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Bibliography: Classroom Observation Tasks by Ruth Wajnryb 1. THE TEACHER’S META-LANGUAGE
The teacher’s meta–language is the language that the teacher uses to organize the classroom. It includes teacher’ s explanations, response to questions, instructions, giving of praise, correction, collection of homework, etc. Meta–language is an important source of learning because it is contextualized, purposeful and communicative. Teacher talk in the EFL classroom has two main functions: 1) It provides language input and models speech for the students. 2) It is a tool for executing a lesson and managing classroom dynamics. TASK OBJECTIVE • To collect some instances of the teacher’s classroom meta–language in order to consider the value that this language has in a learning context.
PROCEDURE BEFORE THE LESSON • • Arrange to see a lesson with a lower–level class, one in which the teacher plans to present ‘new language’. Prepare a chart to help you monitor the teacher’s classroom language. Make yourself familiar with the chart and items you will be listening for (see below). What is the communicative purpose? • Giving instructions. • Checking comprehension. • Establishing rapport / creating a pleasant atmosphere. • Announcing lesson aim / content / activity. • Requesting a homework check. • Giving instructions on how to carry out an activity. • Giving feedback to students on how they performed a task. • Calling on students. • Setting homework. • Eliciting/ encouraging students to contribute to class discussion. • Finishing the lesson. • What is the immediate context? Teacher is setting up a task with a visual aid. (map) How might this be said to a native speaker? Can you see where the bank is? (on the map)
What does the teacher say? Look at the map. Can you see a bank?
DURING THE LESSON • • Remember to take your chart with you and a pencil to fill it in! Write down different chunks of the teacher’s meta–language, analyse what the communicative purpose is, what the immediate context is, and how the same meaning can be delivered to a native speaker. Taking into account the chunks of teacher’s language that you scripted, consider in what ways the communication was purposeful and if the purpose was obvious to the students. Compare the level of the meta–language used to the level of any ‘formal language input’ in the lesson. Willis writes that ‘language is much better learnt through real use than through patterns and drills’. Sometimes teacher’s meta- language may serve, over time, as a communicative drill, so think if there were any chunks of teacher talk that potentially might become ‘pattern drills’. Did any of the phrases you noted above seem to be common stock with this teacher and to function as very clear signals for the students? Considering that meta–language is a rich source of language data, state if through simplification, learners access the target language more easily or not. Think of at least two adjectives to describe this teacher’s classroom language on the whole (e.g. polite, sparse, inefficient, choppy, friendly, respectful) 2. THE LANGUAGE OF QUESTIONS
AFTER THE LESSON • • •
Teachers ask a lot of questions. According to Sinclair and Coulthard, questions are the commonest types of utterances in the discourse of classrooms. They have different purposes, like socialising, checking vocabulary and learning or seeking opinion. Teacher’s plan their questions in connection to the lesson content and give less emphasis on considering the questions in terms of the cognitive and linguistic demands made on the learner which are related to decoding the question and encoding the response. TASK OBJECTIVE • To collect some questions and question–answer sets from a language lesson in order to classify and analyse them.
PROCEDURE BEFORE THE LESSON • • • Arrange to observe a lesson. Read right through this task. Listen to the teacher’s questions and collect about twenty of them. Listen for some teacher question–student answer ‘sets’. A set here is the exchange between teacher and student, initiated by the teacher’s question. It can be simple: teacher question + student answer; or more complex: teacher question + teacher reformulation + student response + another student response. Try to record five of them from anywhere in the lesson. DURING THE LESSON
AFTER THE LESSON 1- Consider the questions you have collected from the point of view of the response and classify them into categories on the basis of the expected response: yes/ no questions. retrieval-style questions,’ What did she say about the film?’ open-ended questions ‘Who could he have telephoned?’ display questions (questions requesting information already known to the questioner) ‘What colour is this pen?’ referential questions (questions requesting new information) ‘What did you study at university?’ non-retrieval, imaginative questions. Questions that do not require the learner to retrieve given information. They ask the learner to express an opinion or judgement. ‘What do you think the writer was suggesting by making the central character an animal?’
3- What pattern emerges from the classification of the questions? Which factors might help account for the type of lesson it was, the stage of the lesson from which the questions came, the age of the student, etc.? For example, was the teacher considering difficulty from the learner’s point of view, making the questions from easy to difficult? 4- Why did the teacher ask questions in class? (Purpose) • • • • • Language questions (e.g. What’s the past tense of “sing”?) ⇒ to assess learning Comprehension questions (e.g. What is Mrs Lane doing in picture 1?) ⇒ to check that students understand (checking vocabulary/learning; post-listening or reading) Lesson progress questions (e.g. Has everybody got the handout?) ⇒ to organize the class before setting up a task Opinion / preference questions (e.g. What did you think of the song?) ⇒ to find out what students really think or know / seeking opinion / establishing rapport Factual / personal questions (e.g. How are you today, Mark? What’s the date today?) ⇒ socialising, scene setting, to give students practice
5- Consider the nature and effect of questioning: • • Was the teacher’s questioning appropriate, clear, unclear, keeping the lesson moving forward, random, natural, irrelevant, monotonous? Was there sufficient variation in questioning? Were the question-answer sets graded in order of complexity? Is there any correlation between the type of question and the complexity of response elicited? Was the distribution of questions equal for each student? Was there a category of students that was attended to more or less than the others? Did weaker or stronger students tend to “disappear”? What did you notice about wait time? Was it appropriate / too long / too short?
