Please note that the ideas presented are at the development/draft stage and supported by data from a very small sample.

Why demonstrate? Who benefits?


A L Price

Oxford Brookes University

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Glamorgan, 14-17 September 2005

This study has grown out of an evaluation requested by an LEA of the role and work of Advanced Skills Teachers in the authority.

Some ASTs expressed anxiety regarding the longer-term impact of demonstration

lessons, describing such lessons as being viewed as ‘freebies’. Those contributing to

the evaluation considered that some teachers used these sessions to take a break

from teaching rather than as a genuine opportunity for professional development.

The approach permeates government initiatives as a core tactic in developing practice

and there is therefore a need to listen to the issues raised by those on the ground.

As an initial response to this concern, work has been undertaken to investigate whether this is a widely held view of providers or merely that of a minority. Responses have been sought not only from ASTs, but from others such as Strategy consultants, Leading teachers, Gifted and Talented co-ordinators etc who are routinely involved in such activities.


As a former Advanced Skills Teacher, I have my own personal experiences of demonstration lessons to draw upon. Most were positive but I recall occasions when teachers commented ‘just nipping out to do some photocopying for next lesson’, or ‘must just get this marked’.

An evaluation requested by an LEA of the role and work of Advanced Skills Teachers in the authority included focus group discussions with ASTs and raised the issue for me once more.

Overall the message from schools was that teachers felt more confident but one ‘can’t change patterns overnight’ whilst ASTs felt that ‘Demonstration lessons were occasionally used as ‘a freebie’’ and they were uncertain regarding longer term benefits.

I felt the need to explore what is happening on the ground in greater depth, even more so when a recent email in response to my request for information from the Dfes regarding the impact of demonstration lessons, stated

Unfortunately, whilst there is a whole raft of research on the impact of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) there is nothing specifically aimed at the impact of demonstration lessons.’

Research undertaken

The research was planned as two stages.

Firstly to collect a significant amount of data from the providers, LEA consultants, ASTs and Gifted and Talented coordinators, all of whom use demonstration lessons routinely, and to undertake follow up on line discussions with a subset of those who responded: secondly to obtain the opinions of the receivers, both individual and schools.

In reality, to date, only a very small number of responses from providers have been received, but there are issues emerging despite the small sample. This paper therefore does not attempt to draw conclusions but to consider some of the issues raised.

A questionnaire was sent to around 30 ASTs, 10 consultants and handed to G and T coordinators at Training days. Only a small proportion of the latter group used the approach.

Disappointingly, responses which are available for analysis at this time include 2 Consultants, 3 ASTs and 2 G and T coordinators.

Appendix 1 provides the data which will be referred to in this paper: comments made by participants are included throughout the text. Teachers are identified through A-H labels

A B LEA consultants,


G H Gifted and Talented co-ordinators.

Teacher F is a recently appointed AST.

The Role

The teachers providing the demonstration lesson could all be described as experts and the expectation is that in their role, they will ‘share’ their expertise with others using model lessons as one approach.

For example, according to the Standards Site ( the outreach activities undertaken by ASTs might include

·  Producing high quality teaching materials

·  Disseminating materials relating to best practice and educational research

·  Providing 'model' lessons to a whole class, or a target group of pupils eg. G & T, SEN, EAL etc., with staff observing

·  Supporting a subject leader with regard to schemes of work, policies or management skills

·  Observing lessons and advising other teachers on classroom organisation, lesson planning and teaching methods

·  Helping teachers who are experiencing difficulties

·  Participating in the induction and mentoring of newly qualified teachers

·  Leading professional learning groups

·  Supporting professional development


The chart illustrates the range of acivities undertaken by ASTs in the evaluation study making it clear that demonstration lessons are commonly used.

Cars have to be regularly serviced to maintain performance: to become more powerful outdated and worn out parts have to be replaced to inject new vigour into a machine. Joyce and Showers (1980) argue that in a similar way, teachers become better teachers.

Providers are charged with the task of enthusing the receiving teacher with fresh ideas.

Sternberg and Horwarth (1995) suggest a prototype view of the expert teacher to include knowledge, efficiency and insight. They refer to Shulman’s ideas on knowledge, breaking it down into content, pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge. ‘Expert teachers need to know how to package curricular innovations to sell those innovations to fellow teachers’….. (page 11)

Those engaged to deliver the strategy to other teachers are encouraged to package the knowledge in particular ways, others have more freedom to choose but in either situation, the assumption is that they have the expertise to do so.

Efficiency encompasses aspects of reflective practice with experts choosing to work ‘on the leading edge of their own knowledge and skill’ (op cit page 13) so in terms of benefit we might also need to consider the growing expertise of the expert.

Sternberg et al also suggest that one aspect in becoming an expert is to be labelled as an expert. The expert provider perhaps learns as much as those provided for: this would be another interesting area to pursue.

Over the summer I watch my husband teach my son butterfly. He demonstrated, my son attempted a few strokes, advice was offered and the cycle repeated on many occasions. My son has requested the support and will persevere until he achieves success.

By contrast, the context under discussion is where one or possibly two lessons are viewed by a teacher with little or no on going support. There is seldom opportunity to develop the one off into a longer term coaching/mentoring situation. If we assume that the lessons are spread over several institutions it is obvious that within the small sample there is little to suggest on going input with any one individual.

However, the intention is that working with teachers in this way provides support and encouragement and some follow up is implied. The expert teachers comment that demonstration lessons

Offer alternatives outside usual practice and teacher’s comfort zone.

