4. Observing learning

On this page

  1. Importance of observing learning
    1.1 Observing learning
    1.2 Not observing learning
    1.3 Starting to observe learning
  2. Pivotal role of observing
    2.1 Observing yourself
    2.2 Acting after observing
    2.3 Not acting after observing
  3. Observing body language
  4. Observing spoken language
    4.1 Spoken language as harbinger of a disruption
    4.2 With what intention do you something
    4.3 Ways of reasoning
    4.4 Technical language – jargon
    4.5 Language use and ‘Moods’
  5. Observing learning in different approaches to teaching
  6. Research
  7. Seeing each other
  8. Summary
  9. Credits

‘Observing learning’ is one of the five perspectives of Friendly and Fair Teaching (FFT). By observing their own and each other’s body language and spoken language, teachers and students make contact more easily.

A positive learning environment is created when everyone is careful with body language and language use. By observing each other’s body language and spoken language, we sense each other’s mood better and make contact more easily.

An observer must know how to make himself weightless, otherwise no one will open up”. Constantius (2017), Constantin

Current approach:

How do I pay attention to body language and spoken language?

Future approach:

How do I pay attention to body language and spoken language in the future?

Introduction video

For more information check out our other introductory videos here.


  1. The use of body language by students
    The way you use body language can be used by students as well. With this use of body language students enhance collaboration and group cohesion. Check out this example on the site of the Conductors Band (Like FFT an initiative of the Rapucation Foundation).
  2. Coarse language
    An article in the NRC (June 18, 2019) about increasing violence in Germany includes a quote from President Steinmeier: “Where language becomes rougher, being rough with each other is no longer far away.” Advise FFT: To stop course language prevents disruptions.
  3. Openness about emotion in PO
    In addition to observing your students’ body language, you can also observe their emotions. With an emotion ladder, you invite students to be open about their feelings. Knowing how someone is feeling makes it easier to be considerate. This emotion ladder is in use in PO. You hang it in the classroom and each student has a personal peg with their name. Upon entering, they hang their peg by the feeling that suits them at that moment. This need not be discussed further, but it can give you as a teacher a clue as to what is going on with individual students. You can then take that into account. However, it is important to make very clear agreements, such as: we don’t just talk about anyone, you only move your own peg.

    Figure 54: Emotion ladder


‘Observing learning’ is one of the five perspectives of Friendly and Fair Teaching (FFT).

Figure 53: Observing learning (overview)

‘Observing learning’ is the only perspective that focuses on observation. The other four perspectives are action-oriented. Observing learning performs a pivotal function between the first three perspectives: ‘Establishing a friendly tone’, ‘Establishing fairness’ and ‘Planning lessons’ and the last perspective ‘Reinforcing positive behaviour’

By observing you prepare a response, both when teaching the entire class and during independent work. Body language and spoken language are important indicators. If you observe body language and give clues with body language, you will make contact more easily.

You pay attention not only to what your students say, but precisely how they say it. Then you gain crucial information about individual students and about the class as a whole.

In this module, you will gain both information on how to quickly recognize and resolve a disruption to the lesson and information on how to react when students are functioning well. In both cases body language plays an important role.

Enero Moestalam drew FFT’s attention to the importance of body language. Peter van der Bosch drew FFT’s attention to the importance of language use. Read more about the origins of paying attention to language at the website that preceded Friendly and Fair Teaching: rapucation.eu

  • Inspiration – A page with videos of the activities of the Rapucation Foundation, including an NCRV broadcast about language use.
  • Why the name Rapucation? – A page with information about Peter van der Bosch / Tony Scott and his contribution to the field of Rap and language use at Rapucation and FFT.

1. Importance of observing learning

1.1 Observing learning

By observing learning, you know when a student is making a good effort or is disrupting the lesson. In the first case you give a compliment, in the second case you reinforce positive behaviour.

You observe the body language of your students when they enter the classroom, during the lesson and when they leave. Through these observations and by using body language, you speak “their” language.

