30 January 2014

FOCUS Lessons

Having just returned from a week of teacher training in Phnom Penh, at the most magnificent CCF I have to confess that within 15 mins of my first lesson observation (of a planned 6 lessons in 2 days) I was seriously struggling with the point of it.

Why observe without acting?

Well the truth is I just couldn't just sit there and watch, knowing that this lesson, NOW could be better. If it can then, let's ACT, lets do what we can, while we can, NOW.

And a FOCUS lesson was born—well the acronym emerged during a wonderful massage later on, but the practice was already a fact; only it was a practice that I was struggling to describe to my colleagues, when I confessed I'd abandoned the observations, and lab-sites that they so dutifully (and professionally I might add) pursued.

So, what did I do instead?

Well, I attempted to describe it as an observation, cum intervention/co-teach/sharing/skilling/teaching/reflecting/advising/adjusting lesson.

To which they said something like, "Well you're going to have to come up with a better way of describing it than that."

So I did, and I have. And in case you're wondering, it was a GREAT massage.

So I call them FOCUS lessons, largely inspired by Dylan Wiliam's (2011) 5 key strategies for formative assessment, which I pretty much use for almost everything... Just substituting 'learners' for 'teachers' Yes, I know teachers that are any good have to be learners, but you know what I mean...

  1. Clarifying, sharing, and understanding [teaching] intentions and criteria for success
  2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities, and [teaching] tasks that elicit evidence of [teaching] 
  3. Providing feedback that moves [teaching] forward 
  4. Activating [teachers] as instructional resources for one another 
  5. Activating [teachers] as owners of their own learning

(Adapted from Wiliam (2011). Embedded formative assessment)

And being a huge fan of acronyms I ended up with:

F: Feedback & Feed Forward
O: Observe (Learning not just teaching)
C: Co-teach & Constructively Criticise
U: Upskill & Unlearn
S: Suggest & Share (good practice)


Alphabetically Coded Reminder of Names You Misremember
A Contrived Reduction Of Nomenclature Yielding Mnemonics
A Concise Reduction Obliquely Naming Your Meaning
A Clever Re-Organisation to Nudge Your Memory


  1. Nice, Sean, a new innovation: you've created a new, formal social interaction mechanism in your school! And now I wonder how you will sustain and scale FOCUS lessons so they become systemic.

    I also didn't know you were observing -- other teachers' -- lessons. Maybe this is a new responsibility for you?

    1. Thanks David. Myself and a colleague started up an service initiative this year, teaching teachers in Cambodia—that's where I do the observations. Although the coaching role does sometimes call for observation, it is usually of a more informal variety, all the better for a FOCUS lesson!