If You Get Observed

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21 thoughts on “If You Get Observed”

  1. Interestingly enough, I was observed (briefly) today. My principal and three district “suits” arrived in my classroom just after the bell for period three rang. They were there to look at AP classes.

    Monday is “Bundesliga-Tag”, so we just mojoed our way through the weekend’s games and current standings. The whole class was simply energized as we kidded each other about who won and lost, who went up and down in the standings, etc. Of course every word of it was in German. My principal commented later in the day about the amount of energy in the room.

    Also, as soon as they entered I pulled Susan Gross’s checklist from its clip by the door and handed each one of them a copy – but I need to change the checklist. It’s a “Checklist for a storytelling class”, and I need to make it applicable to non-storytelling segments of a CI classroom as well. I’ll have to work on that.

    1. I agree with you about the Susan Gross check list. It really gives the administrators something to use. They will probably have their own form, too. But at least it gives them options. Plus it looks good that you are prepared.

      Ben, I think you described it well by simply saying that we have to show up. That’s really what it is and we all do this in our own way. We need to make this a habit and the culture of our class. Showing up is 90% of the success in our class. Our students know within a matter of seconds if we have shown up and they will adjust accordingly. Thanks for the good word!

      I gotta say, though. I would be a lot more nervous with Susie Gross in my room than an administrator. She’s legit…

    2. Robert, I’m going back through these threads on observations in preparation of a formal observation I have tomorrow. You mention in the above comment creating a checklist that’s applicable to a CI classroom and not specific to only storytelling. Just curious, did you ever draft a checklist along those lines? Or are you aware if anyone else on here has made a general CI classroom checklist? If so, I’d love to have something like that.

  2. Showing up has to be defined. For me, it means that my students can see me and I can see them without anything in the way to obsure our communication. This includes lesson plans, curricular objectives, fear, unruly students, observors, a test, English, targeted vocabulary – except no more than three terms and even they must not be allowed to get in the way of the human interaction. My purpose is not the language, which is incidental as I help us create images in our minds without focusing on the language. My work is in communicating with human beings, and the language is merely the vehicle for that work. The input is comprehensible but is not the goal of the class. The goal of the class is communication of an idea or image. I use comprehensible input for that because I have not found anything better. Whether it is fun or boring, interesting or not, I use it. My prayer is to not let my belief be that what I am doing is teaching a language. That just happens.

  3. I love the Susie Gross checklist too, and would love to see adaptations. Like some others, I keep a few copies attached to my bulletin board for any observers to use (parents, other teachers and administrators) in case I feel nervous. I definitely hand them to admins–so far I’ve had a total of two admins in my room in the four TPRS years–but often forget to hand them to others. My main approach is to try to work the observers into PQA, as I ask the kids where they’re from. We had an impromptu observer from PSU who was there to recruit kids, and because she walked in a bit late, we had already come up with a whole story about her being a Harry Potter teacher and how she got there…she didn’t seem too happy, but she was impressed by the language! We’ve had others who were turned into ambassadors from other countries (except that was a bit of an issue when a parent called the newspaper and I had a reprimand from the office about having invited strangers into my room without letting them know…gotta remind the kids that we’re telling stories…) and then some who let us twist at least a few facts.

    I generally assign the kid most likely to interrupt in English to be the interpreter for the observers. Only once lately has an admin refused translation, but he loved the class. I think it was mostly because he had Susie’s form and could make checkmarks by a lot of her points. But he also made the comment that when I said something funny, the whole class laughed. Little did he know that it was because I said something about their being afraid to talk because the discipline principal was in the room.

    I agree with Thomas: having Susie in the room would be a whole lot more nerve-wracking than having anyone else.

