Straying into Discovery

“All learning begins with awareness,” said Caleb Gattegno.  How can a professional create awareness for themselves?  How can it be sustained?  After all, the professional’s goal is not only making performance fruitful, but also doing so over time.  Creating awareness for one’s self in thoughtful, conscious ways can lead to enhanced performance, regardless of one’s chosen field. 

Angela Richardson, a current student in SIT’s MA in TESOL, describes the process she recently used with her SIT supervisor, Kevin Giddens, during a period of observation.

- Marshall Brewer, SIT Graduate Admissions Counselor

Angela Richardson

Straying into Discovery

by Angela Richardson

Why are you doing what you’re doing? 

Why is it important? 

What would happen if you didn’t do it? 

What could you do instead?

These were the driving questions posed to me by my SIT supervisor, Kevin Giddens, during our most recent meeting. 

Since Kevin’s visit I’ve been asking myself these questions regularly in my teaching practice and I’ve already noticed a significant improvement in my ability to optimally utilize class time and keep students engaged and on-task throughout the lesson. 

Kevin has recently been embracing the concept of “do-nothing teaching”.

Before his visit, Kevin asked me what was happening in my classroom and what I’d like him to focus on during his observation.  Making optimal use of class time is something I was struggling with and wanted his help with.  On the day of his visit he sat quietly at the back of the class, taking notes.  After class, we went to a restaurant, where he asked me to think about what went well and what didn’t go well.  This was something I already practiced regularly, so I was ready to answer. 

As I talked, he listened intently and asked me the questions above.  Although these were things I’ve thought about on my own, it was quite a different experience to outwardly reflect on my reasoning with another person. I was particularly affected by the question, “What would happen if you didn’t do it or if you did something different?”  Through Kevin’s questions I realized there were a number of things I was doing in class that weren’t really necessary.  I could exclude them, making time for more meaningful tasks!  There it was:  optimal use of class time!  I was grateful for this new awareness.    

Then, Kevin asked me to read his observation notes. Expecting to see comments about my teaching – as I was always given in my CELTA courses – I was surprised that he had written down only what he observed me and my students doing.  At first I was hesitant, because I wanted feedback.  I already knew what had happened in the class, but reading through his notes sparked a good discussion.  It was like having a second pair of completely non-judgmental eyes.   I could use Kevin’s notes to gather data and enhance my reflective observation.  Sometimes it’s difficult to separate the reflective observation stage from the interpretation stage of the experiential learning cycle, but looking solely at the facts of what happened in my classes and talking about why they happened was helpful. 

By the end of our session I appreciated that I had been given the opportunity to talk about my supervisor’s observations, rather than have him dictate the agenda.  Although I had written him a pre-observation plan beforehand, by letting go of the plan and instead exploring the important issues that came up for me the day of my observation, I was able to reach a deeper understanding of myself as a teacher. 

Seeing how helpful Kevin’s “do-nothing teaching” approach was for me has inspired me to attempt it in my own teaching.  Although I don’t usually like straying too far from my lesson plans, I’m starting to observe my students more closely.  I try to identify do-nothing teaching moments and take advantage of them. 

For example, last week my students worked on yes/no questions.  I had planned an activity where they were guided to formulate yes/no questions given the answers, but they weren’t engaging as I had hoped.  One student (out of boredom, I suppose) asked me random questions.  Interested to know about their teacher, other students started asking me questions, too.  Soon enough, the class was engaged in asking me questions, intently trying to figure out who my boyfriend was (he is also a teacher at my school). 

Seeing that they were much more engaged in this interaction, I decided to drop the original activity and allow this one to continue.  I followed this by having pairs of students ask and answer questions about each other.  The activity became much more meaningful and the students were learning and practicing the language structure without even realizing it! It felt great to see the students so engaged in what they were learning, and I’m looking forward to having more experiences like this.

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