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5 Classroom Power
Class Observation #2 Colegio C. May 12th, 2009 Class: 3rd year ............................................................. No. of learners: 30 Age of learners: 15/16-year-olds ................................ Length of lesson: 40 minutes………. Level: Intermediate Observer: Yohana Solis ..............................................Teacher observed: GB BACKGROUND
Traditionally we think of the classroom as the place where the teacher 'knows' and the students ‘don’t know' and their reason for being there is to 'find out'. This model of education invests a great deal of power in teachers, many of whom assume that classroom power, as well as the responsibility for learning success, are fixed in their hands (Deller 1990; Leather and Rinvolucri 1989). In recent years this approach has been viewed with less and less favour by language teachers as they experiment with learner-centred teaching and skills-based learning.
T ASK OBJECTIVE
This task aims to have you reflect on: - the many decisions that are made about learning, in and out of the classroom; - who makes these decisions; - the 'balance of power' that is the most effective in terms of learning goals.
PROCEDURE • BEFORE THE LESSON
1.Arrange to observe a lesson. If possible, speak to the teacher before the lesson and ideally, discuss with the teacher the plan for the lesson, the aims, and any tasks or materials that are going to be used. Ask the teacher the first four questions in the list overleaf. 2.Now make yourself familiar with the rest of the questions in the list (adapted from Deller 1990:6).
DURING THE LESSON
Observe the lesson from the points of view of the questions in the list As. responses, write T ( = teacher), S ( = student) or T/S ( = a mixture of T and S) next to the questions. Don't be concerned to capture every instance of the lesson - a rough indication is perfectly adequate.
1. 2. 3. 4.
8. 9. 10. 11. 12.
Who chose the aims? T Who chose the language and/or skills focus? T Who chose the topic(s) and activities? T Who chose and prepared the materials? T Who chose the seating arrangements? T/ S / School Authorities Who wrote on the board? T Who c1eaned the board? no one Whom did the students speak to? T/S Who created the pairs or groups? S Who decided when to stop an activity? T Who operated the equipment? No one Who decided which questions or problems in
the lesson were explored? T
13. Who chose the vocabulary to be learned? T 14. Who gave meaning for words? T /S 15. Who spelled out new words? 16. Who gave explanations? T 17. Who asked questions? T 18. Who answered student questions? T/S 19. Who repeated what was said if others didn't
hear it? T/S
20. Who created the silences? T/S 21. Who broke the silences? S 22. Who checked the work? T/S 23. Who chose the homework? T
AFTER THE LESSON
1.Based on your answers to these questions, what general tendencies can you point to in the lesson that you observed? Does this surprise you? Does it confirm your expectations? To begin with, we need to define Power. Not only is power the possession of control and authority, nor the influence exerted over others; but also the ability to act and produce and effect on something or someone. Observing this lesson, we could say that power was in hands of the teacher most of the time. Even though, this is not the expected attitude in a learner-centred classroom, it really served my purposes of relating the theory of communicative classroom with reality. Surprisingly enough, the teacher had a very active role within the classroom she influenced her students and, in a way, she was the authority bearer, which did not necessarily lower or negatively impact students’ role and participation. 2.You might like to select some discrete areas among the list of questions and then ask a new question: • What value is there in having students choose the sitting arrangement? (Qx 5) Sitting arrangement is a key element when we define authority and power. In many schools, and this one was not the exception, school authorities had designed the sitting arrangement with all desks looking at the blackboard, which shows the impact of traditional education on our school’s architecture and organization. However, within this particular classroom, students had decided where to sit, although desks had fixed places, they could choose who to share their desks with. The teacher came into the picture when some of the students were not paying attention and chatting among them. Even at some point she decided to move one of the students from the back of the classroom, to the first desk in order to keep an eye on him. To me, this was a great example of shared power between the teacher and the students, which symbolizes the importance of students’ own choices in their learning process, always with teacher’s help and supervision.
What value is there in having students gave meaning for words? (Qx 14) And what value is there in having students answered student questions? (Qx 18)
Letting students give meaning for words contributes towards student’s autonomy and development of communicative strategies. For the one looking for a word meaning or an answer, receiving it from a peer serves as a challenge to remember it in the future; for the one giving the answer, it helps in the successful achievement of real communication. One-to-one interaction works as a starting point and motivation for classroom activities. When communication takes place in a real context with real information gap, the benefits for both interlocutors are greater than expected.
