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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)

Meta-reflection, a response

Yesterday I traveled down the country to Busan, where there was a Reflective Practice Special Interest Group (RPSIG) meeting in Nampo-dong. The meeting was facilitated by Mr. John Pfordresher, rising star in Busan’s ELT community. Today he wrote a post sharing his reflections on the meeting: RP Busan – September 2012 on his blog, Observations from the Classroom, and I was struck by how different his perceptions were from my own. I’m writing this unsure if I’m going to publish it publicly but out of a need to reflect on my own experience.

There were 12 participants. The meeting began with introductions, as many of the participants did not know each other very well. I learned that the participants with experience in RP share a passion for reflection to better understand their teaching and create a space where they can examine their practices together. This gathering provided such a space. It is refreshing to sit with other teachers and share ideas and resources. This is something I want more of.

John introduced the idea of crowd-sourcing (as he mentioned in his blog post). To help those unfamiliar with the term, he succinctly explained that it means pooling information to help each other. He adeptly created a safe space for us to do that in the meeting.

The next part of the meeting was the check-in. Those who made reflective goals (or teaching goals) at a previous meeting had the opportunity to be accountable to the group for their accomplishment.
Before we moved on to the meat of the meeting, the point was made that it is important to set things up for success rather than dwell on failures. It struck me that this idea is applicable in so many parts of our lives, both for teachers and learners. Modeling for our students and providing examples of the language we are asking them to use is one way to do this. Helping students correct errors by focusing on what is going well rather than on what they’re doing wrong is another. As reflective teachers (if we can call ourselves such), focusing our reflections on the process towards better facilitating our students’ learning is key.

That brings me to the next part of the meeting: John asked pairs of participants to spend five minutes talking about our Teaching Toolbox. This was a subject of discussion on Twitter recently, instigated by Mr. Kevin Stein (@kevchanwow – a #mustfollow dude). As teachers, of course, we didn’t give very many normal answers. But you know what? I wish we had because I was personally more interested in tangible teaching aids that are used with learners, rather than by teachers. I often find that there is something so obvious that I’ve completely missed. That’s not to say that there weren’t a lot of good (and great) ideas from participants. My partner pointed out that a positive attitude and a smile go much further than any tangible teaching aid (I feel like, somehow, this relates to my post on Teacher Fun – a seed). He also suggested coffee, not just for the teacher, but to be shared with tired students. Other groups shared their ideas: a water bottle, usb drive, notebook, paper for the students, internet access, objectives and agenda on the board, structure, warm-up activities, transitions, assessment, a timer, a mic, mini boards and markers, and a plan B. The question also arose of how to keep yourself on task during your lesson (a problem I have, too). Perhaps the answer can be found in writing the agenda on the board (that way the students also share the responsibility) or on something you look at regularly (like the PowerPoint slides? a post-it on the computer screen?). This is an issue I would like to think more about.

John also voiced the opinion that the teacher is vital, as the expert in how the language is actually used. He made his case for this quite well as you can read in his post. Perhaps it will not surprise you that I do not agree. One reason is that I have met many Korean English speakers who have attained a level of communication (either written or oral, sometimes both) without ever having studied with a “native speaker”. Another reason is that I think more often than not us “native speakers” don’t have either the linguistic knowledge or the Korean skills to explain points that will aid students’ understanding. I’m also not totally convinced that “fluency” has to mean sounding like “native speakers” or that “Korean English” might not become a recognized variety of English. That said, I am not really sure of myself in this. I think that the primary factor in students learning is their own motivation. If they have that, they’ll use any tools they can find (with or without us) as their learning aids.

The discussion on connecting with students was very interesting. It ties in with the idea that students will learn more from a “bad” (= inexperienced? not knowledgeable? I don’t really know what bad means) teacher that they like than from a “good” (I’m not even going to try to define this one) teacher that they do not feel connected to. Somehow the discussion also touched on flexibility (although I don’t remember how it came in) and the importance of meeting the students where they are, rather than where we thought they were when we wrote our lesson plans. I remember when I was a newer teacher becoming quite frustrated with classes because they were not learning the material I was teaching. When I reviewed at the beginning of the next class, it seemed obvious to me that no one had done the homework or even listened in the previous class. Maybe they hadn’t opened their books at all. I blamed them. I accused them. In my frustration, I yelled at them. In fact, I now realize, it was my own fault for failing to assess where they actually were and teaching from the lesson plan and then from the book. This happened many, many times (like beating my head against a wall) before I finally learned, thanks to my students – who are really the best teachers – that I was teaching over their heads and not engaging them in learning. Flexibility.

The discussion turned to Teacher Talk, as John asked the group to consider whether it is important and how important it is. He pointed to an experiment wherein Mr. Stein (hatless) spent an entire class in silence, communicating non-verbally and allowing all the language to be produced by the students. Another teacher who tried a similar experiment features in @pteralaur’s blog post: “Shut up! – encouraging learner autonomy through minimal instructions“. (And in fact that reminded me of a totally different Facebook chat conversation I had with a teacher who had lost her voice and so designed a set of activities that could be done without her needing to speak at all – with surprising results.) John described his own experience trying out the silent class, which led to a short conversation around the circle on old teaching methods, including the Silent Way.

Back on topic, in pairs again, we discussed the advantages and disadvantages to non-verbal communication. My new partner, Darryl, made the excellent point that a silent lesson could not be done early in the semester. There would have to first be the time for students and teacher to get to know one another and create a safe space for such a thing to be successful. And to set the record straight, it is he and not I who brought up Charlie Chaplin. Charlie Chaplin is the king of silent communication. However, the only video of his that I’ve used in class was spoken. It didn’t really matter, though, since the students couldn’t follow most of what he was saying anyway. Their group discussions indicated that they were pooling their information (crowd-sourcing?) based on both verbal and non-verbal cues from the video (@designerlessons saves the day again, but I adapted this one quite a bit.). In any case, I love the idea of using silent film to stimulate conversation based on non-verbal communication.  I am going to use it in the future. But it’s not my idea and all credit goes to @Darryl_Bautista. Other groups shared their thoughts on non-verbal communication and the opinion that made the biggest impression on me was that non-verbal communication might best be used to supplement verbal, graded language. I found that I agree with this perspective because it most closely resembles real (authentic?) communication (and yes, I will argue that graded language is authentic).

The meeting ended with a check-out in which we all made new reflective and/or teaching goals. I left feeling like I still had a lot to think about and surprised that I hadn’t really had much to contribute myself. Post-professional development (Busan-style: at an Indian restaurant) involved more talk on teaching aids, this time specifically how student work can be used as teaching aids. There are ideas and projects brewing!

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