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Teacher intention vs learner reality

As a follow up to the last post, A record of classroom events, I’ve reflected on the questions I posited with regards to how things transpired in that EAP Writing class:

  1. What is the classroom culture here?
    There are two main objectives I aim for in this context:  open and authoritative. They can coexist.  I want students to have increasing comfort with the  environment, me as a person, me as a teacher, the other students and their roles as students.  I want students to feel as though they can contribute, that if they put in the effort, their contributions will be taken seriously and validated.  I want them to feel they can achieve the expectations we have of them.  In addition, I want them to have confidence in me, the information given to them, the activities, the class and ultimately the program.  I want them to see me as an authority figure they can trust to be unbiased and helpful, an example of a learner myself.  I want them to know that what I say is the truth and what we–my colleagues, administration and myself–teach and expect of them will fundamentally facilitate their academic success.  This is the classroom culture I aim for in everything I do in this context.
  2. What are A) my intentions vs B) potential student perspectives?
    A is in blue and B is in red below.
  3. Does A produce desired B? Are there going to be discrepancies?
    In every action, word or body language during my lesson below, hopefully there are some As that repeat as Bs.  For that reason, I’m only including possible other Bs, as I’ve supposed.  Apart from interviewing each student, knowing what they really thought for sure is impossible.  What I can safely say is that there will be a varying mixture between desired Bs and discrepancies.  It’s unavoidable, but as educators, we can only aim to notice those perspectives or be aware that they may exist and attempt to accommodate them in our planning and explanations.

10:05 – Tyson and colleagues go to individual classrooms to start class Writing classes.  Tyson carries his laptop, and a cotton shopping bag containing a projector, two speakers, accompanying required cables and 30-ft extension wound up cable, the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and a folder containing all photocopies.
It would be easier for me to go tech-free, but when the lesson suits it, I make the effort to carry everything, even across campus.  They carry heavy things to their classes, so do I and I don’t complain, to them.  Why don’t our classrooms have technology in them?  I wonder if I can use his dictionary because I didn’t want to carry mine.

10:10 – Class begins – Mr. Seburn enters the classroom, puts everything down at his desk at the front of the class in front of the chalkboard and says “good morning” with a smile, to which his students reply “good morning” in unison using various degrees of enthusiasm.  He chuckles at this.  He writes on the board and describes items on bulleted list of planned topics (1. Admin, 2. Freewriting, 3. Directly quoting review, 4. Modifying direct quotes, 5. Open floor).  I’m friendly.  I have a sense of humour.  I have a solid plan of important topics to help them improve today and we’ll end the day with a chance for any questions to be answered. Boring.  Boring.  Boring.  Boring.  What’s that?

10:15 – Freewriting activity – Mr. Seburn puts a question on the board, “What is something you have learnt so far from the research you’ve done?“, and passes out a scrap piece of paper for each student to use.  He asks students to individually plan, organise and write a paragraph or two answering the question.  He uses this individual time to set up the projector, laptop and audio.
This is a chance for self-reflection and an opportunity to experiment with vocabulary, mechanics and style we’ve learnt in something that isn’t their first opportunity or graded.  I also need to hook up technology without wasting students’ time.  Damn, I haven’t done the research yet.  What do I write?

10:30 – Peer editing – Mr. Seburn asks students to pair up, read each others’ freewriting and give suggestions based on mechanics (eg. grammar, punctuation, capitalisation), organisation (eg. topic sentence, supportive statements, details) and coherence (eg. concrete examples, transitions, redundancy).  He circulates through the room as much as possible given spacial limitations (room designed to accommodate 20 desks in three rows) and answers questions as needed.
Through peer editing, your partner can see things you missed, but also improve their understanding of concepts by explaining their ideas to you. I don’t want others to see what I’ve written because they might think I’m stupid.  I don’t know what’s right and wrong well enough to comment.

10:45 – Mr. Seburn asks students to take their classmates’ suggestions, incorporate them if useful and email the freewriting to him before tomorrow’s class.  He reminds students that previous freewritings have been marked (eg. error indication, individualised comments) and are available in the assignment mailbox for pickup.
Compare what your partner has said and evaluate your understanding against it.  Pick up your other freewritings so you can learn from them and talk to me about them. Why won’t he just fix my errors to begin with?

10:46 – Review – Mr. Seburn asks Minnie (ie. Student A) to remind him what the characteristics of directly quoting are.  He rewrites what she says on the board in a concise way.
Give students a chance to show what they know.  Build confidence. Don’t ask me.

