So, what to do when the observer walks in and you are enjoying a discussion about the something completely unrelated to your subject matter with you students?
The answer is that we use Total Physical Response (TPR). We want to fool the observer into thinking that we were doing TPR before they came in. If we are on our toes, we can actually shift to TPR before the observer even gets through the door, and thus win the mental battle.
I even suggest practicing “Observer Alert Drills” throughout the year to practice the process described below.
Here are the steps:
1. At some point in the first weeks of the year, tell the kids that people will be coming it to observe, and when that happens there are certain things that you need to do for the observation and that you may switch things up on them very quickly if someone walks in. Kids always get that and they always go with it when it happens. They love a challenge.
2. Quickly write a verb that the kids don’t know on the board, or even better, have one ready on the board.
3. Immediately say these things in this order to the class:
Class, this verb means “runs.” What does this verb mean? (runs)
Class, how do you say “runs” in French (court).
Good, class, “court” means “runs.”
Class, show me “runs.”
4. They show you various gestures. Accept one and praise its author.
5. If you have a student job for the Master of Gestures, this is a good time to nod to him or her, which is their cue to jump up and act out the gesture – in this case running – in animated fashion with the class while you make TPR sentences up. That gets the student engagement box checked and the observer is not even seated in a chair yet.
6. Then make up a sentence like Class, Jorge runs! (I don’t ask them if Jorge runs, I tell them. The reason for that is that teachers are not the only ones who are iced by administrators, it happens to kids, too. They also feel judged by the new controlling presence in the classroom which just feels somehow wrong.)
7. During this time, while teaching, walk over to the observer and hand them the Administrator Checklist for Observing a CI classroom. Don’t interrupt your instruction, just hand it to the person and keep on teaching.
8. Next, get a few repetitions on the original statement. The kids get what I am saying but the administrator doesn’t. Score a point for me and the kids. In the rare instance when the observer knows what they are doing, they come in expecting to see engaged kids hearing the target language in the class, and that is what they are now seeing.
9. Next, ask “where” the student who is doing the TPR does the action that they are modeling. If the class has been properly trained in supplying cute answers, they will make it a weird place.
10. Heap praise on the student who suggested the answer that you accepted, that Jorge runs to the bathroom. Ask for applause for that student. Let her bask in the applause for her answer.
“11. Then ask with whom”. If the observer has a sense of humor (not always guaranteed), say that Jorge runs to the bathroom with the observer. This shifts the focus of the observer from one of being a judge to one of trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
12. Create a story. When you ask Jorge and the observer to take their places to your left in Hub C on the acting stools, the observer very often suddenly has to “get to a meeting”.
13. Do a short dictée.
14. if the observer is still there, get the quiz from the quiz writer, who is trained to write the quiz during these interruptions, and give a five point quiz to get that box checked.
15. When the observer is gone, I have found that the class likes to chat in English about the observation, pointing out funny things that happened, like the look on the observer’s face when Lakisha pointed out that Jorge ran to the bathroom with him.
16. End the process by announcing that everyone will receive a perfect quiz score for class that day.
17. Tell the class how fantastic they are and thank them for stepping up for you that day.
By using these steps, you guarantee that future unannounced observations will go well. The class even begins to look forward to them, not just for the break in the routine and the chance to show off their skills, but also for the free quiz grade.
Of course, if the class is flowing well in the target language when the observer walks in, we would not use this back-up plan, but it’s nice to know that it’s there if needed.