smiled a lot in class and kept the mood upbeat.  He also joked with students in order to grab their attention.  His strongest weapon against misbehavior was a stare and raising of the eyebrows.

6) Identify classroom management strategies the teacher uses that illustrate the teacher’s classroom management philosophy.

The teacher spoke quietly in class, loud enough to be heard, but never over the top of people.  When others were talking, he looked at them and waited for 100% compliance.  He was a laid back manager, but he expected respect from the students and held them accountable for their actions.  He had few rules but gave students clear feedback when something inappropriate occurred.

Classroom management was based on a purposeful room layout, a clear set of routines, and an enforced set of common sense rules.

The room was setup into pairs facing forward.  This showed students that they needed to pay attention up front, but had a buddy to help them.  The flexibility to move around during work time was a privilege used to work collaboratively and be social (at an appropriate volume).  The love and logic poster on the wall made clear to students what would happen if rules were broken.

Procedures made class start and end efficiently, without any wasted time.  At the start of class, students all knew exactly what to do and simply executed on it.  When I was told about the procedures and used them, the class ran itself at the start and end, usually the hardest part.

The teacher (manager) followed a consistent set of rules and procedures.  When students were out of line with these, he gently let them know.  He was patient, fun, and ready to engage students from wherever they were.  He was an effective manager and students seemed to respect him, even if they didn’t like the class much.

H. Understands the role of subject matter in student learning.

1) Interview the teacher.  What is the role of the subject matter in student learning?

He found that a number of students entered the course saying “I don’t like math”.  The subject had been tough for students in the past, and regardless of this year’s topic, they were already turned off to learning.  Additionally, math is hard because of the right/wrong nature of many elementary problems – there is not a lot of discussion in algebra, just being right or being wrong in many cases.

I agree with his observations, but I feel that there must be a way to directly address the attitude towards math and approach to doing it.  Real world math is very open-ended, social, and is rooted in a variety of professions.  I think math needs to be sold as a valuable skill for each person as an explicit goal of the class.

I. Understand and identify different approaches to learning and performance (e.g. learning styles, multiple intelligences, and performance modalities).

1) Identify instructional strategies that address student learning styles, multiple intelligences, and performance modalities.

  • Class does problem together, led by the teacher, at the overhead
  • Students copy down examples into their notes
  • Students talk through a problem with a buddy

When working through a specific skill, the gradual release method of model → do together → do independently works very well.  However, this should only come up in mini-lesson as needed.  I think math should be taught from an applications/project perspective, and formulas and targeted skills should be taught on a need-to-know basis to small groups.  I think this would do a better job addressing multiple interests and skill levels.


M. Use student thinking, experiences, and strengths as a basis for growth and their errors as an opportunity for learning.

1) Identify examples of student strengths used as a basis of growth

Student applies the new technique to one problem but not another that needs it but looks different.

2) Identify student errors as an opportunity for learning

Student uses the wrong approach on a problem and doesn’t know why.

When students show they can do something, such as apply a formula or rule, you can use that to tell them how to solve a different type of problem (such as “solve this one just like you solved #5” instead of “you did it wrong”).

When a student makes a mistake, it is a chance to clarify why they used the wrong technique.  When facilitated by the teacher, this discussion can end by generalizing when and when not to use a technique.

N. Create learning environments which foster self-esteem and positive interpersonal relations among all students.

1) Describe instructional strategies observed that foster self-esteem.

Collaboration – the group can be collectively right or wrong, but people who make mistakes in the small group are not chastised and are quickly corrected.

Targeted feedback – even when students get a problem wrong, when you show them that only one specific step was wrong, they can correct it and come to the right answer.  This had a large effect on self-esteem.

2) Describe instructional strategies observed that foster positive interpersonal relations among students.

Helping the person at the overhead – when a person is doing an example in the front of the class and gets stuck, other students will offer help in a supportive manner.  Many are glad they are not at the front of the room and are happy to help.  The kids who volunteer to go up rarely know all the steps they will need.  In general, group work on math problems is a safe social space to interact around both math content and social chatting.

