Assessed Observation 4, part 1

My initial reaction to my fourth assessed observation, which took place earlier this week on Wednesday the 10th, was slight disappointment with myself. Now I’ve thought about it more and had a chance to watch the recording, this hasn’t really changed. It seems to be a fairly unavoidable conclusion that I should have used this opportunity to my advantage far more than I did. The products I have to show for it are less valuable than they could have been. If I had used this observation, like I have tried to with some others, to proactively explore ideas and possibilities or to home in on an area of my practice that needs attention, I probably would have fresh revelations and new developmental directions to show for it. Instead, I’ve mostly produced a list of previously determined developmental steps and decisions which I allowed to lapse in this lesson, which adds up to lack of application of processing power on my part, and doesn’t provide nearly so much opportunity for growth. I suppose it could represent an opportunity for reflection on the necessity of an earnest attitude to make developmental self-evaluation worthwhile, but that’s something I feel I appreciate already – which is why I find it very frustrating that I didn’t put this appreciation into practice. A theme of this lesson, for me, is failing to put reflection and learning into applied practice, but allowing myself to lapse into default, automatised habits.

The lesson aims were to practice use of narrative tenses, to contextualise the use of narrative tenses, and to develop learners’ collaborative mediation skills.

Something I have done more this time than in previous instances is engage with the video recording of the lesson, given to me by Nancy, who came to observe my B1 class at Eurocentres from 11.10-12.00 on Wednesday 10th of April. Because of my sense of frustration I wanted to investigate what had happened in more detail, and really measure my teaching against developmental steps I felt I had made leading up to the lesson. The first thing it revealed to me was the poor task set-up – something which I’d actually identified as a personal aim in the plan for the lesson, and have reflected on more than once in this blog. It didn’t even occur to me until watching the video that I had been intending to focus on this – I remembered only when I noticed that my instructions for almost every task were not entirely clear or comprehensive, and that I hadn’t used even one ICQ in the whole lesson. This is far below the standard I usually work to, I think – but if I didn’t notice until I watched the video, how far below the norm for me can it be?

At the beginning of the lesson, in the first task, I expected learners to work together, combining three pictures into one story in a group. I stipulated in my plan that I would emphasise the need to combine all three pictures to make one story, and that I would use ICQs – specifically, ones focused on the outcome of the activity and the rationale behind it, as discussed in Peer Observations 3 and 5. I didn’t do either of these things, and as a result the task was universally misunderstood, every group getting not only the wrong message, but the exact same wrong message – unbelievable. At later stages, the setting up of tasks and giving of instructions came across similarly poorly in the video, with no ICQs from me, and no immediate clarity of purpose for the learners. I do feel that a detractive influence on my setting up of tasks was the lack of a clear end goal for learners. If I had made the end product for each stage and for the lesson as a whole unequivocally clear, at the beginning of the lesson and of each stage, learners would have been supplied with more direct purpose, and would have been less uncertain about what to do at the beginning of each stage. Frustratingly, this is also a conclusion I’ve already reached, identified and approached in ‘Assessed Observation 2’ and ‘Assessed Observation 3’, but I neglected to make use of those reflections in this lesson, just like I did with the more immediate ICQ techniques mentioned above.

Having recently identified ‘signposting’ as an important factor in the success of task set-up and general management of procedure in class, in ‘Peer Observation 6′, I was also disappointed to see when watching the video that this was a missed opportunity to put that theory into practice. Whilst my instructions were clearly framed as instructions via language format, body language, volume/intonation and so on, I could have used signposting as a way to draw learners’ attention to the use of language by other learners, helping to raise their awareness of the opportunities they had to develop their language skills. Although I picked out some uses of narrative tenses for class noticing in the first stage, I did so in passing, in a similar tone of voice and format of delivery to my general responses to learners at that stage. I could have used signposting to draw attention to the language points I wanted to, making sure learners realised that I expected them to react to that particular teacher comment – i.e. highlighting the target language use – differently to the more general feedback and responses I was giving.

A wider concern I had when watching the lesson back was the suitability to the lesson aims of the procedure and plan itself. One of the reasons that instructions weren’t followed accurately in some stages of the lesson – when, for example, learners were describing their pictures to one another and only revealing them once they had decided on an order, but some groups revealed their pictures before that – was that I didn’t particularly mind. I think a good explanation for me not particularly minding is the lack of rationale for that procedure, in relation to the learning outcomes and skill development focuses of the lesson. If I’m vague about the purpose of the instructions, and the necessity of parts of the procedure for the desired learning outcomes, then the students are bound to also lack clarity of purpose.

I now believe that an entire stage could have been dropped, and in retrospect should have been to better serve the lesson aims. The stage concerned was the first stage of the main task, in which learners described pictures to each other in a group without revealing them, before ordering them verbally to outline the main events of a story, and then finally revealing all the pictures to each other. I noticed watching the lesson back that communication between the students became more spontaneous and fluid, featuring more actual collaborative mediation and natural conversation patterns, once the pictures were all visible and they were creating their story in more detail. This begged the question, why did I include the first stage of this task at all? In practice it didn’t relate to any of my aims for the learners at all, and I can’t see that it provided any opportunity for skills development which wasn’t better provided in other stages. If I had thought about this properly at the planning stage, I could have realised this quite quickly.

Altogether the most frustrating element of this lesson, though, was the inauthenticity of the language analysis that took place. I’m well aware that the way narrative tenses are taught is often not a realistic reflection of their use in English. More generally, I’ve been made very aware of, and have put into practice, the idea that language presentations and analyses in predetermined materials needs to be evaluated by the teacher, as ‘rules’ and examples presented frequently do not represent plausible or realistic use. My language focus also may have left students with an unrealistic concept of how, when and why narrative tenses are used, as was pointed out by Nancy in our brief preliminary feedback, and as can be seen fairly clearly in retrospect.

To sum up, I’m unhappy with myself and my general application in this lesson. I didn’t put theories into practice that I have done in other lessons, and I didn’t examine the planning process or my actual teaching anywhere near enough to do justice to the potential for this observation as a developmental tool.

EDIT – Coming back to this, while I still agree with the points I made above as well as the general sentiment, I’m pleased to see that I have learned one or two specific things from this observation, as well as perhaps a broader lesson. I like the idea of using signposting to highlight use of the target language, as well as giving instructions and managing lesson procedure. I only saw it as relevant to those last two tasks until watching this observed lesson back, and thinking that signposting was noticeably missing from other teacher language which could have benefited from it. I’m also pleased to see that I’m now better able to identify retrospectively the relevance, or lack of relevance, to particular stages to my lesson aims.

The broader lesson is quite simple though – I need to apply myself fully if I want to fully benefit from the reflections I’m making in this process, and actually put them into practice. I knew before this observation that I hadn’t put as much time and thought into it as I should have, and frankly I was relieved to hear that I had passed. If I want to avoid frustration though, I need to actively pursue the practical application of conclusions that I come to, or developments I make in particular attitudes and beliefs.

It’s slightly ironic that a mantra of mine with learners is ‘I can’t learn it for you, you have to do that part yourself’; only autonomous application of cognition from the learner can really make the most of a learning opportunity, however that opportunity is presented. If I present myself with paths to follow and steps to make to improve and develop my teaching, I then need to apply myself consciously and fully to taking those paths and steps, otherwise the value of the reflection is lost.

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