Assessed Observation 4, part 2

This lesson was undoubtedly a stumble. It’s value now is that it reveals a complacency within my attitudes to my own teaching in an area that I hadn’t seen as fruitful for reflective development. It was, equally undoubtedly, this complacency that caused me to overlook this particular area. The aspect of my teaching that I’m referring to is linguistic awareness, and making sure that this pervades the language analysis in my lessons.

When we met today, I explained to Nancy what I’d written in part 1 of my reflections on this observation – that I was frustrated because of the absence in the lesson of my previous developmental steps. This remains true, and she agreed with me that my aims and the lesson procedure were not fully aligned. We also agreed about the possibility of dropping the stage in which SS described their pictures to each other, before arranging them into a narrative order. I had already let myself forget the issue from the lesson which really concerned Nancy though, which was the inauthenticity of the modelled use of the past perfect in the language analysis stage at the end of the lesson. She pointed out that the transformations of the student-produced language that I had put on the board were an inaccurate representation of how narrative tenses are used in English.

In the first post on this observation, I wrote that my language focus ‘may have left students with an unrealistic concept of how, when and why narrative tenses are used’. This was an inadequate summary, it turns out. Nancy brought to my attention today that whilst the sentences produced by the learners which I had put on the board were actually both acceptable and likely, the adaptations of those sentences to include narrative tenses which I elicited were not; they were not just providing an unrealistic description of the use of narrative tenses, but were wrong examples which would probably never occur in English. This is a possibility which never occured to me.

I’ve always been confident in my understanding of the use of English, down to quite a precise level that I feel the majority of teachers do not necessarily share. As a result, I genuinely never even entertained the thought that linguistic awareness would be an area of reflection for me. In my Language Awareness exam two months ago, I got a high distinction. I’ve often found myself explaining points of language to more experienced teachers in the staffroom, or noticing mistakes in the way other teachers present and conceptualise language analysis. Frankly, even now that I have demonstrably fallen short of demonstrating linguistic awareness, and my learners’ understanding of English has suffered as a result, I’m struggling to credit the idea that I need to examine my control and understanding of English. But I do, clearly.

There are two high-priority reflective paths that this opens for me. One is to re-examine the ways in which I habitually approach grammar points in class. From now on, prior to each lesson I teach which includes any language focus, I will look at the way I’m representing the use of that language point and critically evaluate it against how I believe that language is used. The problem with this is that if I want to, I can perform mental gymnastics to convince myself that a use of a language point is credible when in reality it is not. So – as well as consciously trying not to do this – I think it would be a good idea to use corpus-based resources to examine language points I teach. I don’t mean resources for students necessarily, but teacher training and development resources. It would be interesting to bring corpora into the classroom though, and I have heard of this happening in some teachers’ lessons. I’ll investigate this further too, and ask around for advice from colleagues and coursemates.

(Reading the paragraph I just wrote above, I’m interested to note that I’m still not willing to accept that my actual knowledge of English isn’t up to scratch, just that my realisation of linguistic awareness in my teaching could be. As noted in part 1 of the reflections on this observation, and in Peer Observation 6, I need to apply consistent, long-term conscious effort to make any attitudinal changes take hold and stick.)

The other reflective path for me here, which is really a personal learning outcome I suppose, is that parts of my teaching which I unthinkingly accept as strong are probably crying out for in-depth self-evaluation more than the aspects which I’m aware need work. It must be the unquestioningly confident attitudes which contain no self-doubt at all which are most likely to be based on complacency. This leads me to think about my attitudes towards other areas which I’ve – subconsciously, I’d like to add – never considered to be worth reflecting on. Rapport with students is one, as is cultural and social sensitivity. Linguistic awareness and control was certainly one of these areas until now. Timing and delivery of error correction fits into this category too. I think this step in the reflective process will force me to take care to “check my complacency”, and mentally flag up aspects of teaching which I feel I can take in my stride without much need for self-examination.

Overall, I fell short of my own expectations in this observation, as I’ve already said, but have also revealed myself to be unjustified in believing particular areas of my teaching to be less worthy of reflection. Next time I’m going to take full advantage of the opportunity to put my reflective steps so far into practice, and hopefully be able to explore new possibilities off the back of that.

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