RPC 3: Description

RPC 3: Description

Instructions From John’s Original Post:

“Think about a negative interaction you have had in your classroom. Not an entire lesson, but a single interaction that occurred between you and someone else (a student, another teacher, a parent, etc).

Our task today is to take this negative interaction and describe it. It is important that we describe and describe only.

In addition, I would like us to pay particular attention to the feelings of all those involved. How did we feel? How do we think the student(s) felt. For now, let’s not analyze why we think they felt one way or another (that’s for our next challenge).”

 As you might have seen from my comment on John’s original post, I have no intention of including the feelings of any participant other than myself. I am also going to try to state those feelings first and stick to pure description after that.

I invite readers to ask me questions to help clarify the description and to point out where my description might be turning into judgment or analysis (through use of loaded language or whatever), but I’m not looking for analysis, advice or suggestions at this time.

Let’s go!

This scenario took place last Wednesday night. It was around 9pm and the final class of the day. The students had already been studying at our academy since 6:30 and the class before mine is a translation class. There are 12 students in this class – five boys and seven girls. One of the girls was absent. The classroom seating is arranged in a circle with all seats facing the board. The students are using Thoughts and Notions – a reading textbook. On the day in question, they were working on a reading about “Umbrellas.” This was their third day with this reading. As homework I had asked them to make umbrellas with main ideas inside and supporting details underneath (an umbrella for each paragraph of the reading).

“Josh,” the subject of this description, had not done this assignment. I selected students to put their umbrellas on the board and we checked them together. Josh did not take this opportunity to complete the homework in his notebook, nor did two others who had not completed the homework. I said, “Anyone who has not completed the homework should write down the main ideas and details in your notebooks. You don’t need to draw umbrellas.” Two other students began writing – one drew umbrellas and the other wrote main ideas and details.

Josh did nothing. He was frowning and looking at his desk. I thought his eyes were kind of glassy. I went over and repeated my instruction. He didn’t even acknowledge that I had spoken. I repeated his name until he looked at me. Then I showed him the umbrellas on the board and pointed to the sentences one by one. I repeated, “You don’t need to draw the umbrellas. Just write the main ideas. That’s all. Then write the details under.” Without verbal acknowledgement he pulled his notebook towards him and started to write. When I checked back later he had completed it and was ready to move on to the worksheet.

Throughout this encounter, I was quite frustrated. My expectations of Josh were higher than he was willing to put forth that day.

Here ends my description. I hope you can help me with your questions and comments.


Edit: I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful comments! 

Here are some more descriptions to read and add your insights to: 

RP3 – The Description Phase on How I see it now by @HanaTicha

RP Challenge 3: ELC Description by David Harbinson (@DavidHarbinson)

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  • David Harbinson  On March 4, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Hi Anne, thanks for sharing. I do have a few questions for you, mainly just to help me get a better picture.

    What age were the students (I am imagining middle school), and what level were they? Where would you say Josh was in terms of his level in the class – lower than average, average, higher than average, etc?

    You mention that you were frustrated during the encounter. Do you think that the frustration showed in your voice/body language? If so, do you think Josh noticed this? What about the other students, did they notice?

    After Josh had completed the work, did you say anything to him?


    • livinglearning  On March 5, 2014 at 12:22 am

      Thank you, David, those are great questions! I even meant to include the ages of the students but it got lost as the story started playing in my head.

      They are first grade of middle school and the class is mixed levels.

      Josh is average in the class. He usually participates in speaking activities and almost never writes during class. His handwriting is often hard for me to read and tends not to stay in the lines. He rarely does his homework.

      I’m not sure I can answer about what Josh’s or other students’ perceptions of me in that moment were. I didn’t see any reaction from other students, who were writing in their notebooks or chatting (in Korean).

      After Josh completed the work, I nodded and said “thank you.”

      And I just remembered one more thing that may be important – this was last week, and these students started middle school yesterday.

      Thanks for helping me get a clearer picture!

  • Zhenya  On March 4, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Anne, thank you for sharing your description. I think it is as objective and clear as could be (made me feel I was present in that classroom) I guess in your future posts you are planning to share why you expected more of Josh (because this is a part of description, I understand) Final note to myself as a teacher: loved your umbrella activity! 🙂 Thank you very much!

    • livinglearning  On March 5, 2014 at 12:38 am

      Dear Zhenya,
      Thank you for reading and your speedy comment! I have partly shared a bit more about Josh in my reply to David above. I hope to get into this in analysis because there are quite a few things on my mind that might indicate why the situation turned out the way it did. It’s really hard to stay on description long enough to let it all settle in.

  • Hana Tichá  On March 5, 2014 at 1:32 am

    Hi Anne,
    You’ve described an interesting interaction – a typical one, I dare say. While reading I could clearly visualize the situation with all the details. For me, the key word in your post is ‘expectations’ and I suspect that some part of your next post might revolve around it. David asked some of the questions I had planned to ask but I have one more (silly) question: How can the classroom seating be arranged in a circle with all the seats facing the board? Does that mean that some of the ss face other ss’ backs? Or did you actually mean a semi-circle? Anyway, like Zhenya, I also like the ‘umbrella’ activity very much. Hope to read more about this soon.

    • livinglearning  On March 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      Dear Hana,
      Thank you for reading and commenting. I don’t think your question is silly at all. I should have clarified – our classrooms are very small and some students have their backs to other students. The desks are moveable, however, and this is the arrangement I was using at this particular point in the class.
      You’re absolutely right, my expectations will come into play in the next post. Your questions and everyone’s will certainly make writing that one much easier!

