It’s amazing what we learn and the turn right around and forget. At first I thought that looking back at my classroom observations from my first semester would be like beating a dead horse. I’ve learned so much since those observations. The memories are of a somewhat overwhelmed student making the task at hand more difficult than it had to be. I fumbled threw the first few observations. In the next two, I tried to observe everything in the classroom and therefore failed to capture anything substantially. I often made fairly bold claims in the inferencing sections. In fact, looking back I’m not really sure if I understood what the inferencing section was for. However, I did manage to capture some interesting thoughts, and unknowingly, the observations seemed to have a profound effect on my teaching. This journal will survey the six most important observations that I made and relate them back to my own understanding of language teaching, language learning, and language itself.
In the fall of 2009, I took Classroom Observations with Professor Peter Shaw. This class was held every Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Casa Fuente room, which has since been dubbed, “Peter’s Room.” This class, I realize now, had a profound effect on my teaching not only because I really enjoyed Peter’s inductive, hands off, storytelling style to teaching, but because the observations that I made gave me an opportunity to see firsthand both good and bad classrooms, both of which were equally instructive experiences. One of the first lessons in Peter’s Class, a Total Physical Response, class in which teacher taught me and my classmates who were true beginning Spanish learners. In pairs, we took turns observing the actions and instructions of the teacher. Then we learned how to capture what we saw “objectively” for our observations. Based on the observations, we learned how to draw inferences, information about the students that couldn’t be learned told through objective descriptions, and finally, we were allowed to write a “reflection” or “inference” section.
In the following weeks after the Peter’s “Mock” Spanish class, we went out to the school and community to observe classes. My first classroom observation was a class at the Intensive ESL class on campus. The title of the class was “International Politics.” I then observed an English for Academic Purposes class, then I went outside the school to observe two adult school English as a Secondary Language class. I also had the chance to observe an Arabic class at the Defense Language Institute and finally, I returned to write my final observation of Peter’s Spanish class. Through the course of the class, we also had other opportunities to observe “classes.” One was a display of the Audio Lingual Method on Saturday Night Live. There was also a Greek BBC lesson and a Japanese clip on how to eat ramen. Peter also demonstrated multi-level and multi-station lessons, he told us how observation relates to principles and practices, theory, linguistics, and research, and he had us go to an elementary school where we taught third graders how lessons in foreign languages. Looking back, I can say that this might have been one of the richest classes at the institute so far.
As I stated above, my first two observations were of ESL and EAP classes here at the institute. The observation notes from these events are plentiful and sporadic, but they do have some interesting comments. Reflecting back, I can see that I learned a lot about effective teaching by watching and then tying the information back to my reading. For example, in my first observation, I identify that the “content” of the class is based on authentic materials, interaction, and meaningful instruction. It appears to me now that I was struggling to describe the pedagogical components of Content Based Instruction (CBI). In the next observation, I note that the class Douglas Brown’s (2007) Principals and Practices book and labeling the learning experience as “cooperative” and “autonomous” and “authentic.” I also note that the lesson took advantage of several Macrostrategies discussed in B. Kumaravadivelu (2003) in his book Beyond Methods. Both of these experiences provided ideas that I would later use in my own teaching over the summer and in my Curriculum Design class. In fact, the second class was taught by the same instructor who we later collaborated with to design the “TEDx Curriculum.”
Eventhough the next three observation experiences were not as good as the previous two, I still learned quite a bit. The third observation was at the DLI. This was an observation of an Arabic class, and instead of concentrating on something that I could observe, I spend a lot of effort trying to write down student and teacher interaction. My partner said this was helpful for him because he knew Arabic, and I remember that other students said that the foreign language observations helped them concentrate more on student and teacher interaction, but for me, I spend too much time trying to capture what I couldn’t understand. This observation taught me the lesson of focusing on other classroom elements. One idea is that I could have observed physical behavior. Often times the students were slouching or looked tired. Targeting physical behavior would have helped me focus my observations. In the next observation at the Monterey adult school, I made the same mistake. Plus I gave a favorable conclusion to a lesson, which Peter was “Less than happy about.” Through this observation, I learned from him the importance of meaningful communication and interaction in the classroom. It wasn’t until the fifth observation, the adult ESL school in Pacific Grove, that I learned to concentrate my observational focus. In this observation, I focused on how students used the textbook. From my notes, it seems that I was less than fond of the faux authentic materials and the grueling vocabulary review lead by the instructor. Last, I decided to go back and look at Peter’s “Mock” Spanish lesson in which he taught us zero Spanish speakers an incredible amount of vocabulary without us having to speak a word. First he used simple nouns such as stand up (lavantanse) and sit down (siéntate) and then using motions, pictures, and scaffolding, he taught us “es un tigre, es una elefante” meaning “this is a tiger; this is an elephant.”