When Observed

Here is a photo – published before in these pages – of one of the happiest moments of my life. I was just hanging out in the French language with my Latino students on the west side of Denver in 2014. Krashen was in the room at the time. I was soiling my pants, but I was doing a good job. When we get observed, by anyone, we must always remember that we are not being judged, but rather we are just being observed. Since we are using comprehensible input, we are automatically doing a far better job than most other foreign language teachers out there. All the observer needs to see whether they know it or not is comprehensible input, even crappy comprehensible input. Maybe we can have an initiative through the coming winter to just kick it all down a notch and stop trying to be the best teacher in the building. How to do that? Focus more on the kids, who have the uncanny ability in their brave hearts to pull us out of our self-absorption with how and what we are doing and just be with them. This, I feel, is my real work as a teacher, to learn to just attend to them and let the language come along for the ride. It will.

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10 thoughts on “When Observed”

  1. Love this Ben thank you! Im being observed next week. Any suggestions? I wanted to do a OWI the day before and the day they come in I want to do read and write activities with partner work! Im a bit nervous because I am not sure how kids will be this day. They have been a bit hyper lately!

    1. Why not do two or three OWIs in the days just before the observation and then write up something new for the reading (are you going to use options 4-7?) and then when you start class it’s all review but more interesting to the kids bc you combined the more interesting characteristics of each character you all made together before the observation class. Lots of options, but starting class with a reading that is slightly altered and going through:

      Choral Reading
      Grammar
      Reading from the Back of the Room*
      Reader’s Theatre (if it happens)

      is very impressive to observers.

      *most impressive to observers

  2. Betty, in case you don’t have them, here are the four reading options I suggest you use, pasted in here from A Natural Approach to Stories:

    The following steps—4 and 5—in this long version of the reading options, happen simultaneously, in L1. Basically, as the class chorally translates into L1, the teacher stops periodically to point out grammar features.

    4. Choral Translation: Use the laser pointer or put your hand on the projected words as the students read through the text in L1 with loud voices. The Reader Leader (see chapter on student jobs) guides the class along with a strong and measured voice. If there is no student doing that job, the teacher leads the class. Sometimes it is necessary to move the pointer in a non-linear way to make English word order happen in the translation. This is an opportunity to point out differences in word order in your L2.

    5. Discussion of Grammar in L1: While the class is translating the text out loud, the teacher stops from time to time to very briefly point out grammar features. Finally, we can explain grammar to the two kids in the classroom who care. Ask students what certain words mean. Point out adjective agreement and even spelling changes in boot verbs. Explain possessive adjectives. Use English. Go for it, but quickly, keeping the grammar explanations down to under four seconds. Never mention the actual grammar terms, since most kids won’t understand, caring only to know what the text means. Don’t test your students on any of it. Over time, they will see patterns. This will lead to true acquisition of grammar, but much later, for those few who are interested.

    Note: Like steps 4 and 5, steps 6 and 7 happen simultaneously with each other, in L2.

    6. Reading from the Back of the Classroom: Each reading option presented here has significant pedagogical value. But this step is the best. With the story still projected in front of the class, turn
    the kids away from it to face you in the back of the classroom as you face the text. Then start an in-depth repetition of the first paragraph, stopping only to ask slow yes/no questions to individual students. Allow students during this time to turn and refer to the text for a moment if needed.

    This process piles up repetition upon repetition. We milk each line in many ways, asking direct content questions about the text but also bringing in discussion of how a student in our class may compare or not with the characters in the story. Slowly we work our way through the text.

    This is big work. I feel that when I am doing this step I am doing the best possible job of teaching language that I can possibly do. The students look at me and provide answers to some very sophisticated questions in the target language. They can do so only because of the amount of preparation work that has preceded this point in the reading options. Each student is held accountable and has nowhere to run. Anyone observing the classroom during this time would have to admit that the students are learning the language.

    There is an entirely different dynamic when the students face you and not the projected text. When they can’t see the text, they simply interact with you verbally in the language. This is real conversation in the TL, set up beautifully by all the narrow and deep repetitions gotten up to this point in the story creation and reading options. When they face you and discuss the text behind them, it is the real deal. You’re teaching for output, and it feels thrilling!

    7. Readers Theatre: During Step 6, you will come to points where certain lines of dialogue are said. Some of the lines are so good that you will want to temporarily suspend the discussion you are leading from the back of the room and recreate a scene from the story by bringing up the student actors who originally created the dialogue when the story was made. Ask them to sit on a stool (leaving the stools in their place in Hub C), and direct them from across the room to read their lines in dramatic ways.

    To do this, you will need to refer to the Director’s Cues poster that should be above the whiteboard directly over the projected text at the front of the room. Once the actors have had a turn, allow other students to try their hand at saying the actors’ lines. It will make you glad that you are a teacher as you watch the kids try to outdo each other in how they say their lines during this Readers Theatre reenactment of the scene from the original story. How to use the Director’s Cues?

    Let’s assume Jason’s line from the story was, “You’re red! Leave now!” At this point you tell Jason, just like the director of a play would, to say his line in different ways — angrily, quickly, holding one hand out, in a quiet voice, as per the list of Director’s Cues provided in the Appendices. After a student speaks a line, you can invite the class to see if anyone else can say the line with more gusto, more romantically, more quietly, more to the left, more to the right, more with one foot off the ground. Even the shiest kids want in on this and it can be marvelously entertaining.

    So what if it takes a half hour to do one scene, with everyone getting a chance to show off ? Our work is about mental health and fun and community first, and language gains second. Moreover, when we work with the Director’s Cues, we are piling on repetitions of language in a way that everyone wants to listen to.

    By the way, Reader’s Theatre really requires a very “alive” scene. I do always feel comfortable doing this step unless it is full of fun and energy. As usual, if you try something and don’t feel comfortable with it, don’t do it.

    Also, Betty, if you have time slip in a dictee at the end of that class to use as an exit ticket.

  3. Reading options worked well for me when I was observed last quarter. We created a class story the day before the observation. I typed it up and did embedded reading with them the next day (version 1 – simple, version 2 – more complex). We did choral reading and then ping pong translation. I had planned a writing activity, but didn’t need it as that was enough to fill the 40-minute period. (I also started with calendar talk which I do almost every day).

    My principal LOVED it. He thought the class story was a hoot and loved the differentiation with the embedded reading and the partner activity with ping-pong translation.

    1. I think you just solidified something I’ve thought for some time, Robyn: that for observations reading is the way to go. It’s because the kids already know the material and can show off a bit, and because when first creating a story there is that inherent shyness in many of them that puts more pressure on us. I think all of us should do something like what you describe when being observed. I would only add in the powerful Reading from the Back of the Room technique for extra pizzazz.

  4. Betty, I to happened to be in the middle of Ben’s Reading Options when my principal walked into my room for some 15 minutes. Students were all attentive. I think whole group reading is a good activity especially for admin that aren’t so hip to the idea of free-flow, non-targeted conversation.

    Also, depending on what your admin is looking for, Reader’s Theater or other TPR stuff with the reading can be very impressive. And you could try the True/False Pencil Challenge. That’s where students pair up and lay a pencil between both of them. Teacher says a statement. If the statement is true, students try to grab the pencil first. It’s best to demonstrate this activity with two volunteers in the front of the room first.

    … something to break up the whole group reading.

    Best of luck!

    1. With the pencil challenge: Do they just grab it or write sth like telly marks?

      Do you use this also for, let’s say a general knowledge game (eg “The pyramids were built by the Romans.”)

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