When you use your own body language, when you are confident and calm, your students will take seriously the gestures you use to guide them.
By consciously using your own body language, you notice what a powerful effect body language has. The more experience you have with your own body language the better you can judge your students’ body language.

If everyone pays attention to their words, a positive learning environment is created. If you and your students formulate carefully and if you immediately stop a student who uses rough language with a gesture, rough language will disappear from your lesson. There are fewer and fewer disruptions to class.

1.2 Not observing learning

If you forget to observe, you don’t see if a students are making a good effort. You then also forget to compliment them. A missed opportunity to encourage students. You also don’t see that a student is disrupting the lesson. Because you did not see that, you do not reinforce positive behaviour. Chances are that other students will also disrupt the lesson. You give the students the opportunity to disrupt the lesson and take you out of your concentration.

Meanwhile, students pay close attention to your posture, even if you don’t pay attention to your own body language. Not making contact at the level of body language is a missed opportunity!

1.3 Start observing learning

You can immediately start observing body language and spoken language of your students and yourself. Initially, you respond to what you observe with body language. By paying attention to students’ body language and spoken language, you are better able to recognize and appreciate positive intentions and resolve disruptions effectively.

2. Pivotal role of observing learning

‘Observing learning’ is the connecting link between the other four perspectives and plays a pivotal role in Friendly and Fair Teaching.

Figure 5: Observing learning – pivotal function

What you observe is related to the way in which:

  1. introduce the framework to your students (Establishing fairness)
  2. the attitude you show to the group (Establishing a friendly tone)
  3. you prepare your lessons (Planning lessons)

The more satisfied you are with these three perspectives, the less likely you are to see disruptions.

If things go well, you compliment your students; if a student disrupts the lesson, you reinforce positive behaviour.

2.1 Observing yourself

With your body language, spoken language and emotions you set an example for your students.

  1. You influence the lesson with your own body language and spoken language. Regarding emotions: If you are calm, the group becomes calm, if you radiate energy, the class takes over that energy (Setting the standard of behaviourManaging emotions).
  2. The way you interact with your students also has to do with: What you say while teaching, the way you speak (intonation – timbre) and also posture and your decision where you will stand in the class.

2.2 Acting after observing

  1. You see positive reactions to the lesson: You compliment these students. You encourage them to continue along the chosen path. A compliment is easily given with body language (thumbs up).
    More examples of straightforward gestures for giving directions are covered in the “Communication through gestures” module.
  2. You see a student disrupting the lesson: You reinforce positive behaviour starting with using body language.

By observing and quickly interpreting what you see, you are able to act effectively. As a result, the lesson runs better and disruptions are less likely to occur. Observing is thus a preventive action.

2.3 Not acting after observing

If the group is new to you, and you notice during working independently that a student does not start working and also does not disrupt the lesson, you do not have to take action. If know the group longer, you can start a conversation with such a student about why the student isn’t working.

3. Observing body language

Observing body language concerns both your own body language and that of the students.

Your own body language
By actively and consciously using your own body language, using it as an actor, you influence the body language of your students. If you yourself move slowly, talk softly and look neutral, you will radiate calmness. Avoid busy moving, talking loudly and looking angry.

Body language of students
How do you pay attention to body language, what are the harbingers of a disturbance? If you see any of these harbingers, you reinforce positive behaviour:

  • too large Gestures
  • Laughing at each other or laughing to loud
  • A provocative attitude
  • Looking away/no eye contact/ignoring you
  • Looking at you in a non-open manner (exaggerated/challenging/angry/plagued/absent)
  • Getting too close
  • Squeezing hard when shaking hands
  • Facial expression
  • Inappropriate clothing (attributes)/inappropriate clothing markings
  • Striking actions and rough gestures
  • Looking around while making contact
  • Not sitting down/backing up (chair on two legs)/hanging forward
  • Head on the table/staring outside
  • Touching other people or other people’s things
  • Making disturbing noises (leaf zipping, pen clicking, pencil tapping, table drumming)

4. Observing spoken language

Observing language concerns both your own language use and that of the students. FFT advises to formulate carefully and speak in a friendly manner. Put what you are going to say through a filter. Speaking this way creates a positive learning environment. By paying attention to students’ language use, you can recognize both positive intentions and possible disruptions at an early stage.