  4. Interesting to read this post. I invited our new superintendent to visit my classes earlier this week. No response, no show, nothing. He has entered the district, shouting from the rooftops about how great it would be to start language as early as possible, blah blah blah. Once again, all talk and we’ll see how much action. However, he showed up in my room unannounced on Friday afternoon. Right, Friday afternoon when I am with my 4th graders (first year of language for them). They had a huge play to perform the night before. They were dead. Well, some of them. We had been working on a story that I had written. Basic vocab and we had spent several 30 minute classes circling the stories. So the superintendent shows up right in the middle of class while we’re reviewing the details of the story. I’m getting in as many reps as I can, asking the students questions, purposefully making mistakes. Super stays for about 10 minutes, and while I’m trying to ignore him, I sense a feeling of awe…I think he’s impressed with what is going on, how much the students understand of what I’m saying and their level of interaction. No, not 100% of the kids were 100% with me, but I think it still looked good. I am so new at this that I feel the little things really matter, like the email I received last week from the head of the school board that parents have said to her and mentioned that I have made changes in my program and the students seem to be getting a lot out of it, so my hard work is paying off and being noticed. I guess it just brings it down to human level–we all need reassurance that what we are doing is right, students included. So if we can lead them down that path, we’re doing our job. And if a suit happens to walk in while we’re moving students along, well, so much the better.
    I am now wishing I were at ACTFL right now…I hope those of you went found it inspiring. I just have to hold tight until Vegas, I guess….

  5. You rock Allison! And of course that guy walks in at the wrong time. I love the way you just stuck to your CI ground in spite of the unannounced visit. You didn’t let it throw you, and you kept the language flowing. You were meeting standards, the 90% use statement, the human back and forth (Vygotsky) with the kids. The dude probably had some level of surprise at hearing so much L2 in the classroom. And you are just getting started. Congratulations!

  6. Thanks for this Ben! You couldn’t have posted it at a better time. I’ll be getting observed Wednesday as well. I think if we show up and stick to the CI guns like Allison, there’s no way we can go wrong. In fact, I’m going to try and remember that on a daily basis because sometimes it is so hard to do just that when you’re tired or beat up from other things in life.

    Also, I’ve thought about using the administrator check list, but I was wondering if anyone has had an administrator act negatively to the check list because I don’t want to do anything to make my already iffy situation worse.

  7. Jeff Klamka from NY just posted this on the more.tprs list. There are a few things I would change, but this is a very neat, succinct, comprehensible explanation for an observer/evaluator to have to go along with the checklist idea. Stuff in the parentheses are my thoughts.

    “Some important principles for an acquisition-based language class:

    1) Language acquisition is a skill (Jody doesn’t know this to be true. I might say it is “an ability all humans possess” with some caveat about differences in speed and time.). It is something that the brain does naturally and subconsciously given the right conditions. The subconscious part is key because you are developing fluency without even being aware of it. All the student has to do is listen or read and understand. The brain will automatically acquire the language.

    2) In learning (I would say “acquiring”) a language, like learning (I would say “becoming proficient at”) a sport, developing instincts is crucial. For example, when learning to ski, is it more effective to study theory and understand how it works, or just get a feel for it? One of my best ski instructors gave us life savers and had us focus on pinning them to the roofs of our mouths as we skied down the mountain. This allowed us to “quiet” our conscious minds and let our instincts take over. Sometimes in sports, the more you think, the slower you react. Language acquisition works in quite the same way. Ideally, students will be so riveted by the conversation (I would add: and/or the reading) that they forget that they are learning a language.

    3) When (I would add: “listening or”) speaking, it is really hard to focus on the message and the structure at the same time. That is why consciously-learned rules of language are really only useful for the editing phase of writing. For (I would add: “comprehending and “) speaking, it is the
    unconsciously acquired grammatical structure that the speaker must rely upon. In other words, in conversation there is only enough time to say what “sounds right,” and not enough time to analyze why. (I would add something about the importance of the comprehension phase before the speaking phase in this paragraph.)

    4) During class, the strategy is to give students as much repetitive, interesting, and grammatically-correct language as possible. It must be at a level that is comprehensible to students. They are focused on the meaning and answering questions about the meaning. Their subconscious minds “pick up” the language. (I would not use the phrase: “pick up”. Instead I would use “acquire”. “Pick up” sounds informal and exactly what my administrators don’t want to hear.)

