First observation

Today I had my first official observation.  The results, I would say, were interesting.

I was lucky in that the class I was observing was the second of that prep for the day.  In the morning I had a chance to lead the class through my lesson (a group task).  This gave me a good sense of what the students might stumble through and how long it was going to take.  That helped me feel prepared, which was really good.  I always deal with chaos better when I am confident in myself.

I started the class off by taking attendance and checking that students had completed their homework.  My co-teacher then took over and went over the homework assignment.  Then is was my turn again.  I got the class’s attention at the doc cam, and began talking them through some reminders about things like the upcoming chapter test and how to access their textbook online.  To begin the task itself, I went over the objectives and some of the skills we would be looking for.  We have these prepared on a printed sheet so we can keep these displayed during the first part of a task.  Easy enough, except that the doc cam and I could not agree on how this page should be displayed.  I thought it should show the entire page, but the doc cam was really only interested in two thirds of it.  It didn’t care which two thirds I liked, but it was not willing to compromise on the amount displayed.  Thankfully my co-teacher stepped in to adjust the unruly equipment, freeing me to move on.

Each member of each group has assigned roles.  I asked the resource managers to pick up the group task cards.  While they were doing that, I asked the task manager to begin reading the task when the resource managers returned with the cards.  I felt good about making this announcement correctly.  During my practice run, I’d gotten the roles reversed, which caused the students to look at me oddly.  I thought I’d recovered completely from my doc cam fiasco and would sail through the rest of the observation, but that was not to be.

When students first begin a task, I normally give them a minute or two to get their materials out and begin reading through the task card.  Because of my eagerness, I began working with a group a little too early.  One of the students asked me if she could have more time to think and if I could give her some time to think. That sounded like a good idea, so I moved to the second group.  As I approached, I saw that our TA was working with the two students who were present.  I sat down next to one of them, and asked him a question.  He stared at the table.  The TA informed me that the student wasn’t speaking.

Oh.

Great.

I asked him directly myself, and he did not respond.  I then asked the second student if she wanted help, and she said yes.  I asked the now mute student if I could borrow his pencil, and he did manage a nod of assent.  I decided that was enough progress for one day and let him be quiet while I helped his group mate.  After a few minutes she felt like she was beginning to understand, so I left her to work on her own for a few minutes, and promised to come back and check on her.

Thankfully, I am working in a co-teaching model, because this is when I noticed that the two groups in the other corner of the room appeared to have merged together into a mass of non-productivity.  My co-teacher was handling this, so I left her to it and worked with other groups for a while.

The rest of the class I spent time working with various groups, helping them think and work through the task.  This went well… it’s something I’ve been practicing here for several days.

+++++

There were a couple of things about the experience that I found interesting.  The first was that, as usual, I was way more worried about the whole process than I needed to be.  I got a lot of positive feedback, even with a student refusing to speak and several others who were happy to talk but much less interested in doing the task.  I know I cannot control these students, can’t make their choices for them, but I had hoped they would behave perfectly.  This was silly of me, and I should not have worried about their lack of perfection.

The second thing that interested me was the situation with the student who refused to talk.  This student is in my advisory class, and often comes before school just to say hello.  He is friendly toward me and does his work well.  He sometimes talks when he should not during class, so I expected him to talk too much, rather than shut down completely.  After class was over, I spent some time thinking about what had happened.  At first, I was concerned.  He’d never done that before, so it was really out of character.  Although he was present during advisory, we didn’t talk because he was reading.  I didn’t know if this was because he was having some trouble, or just really interested in his book.  I wondered if something bad had happened at lunch, or perhaps at home the night before.  As I continued to turn the situation over in my mind, though, I remembered that the TA had already been at the table when I arrived.  When I examined the exchange in detail, I began to think that what might have happened is that, to be funny, the student had decided not to speak to the TA.  He didn’t expect me to come over, and when I did (trailing my observer), he couldn’t think of a way to end his joke gracefully.  Instead, he decided to just keep being mute.

This morning, during advisory, I spoke with the student.  I didn’t confront him on his behavior, but instead waited to see if he would address me.  He opened the conversation by talking about the book he was reading (the same one he was reading the day before).  Then he started asking me about the observer and why she had been there.  He seemed genuinely interested in understanding what I was doing, and what was involved in the process of learning to become a teacher.  As he left, he told me he thought teaching was something that a person can only really do if they love.  His tone and body language suggested admiration for the profession.

I was glad, after our conversation ended, that I did not begin with a confrontation.  I think, now, that he feels he made a mistake and isn’t likely to repeat it.  As we talked I tried to be sure that I spoke in a way that let him know I was still interested in him as a person, and cared about his well being; that I had not decided the was a “bad kid,” even though his behavior toward me in front of the observer might have caused me some trouble (it did not).  I think a confrontation would have been awkward at best, especially since I have only known this student for a few days at this point.

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