Students need to have opportunities to work together and independently with high levels of feedback.  They don’t seem to mind being wrong when they are corrected very quickly by a peer or the teacher.  However, being wrong the next day can be very depressing for some students.  Not getting it after the next day’s review is a sign for some students to completely give up.  When you compare this to video games, which kids love, this makes sense – games let kids make tons of mistakes, but the feedback is instantaneous.  A wrong move means losing points, getting shot, or changing the background music (all non-threatening, instantaneous feedback).


Q. Exhibit professional and ethical behavior in a school setting.

1) Interview the teacher. What is the importance of exhibiting professional and ethical behavior in a school setting?

Kids see EVERYTHING you do.  You need to be professional at all times because they want to look up to you.  They often mimic you.

The kids noticed things about my clothes, my Mountain Dew, my binder, and more.  Collectively, they really do see everything.  You can never screw up without a repercussion of some kind, but if you do make a mistake, you need to quickly fix the situation and admit to screwing up.


S. Utilize observation to identify classroom management strategies.

See Objective G.




Ntombekhaya Fulani

Ntombekhaya Fulani


Monica Hendricks

Monica Hendricks

This article should be of interest to teacher trainers but also to teachers who wish to benefit from reflecting on their lessons and on observing each other’s lessons with the view to development of teaching competence.


This paper discusses a distinctive feature of the BEd in-service course for English teachers offered at Rhodes University by the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA), namely, the classroom-based support and school site visits for teachers. At least once a semester, a lecturer or dedicated school support facilitator visits teachers in their classrooms to observe them teaching a lesson. The main purpose of this part of the course is to improve teachers’ classroom practice through assisting teachers to reflect critically on the lesson observed by attending to important underlying principles of the new curriculum such as pacing, sequencing and curriculum coverage. Pacing refers to how a teacher plans, allocates and manages time during a lesson, while sequencing refers to the various stages and tasks that constitute a lesson and ensure that it meets the stated learning outcome. Curriculum coverage concerns the amount of curriculum content to be covered within a given time; for example, in language education, learning to maintain a balance of speaking, reading, writing and grammar that is appropriate for the grade, according to official curriculum policy needs. A variety of lesson transcripts on different topics were collected for analysis by the researchers during school visits in 2009 and 2010, from Grade 8 through to Grade 12. They focus on various (combinations of) language skills across the range of grades. This paper is based on these transcripts, as well as teachers’ reflections in their journals.


Broadly, the course focuses on developing language teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge. The nexus of content knowledge concerns the what ( the core language skills of listening, speaking, reading/viewing, writing, and grammar and related aspects of linguistic theory such as genre and critical language awareness) and the how (pedagogical knowledge: practical and procedural classroom teaching decisions, including sequencing and pacing of lessons and an understanding of learning theory and assessment). There is also a cross-cutting focus on classroom management knowledge related to discipline, record-keeping and assessment, social/ethical issues around the environment and HIV/AIDS, professional conduct, human rights, and understanding the underpinnings of the new curriculum.

The course is interactive. Teachers sit in groups of about six per table, tasks and activities are designed to model the participatory, learner-centred approach of the new curriculum and to give the teachers a lived experience of these pedagogies. Over the three-year duration of the course, there are eight contact sessions at Rhodes University totalling 40 days that take place during school holidays at the end of each term, as well as a two-day seminar and two workshops per term at a central location near the teachers’ schools.

The purposes of visiting schools and observing lessons are threefold: firstly, to give teachers support in reflecting on and improving their classroom practice; secondly, to monitor the extent to which teachers are able to implement new understandings, strategies and pedagogies introduced in the course; and thirdly, for university-based academics to observe rural Eastern Cape schools and classrooms at first hand in order to better understand the challenges facing teachers (Sayed 2004).

