Google Docs and the “Ofsted Outstanding” Lesson

It has taken 15 years and 8 Oftsed inspections, but I have finally achieved an Outstanding lesson at Ofsted.

For those people not from the UK, Oftsed is the national body that inspects state-funded education, and ‘Outstanding’ is the highest grade they give.

I’m aware that I could be answering the question “why has it taken you so long?” Or “what on earth have you be doing all this time?” But instead I’m going to tell the story of how I achieved outstanding.

It began the day before when the lead inspector briefed the staff. Gathered in the staff room, sweaty palms and hearts thumping, he introduced himself and went on to give us some friendly advice.

“Just be yourself,” he assured, in his soft Welsh tones. “Perhaps now is not the time to try that experimental drama lesson you’ve been wondering about, but if you were going to take a risk, then take it. Just be yourself.”

At this point the teaching assistant I was working with looked nervously across it me. Not only does my teaching demonstrate a tremendous lack of risk-aversion at times, but I had already planned some experimental drama that week. And the teaching assistant was leading it. And it was in a maths lesson.

The second piece of advice the lead inspector gave us (and I would recommend this to anyone about to undergo an inspection) was to do a ‘mini-plenary’ as the inspectors walk into the room. Inspectors used to watch whole lessons, but these days their time is so tight, they can generally only see half-an-hour chunks. A mini-plenary is where you would stop the activity or whatever was going on, check on how much the children have learned, remind them what they were aiming to show they had learned by the end of the lesson before proceeding with the rest of the session. The idea is to show the inspectors that progress has been made (even though the inspectors might not have seen it) and more progress is still expected. Inspectors get very excited when they see progress.

Of course I didn’t follow this advice either. Experimental drama and no mini-plenary? And I have the cheek to call myself a teacher.

Maths apparatus the inspector saw: cups on a stringMore of what the inspector saw: cards on the wall

Admittedly, the lead inspector was a little bemused when he walked into my room. Or so he told me afterwards.

It was 9:30am on the second day of the inspection. The lesson was half an hour old and the inspector could see:

  • one student playing shops with the teaching assistant;
  • another student playing dominoes with myself;
  • assorted apparatus scattered on the floor;
  • fraction cards stuck to the wall;
  • the rest of the students intently staring at the screens of their Chromebooks.

Half an hour later, when he walked out he said one word to me. “Stunning.”

So what had turned a potential mess of different activities into a ‘stunning’ outstanding lesson?

Answer: Google Docs

You see, Google Docs had enabled me to have high quality interactions with three different groups of learners, using only two adults. Here’s how.

Group 1: The experimental drama

I have some children within the class who, despite being eleven years old and nearly at secondary school, have great difficulty remembering maths facts and them applying them to real life situations. They just don’t get the link. Hence the maths role play area.

The week before we had set up a ‘stationery shop’ in the classroom – everything was priced from pencils to sparkly sharpeners. With the teaching assistant as the shopkeeper their task was to choose items for less than a set amount, say £10 – then work out how much they would have to pay and how much change they would get. The teaching assistant is particularly good at teaching the children how to add up quantities with differing amounts of digits, like £3, £1.15 and 45p – something that often causes confusion.

By the time these sort of children get to eleven years of age, they have often labelled themselves as maths failures. For them, maths become a grey despair. The drama adds a light-hearted element to their maths learning. Enjoyment brings engagement, engagement leads to motivation and motivation accelerates learning. The inspector was impressed by the motivation of these lower-attaining children and recognised that it was accelerating their progress.

Group 2: The dominoes game

Some of my children don’t know any games. Draughts, Monopoly, chess – they’re all a mystery. We have some marvellous versions of dominoes that are brilliant at showing the equivalence between fractions, decimals and percentages. However for many of the children I can’t use the game because the very act of playing dominoes is too much of a barrier.

In this lesson I was able to use dominoes 1:1 because the Google Docs (which I’m coming too) enabled me to. The advantage of playing dominoes with a child 1:1 not only could I support them with the game, but when they were stuck finding an equivalent for the dominoes in their hand, I could unpick their misconceptions and teach them the concepts. For me, a 1:1 interaction with a student provides the best moments of teaching and hence the most powerful learning. The inspector was impressed that I’d planned time for these 1:1 interactions to take place.

