“open lessons make great events and sell well on social media. Open lessons afford many opportunities for exploitation.”

How to resolve the controversy around Open Lessons

Dedicated to my friend Irene Stoumpa-Xanthea, who inspired me to write this article

Admittedly, one of the most difficult things schools and educators need to do is to showcase their work. Teaching and learning happen behind the closed doors of a classroom and effective learning is neither speedy nor does it occur at the same predictable pace. Moreover, though as teachers we hate to admit that, not all teaching results to learning and not all learning that takes place is due to our teaching. Despite those hiccups, though, schools need to show to their clients and their community of potential clients what they are capable of doing so as to build a reputation and secure repeated sales for a number of years. In this context, open lessons seem to be the answer to our prayers and the solution we need to exhibit the work done by our teachers. Or might they not be?

Open lessons: a brilliant idea!

Open lessons are in fact lessons observed by parents. There are many ways to go about organizing this event. The simplest way is to invite parents in one of lessons and depending on the number of students, invite three-five parents every 15 or 20 minutes. Another way, if you can afford the time, is to ask parents to stay through the whole lesson, which means that a lot more than one lesson will be devoted to this project.

The gains from such an event are truly significant. Firstly, the school shows its confidence and utter trust in the readiness of teachers and in their mastery of class management. Additionally, teachers have the chance to show in practice how activities work and how they can help their learners learn more effectively using all the modern technological means. This has as a direct consequence that parents cannot complain ever again about noise, or wasted time or any of their usual pet-nags, provided everything goes according to plan. As educators and managers of learning environments we know only too well that it takes a tiny change to get the learners to behave differently and change the beautiful choreography we had in mind for them. Finally, open lessons make great events and sell well on social media. Open lessons afford many opportunities for exploitation. Schools can create the event, post photos of the activities and even if we cannot ethically upload photos of the children, we can very well upload video comments of their parents giving our school raving reviews.

So far, with only one tiny exception, I have painted an almost ideal picture of open lessons and this is intentional. Open lessons have a strong positive side but at the same time, they have an equally heavy negative one as well. Let us see in more detail.

Negative outcomes from Open Lessons

It only takes a mere door to open and a member of staff to walk in for the atmosphere to change. If it’s the secretary, with whom students share friendly banders, they may start teasing and laughing. If it’s the colleagues who shares the class and has dropped by to inform students their latest quiz was a disaster, your lesson may end up ruined by long faces. So, if this is the reaction of the learners towards members of staff, what do you think happens when their parents walk in?

Observer pollution, namely the undesirable negative influence an observer may have on the teacher and the learner with the top one being the fact that observers tend to induce anxiety and stress to all involved, is the main reason why observations have developed such bad reputation. Let me mention in passing here, that the tool is not flawed as long as the people using it know how to offset observer pollution and how to minimize the impact of the third party in class. And yet there are cases in which even professionals fail. Can we really expect parents to behave as professionals detached, objective and not affected by what they see?

Apart from how parents will behave in class, we also have to consider the way the students will internalize the process. Affective filter factors, considered by Krashen as the prime factor that interferes, slows down and ultimately stops learning, will be rising to record highs. Additionally, the teacher, who under observation conditions could ease herself into a state of nirvana and thus influence the learners, is not really able to do so. When it comes to dealing with observers, teachers know what they are facing but when it comes to dealing with parents, the criteria change because parents are not professionals. By asking parents to come into our lessons and having them sit through for some minutes is like asking a seal of approval from the layman. I am not sure if I would appreciate more a surgeon who would be operating on one of my loved ones just because he would ask me to sit through the operation. Even if I did, what would I get out of this observation? Would I be able to understand which part was executed with technical mastery and which part was botched?

Finally, open lessons are usually held for classes of younger learners who tend to fidget, chat and in general behave as normal children. On the day of the open lesson, during the time their parents are in, the naughtiest students will behave like angels. Therefore, talking to parents about absent-mindedness or about their offspring being naughty also ends on that day.

In my view, the greatest problem open lessons present, is that they re-purpose the class. Any class functions as a safe haven for learners to learn. Therefore, lessons are not for us to showcase our teaching skills but to promote the learning in a secure environment where nobody is probing and whoever is in the classroom has a role to play which somehow ends up improving the quality of learning provided.

Alternatives Solutions

Some alternative suggestions to open lessons are the following:

Level presentations

Level presentations are far more than a marketing tool, they are functional, meaningful and they support parents at different stages of their child’s learning career. Level presentations consist of teachers who teach the same levels or classes, presenting a bit of the theory around learning but mostly its practical actualization in class, woven around the textbook and the IWB used. In this way, we show parents that our teachers are well-rounded professionals while at the same time we offer practical guidance as to how learners should study. These presentations are not needed every year as they tend to become tiring for parents but they are useful at given stages along the line when milestones are reached.

Presenting students' work to parents

There is nothing greater than showing parents how the two-dimensional book has grown to become 3D in our class. Teachers can prepare blog posts, newsletter entries, short videos or vlogs which will then be shared on the school’s website and social media. In these videos teachers outline how a project started, what the learners did and what they gained. Once again, parents get a well-rounded idea of what this school can do for their offspring and at the same time they can find out why activities such as these are useful.

Recorded lessons

My final suggestion can work in two ways and it makes full-use of technology. We can either record a whole lesson from each teacher or we can record little bits from each one. The gain is that the school gets a record of lessons which can definitely be shown within the boundaries of the school.

A clever trick here is to get a teacher to do the ‘voice-over’, the description of the activity, while the video is playing. If the theory has just been presented, getting parents to see how theory turns into practice is bound to make them feel that they have trusted the right school. Another interesting thing to do is not to show parents their own children’s videos. This way, we get parents to disassociate from their children and focus on the process rather than on what their little ‘owl’ is doing.

Closing thoughts

Inviting parents to school and engaging them in how the process of teaching leads to more effective learning is worth-while and it is part of our responsibility. At the same time, we have to self-protect and also protect our learners and their teachers who are put on spot every time normal lessons are turned into ‘open’ lessons. As long as a school maintains its channels of communication and finds alternative ways to promote teaching without actually affecting the flow of the lesson, it stands to gain a lot more. •


Latest Issue

October 2018

Supplementary Materials, Do they work? Course books are regarded as the core of teaching materials in the classroom and serve as pivotal role to facilitate the instructors’ teaching in the classroom. Penny...

Read more
© 2017 ELT NEWS. All Rights Reserved.