Monday, September 23, 2013

peer observation

I sat in on the lesson of an amazing colleague today—a fellow newbie to CUD, whom I won't name here. In fact, I don't think it would be appropriate to get too deeply into the specifics of his teaching technique, but I will say, as a general comment, that I was thoroughly impressed by his engaging demeanor, his super-organized management of the class, and the rapidfire changes he made in going from activity to activity. This was a beginner-level class, and I couldn't help thinking that I should have adopted a style more like his for my own beginners who, I now realize, could use a firmer hand. While I think the jury is still out on whether my beginners can handle the tasks I've given them (the semester's only a quarter over), it's obvious that they're a passive bunch who would doubtless respond more readily to a somewhat more teacher-centered approach.

When I observe colleagues, I always take copious notes (observations of what I see, not commentary; that happens later, if it happens at all), and whenever the teacher changes activities in the class, I habitually note the time. This gives me a good idea of how a teacher paces his or her class. In my colleague's case, he was switching activities about every two or three minutes, never giving the students time to rest or be bored. He also used his own form of round-robin technique: the students would partner up, and one member of each pair was the designated "change" person while the other partner was the designated "stay" person. When the teacher called out, "Change!" the "change" students would rotate one partner over, while the "stay" partners would simply stay in place and find themselves with a new partner. This was a great and innovative way to get the students to compare answers after, say, doing short writing exercises. I thought it was brilliant.

What's more, the students had been so thoroughly trained in the teacher's kinetic method that they could focus their energies on the lesson at hand without getting confused or tripped up by the precise choreography of the round-robin. What I saw today, the teacher told me afterward, was primarily about cultivating writing skills; the next class, which I won't observe, will be devoted to speaking. There was a balanced emphasis both on being grammatical and on producing output of any sort, good or bad. This balance kept the students relaxed and unselfconscious enough to produce English fairly freely.

So I'd say today was a learning experience. I'm glad I did the observation. Since I've cancelled my trip up to Seoul this week, I'll be observing two more colleagues—CUD veterans this time—on Thursday and Friday. Ought to be interesting.


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