One relic from my youth which I haven’t completely vanquished is a lingering interest in professional wrestling. Thus, on occasion I’ll check the “raw report” during my lunch break. Apparently, the crowd was quite rowdy this Monday. It definitely reminded me of my students. According to one report, the crowd was preoccupied with humming a theme song while a match was going on. That is definitely reminiscent of my teaching environment on occasion. Another thing about the same crowd got me thinking about my pedagogy. The specific comment was: “Jericho knew how to play to this crowd.”
That’s a reference to a performer with around 20 years experience in his craft. Yes, great performers in any domain definitely know how to respond to changing circumstances, essentially in real time. I think this is true of teachers as well.
However, I feel there are some prerequisites to responding effectively to challenging circumstances—like the following: a) a large theoretical base of knowledge from one’s chosen craft b) a wide range of experience and c) the elusive sensitivity to context. All three elements have a symbiotic relationship. In sum, good teaching is composed of…as someone else has said in a different context…50% leading and 50% reacting.
The question for me is how is this relevant to my lesson planning? On first glance, perhaps not much. I feel my lesson planning has a strong degree of “meta-sensitivity.” Meaning, I have taken account of my school and general characteristics of the students I am working with. I have scaffolded my materials to allow students with limited L2 proficiency to generate some L2 production, my speech is about as “comprehensible” as it can be…i.e I have trained students on most of the language I use throughout a session, I use PPT slides to cue any slightly novel language, et al. That being said, I tend to lesson plan in a block-format. I have three main classes which I prepare for weekly. I tend to finish my lesson planning the week before I teach, and make modifications based on reflection, occasionally “collected data (counting how many heads or down during an activity; how many hands go up when I ask a question, et al—basic stuff),” and intuition, which I implement in subsequent lessons.
However, that approach has its weaknesses. There is much contextual variation among the classes I teach. To name but one example, there is a profound difference between my first hour class and the class immediately following the lunch period. This probably isn’t related to student competency, or the general level of the class. Rather, it’s the context. They are dormant—and somewhat receptive to the lesson during the first hour. However, after lunch…well I gave the example of the crowd humming a theme song during a match at the beginning of this post—that’s an apt comparison for my Monday post-lunch class this semester.
What to do? I don’t think I have an adequate answer at the present moment. An entertaining video to start class to at least focus their attention before starting; get more authoritarian? Who knows, but the first step is to recognize that I need to take a different tact with this class. That may require different materials. That may require a different tone. Anyway, the search continues.
Thus, in your teaching context, where/when do you feel there are variations between your classes? What factors do you feel cause such shifts? How do you respond?
Questions Nagging Me
At times, I have found myself slipping into authoritarian mode—i.e. “it’s time to sit down, shut-up and listen.” I also have a voluntary “study abroad” prep-class during my lunch class. I decided to start the “course” with individual “speaking levels test,” so as to identify students’ main grammar errors while speaking. Anyhow, while working with students individually, the other students were supposed to read a short article well with their “ZPD” and complete a comprehension questions sheet and time their individual reading speed for specific paragraphs. Very concrete, and I knew students understood me. However, most students simply disregarded it. After about five minutes, I got hot and said the standard “If you don’t want to be here, you can leave…” then added that the reading—which included repeated reading and timing said readings—were done in the name of “vocabulary acquisition.” After this explanation, students got to work. Thus, I ask, was it the “threat” or was it the explanation which motivated students to change their behavior? Or perhaps, the impassioned rhetorical tone on my part?