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Attending to the Learner

Attending to the Learner

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Published by RDRI
Classroom Observation # 2. Strategies for Attending Learners of EFL.
Classroom Observation # 2. Strategies for Attending Learners of EFL.

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Published by: RDRI on Nov 05, 2009
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LCB Teachers Training College Rodrigo RoucoTaller Didáctico p. la enseñanza del Inglés en el Nivel Medio
Class Observation # 2: Attending to the Learner
Class: 1
year secondary school of learners: 19 Age of learners: 13 Length of lesson: 40 min. Level: Intermediate Teacher Observed:
Brief overview of the lesson:
The lesson took place on a Thursday morning. Students were going to have a test ontheir next lesson, which was on Monday. Firstly, the teacher made some announcements(date of Cambridge PET exam), which got students into asking her some questions for awhile. Afterwards, the teacher decided to give students some practice on paraphrasingfor the upcoming test. She copied six sentences on the board and students workedquickly and quietly. Finally, she called individual students to the board to solve thesentences.
Patterns of attending behaviour:
The teacher used some general ways of attending her students which were by and largeconstant throughout the lesson:
Use of first names: When addressed to individually, all of the students werecalled by their first name.
Prompting the use of English for classroom communication: Quite often,students talked to the teacher in their mother tongue (Spanish). However, theteacher specifically pointed out that they spoke in English: ‘In English, M, please.’ ‘I don’t understand Spanish.’
When asking for silence, the teacher used repeatedly a number of strategies: firstand foremost was the use of ‘Please!’ (more than 10 times). Second, she herself would make silence, wait for a moment, look at the whole class… and the classwould gradually become silent (3 times). She would also explicitly ask for silence: ‘I’ll explain when they stop talking; if not, I don’t understand.’; ‘Please,stop talking!’ (twice); shushing (3 times); waving hand up & down or raisinghand (4 times).
Pointing to students so as to allow them to speak (sometimes combined withnaming).
Making eye contact: almost 90 % of the time, when individual studentsaddressed to her.
Demanding students to start copying and working: while she was copying thesentences on the board, some students lingered. She would stop writing, turnround, give them a reprimanding look, and asked them to ‘stop talking, openyour folder, and start copying.’ (twice to two students)
Approaching individual students when they wanted to ask a question (combinedwith eye contact, leaning towards them, pointing at something on their folders).1
‘Patterns within the pattern’:
To begin with, the sex of the students was not relevant to the distribution of teacher attention. However, girls tended to be more in the teacher’s focus of attention. In the first place, there were only 3 boys in a class of 16 girls. Becauseof their being a majority, more girls had to be attended to. However, this shouldnot lead us to think that the girls were over-attended to because of a preferenceover the boys. In fact, one of the boys (G) was at times noisy and talkative; sothe teacher had to call on him several times. The other two, on the other hand,were very quiet and worked together in silence – they did not even demand theteacher’s help or guidance at any time. If girls took a more active part in theinteraction with the teacher, and in the answering of questions, and involunteering, it may be due to their seeming more self-confident, uninhibited,etc. Also, it may be due to their having a stronger command of the language, andthat may be why the teacher called on them more often.
The seating arrangement did, at first, lend itself to a particular spread of theteacher’s attention. At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher stood up at thefront and addressed the class as a whole. When students started asking her questions, she responded – with a few exceptions – mainly to those who werecloser to her (from the first to the middle rows). At around half of the lesson, shemoved about the front and among the middle rows. Later on, she walked alongthe aisles, up to each of their ends, approaching individual students. In short, itseemed that when the teacher needed to addressed the class as a whole, shewould do it from the front. When monitoring students, and assisting themindividually, she would move around. However, the right side of the classroomtook up most of her attention. She did not have much chance to assist thosesitting towards the left of the room.
