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Observation Report # 7: The Learner as Doer
Class: 3rd year N° of learners: 10 Age of learners: 15 approx. Length of lesson: 40 min. Level: Pre FCE Teacher observed: G ____________________________________________________________________________ A) Overview of Lesson: Teacher greeted sts and asked them to set up their desks in a circle. She asked one of the sts to read out one of the quotations/maxims they usually do at the beginning of the lesson. Afterwards, the class moved to the computer lab and sts worked individually with exercises from the accompanying CD ROM from Activate B1+. T monitored. B) During the Lesson: In the following chart, I have included some of the activities the sts did from the CD ROM. As you will notice, I have classified all of them as cognitive activities - see below for more details. What learners do
Completing a film review with verbs in passive voice by choosing correct option. Dragging a line to connect two halves of sentences in different columns.
What this involves
- Identifying correct form/use of verbs in passive. - Referring to Grammar pp. in St’s Book. - Identifying correct form/use of verb patterns (+ ing or + toinfinitive) - Referring to Grammar pp. in St’s Book. - Writing crime-related vocabulary. - Referring to Vocabulary section St’s Book. - Writing phrasal verbs. - Referring to Vocabulary section St’s Book.
- Revise Passive Voice (recognition level)
- Revise Gerunds & Infinitives (recognition level)
Completing a crossword.
- Activate /revise crime-related vocabulary (production level) - Activate / revise phrasal verbs (production level)
Completing sentences with phrasal verbs from verb given.
C) After the lesson: 1. All in all, there was a clear prominence of cognitive activities. As the teacher’s main purpose for the lesson seems to have been to do a general revision before the following week’s tests, learners had to focus on the more systematic aspects of the language (language systems: grammar & vocabulary). As a result, there was an intended load of cognitively demanding activities. However, there may have been an affective element in the activities the sts carried out, if not explicitly set out by the tasks. This has to do, in my opinion, with the very fact of working with the computers. It is possible that, as computers are a huge part of today’s teenagers’ lives and worlds, doing the activities with the PCs may have encouraged them more or made the work more interesting. Basically, the activities were the same as those which could appear in the workbook. Yet at a computer they turn up into a realm which sts are familiar with, where they feel at ease, and which responds to their (everyday) way of dealing with information, interests, and cultures. I observed that most of the sts were very active, really concentrated and involved in what they were doing, and stopped quite rarely to chat or get distracted. Only a few did, and when they did, they never took off their eyes from the computer screen and went straight back to their work, so in fact they were not actually losing interest or concentration - paying attention to different stimuli, changing, and going back is their natural way of working! 2. It is hard to say which of the many activities were the most valuable for sts in general. One of the special features of this kind of language work is that each st is free to work at their own pace and to choose which exercises to take up, in the order they want. So some began with unit 9, others with unit 10. Some began with grammar, others with vocabulary. Two of the most hard-working girls finished all the exercises and the teacher suggested taking up others from a different CD, which they did! If we consider the work at the computer lab as a whole activity in itself, it was indeed valuable. However, there is a kind of ‘risk’: that sts will do the exercises at random, probably without having revised any rules, notes, or previous mistakes. When they tackle these activities they will be doing them without following any rules or checking the grammar or vocabulary pages. Then the activities can turn into any other online quiz that you try out to see how it goes. Ultimately, we want sts to use this as valuable revision which is done in a conscientious manner, paying attention to the rules and the ‘theory’. On the other hand, sts may actually be attracted to this kind of work precisely because of that : no ‘serious’ marking or evaluation hovers over them and they are using the programme because it is just like any other computer quiz or game. They approach the activity not as that, but as a ‘fun’, ‘more relaxed’ pursuit. In fact, the teacher reminded sts that this was revision for the upcoming tests. She also directed sts to check with the St’s Book (grammar & vocabulary pages) whenever they asked her about a word they did not know or something they did not understand. By the end of the lesson, when the teacher asked sts to turn off the computers and head back to their classroom, one girl said: ‘But Miss, this is helpful for me!’ It seems that teachers sometimes expect sts to think carefully about what they do (revise, check with the grammar pages, etc), but sts may also be learning in another way, not so focused on language awareness, but in a more holistic way - as they learn to play computer games or use any new software (the overall enjoyment of the activity!)… 3. Going on with what I have been discussing above, it is true that most (all?) teachers have
faced this at one time or another. There will always be some incongruence between the teacher’s and the students’ learning style, and among sts themselves - here perhaps even more. But that is a fact of life, I believe. There are no two people who think and act exactly the same. Each person in the classroom thinks, feels and acts differently. No matter how much we agree with someone, or how close we may feel to others, each of us is an individual who is making her or his on way. With the help of others, sure, but in a unique way. And the work these students did reflects this somehow: they were all working with the same materials, topics and exercises, but they worked individually, at their own pace, and in their preferred order. They stopped to chat to their mates, to ask questions and show their results, but each achieved different outcomes. So I believe that the learner’s process and what they achieve is more important than how much thought we put into matching learning styles. We try to bring different activities to class, we attempt to think up of varied activities, so that different sts profit from different tasks. But one of the aims of school is not only to learn in your way, but to learn that there are other ways which you can discover. And that makes you more flexible, able to adapt to different needs and tasks, which is something learners in the XXIst century will need to develop (to learn, unlearn, and relearn!). It is very hard for a teacher to adapt to 25 different learning styles, to cater for everyone, and to satisfy everyone‘s demands! What we can do is try to vary our approach throughout a period, throughout a course, and ensure that different styles are catered. In this particular lesson, as I said before, I believe that computer assisted learning did answer this group of learners’ needs. In the end, the best way to be aware of this is to listen to our sts, try to know what they like, and what they think is the best way they can learn, and find a compromise between our way and the other 25! It is a question of finding a balance between teacher’s and learner’s expectations. Reflection: In general, I must say I base my lessons in cognitive activities. The fact is that I always think about the topic and skills I am about to teach (we will talk about a certain topic, then elicit a grammar point, work with the vocabulary connected with it, etc). And all this involves thinking (carefully) about language. I guess the moment I think about the affective element is when we tackle the skills. Speaking, to me, is definitely the moment when I expect learners to engage in talking about their feelings (personal likes, dislikes, opinions, experiences…). So this involves a lot of negotiation and interacting and sharing with others. With the receptive skills, I try to ask them questions which can help them react to the texts, not just the comprehension part. With songs and videos I try to follow the same pattern. I also often ask sts to change partners to work with, or stand up and mingle (asking questions, for example), which would cover, to a lesser extent, the physical domain of activities. However, I feel that sometimes I lack the ability to really engage my students in one of these forms of language learning: involving them affectively. What matters is not how much grammar and vocabulary you know or transmit, how well you follow the task cycle, or the marks at the end of the term/year. Sts look for the person behind the professional, and learning and teaching a language imply opening up to others. If an activity is not interesting enough, or sts feel tired, nervous, or uneasy, the first place where to look for flaws will (may) be in the teacher. I feel that I need to develop my skills in creating and sustaining that affective aspect of my teaching. What I have come to notice - and which I probably feel most handicapped about - is that the teacher’s personality (extroversion, sociable traits, etc) is what influences a great part of the
affective atmosphere in a classroom. Some sts do help teachers a lot, by interacting, supporting, and ‘leading’ others. But at the end of the day, the teacher is the one prominent figure who has to lead the group, encourage, support, give advice, motivate, prepare what the class will do… And that requires someone who can manage both the cognitive and affective aspects equally well. A heavy burden? Perhaps… maybe being aware of this difficult part of our job is a start to try out some changes…
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