It’s not often that we are able to be observed by supervisors who actually know about comprehensible input. The result has been lots of crossed lines of communication, where the observer, for example, wants to see kids outputting language in class when in reality that possibility is literally thousands of hours away. Another example is when they ask us to provide make up work for absent students when in our comprehension based classrooms that is impossible.
When this happens, the resultant frustration impacts our mental balance. Those meant to support us become our critics, and they are wrong, since they align with ideas about foreign language education from the last century, ideas that are simply no longer valid.
This report from Robert Harrell shows us what happens in the happy event that an administrator actually knows how to observe our classes, is up with the research, and understands how people really acquire languages.
Note that Robert had in advance supplied the observer with the very important observation check list that he created for such occasions and that can be found in the hard link at the top of this page by clicking on “Primers”.* It is the top one in that list.
*there are other documents in the list of Primers that can aid in explaining what we do to observers. However, Robert’s is the most important and the one I suggest that we all have at the ready in case someone comes in. This is also a document that we should be sure we hand to and go over with any administrator in any formal meetings before a formal observation.
I just received the written copy of my evaluation for this year. My administrator is a former English teacher and genuinely understands what is going on. The day that she observed, she had only my Guidelines for Observing a Comprehensible Input Classroom. I’m sending you her Comments on the observation along with Strengths and Recommendations, as well as a personal note of my own on the interview. While I am, of course, very pleased with what she has to say about my teaching, the main purpose of sharing this is to show that when we work with administrators who are open and teachable, we can bring them along to an understanding of how a language classroom works. I know that I am blessed to have the administrators that I do.
Here are the comments:
Objective is posted in German on front board, and as I entered students were engaged and participating in conversation about the “Crazy Socks” spirit day. The teacher’s daily goal is to speak in the target language at least 90% of the time in a manner that is comprehensible to students. Teacher uses non-verbal cues to help students construct meaning and raise the level of students’ attention. The teacher’s enthusiasm keeps students engaged and motivated to make meaning. First, students were directed to get up and greet one another, and converse about the spirit day and current events. Next, they assisted in taking roll, then took out their notebooks to copy sentences for the next phase of the lesson. The teacher then asked students to make meaning of the sentences, and through collaboration they were able to understand that it meant traveling by train. Students then discussed their personal experiences with train travel, and all of this conversation continued in German for both teacher and student. The teacher connected hand motions to some of the new vocabulary. As the class progressed, the teacher challenged those who had greater understanding and increased the rigor by asking students questions that required students to pursue the topic in depth. Students were directed to use the information in the notebook to help them construct meaning and to achieve grammatical accuracy. The teacher continually checks for understanding and offers opportunity for students to respond in the target language. As the class ended, students offered farewell comments in German, and exited still immeresed in the language.
Students are engaged, teacher models pro-active classroom management, actively engages students in the lesson, and gives appropriate corrections and tasks to individual student abilities. Students do not realize how much they are learning and that they are working from bell to bell.
Increase the structure of the notebooks, try using the Focused Note Taking method to support a school-wide system.
Personal Note from Robert
During the post-observation interview, my Assistant Principal noted several times how impressed she was and referenced how I had at one point focused on a single student [a fast processor] to produce more sophisticated language and in-depth discussion but still kept the rest of the class engaged by asking them questions about the topic.