Encourages reflection on individual delivery’ (Teacher C)

Demonstration modelling risk-taking in a shared environment of mutual learning enables adults to practice before going it alone.’ (Teacher G)

However the arguments applied would be similar to those used with reference to professional development of any nature and it is now well recognised that the one off training day does little to effect sustainable change. The one off demo lesson may or may not be effective for any given teacher.Teacher B considers that

‘………although the lesson can provide a template for objectives, pace, expectation etc., the teaching style of the demo. Teacher may be completely different to and outside the comfort zone of the observing teacher. For example, whilst I might happily use role play, it might be inappropriate for the teacher and therefore of little use. Consequently I think while demonstration lessons have undoubted value, in some circumstances it is more effective to adopt a coaching approach and support teachers in being reflective and generating their own solutions, rather than imposing solutions that work for me. ‘(Teacher B)

The demonstration process

From the results it can be seen that all providers engaged in discussion prior to the session. As expected the focus tended to be on the lesson content and structure with only one respondent referring to ‘needs’. This is perhaps surprising as most CPD is now needs based.

Wilson and Easen (1995) feel that ‘few seem to acknowledge the challenging and difficult nature of defining needs’ and that the ‘asymmetrical relationship’ between the individuals engaged in determining those needs may ‘distort the dialogue’ (page 273/4). ‘Needs indentification is not a neutral activity. ( Willaims 91 cited in Wilson et al 95 page 280).The researchers distinguish between wants, which may only be known to the individual, and needs which may be known by the school.

It is not clear at this stage of the research whether it is the needs of the school or of the individual which are being met.

Certainly, there is an implied imbalance in the status of the two teachers involved in the process as by definition one has skills absent or poorly develop in the other in respect of the area of focus.

Self-Determination Theory ( Ryan and Deci 2000 in Truscott and Truscott 2004)acknowledges that individuals ‘have an intrinsic need to be autonomous’ (page 52) and this need can only be met if the receivers truly participate in the decision making process.

In response to a question about the behaviour of teachers during the demo lesson, Teacher B stated

Some interaction may be necessary as it is important not to undermine the teacher's credibility or relationship with that group of students. It is important that the teacher is involved and feels that this is collaborative and not just a ‘this is how you should do it’ as this is not very helpful.’

An important point to reiterate at this stage is that the opinion of the teacher in receipt of the demonstrations has not yet been sought. However the control does appear to remain with the expert despite the pre and post lesson discussions.

Marking happened in the initial stages because I had assumed the teacher would observe formally and therefore hadn’t stipulated that she shouldn’t use the time for marking! We resolved this situation.

The teacher also asked during one lesson if she might leave to do an errand. This was all a learning curve for me in terms of being much clearer that these were demonstration lessons and that she had a formal observation role to play. I hadn’t done this initially because it had seemed a.)immodest and b.) obvious! (Teacher B)

There is an assumption too that the receiving teacher has opted for the opportunity to develop practice in this way but in reality this may not be so. The need may be perceived to be so by others more senior within the school structure.

‘I have also worked with colleagues who have taken no notice of me or what we are trying achieve at all, so no progress is made. It is no good if you are imposed on a colleague. Even if you think you have a good relationship with that colleague, it is the history and how they have arrived at this collaboration that can affect the outcome as well.’ (Teacher A)

In terms of impact one participant (Teacher E) suggests that demonstration lessons offer

‘Fresh new ideas. Aid to reflect on own classroom practice’ perhaps supporting the opinion of Strenberg in that both giver and receiver have the opportunity to develop practice.

The claim would be that demonstration lessons empower teachers although none of the respondents used this term. In today’s busy classroom with non specialists delivering scripted lessons from the Strategies it is an effort for many teachers themselves to feel empowered within the classroom.

This list adapted from Renihan and Renihan (1992 page 11) offers ideas of what teacher empowerment is not

kidding teachers into thinking pre-planned initiatives were their ideas

(that is entrapment).

holding out rewards emanating from positive power

(that is enticement).

insisting that participation is mandated from above

(that is enforcement)

increasing the responsibility and scope of the jobs in trivial areas

(that is enlargement).

Defining the term empowerment is however much more challenging. According to Friere, (1996 Page 108) it is ‘the capability to critically reflect on one’s world and to transform it’. Capability does not in itself imply action but without the action, empowerment cannot be observed: conversely without capability action is impossible.

The opportunity to reflect is mentioned by several respondents but it is difficult at this early stage of the research to unpick what this translates to in practice.

I would agree with Kreisberg (1992 page 20) who argues that that the empowerment of an individual teacher is entwined with the empowerment of all teachers in his/her school. The culture of the school and the vision of the leadership are contextual factors which inhibit or encourage an empowered teaching staff.

This aspect has not been explored but is obviously a fundamental factor in determining the sustainability of any change. Interestingly only one respondent used the term ‘teacher learning’ as a focus for post demo discussions.

Some Issues

We should perhaps be asking ‘On what view of teaching is the approach based?’

The premise that the process of teaching can be reduced to a set of competences underpins many approaches to CPD. Glover and Law draw our attention to the fact that there is a difference between competence, ‘a generic term reflecting an ability in an area of professional work’ and competency which is more specifically applied such as to marking (Glover et al 2002 page 151).

Brown (1996) listed these consequences of a competency based approach:

Simplistic constructs of professional worth

The loss of critical and evaluative approaches to the assessment of professional capabilities

Concentration on pass-fail outcomes rather than the process of professional development

Questions about the source of the information and knowledge of subject and pedagogy required for competence analysis