Back to Basics: Observation

This post was originally post on the PE Circle on 8th November, 2015

Due to the practical nature of our subject and the environments we find ourselves in, observation is at the centre of being an effective teacher of PE. At a basic level observation helps us with lesson safety, organisation and behaviour management. However its main importance is in the promotion and the support of learning. Without essays, books and worksheets, observation is our key way in PE to see how our pupils are responding to our teaching. Observation provide us with information to give appropriate feedback or to start a dialogue or try implement change. It also provides us with knowledge of our pupils performance at that given time or progress if we are comparing it to previous performances, therefore aiding us to reflect on our practice and help us plan for future lessons.

Much of our own and our pupils success relies on us being able to look at the big picture, whilst picking up the small details of what is happening, all at the same time. This is an incredibly complex task, which requires deliberate practice and attention to develop. Our brains aren’t designed to see everything. We focus on specific things, then filter out everything else. This is very handy in most cases, because if we tried to pay attention to everything, we’d probably miss what’s important to us. However, with practice, you can tune your brain to pay attention to key things within PE.

Therefore good observation comes from cues, or knowledge. Subject specific knowledge, especially of common errors of what the pupils are performing is essential. This allows us as PE teachers to be constantly scanning the pupils in front of us and allowing us to intervene when required. You can’t pay attention to everything, so decide what you want to look for to retrain your eyes. When you do, you’ll naturally start seeing other important things. Knowledge of our pupils is also incredibly important.Which ones are not engaged with our subject, or have difficulties with certain peers or struggle to stay focused, being able to observe and recognise comfort and discomfort.  With this in mind we can observe and respond to our pupils needs where and when needed.

The ability to see what is happening within a lesson, that directly relates to organisation, management, safety and the promotion of learning is at the heart of effective observation within PE. You have to regularly step back and watch, this will give you all the essential information you need about your pupils. However this skill takes time to develop, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. The more you do it the more you will see certain patterns. Detecting patterns and combining that with your experience is what allows you potentially predict what might happen next. The more you observe of your pupils, understanding their individual differences the better you become at detecting their patterns. Subsequently, you get better at predicting what will happen next and then support them more effectively. Observation generates feedback, questions and dialogue with pupils which is at the heart of supporting and promoting learning within PE.

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