    (Jeff really grabbed the essence of it all for me. Do you think an administrator who doesn’t know much about CI instruction or language acquisition theory would be a bit better informed after reading this?)

    Jeff Klamka
    Bethlehem Central Middle School
    Delmar, NY

  8. It really is helpful to me to have these concise summaries, because, like many of you, when I have parents, administrators, colleagues ask me about CI it is nice to be able to tell them in a minute or two–or refer them to more information.

    The discussion of language acquisition as a “skill” is problematic for me, especially in light of Krashen’s great article on delayed gratification:
    He basically says that the “no pain, no gain” model of suffering/training followed by proficiency and enjoyment does not apply. So, what analogy can we use instead that people will understand?

  9. I liked Jeff’s ski analogy about “getting a feel for something” and “staying out of the conscious mind”. I believe those notions are KEY to understanding how comprehensible input (focusing on meaning instead of form) works.

    However (agreeing with you, John), one of the reasons these kinds of analogies always fail for me is the “performance leads to proficiency” model/problem.

    Language is comprehended (oral/read), spoken, and written. Comprehension is what leads to the other two. Speaking and writing do not lead to comprehension. What other “thing” do we acquire that requires so much “passive” input before fluent performance takes place?

  10. When I started teaching Spanish– with the ¡Díme! program (this means “grammar grind” in Spanish)– I was amazednto discover that you are supposed to say “que bueno” for informal agreement, and that “de nuevo, por favor” was “say it again, please.”

    Having traveled in Mexico, my gut was to say “va” for “sure” and “¿mánde?” for “repeat that.” And then I realised, nobody ever taught me that– even when I took a few weeks of Spanish in Guatemala– I had just picked up these authentic, Mexican-ish expressions by hearing them 100s of times in context. Then I spent 14 years teaching without reflecting that comprehensible, in-context reps are key.

  11. I’m getting my Wisconsin certification now (after teaching in IL for 7 years, long story). This semester I have 6 observations: 4 by a retired administrator/education professor. I had my first observation yesterday and it went really well. He saw my 5th grade class which is quite new to Chinese & has only met 6 times so far.

    Here are some things I did:
    – Lesson plan written out with a couple sentences’ background on the class level & recent content. I also gave him an article about how Chinese & how it develops the brain, Laurie Clarcq’s Danielson Framework for Teaching form, and Bryce Hedstrom’s observation checklist. I didn’t know what he was going to be like, so I wanted to give him documents that showed what I think I should be. I also made sure to mention to the kids why we were doing whatever – for their sake as new CI students & for the observer.

    With the class:
    – Reviewed class expectations and the signal for when I’ve become unclear. Clarified a few jobs & assigned some. These came up naturally, but I spent more time for the observer’s sake. He loved the expectations list on the wall & the word walls.
    – Look & Discuss with a PowerPoint I had prepared. Discussed with the kids, including their funny observations about the clip art used.
    – Brain break, watching “Numbers Rap” video and moving around.
    – Reading aloud a simple story. I reminded them that to learn to read Chinese, we listen & look as the characters are read, and they may join when they feel ready. It was about Bart Simpson liking Stormtrooper Hello Kitty, but she not liking him. (It was really funny when they got to the line that revealed that – 2 or 3 seconds after I read it, they all reacted. I found out their process time too!) A student pointed as we read. Pop ups to ask how we can remember the characters for “like,” “go,” and “cry.” My Recorder of Deeds called this “watching a play” – obviously he’d visualized the meaning. I have Bart & Stormtrooper Hello Kitty paper puppets on chopsticks & used those a bit.
    – Students checked the Interpersonal Communication rubric for that class period. All A’s and B’s.
    – Played a few minutes of Smack! until the bell rang. This is like flyswatter games, I think. I will make a video about it soon. It’s become my favorite way to practice reading with all my classes. Lots of nice side benefits to it.
    The observer was really positive about the flow of class, channeling student energy, developing activities that captured their interest, etc. It was really nice to have such an affirming visit. I think that some observers must be told to find faults – he did not have that mentality at all. He seemed to be there to enjoy himself and be encouraging. I feel blessed!

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