3.Consider more closely Questions 12, 16, 18 and 19. One thing each have in common is that they
concentrate on language used by the student during the lesson. Consider the language that might be used in the classroom if students were given opportunities to: explore issues of their own choices and interest; give their own explanations of language as they understand it; answer some of each other's questions; repeat for their peers (and clarify? and make intelligible?) language used in the classroom. Positively surprising was the fact that students used English most of the time in the classroom; although they asked for the meaning of words more than resorting to risk taking strategies, it was a successful communicative experience for them. The teacher’s 100% use of English contributed to their development of comprehensive techniques. In this case, there were speaking activities most of time, and the interest they got in the activity engaged them into the use of the language. The metalinguistic awareness was clear, probably because it was an Intermediate level in which they already handled some concepts of the ones analyzed in class. 1
4.What does 'a shift in power' imply for the roles of teachers and learners? How will this, in your
opinion, affect learning processes and possible outcomes? There is a tendency to believe that if power is shared within a classroom, authority is lost. However, there are several areas in which a shift in power does not mean “anarchy” within a classroom; on the contrary, a “democratic” distribution of roles among teacher and students helps the learning process beyond the linguistic competence. It is part of the teacher’s job as an educator, to train her students in power-sharing as preparation for life. Struggling for power would be the main issue our students need to face when they leave high school; we need to assume the challenge of teaching by the example and our role as tools’ providers for the future.
5.Many teachers are loath to 'let go' some of the crucial decision-making in their teaching. How do you
account for this? What reasons might they give? “Letting go” some of the crucial decision-making might be threatening for teachers that believe in traditional teacher-centred education, in which students’ role was merely passive. For them, the sole idea of sharing with students their power could be associated with their total lack of authority and their poor classroom management. They can be easily compared with a boss or a manager and their role is the one of a lecturer. This traditional view of education was far from the class observed, in which there was a balance between teacher and students’ decision-making.
6.Handing over some decision-making power in the learning process to the learners certainly involves
some risk, in that less of the lesson is predictable, less can be planned, more is spontaneous (Wajnryb 1992). What risks do you see in this process? There is always risk of losing total control of the classroom if the teacher is not prepared to share power, as well as the students trained to do so. It is part of the teacher’s risk-taking to decide what would be left to students’ decision-making and what would be kept for her own. Sometimes it will be necessary to resign some classroom order for communication and education to take place. Our biggest challenge is to be prepared to face it.
7.It might well be argued that we have a cross-cultural issue here: many students expect the teacher to
hold all the decision-making power about the learning process. How might they react if some of this power were offered to them? If there is a clash of expectations, and especially if this is culture-bound, what strategies do you think might help here? As utopian as it may sound, we need to train our students into the sharing of power and decision-making. Not only do motives need to be agreed on at the beginning of the course but also cross cultural conceptions that may interfere with our teaching-learning belief. As part of our job, we need to set ground rules in the classroom that will allow us to work freely, to share power without risking much. Learner-centred education requires some effort on the part of the teacher challenging even our own power to the students’ development. To encourage students’ understanding through discussion about different expectation is one of our main strategies.
8.Deller (1990:1) writes: “Our unsung trainers are our learners. They are the really powerful influence
on our "on the job" development.” How do you think teaching with learner-generated material might be a source of development for the teacher? Students can have the most amazing ideas; they can teach us more than what we are prepared for learning. Even though we need to be careful with accuracy, letting the students design some of the material helps in the 1
meaningful development of their on learning as well as in our awareness of their world. They can guide us through their world, their likes and dislikes; they are even able to teach about new technologies we were not born with. Only through real interaction, proper development of both sides can take place. Motivation in this power-shared classroom is given by the feeling of belonging, the importance of being part of a group and craftsman of your own learning as teachers and as students. Reflection Often when we observe someone teaching, the very process of observation stimulates self-reflection, as if observing were a kind of mirroring. Can you predict what sort of tendencies would emerge out of a lesson you yourself taught? You may wish to respond to the questionnaire again, this time using your own teaching as the source of data. What aspect of classroom decision-making would you like to share with learners? What risks or difficulties do you foresee in putting this into practice in your own classroom? It is hard to believe that my first steps given in teaching would be as power-shared as the ones on the class observed, I am afraid I lack self-confidence to deal with classroom management if I resign to the monopoly of decision-making. However, when teaching, besides linguistic and affective objectives, the goal of learning how to let go some of the power is one of my personal challenges as teacher, especially in teens’ courses. Hopefully, after several observations I will be better prepared to assume that challenge.