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 Act after observing
    2.2 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). Teachers and students observe each other’s body language and spoken language and quickly get a sense of each other’s intentions.

If we pay attention to each other’s body language and spoken language, we connect more easily and sense each other’s mood.

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


  1. The use of body language by students
    The way you use body language 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, punitive action is no longer far away.” Advise FFT: Weather course language out of the lessen to prevent 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 are only on 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 is always important, both during frontal teaching and working independently. Body language plays a major role in student communication. If you observe body language and speak with body language, you make contact faster.

To create and monitor a good atmosphere you pay attention to both body language and spoken language use of students. Your observations enable you to react quickly. 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.

‘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’

In this module, you will gain both information on how to quickly recognize disruptive student behaviour and information on how to deal with students who are functioning well.

1. Importance of observing learning

1.1 Observing learning

By observing, 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 (see forerunners of disturbance).

You observe the body language of your students when they enter the room, during the lesson and when they leave the room. 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, conflicts won’t have a chance to arise. 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. That means less conflict. Reinforcing positive behaviour won’t be needed often.

1.2 Not observing learning

If you forget to observe, you don’t see if a student is making a good effort. You then also forget to compliment them. A missed opportunity to encourage this student.

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.

If you don’t pay attention to students’ body language, you recognize disruptive behaviour too late. This gives 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. Making contact at the level of body language with your students is out of the question for you. A missed opportunity!

1.3 Start observing learning

You can immediately start paying attention to body language and spoken language of your students and yourself at the same time. 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 both positive intentions and to quickly recognize possible disruptions and effectively reinforce positive behaviour

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

The more satisfied you are with these 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 Acting after observing

By paying attention to students’ body language and spoke language, you quickly get an impression of their moods and intentions. You see students who act positively and sometimes you see a student who disrupts the lesson. From your observations you link actions:

You see positive reactions to the lesson: Students deal responsibly with the freedom offered. 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.
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.

2.2 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

When we talk about observing body language, we are talking about both your own body language and that of the students.

Your own body language
By actively and consciously using your own body language, working with it like an actor, you influence the body language of your students. For example, 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:

  • Gestures that are too large
  • 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

When observing, pay attention to your own language use as well as that of the students. FFT advises careful phrasing and speaking in a friendly manner. Put what you are about to say through a filter. By addressing a group in this way, you create a positive learning environment. By paying attention to students’ language, you recognize both positive intentions and possible disruptions at an early stage.

4.1 Spoken language as harbinger of a disruption

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

Why is it advisable to omit coarse language? What you do not take into account the moment you use coarse language is that what you do cannot be reversed. With coarse language you sow the seeds of 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

The way we speak shows intentions, beliefs and emotions. Language use covers the content of what is said, including connotations. In observing spoken language, you pay attention to the timbre (the sound) of a voice, the words you use or a person uses and the attitude you or a person adopts while talking. It is important to be aware that crucial information about you and about a students can be gained by observing.

4.3 Ways of reasoning

If you recognize one of the ways of reasoning of this list of cognitive failures you can reinforce positive behaviour and you can help your students avoid these ways of reasoning and undesirable behaviours associated with them.

Imagine being in a class where several students habitually engage in emotional reasoning, generalizing and labelling. 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 technical language, pay attention to it at the beginning of the lesson. Explain at the beginning of the lesson difficult words. If you don’t, these difficult words will act as a smokescreen for students and you create distance between you and the students. Therefore, use technical language only if students know the meaning of the terms. A list of the technical language of Friendly and Fair Teaching is available on this site along with the meanings we give to these terms. On this site, we write some of our terms with a capital letter.

4.6 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. That removal is difficult to resolve after the conflict. The advice is to continue to pay 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’.

Frontal teaching

With the expectation management folder, you indicate that you expect your students to focus their attention on the lesson. During frontal teaching, 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? See explanation box
  • Is there mutual trust?

Disrupting the lesson is at the top because it affects everyone. Therefore, you respond immediately to a disruption of the lesson.

Working independently

During working independently you focus on individual students. Observe if they:

  • do not disturb anyone.
  • take initiative and are task-oriented and intrinsically motivated.
  • acquire sufficient knowledge in terms of basic material.
  • make minimal effort.
  • determine timing of testing.
  • keep me informed of progress.
  • choose subjects in my field of study that suit their wishes and learning style.
  • finish a subject with a presentation.
  • discover their own talent.
  • evaluate my teaching materials.
  • Discover new aspects of my subject. Gain expertise that is new to me.

The most important thing about working independently is that students can concentrate. Hence, disrupting is at the top. You pay attention to that first. You reinforce positive behaviour if a student disrupts a fellow students. Over time, it becomes normal for students not to disturb anyone while working independently and to engage in good behaviour. Mutual trust then develops.

6. Research

The right part of our brain controls (among other things) motor functions and the left part controls (among other things) verbal functions.

When you simultaneously respond verbally and nonverbally to a class, you use both hemispheres of the brain. Johan ‘t Hart initially thought that paying attention to body language, would confuse his thinking. This turned out not to be the case. The two processes take place in two different hemispheres of the brain. With both hemispheres active at the same time, he could respond better and faster to students.

Young children’s attention is largely focused on the nonverbal right hemisphere. Therefore, to better connect with your students, focus your attention and perception on your students’ body language. As a result, you use the right part of your brain. For better contact with your students, you actively use body language. As a result, you are able to make contact quickly and you can better remember everything you observe. By actively using both the right part of your brain and the left part of the brain, you formulate better. Through this way of perceiving, you react immediately to what is happening and come into the “now”. You notice that you are less likely to solve something by reasoning. You use both hemispheres of the brain synchronously.

By using both hemispheres of the brain, I connect with my students faster. Can this statement be confirmed by 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 first named the perspective ‘Observing’ . Now ‘Observing learning’ it is one of the five 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 watching 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. It was his trademark to pay attention to his use of language and to the language of others. Now his attitude is part of the perspective ‘Observing learning’.