A moment for reflection

I finished the camp I was teaching a few weeks ago. I promised myself I would reflect and write about it. As it turned out, it was one of those things that I needed distance from before I could think about. Well, now I have some distance (three weeks and almost 9,000 kilometres) and I’m ready to write.

Meta-reflections

I learned a lot during this camp and I have been reflecting on it in small ways from various angles since it ended. From the start, I had intended to reflect every day at the teachers’ meetings I always hold. It began okay. We sat around and talked about the day’s successes and challenges, students who were especially challenging, and what to expect for the coming hours and the next morning. We reflected on how various aspects of the program went and what we could change. I wrote it all down diligently in my notebook and hope to use it to make the program better. 

I learned a lot from this process. We learned that we needed a classroom management technique that worked consistently for all the classes. We decided on a kinaesthetic attention-getter: ‘thumbs up’ ‘mouths shut’. We tried it out and it worked. I particularly liked this because I didn’t have to yell at the students or scare them just to get their attention. 

Another thing I learned from the process was that some of my role plays are getting tired. One of the teachers pointed out (gently, knowing how invested I am in these things) that there’s a lot could be done to improve our airport role play. ‘How is that authentic?’ he asked. It is an excellent point that has certainly been raised elsewhere. But he had suggestions for improvement and was quite free about sharing them. Next time, it will be better. 

As the days turned into weeks, we all got tired. And then meetings became more concise and less reflective. ‘Are there problems to solve?’ ‘What’s going to happen next?’ ‘What do we need to be ready?’ That was it. We stopped reflecting on the day so much. Sometimes I made time for it and we spent a few minutes. Reflection never disappeared entirely. I think what I learned is that reflection on action, during the camp, needs a little distance. It is also harder to motivate my co-workers to reflect when the benefit is not immediately apparent (or necessarily applicable).

Reflections on being an observee

One thing that helped me reflect personally during the camp was my very first experience of being observed in my classes. I have to admit, this was frustrating, nerve wracking, terrifying, and time-consuming. Of course, most of that was in my mind. The reality of the experience is that it was only five hours of classes during two days. I prepared two specific lesson plans (that were different from how I normally prepare lesson plans). Best of all, it gave me so much to think about and so many ways I can improve my teaching, not just for this camp and this group of students, but for all future classes.

I had never given all that much thought to describing objectives before the observations. Objectives were the goals in the back of my mind that I sort of hoped would be achieved in the course of the lesson and I’d ‘be able to tell’. Now they’re written in my teaching diary and I pay attention to what I hope to accomplish, how it is different from what I hope the students will accomplish or learn or come away with, what path I will follow to achieve these goals (or how I will let my students guide me) and how I will know when they have been achieved. And then I leave a space to write down how it actually happened, what I learned, and what I’ll do next time. Using objectives as a focus helps a lot for guiding my daily reflections.

Another great thing I took away from the observations was a better knowledge of myself as a teacher. I learned that I interact a lot with the students and try to make sure they all participate. I also learned that my unwillingness to yell at students means that I need to find more effective ways to manage a class of younger students. I waste a lot of time trying to get kids to settle down one by one (by the time one is sitting quiet, two more got bored and start jumping around or fighting, etc.). I was really grateful for feedback without judgement and wished there was time for more of it. My lesson plans did not always ever go the way I intended,  and I think that might be okay. After all, I teach students, not role plays.

Feedback

Finally, I got feedback from my co-workers at the end of the camp. It showed that the hard work had paid off: the teachers said they had the necessary tools to do their jobs effectively and commented on the high level of communication, organisation, professionalism and friendliness. They said they’d like to work with us again.

I also got feedback from the observer in the form of a balanced and thoughtful final report. I learned a lot about myself as a teacher and also about the things I actually do in the classroom. I am grateful for the second pair of eyes and ears in class and the gentle reminders to reflect on how I teach.

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Comments

  • datenglish  On September 13, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Hi Anne,
    Your deep reflections about observation time, reminded me of the time the head told me “I will be in your class tomorrow”, it was a real process of nervousness, well you describe it very well.
    I work as freelance now, so, reflections like yours help me improve my work. I would like to ask you if you outline your lesson plans in your PC or if you use paper, if you follow a free model for planning, and how they provide the observation feedback, I mean just orally or do have they given you a written feedback.

    Thanks again, good reading in the morning
    Debbie

    • livinglearning  On September 14, 2012 at 12:39 am

      Hi Debbie,
      Thank you so much for your comment! I know a few freelance teachers. It must be nice to have so much freedom to really get in touch with and meet your students’ needs.
      I will try to answer your questions. Usually I use paper for my lesson plans. I actually jot them down on the backs of scrap papers or the previous day’s plans. However, for the observation, I was asked to use a specific format. It was useful (and also frustrating) to learn a new way of lesson planning. Feedback from the observation was provided in writing because there was not time for oral feedback. I think I would have preferred both, as well as discussion before the observed classes if it had been possible.
      Thanks again for reading and commenting. I hope you are having a pleasant day.
      Anne

    • livinglearning  On September 14, 2012 at 1:29 am

      By the way, I added your blog to the laughing diary collection. Check it out 🙂 https://lizzieserene.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/laughing-diary-part-2/

  • datenglish  On September 14, 2012 at 2:18 am

    Hi Anne,
    I usually plan my lessons and keep them in word or ppt format and also keep a word doc for each of my students where I check attendance and an agenda for the day, including their HW or what they need to practise for the future. When auditors observed me, they told me within a week before and they just came in my class and took notes, then we met and they gave me some feedback and a written copy of their “detailed” observation. Very honestly it never really helped me improve my lessons, it was quite a description of what I did in the class. Looking back I think it was part of the red tape imposed by the company where I used to work. Now, I think that peer or boss observation can be a process which could help us grow.
    PS: I am a little confused with these two blogs, livinglearning and lizzieserene! Ageing dear Anne!
    And thanks for linking my laughing diary part 1.
    Cheers
    Debbie

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