During a school visit the university-based lecturer or school support facilitator observes and makes notes of the lesson to provide a rough running transcript of the lesson, focusing on the teachers’ inputs (talk, instructions and board notes) and learners’ responses and tasks. The lesson is briefly discussed with the teacher in terms of its strengths and weaknesses and a copy of the lesson transcript is given to the teacher as a record and for later more detailed self-reflection in their journals. In addition, many of the lessons are video-taped and a DVD copy of the lesson is given to the teacher to view later.


In the Queenstown district there are 49 high schools and 135 high school teachers of English, as both first and additional languages, and one Subject Advisor to support those teachers. The BEd programme includes 30 Queenstown English teachers as well as the Subject Advisor. The 30 teachers are in 24 schools, 15 in rural and nine in urban settings.

We purposefully selected four graduate teachers (two men and two women), each with at least five years’ experience at two functional schools to evaluate the impact of the course on the practice of well-qualified teachers at schools that have a sound physical infra-structure and governance (see Table 1). We use pseudonyms for the names of the teachers and schools to protect their anonymity and confidentiality.

Name of teacherTeaching experienceQualificationsGrades taught
Bonisile15 yearsSTD, BEd (Hons)10, 11
Pumla19 yearsSTD, FDE, BEd9 – 12
Thabo16 yearsSTD, BTech, BEd (Hons)12
Tumi15 yearsSTD, ACE, BEd (Hons)

Table 1: Teachers’ professional details


As is clear from the course description above, the BEd course assumes that there is a direct and positive link between teachers’ reflective practice and their professional development. A substantial literature linking reflective practice and professional development exists, dating from Schon (1983) up to the present. But how do we know this link actually operates in the classroom? What counts as evidence of reflective practice and what are the indicators of professional development in teachers’ classroom practice?

Taylor, Muller and Vinjevold (2003:88) identify various classroom-level indicators of teachers’ pedagogic practice based on four theoretical constructs: the social organization of the school, use of language, curriculum and pedagogy, and evaluation. Interestingly, none of these indicators includes teachers’ reflecting on their practice.

The indicators of teachers’ professional development we use during classroom observation (which have much in common with Taylor, Muller and Vinjevold’s (2003) indicators) include classroom setting; pacing and time management; sequencing; the nature of learners’ engagement and opportunity to learn; teachers’ questioning and explanations. In addition, teachers reflect on the lesson observed, in conversation with the facilitator, Ntombekhaya (Khaya). Typically, a teacher starts by reflecting on what worked well in the lesson, what could be improved or changed, and sets goals for the next lesson.

When a teacher asks a question such as ‘What have learners learnt in this lesson?’ and supplies cogent answers, we consider this a sign of critical reflection. Further, teachers’ ability to link their reflections to theory is regarded as a measure of their professional development. For our discussion in this paper, however, we focus on only one indicator of teachers’ professional development: post-lesson critical reflection on practice.


Patterns in post-lesson critical reflection on practice

We compare the teachers’ post-lesson critical reflections over time as an example of how their reflective capacity developed. At the beginning of the course teachers were taught the importance of reflecting on one’s practice.

Initially all the teachers found reflecting on a lesson difficult to do. One teacher, Thabo, completely misunderstood the purpose. He tried to reflect on a lesson before it was taught. For the first lesson observation, he wrote his reflections while planning the lesson and presented these ‘reflections’ as part of his lesson plan.

Rather than reflecting critically on what went well and what needed improvement, many teachers simply recounted events in their lessons, as Bonisile’s journal reflection, below, illustrates:

One learner was asked to read the poem for the rest of the class. The teacher explained some of the poetic devices in the poem. Some of the figures of speech dealt with were alliteration, apostrophe, metaphors and simile. The learners were divided into groups of six. Each group was given a stanza to identify figures of speech and to report back.

