Thursday, March 4, 2010

ESL Observation

Macopin Middle School- Observation Paper #2

During one of my observations at Macopin Middle School, Mrs. Starke invited me to stay and observe her ESL class. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do so. She asked me to serve as an “interviewee” in her lesson. We sat down for a few minutes to discuss her class objectives, policies and procedures. Mrs. Starke informed me that her ESL classes were small which made the learning/teaching procedure all the more effective because of the time she was able to dedicate to them individually. The particular class I was observing today consisted of four seventh graders whom were all native Spanish speakers.
The students greeted me as soon as they walked in the classroom and asked me if I spoke Spanish. I informed them that I did and that I was very excited to be part of their class for the day. One of the students began speaking to me in Spanish and Mrs. Starke quickly corrected her and asked her to speak to me in English, which she did. I would’ve answered her in English regardless of Mrs. Starke’s remark because I believe that they should practice English at all times.
Mrs. Starke began her lesson by writing on the board: “Mrs. Starke lives in Sparta, NJ; Mrs. Starke likes to ride horses and read books in her spare time; Mrs. Starke’s favorite color is blue”. She proceeded to ask the class to read these sentences out loud together. She moved close to each student as they spoke out loud in order to hear their enunciation. They proceeded to the sentences three times before Mrs. Starke informed them of today’s lesson. She explained to them that today they would be picking a partner to interview. She wanted them to write down a list of ten questions they wanted to ask their partner about themselves. Mrs. Starke gave them prompt question words they could and could not use while conducting the interviews (scaffolding). Such suggested words to use in their questioning included “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, and “why”. They were not allowed to use “do you” or “are you” because they only required boring “yes/no” answers. She wrote the directions up on the board for the students to refer to if necessary. Up to this point I enjoyed her anticipatory activity because it grabbed their attention. They enjoyed the personal information about their teacher. I believe this added a level of comfort in their lessons. The connection Mrs. Starke formed with her students by sharing personal information was well received, therefore introducing a warm climate for learning.
Before allowing the students to break into pairs, she asked that I come up to the front of the class and help model the desired product of the lesson. She had a note pad with the questions she wanted to me to answer. These questions included: “Mrs. White, why are you visiting Macopin Middle School? Where did you park your car this morning? What is your favorite food? How many brothers and sisters do you have and what are their names and ages?” The students were smiling and hanging on my every word. They were enjoying the modeled interview and were taking notes. After we were done modeling the interview, the students paired up into groups and began working on their interviews. I believe the modeling of the guided practice was very important because students should always be afforded to opportunity to see examples of what is asked from them. Sometimes it is better to see the examples of past students because it brings the “bar” down to their level as opposed to seeing a printed copy of an unknown author’s work.
While they were working in groups, I walked around listening to their conversations and helped out where needed. They were all allowed to use their dictionaries (although no one did). My critique for this part of her lesson involves getting more out of the students. They were constantly asking for translations and Mrs. Starke would give it to them. I would have made the students use the dictionary or thesaurus in order to help them find new words and expressions. Also, instead of writing their assignment in their journals, they could have used the computer lab to type their questionnaires. Microsoft Word has a built in thesaurus that could have helped them greatly. This would have exposed them to different ways of speaking and writing. I must say that even though Mrs. Starke gave them the translations when needed, she would post them on the board for all to learn from. I thought that was a great idea because sometimes students are shy or embarrassed to ask for help. Before I knew it the class period was coming to an end. Mrs. Starke handed them a sheet of paper and asked them to write one new word they have learned in English from conducting these interviews. Again, I think the exit cards would have assessed their learning in greater detail if they were required to use the dictionary/thesaurus or required to introduce X amount of new words in their interviews. For homework they had to work on the paragraph about their partners. The homework assignment was written on the board for them to copy into their planners. Mrs. Starke signed their planners and collected their “exit cards” as they walked out of class.
Overall, I thought the lesson was very productive. The anticipatory set and the use of scaffolding guided them towards the appropriate questions required to help the students meet the objective of the lesson. The modeled example made sure that the lesson’s objective was met successful and realistically by the students. The expressions on the students’ faces were very telling. They were eager to work on their assignment and they worked enthusiastically from start to finish.
The only other critique I have for this lesson, apart from the one mentioned above is in the review of the anticipatory set where Mrs. Starke wrote about herself. I would have wanted to promote higher level thinking by asking them “what question do you think this answers (pointing at each individual answer). Following their thoughts and ideas, Mrs. Starke could have written the questions on the board. This way the students could not only see the types of questions they could use but they could also see the grammar structure of the sentences. Native speakers usually think in their native language first and then they mentally translate their thoughts into oral or written expressions. Not every word and expression in the Spanish language translates the same in English. Therefore, visual examples of the questions would have been useful. The same could have been done with our modeled interview.
In our discussion before class, Mrs. Starke informed me that these particular ESL students were artistically inclined. Having known this, I would have allowed the students to incorporate art into their work by taking their finished product (the written paragraph describing their partner) and making a magazine type article with some kind of revealing pictures about the newly learned information about their partner. Writing and speaking in a language outside of their comfort zone is intimidating, therefore incorporating something that they are comfortable with might have made this project a lot more productive. For example, if the students knew they were incorporating art into their assignment they might be more inclined to ask their partner more detailed, high level thinking questions that would have given them additional ideas on how to structure their assignment (i.e. what to draw or create for the cover).
I had a great time observing and contributing to the ESL lesson. The students were a pleasure to work with because they were very happy and eager to learn. It does not seem that long ago that I was in their shoes early on in my education. However, I was not as obviously enthusiastic about being in an ESL class as they are. I see these students and they seem comfortable with peers because to some degree they are sharing the same experiences. For me on the other hand, I was in early elementary school and did not like being at what my young mind perceived as a “disadvantage”. A big part of this discomfort came from knowing that I was in an ESL class because I wasn’t doing or saying something right. I was not at the same level as the rest of my peers and I carried that with me for a while throughout elementary school. Therefore, while I know many ESL students feel the same way I felt, I was happy to see students enjoy breaking through the barriers. I have decided to take some time to observe other ESL classes while I am visiting Macopin Middle School

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