Group 3: The Google Docs

Different children represent two fifths on a Google Doc

Often, whilst a teacher works with a small group or an individual, the rest of the class complete tedious worksheets or engage in something known as ‘group work’. Not with Google Docs.

Each child worked individually on a small part of a Google Drawing to represent what different fractions would look like. This particular group of children need lots of concrete examples to help them understand the abstractness of fractions. Showing a child the digits ¾ is often not enough – children need to represent it with apparatus and images. In this case the children demonstrated to the inspector when he spoke to them that they were really understanding fractions in a way they hadn’t previously.

The five sixths drawings prompted most discussion in the plenary
The three eighths representations

Moreover, when the students were stuck, they contacted me via chat. So instead of shouting out (and disrupting their peers), or bringing their work over to me as the teacher (and thereby disrupting the domino game), they were able to silently ask questions of me.

I had opened  4 Chromebooks on the table next to me, each displaying one of the fractions Google Docs that different children were using. Two fifths had the most activity, but other children attempted five sixths and three eighths.

The inspector was particular impressed that the children supposedly on an ‘independent activity’ still had the means to seek adult support, and therefore be taught, rather than spending the whole lesson being stuck. And the Google Docs chat feature minimised the disruption to other learners.

The Google Docs them prompted some excellent discussion at the end of the lesson, particularly the five sixths pictures, which two students had drawn incorrectly. Each had drawn five sevenths instead of five sixths. The discussion in the plenary draw out their misconceptions and we were able to correct them collaboratively on the Chromebooks.

Google Docs had enabled both myself and my teaching assistant to work more effectively as teachers – to spend more of our time actually teaching. As a consequence the children were motivated and enjoyed their learning and so the inspector could only see outstanding progress being made during the lesson.


14 thoughts on “Google Docs and the “Ofsted Outstanding” Lesson”

  1. What a superb read and great to hear such success with just being yourself and being a naturally creative teacher.

    There are many teachers that go wrong (and perhaps not the sort that are likely to read posts like this) that fall into the trap of preparing a lesson they feel that OfSTED want to see, rather than doing what they do best – teaching as themselves for the children that, as professionals, they know best.

    It also raises the much-discussed question of should we be teaching for OfSTED or teaching for our children and encouraging them to become intrinsic learners (or simply: people that enjoy learning)?

    Well done, sir.

  2. Thanks for sharing this……helpful and inspiring. I think that the no-notice inspections will mean the inspectors see more of this kind of thing. I’m sure that in the past we’ve changed what we were going to do to play it safe in front of the inspectors. Well done 🙂

  3. Fantastic post. Thanks for sharing your tips. Love mini plenary idea to show mid lesson learning. Google docs is brilliant. Your lesson sounds amazing. Well done.

  4. Sounds inspiring. I haven’t used Google Doc but will definitely try them now. We have a role play area in y5 all year round an the children gain so much from it. It’s currently a travel agents! Great blog. Keep up the outstanding work!

  5. And it’s teaching them about cloud computing!!
    Really interesting. Good read. May I ask, How are you able to set up each pupil with a google account and do they have any difficulty logging in, remembering passwords and locating the document

    1. We have set up Google Apps for Education, which is a free version of Google Apps for Enterprise available solely to the education sector. The children gain access to a version of Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Sites and some other services that I (as administrator) can turn on or off as required. They did initially have difficulty logging in, but once they’re in the habit of remembering their username and password and have done so three or four times, then they can do it without any problem. As for locating the document, I share it with them via gmail, so they just have to access their email account to access the document.

  6. I am really impressed with this lesson and will look into google docs with our e-learning team. Terrylee Cox, Head of Quality Improvement & Enhancement, Barking & Dagenham College

  7. Fantastic read. Now I just need to work out how to get more computers in the classroom and then use google docs. Guidance with both would be appriciated.

  8. That’s great to hear such positive feedback for google apps, I’m sure that it is always well received but teachers are often so busy that their comments are rarely published like this. I am a google apps specialist and roll this out to many schools and it is so good to work with a system that just works and gives so much more than expected.
    any other stories (positive or negative) would be much appreciated.

  9. Well done on an outstanding lesson! It is an accolade I am striving to achieve and I will certainly be looking to use Google Docs in my fractions lesson next week! Fingers crossed.

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