Many also found it difficult to identify the things they had done well, things which made their lessons a success, and without the prompting of the facilitator they tended to focus on what needed to be changed in their lessons. Tumi, for example, relied on the facilitator (Khaya) to identify the positive aspects of her writing lesson. She wrote in her journal:

Khaya started with the good things that happened

(i)                 emphasis of learners’ prior knowledge

(ii)               interactive – learners participated well

(iii)             treatment of some aspects of the curriculum cycle

(iv)              the instructions of the classwork were written on the chalkboard

(v)                learners were seen as assessors because they were given a rubric to mark each others’ work

(vi)              time management was spot-on

However, towards the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010 teachers’ ability to reflect on their practice started to show improvement. Tumi’s journal reflection in the second year of the course is evidence that she is beginning to make informed decisions in her classroom.

During the lesson I also used group work to identify what they can see in the two texts because according to Vygotsky, the learners are social beings who learn better through interaction with others….

The lesson was conducted in the target language and it was not directly focused on teaching grammar as Krashen mentioned that learners will unconsciously acquire the correct use of language through the learning process.

Tumi’s journal reflection provides evidence that she is beginning to reflect more independently and is less reliant on the debriefing with the facilitator, and also that she uses theory to inform and deepen her reflections. The two photographs below illustrate how, at the beginning of the classroom observations in 2009 Tumi’s learners sat in rows (pic.1), but by 2010, most teachers, including Tumi, were arranging learners in groups (pic.2).

1.    2.

Likewise, Pumla draws on theory to reflect how she groups learners:

On 13 July I was visited by Khaya, my lesson was on debate. I introduced my lesson well and developed my lesson into stages but somehow I noticed that some of the learners were struggling. I have learnt how to deal more effectively with students who have problems in expressing themselves. I then devised a strategy, based on Vygotsky learners learn more when they are grouped according to their mixed abilities, that the low attainers sit with the middle attainers, middle attainers with high attainers. Then there was improvement. They then had more input into what they did and how they did it. My lesson was a success.


In conclusion, we consider the implications of these findings for three role-players: teachers themselves, in-service teacher educators and district officials such as Subject Advisors.

Firstly, it is evident that teachers need regular, on-going support to improve their practice. It is clearly not easy for teachers to understand and articulate what it is that they do: what is working in their lessons, what the problems are and what they can do about them.

Secondly, the current practice, that only pre-service (not in-service) teacher education courses require systematic lesson observation by an academic, needs to be changed. If one accepts that a central purpose of most in-service teacher education courses is to improve teachers’ classroom practice, then one must also build in some mechanism to monitor the extent to which teachers are able to implement new understandings and pedagogies introduced in the course.

Finally, to create conditions for systemic and sustained improvement in schooling, it is essential that district-level officials such as Curriculum Advisors and Education Development Officers visit schools regularly and observe teachers in their classrooms in a supportive and monitoring role. These officials cannot have as their main concern systemic evaluations only. Also, as Bloch (2009:106) has noted, the great silence in South African educational circles about the role of teacher unions in constraining constructive co-operation between district officials and schools needs to be addressed openly.


Bloch G. 2009. The Toxic Mix. Cape Town: Tafelberg.

Reed Y, Davis H and Nyabanyaba T. 2003. ‘Teachers’ take-up of reflective practice in underresourced multilingual contexts’. In Adler J and Y Reed (eds) Challenges of Teacher Development.  Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers. 118-134.

Sayed Y. 2004. ‘The case of teacher education in post-apartheid South Africa: politics and priorities’. In Chisholm L (ed) Changing Class.  Cape Town: HSRC Press. 247-265.

Schon D A. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner. London: Temple Smith.

Taylor N, Muller J and Vinjevold P. 2003. Getting schools working. Cape Town: Maskew-Miller Longman.

Ntombekhaya Fulani is a research officer in the Institute for the Study of English in Africa at Rhodes University. She is currently engaged in a comparison of school textbooks published in Xhosa and English for her MEd degree. (

Monica Hendricks is Alan Macintosh Research Fellow in the Institute for the Study of English in Africa. Her PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand was a study of “Writing practices in additional languages in Grade 7 classes in the Eastern Cape Province”. She is currently working on a longitudinal study of childrens’ literacy and writing ability as part of a team working with the Sosebenza School in Tarkastad. (


Categories: Issue II

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