ESL Journal: Observations worth it? Are your students copy cats?

Aren’t classroom observations just the weirdest thing? The whole concept is a bit daft. I mean we all know that students are never the same when another teacher is in the room. The bright students turn into dimwits, the naughty ones into angels, and the teacher suddenly forgets how to spell words like ‘disappear’.

classroom observation nerves

Do you get nervous while being observed? Photo by Neshika Bell

I’ve been teaching for over 12 years, so I’ve been observed a few times, I even did a few observations while I worked as an Assistant DOS in the summer in London. The worst observation for me was no doubt my final DELTA module two observation. Mainly because of the way the DELTA is structured there is so much lying on just one hour of mastery that you turn into a quivering fool. The only time I have been more nervous was when I proposed to my wife, and that was mainly because of losing the ring before giving it to her.

I’ve seen a few disastrous lessons while observing. Ones in which a teacher was only actually talking and interacting with one student of twenty, another in which a teacher had 5 different groups doing 5 different things, and another where the teacher was obviously scared of any type of interaction with the students. I felt sorry for them and giving feedback was hard, but in the end they all came out feeling positive, which I’m not sure was a good thing.

Personally I don’t mind being observed, especially where I work because I know the trainers and it’s as if a friend is just popping in to watch a class. However, the other day a colleague of mine mentioned that he had to come and observe me. This was weird for two reasons, one he was a good mate and we’ve worked together doing examining recently, and two because I go to his training sessions a lot and really admire the way he teaches. So to have him come and see me was both strange and an honour.

Rather than take the view of getting all jumpy and nervous like in the DELTA, I just imagined a mate was at the back of the class, as if he’d never seen a TEFL class and wanted to see what it was like. The class was a lower-intermediate one of the ages 10 to 11. I chose to do an anecdote about when my bike got nicked a month or so ago. The idea was to practise past simple questions and also practise their listening, speaking and writing skills.

The actual class went well, I went way over on time, but mainly because it was probably a bit over their heads. So I was expecting negative feedback, especially as in the DELTA the timing has to be bang on. I was well chuffed when he said a lot of positive things. Mainly that it was great I was using phonetics in class, the fact I spoke to the class (10 to 11 year olds) at natural speed, none of this dumbing down lark, and also the fact that they were really challenged, which I try to do in most classes.

So the overall experience was quite uplifting and positive and it was great to have someone boost my ego even further. What do you think about classroom observations? Do you think they are useful or a waste of time?

Copying students esl

Sometimes it’s good to copy. Photo by catchesthelight

Copy Cats

I’m sure when I was at school I hardly copied, only maybe from the board, or now and then from one of my mates who actually knew what the hell was going on in physics. But I would never copy from anyone while doing a piece of writing, like from the internet or something, probably because I never had the internet at school, but if I did, I still wouldn’t have.

So in the last month I’ve had two students doing ridiculously obvious copies. I shouldn’t take it personal, but I do. It’s as if they are saying ‘right, let’s just have a quick look on Wikipedia and copy this, Barry won’t even realise that I’ve just jumped from A2 to B2 in the space of 48 hours’. I mean, come on people, do you not realise that your teachers have quite a decent understand of the English language and know perfectly when you have copied or someone has helped?

So, here are two examples which have blown my mind a bit.

The first was a film review. We watched Ocean’s Eleven in class on the condition that the students would take notes during the film and produce a piece of writing that Cervantes would be proud of. Did they take notes during the film? Did they ask me to stop if they didn’t understand the plot? Not a great deal.

So when I was half falling asleep on the metro correcting their masterpieces, wondering if any of them had used the guide I had given them, I suddenly had a pleasant surprise. The language suddenly took another level. The student used phrases like comedy heist, highest grossing film, and thus forming. I checked the name and knew that this student was bright, probably the best in the class, which is why I almost fell for it. I was a bit suspect though, so when I got into work I typed in the first line into Wikipedia, and there it was, the same beautifully crafted Cervantes style film review.

My original idea for punishment was going to be to let her read it to the class while standing up with the article displayed on the white board, but I bottled it. She’s a good student. So instead I just gave out all the writings, saying they were in need of improvement (crap) and then asked the student to read hers a little. Meanwhile I typed it up in google and there it appeared. Luckily she apologised and wrote a decent one the next time, as did the rest of the class.

My second example is even funnier. In a couple of my classes, student have to read a series of books over the year to improve their vocabulary and just enjoy reading. The way I make sure they have read the book is to ask them to make a list of vocabulary of new words they have learnt. So one kid didn’t do it, twice in a row, so I said as punishment he had to write a review of the book. In he came the next class, all smiley handing me the review. I began to read. This is pretty good, almost too good. I picked up the book and flipped it round. He’d copied the synopsis on the back.

“You’ve just copied the back, how do I know you have read it?”

“I have.”

“Well, write another one. In your words.”

So his next masterpiece was just a shortened version of his original copy.

“If you don’t do a proper review for next class then the whole class have to write a review of the last book.”

The class moaned, understandably, but I thought he’d click that he was being a pain.

So the next class he came in all smiley again, but it was a cheeky smile. I read it in front of the class, all waiting with bated breath to see if he’d actually done a review in his own words. He’d obviously copied from the internet, so I wrote 5 words from his text on the board.

“If you can’t explain what these words mean then the whole class has to write a review.”

The best he could come up with was that ‘Betrayed’ had to be connected with ‘bed’ somehow. So the class have to do their reviews, and will hopefully give some digs to the student after class.

Best mini conversation between me and a class.

“Can we have a game?” student.

“Do you think you deserve a game?” Me.

“Yes, a game?” another student.

“No, not a game. Do you think that if half the class didn’t do their homework they can have a game?” Me.

“No, no game today.” The original student.

Best comment by me

“Can I speak Spanish?” Student.

“You are Spanishing me out. No!” Me.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading, if you managed to get this far.

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