  • Hada  On March 5, 2014 at 2:20 am

    Hi Anne,
    Thank you for sharing this experience; it sure sounds familiar. The questions that spring to mind are,
    1) How well do you know Josh?
    2) What’s his learning background / experiences in learning English?
    3) You mentioned ‘glassy eyes’ – lack of sleep? crying? problems at home?
    4) He wouldn’t follow your instructions straight away as the others did. Does he need to be asked differently? Again, home issues?
    5) What motivates him? How does he respond to praise? What kind of praise?
    6) Did he feel he was in trouble? Did he think he couldn’t do it? Did he feel he was going to disappoint you again anyway (his perception of course – children bring to the class such an obscure set of emotions and expectations that it’s difficult to tell what they’re making of what we say).

    Hope there weren’t too many questions there.

    Again thanks for sharing this.


    • livinglearning  On March 5, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      Hi Hada,
      Thank you for stopping by to read and leaving a comment. You ask a lot of really helpful questions and things I will consider in my next post (I suspect part 4 will be analysis, but Mr. Pfordresher hasn’t yet revealed it). I actually don’t know all the answers to your questions, particularly about the student. That is information I can work on finding out in order to give me a better understanding of the situation. I hope you will forgive me if I say I will return to your questions in my next post and give them full attention.
      Thanks again for helping me think more deeply about the situation.

  • @sophiakhan4  On March 5, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Aw. I think everyone has said already what I was wanting to say. Just my impression that he must be exhausted, maybe just couldn’t find the energy to care about umbrellas, and had other things on his mind. My instinct is to feel sorry for him, though I can completely understand your frustration also. It seems to me that you behaved in a clear and professional way. You might have felt frustrated but you did not express anger towards Josh. I realise students in your context must feel a bit like this pretty frequently, particularly at the end of the evening. Is it unusual though that the student couldn’t even muster a response? Is there anything you would like to have done differently?

    • livinglearning  On March 5, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Hi Sophia!
      Haha I was just thinking that if Josh was an abstract student I was reading about on someone else’s blog, I’d be inclined to feel sorry for him too!

      Unresponsiveness is actually not all that uncommon with teens in Korea (some of whom shake their heads to say hello because waving is too tiring). I don’t think I was very surprised not to get a response from him – I was focusing on helping him understand my instructions because that is what I thought the barrier was.

      I have no idea what I’d like to have done differently, but that is something I will think about for my next post for sure.

      Thanks for your comments and thoughts!


  • haeundaelife  On March 7, 2014 at 12:07 am

    Hi Anne,

    Thanks for leading the way on our description phase. You’ve provided a good model from which to jump from.

    I agree with previous commenters- that we get a good look of your classroom through this description. For me, though, it feels like the picture is muted, without color. That is where the emotion comes into the description phase (for me). Before I can see the color in myself and with those around me I cannot fully appreciate the scene as it happened.

    I’ve spent the last week thinking about this and still find myself struggling to convey my thoughts appropriately. I’ll keep working though!

    Keep up the good work.


    • livinglearning  On March 7, 2014 at 10:22 am

      Hi John,
      Thanks for coming by to leave a comment. I’m actually not the model – Hana and David both made their posts before mine.
      I wonder, in response to your comment on color, whether you might provide some questions about this description that would help color this image in a bit for you (without trespassing into the realm of judgment or description)? That might help clear up for me what you mean.
      In any case, I hope you find the next post a bit more colorful. 😉 I look forward to reading your own description when you have time to post it.

      • haeundaelife  On March 8, 2014 at 2:22 am

        Just caught up reading almost everyones post.

        really like the discussion going on, especially in the comments sections.

        I tend to lean more towards Hana’s type of descritpion, with a heavy dose of internal dialogue as the experience happens. By doing so, I feel more connected with what happened.

        So i guess to answer you with a few questions…

        How did you feel prior to entering class that day?
        What was going on in your head when you saw Josh did not complete his HW?
        When you “went over” to Josh, how did you stand? How far away from him? did he react at all when you came closer?
        How were the other students responding/acting during this experience?
        How did you feel after the experience?
        How many times did you repeat his name before he responded?

        Suppose thats enough for now. I’ll be on to my own here soon enough…just need to get through everyone else’s excellent work first!


  • livinglearning  On March 8, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Hi again John,
    I totally agree that there are some really awesome conversations going on in the comments sections of the #RPPLN posts. It’s like a twitter chat without the character limit – going in lots of directions at once on a topic.

    Anyway, thank you for your additional questions. I think I see what you mean now and your questions are helpful. I will try to answer here:

    I have no way of telling how I felt prior to entering class. As I said, it was the last class of the day. I had been interacting with students for five hours straight. I can tell you how I probably felt, but I think that is entering the area of analysis, which I’m trying to avoid here.
    When I saw Josh didn’t complete his homework *again* I wasn’t very surprised. I wondered what the barrier was. And I also considered his background which I’d recently learned (another subject which I think belongs in analysis).
    I stood in front of Josh’s desk, with the desk between us. I think I put my hand on the desk. I didn’t squat down to his level. He didn’t lean away from me. I can’t recall any reaction except that he didn’t make eye contact.
    I don’t recall how many times I repeated his name. I think I said, “look at me” and got very brief eye contact before it was gone again, like a wall between us. But I could tell when my instructions made an impression – maybe a chink in the wall – even before he pulled his notebook toward him. That’s not very scientific – just my impression.
    After the experience – or more accurately after the class full of experiences of all kinds was over – I felt drained. I had a discussion with my boss about that class and in particular about this student since we both keep an eye on him (again, his history comes into play).

    Does this help you see the class more clearly now? Do you have more questions? Have I stepped too far into the realm of analysis?


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