How do you pay attention to language use?

You pay attention to:

  1. harbingers of a disruption
  2. with what intention students say something
  3. their ways of reasoning

4.1 Spoken language as harbinger of a disruption

  • Speaking with a particular timbre
  • Street language
  • Expletives
  • Generalizing
  • Overemphasizing
  • Discriminating
  • Speaking disparagingly about others

Why is it advisable to omit coarse language? Coarse language has a negative effect on others and that effect cannot be reversed. It can be the source of a conflict. An apparent advantage of using coarse language: You get rid of your aggression. In the long run, more aggression will come in return.

What words do I choose to invite you to listen to my story?” Tony Scott – Wikipedia

4.2 With what intention something is said

With your use of language you show intentions, beliefs and emotions. Language use covers the content of what is said, including everything that is communicated between the lines (connotations). You pay attention to the timbre (the sound) of your voice, the words used and the attitude of the person who is speaking. Together this gives crucial information about what is going on with yourself, a student or the entire class.

4.3 Ways of reasoning

Consider the following ways of reasoning. If you hear students talking in one of these ways, help them avoid it. This may also mean that the undesirable behaviour associated with this will disappear.

The teacher’s job in these situations is to gently correct such reactions. These reactions all impede learning – both for the students who react in this way and for the other students in the class.Lukianoff (2018), Greg and Jonathan Haidt

Following are the 9 most common cognitive disruptions that therapists learn to recognize through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It is also important for teachers to recognize these cognitive distortions and be able to correct them.

  1. EMOTIONAL REASONS: Letting your feelings guide your interpretation of reality: “I feel depressed; therefore, my marriage is not working.”
  2. CATASTROFING: Focusing on the worst possible outcome and seeing it as the most likely. “It would be terrible if I failed.”
  3. GENERALIZING: Perceiving a general pattern of negatives based on a single incident. “This generally happens to me. “I often seem to fail”.
  4. BLACK-WHITE THINKING: (also known by the names “all-or-nothing thinking” and “binary thinking”). Viewing events or people in all-or-nothing terms. “I get rejected by everyone.” or “It was a complete waste of time.”
  5. READING THOUGHTS: Assuming you know what people are thinking without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts. “He thinks I’m a loser.”
  6. LABELING: Assigning global negative attributes to yourself or others (often in the service of black-and-white thinking). “I’m undesirable,” or “He’s a bad person.”
  7. NEGATIVE FILTERING: You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and rarely notice the positives. “Look at all those people who don’t like me.”
  8. NEGATIVE POSITIVE ASPECTS: Claiming that the positive things you or others do are insignificant so you can maintain negative judgment. “That’s what wives are supposed to do – so it doesn’t count if she’s nice to me,” or “Those successes were easy, so they don’t matter.”
  9. Blaming OTHERS: Seeing the other person as the source of your negative feelings; you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. “She’s to blame for how I feel now,” or “My parents caused all my problems.”

4.4  Technical language

If you plan to use professional language, pay attention to it at the beginning of the lesson. At the beginning of the lesson, explain the professional language, that you will use . If you don’t, these difficult words will act like a smokescreen for students. Therefore, only use technical language if students know the meaning. If you don’t pay attention to this, you create distance between you and the students. View the list of the FFT professional language and the explanation of these terms. On this site we capitalize a number of these terms.

4.5 Language Use and ‘Moods’

In the module ‘managing emotions, ‘Moods’ are discussed. How do these moods translate into words?

