Sunday, September 29, 2013

Observation in Alaska - What I've learned from 3 Teachers

My school district understands the value of observing other teachers and gives us one day to observe teachers in our district or in other districts.  I'm sure my principal was a bit shocked when I emailed him a request to observe in Alaska.  I've met some great language teachers at conferences in the last few years and I couldn't think of a better place to spend a day observing.

Below are the 3 teachers I observed and a small sample of what I gleaned from each of them.

Betsy Paskvan - Japanese - A J Dimond High School
Betsy is the Queen of Comprehensive Checks! She was constantly checking to make sure the students understood both her statements and questions.  Below are a FEW of the comprehension checks I wrote in my notes:

- What part of that means "so that"?
- Do this (put fist on palm), when you don't know what I'm saying. It's ok." (A reminder for her students to signal her when they don't understand.)
- _____(a Japanese word) means blurry. Try it.
- Why is it ____ (a Japanese word) instead of ____ (a Japanese word)? (Difference between formal and informal)
- Show me with a comp ck (10 fingers) how much you understand.
- What did ____ (a Japanese word) mean? What told your ears that?

Betsy prepared her students for a story by reviewing structures with a PowerPoint slide with Japanese on the left and English on the right with target structures underlined. (see photo) The target structures were: from - to; rode; with a friend. Then she chose a student to fill in the details, followed by a problem that the other students offered suggestions on ways to resolve the problem.

I also have new ideas on how to better implement songs in the target language from observing how Betsy reviewed and introduced new structures in the song lyrics and additional questioning with students.

Cara O'Brien-Hollen - French - West High School
Cara was a bundle of endless energy! I was sure that she must crash at the end of the day but I saw her later that evening and she was still going strong.

Her class included a wide variety of activities: a weekend cheer, PQA on animals in their natural habitat, MovieTalk with a legend "Skeleton Woman", a catchy French song "US Boys"(?), an activity called Chain Reaction to put information in order and later to work on the 1st and 2nd person singular. (It's obvious that I used to teach grammar by the book by the way I stated that lat sentence, right?). There probably were more things she chatted about with the students, but since I have no French background....

She is the perfect example of the importance of bringing 100% to class, every day.  Our students (should) expect it and they certainly deserve it.

Michele Whaley - Russian - West High School
Michele gave a beautiful demonstration of how to teach students and not 'curriculum'. She has mastered the technique of teaching to the eyes. The whole classroom experience is centered on the students, their present needs, and personalization. I saw the last twenty minutes of one class in which she was doing PQA with structures in the future tense based on her students' responses to a chart on weekend activities. She involved all students, personalizing the input for each.

In her second class, she introduced new structures/vocabulary and moved into a story with student actors and  props. She gently directed the students' actions and their lines, always, always, always teaching to the eyes and always checking comprehension. Then she seamlessly moved into MovieTalk with an animated video that had the same structures.  

Another thing clearly evident in Michele's classes is how much she cares for her students, even down to the comfy classroom chairs she bought for her classroom.  A student stopped in after class for her signature for a sports team and Michele said how glad she was to see him joining the team. 
(I have to add that I thought it was so dear that since Martina and I were observing, one student asked if they could sing a song they learned to show the visitors what they knew. The students obviously were happy with what they knew and wanted to share that with us.)

It was a rewarding day and I plan to implement some of the activities in my classes and have new ideas on how to improve my teaching. My biggest take away from my trip is to add more culture into my storytelling and CI.

Two of my favorite bloggers: Martina (middle) & Michele (r)
I strongly encourage teachers of all subjects to take the time to observe others. It doesn't have to be as far as Alaska, even though I strongly suggest it for language teachers because of their amazing language programs and hospitality.

This is a perfect time to send out a huge THANK YOU to Martina Bex for her generous spirit and warm hospitality and
THANK YOU to Michele, Betsy, and Cara for welcoming me into their classrooms.

Flight to Alaska - $$$
Buying additional warm clothing - $$
Learning through observation and discussions with other language teachers - PRICELESS!

Two more photos from Alaska:

The town of Whittier sits at the base of the mountain, accessible by water or through a one-way, 2-mile tunnel made for cars and trains.


If you look closely (between the two heads of the people dressed in dark clothing and above) you'll see ice and snow breaking away from the glacier - known as "calving".

1 comment:

  1. Aww, I am so jealous. I would love to go to Alaska and observe all those talented teachers! Looks like you had fun. :)