For the third point, Minnie doesn’t explain clearly.  He asks for a volunteer to expand on Minnie‘s answer.
Give students a chance to show what they know.  Build confidence. I wish Mr. Seburn would just give us the correct answer.  Don’t ask me.

Silence.  He waits maybe 30 seconds, looking around at various students, many of whose heads are looking down at their notes, when Johnny tries to reexplain Minnie‘s answer.  Mr. Seburn agrees and writes his ideas on the board, again more concisely.  Some students write what’s on the board in their notes.
Students need time to think.  It’s not uncomfortable silence.  Wait patiently until someone builds up the courage to answer and accept it. I’m not going to answer.  I’ll just look away from him. He’ll give up and give us the answer eventually. / Am I right?  Should I say? Will other students think I’m a loser by volunteering?

11:00 – Mr. Seburn shows a slide, on which is a passage from a previous reading and asks Ss if they recognise it.  Half respond affirmatively.  He asks where.  A small group, including Minnie and Johnny, name a previous assignment.  He says that’s right.
Reuse familiar material in order to expedite the activity and activate schema. That assignment was hard and I never thought I’d see it again.

He asks Kelly about one of the previously learnt lexical items included in the paragraph.  Kelly answers well.  He recasts.
Recycle vocabulary to keep it active.  Recast to demonstrate a simpler, more accurate answer. Kelly – My answer was right!

He asks Kelly to find another from the passage and ask one of her classmates.  Mr. Seburn hears pages being turned and backpacks being rustled through.  Kelly proceeds and this process continues three more times.
It’s more fun than me putting the spotlight on a student. I hope I pick the right person.

11:15 – Modifying quotesAn animation reveals a highlighted sentence in the passage.  Some students notice the highlight.  Other students don’t.  Mr. Seburn moves on to the next slide, which shows the highlighted sentence in a piece of writing, one modified using square brackets and one with omitted sections using ellipses.   He asks students to form small groups and discuss what they noticed about the highlighted sentences and how they were used in the second slide.
A little guided discovery task.  Who’s paying attention? I wish he’d just teach us instead of asking us to figure it out on our own.

11:20 – Students, some in groups of 2, others in groups of 3, speak in both Mandarin and English.
Discussion in L1 can facilitate understanding.  I’ll make sure the group with the Russian girl speaks English only. Mr. Seburn won’t stop us from talking in Mandarin.  We can talk about anything and he won’t know.  Russian girl – I hope I’m not a burden to my partners.

June asks Mr. Seburn if they can see the previous slide because they hadn’t noticed the highlights.  Mr. Seburn says no.
If you didn’t pay attention, you’ll have to rely on your partners to explain for the time being.  Next time, you’ll likely pay more attention.  I’ll let you see it again later. That’s not fair.  I can’t complete the task now.

11:30 – Mr. Seburn suggests everyone take the 15-minute break, during which time he puts the previous slide up.  Students get up and start chatting in Mandarin.  Many students leave the classroom.
If you’re smart, you’ll take this time to look at the slide so we can all start on a level playing field again.  / Check your ideas against the slide again. Yay, it’s break time.  Who wants a coffee?

Summation of this reflection
I think this cartoon, however questionable the taste, is a good summation of the point here:  what you think is really happening may not be what is really happening.  What I’ll take away from this reflection is a widened range of perspectives to keep in mind when I plan and implement my lessons.  What I believe I am doing with an activity or words may not be as obvious to my students as it would be to other teachers.  My students are new at anything that isn’t top-down lecture style and sometimes need to be guided to see the benefits more explicitly.  Also, students at this age are students at this age.  They are going through a lot of self-discovery at this time, in between being a highschooler and an adult.  Characteristics of both are bound to appear in their reactions and behaviours.  I’ll remind myself of this when I ask a question or get an undesired response.  Finally, even though I think they’ve gotten the point of my choices, actions and feedback, they may not have.  It may be important to define expectations, corrections and benefits more clearly.

At the end of the day, teachers put more thought into the choices they make than the students do doing them, so overthinking is also not worth it.  Being aware and finding what works for the most part and dealing with what doesn’t is the goal.

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Naomi Epstein

“At the end of the day, teachers put more thought into the choices they make than the students do doing them, so overthinking is also not worth it. Being aware and finding what works for the most part and dealing with what doesn’t is the goal”

Can I quote you on that?
Your description of teacher’s vs. students thoughts rings so true (especially the one about waiting long enough for the teacher to supply the answer!)!
Since we know our students well, it’s an important reminder to stop and think of lesson plans from their perspective!



Excellent insight… well worth quoting! Thanks for the transparency and thoughtfulness.

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