It was just one of those lessons. Sometimes you can judge within about three minutes how an observed lesson is going to go – it’s about how present the teacher is, how at home they are with the class, the material and the plan. And you can tell when something is about to go wrong…
In this case, the following went wrong:
(a) The technology screwed up: In attempting to import powerpoint slides into IWB notebook files, all of the nice fonts and formatting were lost, as well as some of the text from the text boxes. Which went un-noticed for five minutes or so until the teacher asked the students to answer a question that hadn’t been displayed.
(b) A lack of language confidence: the language focus of the lesson was noun phrases, in particular that type of complex noun phrase that is a feature of more formal academic discursive prose. The aim of the material was mostly to see how familiar the students were with the concept, to expose them to the idea of noun phrases being embedded within each other as part of more complex phrases; and to try and help them access noun phrases from the outside – to help the learners identify the focus of a noun phrase and thereby build some of the their text access skills. In other words it was a mostly structural look at the constituent parts of complex noun phrases and some practice in sequencing those constituents correctly. Not that you would have known any of that from watching the first half an hour of the lesson…
(c) General discombobulation. This was, in part I think due to the fact that the tech went south early on and as a consequence, so did the lesson plan. Stages got randomly dropped, other bits of the material that had previously been dropped made a comeback; and for the first 20 minutes or so, none of the interaction patterns described on the plan got followed, which meant that all the lovely student interaction and peer teaching got replaced by some slightly confused teacher fronted presentation instead.
(d) Not being completely prepared. When the teacher is still cutting up bits of paper with a pair of scissors a third of the way into the class? Not good.
In other words, it was probably slightly messy before anyone walked into the classroom, but once they had, it got messier fast. Now I’ve observed quite a lot of classes over the years and while it’s not like I rank them in order of brilliance, but this one was probably down there at the bottom of the pile.
It’s a bit of a shame that I was the one teaching it then.
There is an automatic tendency for any teacher, in any observation situation, to walk out of the lesson thinking “Well that was a bit shit then.” We are our own harshest critics and I think it is that tendency which makes good teachers good. After all, if you think you have nothing left to learn? That is a sure sign of arrogance and imminent stagnation and decay. Which is partly my way of cheering myself up and partly an acknowledgement that it wasn’t all bad.
About halfway through the lesson we got to what was the big input stage: I had all the learners on the floor in groups of three with red bits of card labelled with the parts of speech you can find in noun phrases and yellow bits of card with the words from an extended noun phrase on them. Together we built up the extended noun phrase from its smaller constituent noun phrases and looked at how they shifted position and took on different grammatical functions as they moved. Some of the learners got it quite quickly, some of them needed a bit more help. But we then moved onto a sequencing task where they did the practice activities on the whiteboard in teams.
Were my aims achieved? Well the aims of the material were explicitly stated as:
- To introduce students to the concepts of “noun phrase” and “head noun”
- To introduce students to the basic grammatical structure of noun phrases
- To have the students practice structuring and creating some noun phrases
Did we do all this? Yes. Did the students learn anything? Maybe. They were certainly doing quite well with the practice activity at the end, but this may have been because one of the students had worked out where the material had come from and was referencing the original article the practice tasks had been taken from…. On balance though I think most of the students now have a better idea of noun phrases than they did before. I know I do.
My aims were slightly different. Bearing in mind that these are teaching aims rather than learning aims, my aims were to present the material in an engaging and interactive fashion –taking what are really quite dry teacher led materials off the page and to try and bring them into the classroom in a way that the students can access, interrogate and interact with. I felt it was quite important for the learners to be able to physically manipulate the language, though I couldn’t tell you why that is. Instinct I suppose. Did I achieve these aims? Sort of. I think I felt on slightly safer ground once we were sat there on the floor playing with pieces of paper….
What would I do differently? Good question. I think next time round I would drop all the fancy bits with the technology at the beginning of the lesson, not because of the technology per se, but because in hindsight they weren’t very necessary to the lesson. Instead of that I would do a bit more work on the different parts of speech – eliciting examples of quantifiers, determiners, adverbs, prepositional phrases etc – onto the whiteboard so that the students knew more about what these things were before they encountered the categorisation task.
Then I would have done pretty much the rest of it as I did – but maybe getting them to come up with their own noun phrases, weird and wacky perhaps, from the parts of speech we elicited at the start; which would be a nice way to link back to the beginning again.
Right. Enough self-recrimination and introspection for one day! Feedback with the observer tomorrow! Watch this space!