This final observation took place on Thursday 16th of May, a couple of weeks ago. I’ve watched the video recording of the lesson twice since then, and as usual, the impressions each viewing made on me differed from my initial impression of the lesson. My immediate reaction was very positive; I felt that my students had admirably achieved the learning outcomes I had chosen, and I was largely satisfied with my decisions about how to deliver and structure the lesson. Watching the recording raised new reflections, allowing me to be more critically aware of small but significant omissions in preparation, and to notice missed opportunities to support learners, or to provide them with more clarity. I now question my in-class enactment of the style of lesson I wanted to implement, and hope to benefit from noticing ways I could have made the lesson more effective. One encouraging aspect was my learners’ receptiveness to the interaction patterns they communicated in, and their openness to the learner-centred approach which I had been endeavouring to train them into in recent weeks.
The lesson was based on collaborative, inductive language analysis, supported by an element of ‘flipped classroom’ learning. The learning outcome I was aiming for was the personalised communicative use of past simple and past continuous verb forms, along with using ‘when’ and ‘while’ as temporal connectors.
It began with learners describing a journey they had recently taken, with the hope that they would describe an event in their journey using the past simple with the past continuous. This was intended as a way of personalising and contextualising the language we would be using. They would later revisit this and use ‘when’ or ‘while’. A large part of the lesson was aimed at learner-centred language analysis, which started with students comparing and completing their homework together – pictures, accompanied by sentence stubs, to elicit past simple/past continuous constructs – and continued with learners creating timelines to illustrate the temporal relationships of the actions in their sentences. During this, I tried to encourage personalised use of the language, and to monitor learners’ collaborative work to check they grasped the meaning and use of the language. “When” and “while” were then introduced along with pictures. Learners worked together to describe the past events in the pictures and were challenged to incorporate “when” and “while” into their descriptions, along with past continuous/simple. Cards were then used on the WB, along with elicited student production from the previous task, to model the use of “when” and “while”, before students finally returned to their initial description of a journey, combining the language analysis they had carried out to create more detailed accounts.
I was frustrated by my lack of progress in one area in particular. Despite selecting instruction giving and checking as a personal outcome in more than one observation, on watching the video a couple of times I noticed a lot of points at which learners were unclear about what they had to do. I think this was partly a result of my ‘anything goes’ attitude to this lesson, abdicating authority over what language students should be using and precisely how they should do so. I was hoping to encourage more learner self-reliance and peer-reliance, to develop autonomous learner skills and autonomous language analysis. However, my provision of clear instructions and clear outcomes for each task should not have been affected by this. Moreover, once it had become clear that a learner had misunderstood something through their production of a non-target-like outcome for a task, I should have corrected or reclarified the task outcomes and desired production more precisely and clearly. I put this down to my over-application of a laissez-faire attitude in terms of teacher input; I wanted to create a dynamic driven by learners’ exploration of the language, not by my own demands. I allowed this to detract from the solidity and relevance of the support and input I provided, removing some of the direction from the lesson.
In fact, many of the elements of this lesson I wish I had managed to improve were related to clarity of purpose. I wanted to promote ambiguity tolerance, and to move away from the pitfall of presenting inaccurate pedagogical “rules” to learners. My intention was, rather, to provide them with a realistic representation of how the language in question is used to communicate by speakers of English. I either should have made clear why I was doing this, or should have provided more explicit examples myself as well as just relying on students’ production to create examples of use. My explanation of the ambiguity of the use of “when” and “while” was based on how I understand it to be used – which I explored linguistically – and differed from the suggested “rules” in the coursebook we use. Watching the videos, I didn’t think I explained that clearly enough. I also accepted some answers and production which came from some activities, in a sort of ‘Yeah, why not’ or ‘good-enough’ way, which in retrospect I should have encouraged learners to focus on and reform, or asked learners to explain further. I was upset to notice that some students were visibly frustrated with my lack of a clear answer or confirmation. I should either have explained the rationale for not providing this – encouraging reliance on each other and themselves – or provided definitive answers and confirmations when asked.
Something I was pleased with was the interaction patterns learners communicated in, and their focus on and engagement with the aims of the lesson. Centreing lesson structures and interaction patterns around learners is something I’ve been consciously developing in recent months, and I believe that this has allowed learner training to take place; I have definitely noticed a development in that group of students’ perceptions of their roles in the classroom, and I feel that the learner-centred structure of this lesson was facilitated by that. This, in my view, gave learners more freedom to personally explore the use of the language in hand, and engage cognitively with the patterns and uses we were analysing and creating. This success is limited, though, by the vague and less than entirely purposeful interventions I made in their work and communication with each other.