As I mentioned before, perhaps girls were greatly attended to. In terms of thetasks carried out, she did not interact much with the three boys. Noisier andmore talkative students were also more attended to: G, one of the boys, and afew girls. In addition, the more extrovert and communicative students also tok up most of the teacher’s attention. When the teacher asked for some copies or arranged dates for tests, she interacted with the most outspoken students, thosewho asked her questions or asked her to change the dates. When such a learner spoke, she would turn her look towards him/her, but still keeping a tone of voiceso that she could be heard by everyone.
My impression is that ‘weaker’ students tended to ‘disappear’ in the crowd.Although I can’t assert this completely, there is some evidence to this. Thosewho interacted with the teacher, and whom the teacher called on, were thosewho were able to solve the exercise correctly. However, when checking thesentence transformation exercise, she asked for volunteers. Individual studentsraised their hands and she pointed at them, said their names and, by means of agesture, indicated them to come to the board. Whether the volunteers, the moresociable ones, or those who participated more actively, were the strongest onesis difficult to say. It may be the case that those who ‘disappeared’ where the‘weakest’, but also they may have done it due to shyness, anxiety of feelingexposed tiredness, etc.
As a general conclusion, this teacher’s attending behaviour consisted of a variedrange of strategies, which were appropriate to what the students and the situation2
needed at a certain moment. In fact, this is the main function of attending thelearner: whether it is to prompt, guide, answer questions, or deal with discipline problems, a teacher’s attending strategies are effective if they can solve thematter at hand. For this, the teacher has to be observant, quick-minded, andflexible. Whenever we are in a classroom, we must solve unexpected situations,react to our students’ needs, and adapt to the circumstances, in real time, on thespot. Attending behaviour is (should be) quick, to the point, facilitative, varied,flexible, and it has to react meaningfully and effectively to the student. It has totransmit confidence and reassurance. In particular, we should bear in mind thatattending strategies should be varied and as much encompassing as possible. Ithink that in this lesson, the teacher’s attending was rather limited by the number of students, the timing, and even the seating arrangement. I think it is a reality of all classrooms that the larger the groups, the less time we are able to devote our attention to individual students. We should pay particular attention to managingour attending by distributing it as equally as possible throughout a lesson, andthroughout a whole course.
Use of names:
In general, the teacher used the students’ first names for two main purposes: to ask individual students to make silence and to get to work, and to call on students to thefront. In the first case, the teacher accompanied the naming with a serious lok and a brisk tone of voice. The strategy had the result expected: the student in question did payattention and shut up – though he/she would be chatting again a few minutes later. Thatis, the teacher’s ‘reprimanding’ action had a short-term effect, not a long-lasting one.However, as the lesson developed, the students made silence and got to their work. Theneed for the teacher to keep on calling upon learners gradually disappeared. Thestrongest effect of her naming them was while she was writing the sentences on the board. Then she made a strong emphasis on students copying. Eventually, they seemedto have acknowledged the teacher’s command (probably in view of the upcoming test?).As regards using names to call students to the front, it seems that this was standard androutine practice in the class. She asked for volunteers, and as students raised their hands,she would call on them. Here, the strategy was effective and no problems arose.In general, the use of names serves an important purpose in the teacher-learneinteraction and, especially, in learner-centred teaching practice: it personalises theeducation process. By knowing our students’ names we are expressing that we regardeach of them as individuals and that we are following their process and work in theclassroom closely. We care about learning their names (which sometimes takes time!) because each has an identified place, and plays a part, in the group. For practicalmatters, it means that the teacher knows who is who, and who is doing what in the class.In order to remember our students’ names better we can: read over the roll several times(especially at the beginning of the year); when calling the roll, look up, and see wherethe student (usually) sits (picture them in a place in the classroom); prepare a diagram of the seating arrangement of the classroom, where we can write our students’ names inthe corresponding places; ask them to wear a label with their names on their shirts or  put it up on their desks until we can remember; ask them to remind us their names whenwe ask them a question, and then saying it again ourselves.
Range of attending strategies:
Here is a list of all the strategies this teacher used for attending her learners:3

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