Figure 24: 4Moods Axis system

In terms of language, the ‘Mood’ in the lower right part of this figure requires our attention. This ‘Mood’ has the highest energy (Heavy + busy). In this Mood, you talk loudly and there is a chance that you will use coarse language. If you fight out a conflict with a student in an angry manner, you are in this energy state. If either you or the student uses foul language in the heat of a conflict, separation occurs which is difficult to resolve after the conflict. The advice is to continue paying attention to your own energy and language in a potential conflict as well as that of your student. That way you stay in touch with each other and finding a solution is easier.

5. Observing in different approaches to teaching

In two columns are a number of points of interest specific to frontal teaching and working independently. Both lists begin with ‘not disturbing others’.

Teacher-centred education

With the expectation management folder, you indicate that you expect your students to focus their attention on the lesson. When teaching the entire class, you pay attention to the whole group as well as individual students:

  • Are they disrupting the lesson?
  • Are they paying attention to the lesson?
  • Do they act cooperatively?
  • Is there mutual trust?

In this list, a disruption to the lesson is at the top because everyone suffers from it. In the event of a disruption, you respond immediately..

Student-centred education

When working independently you focus on the individual student. You check whether a student:

  • does not disturb a fellow student.
  • is modest.
  • is trustworthy, takes initiative, is task-oriented and intrinsically motivated.
  • acquires sufficient knowledge of the basic material.
  • makes minimal effort.
  • determines the moment of assessment itself.
  • keeps you informed of progress.
  • chooses topics in your field that match your own wishes and learning style.
  • concludes a topic with a presentation.
  • discovers own talent.
  • discover new aspects of your profession or gain expertise that is new to you.

The most important thing when working independently is that students give allow each other to work with concentration. That’s why ‘do not disturb’ is at the top. If you help a student while another student is disturbing a fellow students behind your back, several students will suffer from this disruption. Watching for disruptions is your primary task when working independently. Only when students do not disturb each other can you spend all your time coaching students.

Over time, it becomes normal for students not to disturb anyone while working independently and to engage in a good manner. The better this works, the more trust is created

6. Research

The right part of our brain controls (among other things) motor functions and the left part controls (among other things) verbal functions. If both hemispheres of the brain are active at the same time, you respond better and faster to students.

Young children’s responses largely come from the nonverbal right part of their brain. For better contact with your students, focus your attention and perception on the body language of your students. By doing this, you use the right motor part of your brain, just like your students. This allows you to quickly make contact. By actively using both the right motor part of your brain and the left verbal part of the brain, you formulate better, respond immediately to what is happening, remember better and come into the ‘now’. You notice that you often solve something intuitively and that you less often solve something by reasoning.

By using both hemispheres of my brain, I connect faster with my students. Can this claim be confirmed with research? Please contact Friendly and Fair Teaching

7. Seeing each other

Freddie, English teacher, indicates that not only in education but also in life it is about seeing each other. If you look well at your students and respond well to them, you are a mirror for them through which they learn about themselves.

Read more at credits

8. Summary

You pay attention to body language and spoken language of yourself and your students. As a result, you understand your students better and can respond more quickly by giving a compliment or by reinforcing positive behaviour.

9. Credits

Rense Houwing – editor Friendly and Fair Teaching
Rense noted that the perspective ‘observing learing’ is the only one aimed at perception. Now this perspective has a pivotal function for the other four perspectives of Friendly and Fair Teaching.
Enero Moestalam – HkA / Video producer
Enero instructed Johan ‘t Hart to spend a lesson paying attention only to body language. For Johan ‘t Hart, a world opened up. He immediately saw how his students were feeling and could therefore respond better to them. Enero’s way of observing is included in the perspective ‘Observing learning’.
Tony Scott – Rapper (Peter van der Bosch – The Chief) The rapper Tony Scott is one of the originators of Rapucation. Read more at the introduction above. Tony was a student of Johan ‘t Hart. It was his trademark to pay attention to his own use of language and to the language of others. Now FFT promotes his attitude in the perspective ‘Observing learning’.