6- The skill of eliciting. • Why did the teacher elicit? • • • • • • • • • • • To set students thinking in a certain direction To steer them towards a certain pre-planned topic To create a context To warm a class up To generate peer interaction/correction To lead into an activity To attract and focus attention To increase student talking time To allow the teacher to assess what is already known about a particular topic / structure / area of vocabulary To draw out passive knowledge
What did the teacher say in order to elicit a response? Was there any pattern in the language the teacher used? (e.g. open questions: What do you think of…?; closed questions: What’s the word for …?; imperative prompts: Tell me what you know about…; directed questions: Peggy, what can you tell me about…?) 3. THE LANGUAGE OF FEEDBACK TO ERROR
This point refers to the teacher’s response to error, the value of positive feedback and the disincentive that negative reinforcement can produce. The content of the teacher’s response to the learner’s production has an important influence on the learning process. TASK OBJECTIVE • Record data of a number of student–teacher interactions, with four utterance components: teacher question + student response + teacher feedback + student response to feedback.
PROCEDURE BEFORE THE LESSON • Arrange to observe a lesson.
DURING THE LESSON 1. 2. 3. Collect some samples which include learner error and teacher feedback to error. Write down any supplementary support added to the information. For example: use of the board, visual gesture. Consider whether the feedback was encouraging (+) or discouraging (-)
AFTER THE LESSON According to Brown a genuine response from the teacher provides some indication to learners of the effectiveness of the utterances. The information component of teacher feedback is very important to the learner’s learning process. According to Zamel, feedback is most effective when it: a. points out critical features of the language. b. gives information that allows the student to discover by oneself rules and principles of language. c. reduces ambiguity of choice for the learner. 1. Taking into account the previous points consider if the teacher is providing in his/ her feedback information that highlights what the error is, what the choices are, and information that helps the learner adjust their current understanding. 2. Establish if the teacher has used elements like visuals or gestures to support information. 3. What kinds of errors did the students make (lexical, grammatical, etc.)? Did the teacher differentiate between errors that require immediate attention and errors that are better ignored or treated in another way or at another time? How did the tutor deal with these errors? Did the teacher correct in a nonobtrusive way? How did the teacher show incorrectness? (repeating, echoing, denial, questioning, reformulation, expression or gesture, feigning incomprehension until the error was auto-corrected, using tact and humour) 4. In your opinion, does this teacher have a positive/negative attitude towards his/her students´ errors (motivational aspects)? What was the amount of error correction? Did the teacher’s correction of errors hinder or help the learning process? 4. LANGUAGE ECHOES Echoes are the most distinctive feature of the language learning classroom. They do not produce an exchange; they are dead ends. Some points in favour of echoing are the following: • • • It provides learners with the repetition needed for the reinforcement of language. It helps to overcome the problem of students who speak very quietly. It helps to overcome the problem of pronunciation.
• It can be used as a strategy to provide models of correctness in the event of error. One common criticism of echoing is that an echo is ‘not a material response’, that means it is unlikely to occur in context outside the classroom. TASK OBJECTIVE • To raise awareness of the issue of teacher’s echoes in the classroom.
PROCEDURE BEFORE THE LESSON Arrange to observe a lesson and make yourself familiar with ways of echoing. DURING THE LESSON
Write samples of teacher’s echoes, including the context and some utterances leading up to the teacher’s echo. (You can use the chart in task 1) Select a portion of time of the lesson involving teacher–student interaction and count the number of echoes that occur in this time.
AFTER THE LESSON 1- Count how many echoes you have collected and say if the teacher’s behaviour was conscious or subconscious. 2- Establish the effect of the teacher’s echo on: a. the learner. b. patterns of classroom interaction. c. on the learner’s perception of the teacher’s corrective role. d. on the learner’s willingness to take risks. 3- Consider if teacher’s echoes are dead ends. 4- Considering the kind of information that learners need in feedback from the teacher, say if what the learners have received is useful.
5. LANGUAGE AS THE NEGOTIATION OF MEANING During the last decade of language learning research, interlanguage studies have revealed that the language used in classrooms, in the processes of engaging with materials, is a significant factor in language learning. The term conversational modification refers to the means by which learners negotiate the meaning of input to make it comprehensible. This takes place via a number of procedures. TASK OBJECTIVE To sensitise you to the language of conversational modification and to the factor that promotes it. PROCEDURE BEFORE THE LESSON 1- Arrange to observe a lesson in which you might expect to be a good deal of conversational modification. For example: • A focus on meaning rather than correct form. • A task in which learners engage in an information–gap exercise. 2- Make yourself familiar with the following categories of language operation through which meaning may be negotiated: • • • A confirmation check, where the listener believes the other people have understood A clarification request, when one interlocutor does not entirely comprehend the meaning and asks for clarification. A repetition, where the speaker repeats their own utterance in order to repair a communication breakdown.
DURING THE LESSON • • • • Use a chart and try to record some instances of language operations used by learners, in contact with each other or with the teacher. This may involve using a tape recorder. In each case record utterance, response and the return. Classify the data collected according to what type of language operation was used. Comment on the outcome. What factors are conducive to creating a learning context in which conversational modification happens?
AFTER THE LESSON
The type of teaching that encourages conversational modification is very different from the type of teaching where error is minimised. Learning that requires conversational modification from students is an asset or an unnecessary challenge for learners.
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