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My Methodology Course (by Moira)  

2009-06-13 17:31:43|  分类: 谈天说地 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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My Methodology Course:

I was provided by VSO with a methodology handbook, which, in several sections, lays out plans for teaching about communicative methods. These are perceived as being the promotion of active participation in all areas of the English curriculum, so that students don’t just know about the language, but how to use it flexibly and spontaneously in real settings, as opposed to merely in theoretical ones. For my purposes, and with my methodological background, I felt it lacked specific insight about the developmental nature of people’s learning, however, and so have decided not to use it, except to ensure that what I am teaching does cover the requirements set by VSO (whose syllabus was devised for use within China) and the English department here. I want to imply no disrespect to the VSO colleagues who planned the document, as it is intended for those foreign teachers who have not necessarily done much teaching at all in their native countries. However, the lack, as I perceive it, of specific development and consolidation in the learning process, constitutes for me a limit to its educational potential. I did not feel I wanted to go against a lot of what I have learned about the learning process through my educational research over the last ten years.

 

 

Dialectical versus Propositional Knowledge: Some Paradoxes

Before I came to China, I had already decided that action planning would constitute a main dimension of my methodology teaching. I was aware, I hope, of some of the difficulties of introducing such an individualistic process to a system, which is not designed to support this. I had to make sure that any difficulties arising out of the juxtaposition – of culture, authority, power, and responsibility – were shouldered by me, and not by the students. A sticky one, this, as in this culture, I might not get to know about difficulties the students were experiencing. Traditionally, as far as I understand it, students will not easily challenge the perceived authority of a teacher, as you can see from the example of my Grade Two class’s behaviour in the example above.

 

Much of my methodology suggests implicitly or explicitly, two ‘truths’: first, the necessity of concentrating on the learning of individuals, rather than whole groups. This is in direct contradistinction to the Chinese method of instilling group rather than individual norms. Secondly, my view of educational knowledge is very different from the accepted Chinese view, which supports the idea that the teacher is in sole possession of knowledge and it is the student’s job to harness that knowledge, not their own. Knowledge-creation by students is not a concept in China as far as I can make out. But rather like the bee that doesn’t know it’s aerodynamically unsuited to flying, so does it anyway, I think my naivety around these two issues when I arrived may have even been an advantage: I acted as if this were not the case, thus probably using the authority-status which surrounds a teacher, to inculcate its opposite. A fascinating living contradiction!

 

I saw my situation as highly paradoxical when I first came: I was ignorant of Chinese ways, people, customs, preconceptions, habits, politics, social groupings, and hierarchies. I was, however, something of an expert in Western Methodology, particularly as it related to the educational development of myself and my former students. This conundrum makes for a very generative learning process. The dialectical relationship between myself and my context is probably the most extreme that it has ever been. It seems to me to be both helpful and hindering: helpful in that I am in a dynamic learning process myself, which means that I do not approach this particular action planning process in jaded or automatic ways; hindering, in that my understanding of my context and my students is limited. However, I sincerely believe that the way to approach the resolution the living contradictions in which I find myself, is through dialogue with my Chinese colleagues, my students, and with you, the reader of this paper.

 

The theoretical nature of the Methodology course:

The theoretical emphasis of the course was always going to be a problem. Students learn Methodology for a term, and then are required to spend six weeks or so teaching English in a local Middle School. Two weeks would subsequently be spent consolidating the learning. The final examinations happen before teaching practice. This challenge would seriously undermine the notion that learning from experience (Winter 1989) was a valid epistemology. My problem, as I foresaw it, was to make tenable the learning of the students in conditions materially unconducive to that learning. I am fascinated by how aspects of it have appeared to work.

 

The Methodology class has been challenging in both similar and different ways to those I was expecting. In my journal before I started on the first Thursday (I teach Methodology to both Third grade classes, one for two hours in the morning, and the other for the same time in the afternoon), I wrote this:

 

I imagine that opening their minds is going to be the hardest thing, because their methodology is seeped in didacticism and what I am asking them to do is at the end of the spectrum, even in the West, in terms of reflective thinking. I wonder whether it’s too much. And yet it strikes me that an action plan isn’t just a matter of rational planning, a systematic externalisation of ideas, but a focus on the very stuff of life itself – why we do what we do, how we can harness that energy for the good. There is little more intoxicating than the power of doing good for ourselves and others. It is the life force. It is a promise made to our spirit and carried out by its embodiment.

 

During the first lesson with both groups (each with about 33 students) I showed them photographs of my family and invited questions. I asked them about themselves. I worked round gradually, after a few name-games, and activities to break the ice, to asking them what it was they most wanted to improve about their English and understanding of Methodology. They worked in pairs. They talked freely in English, and yet I sensed a huge degree of resistance. Although in my journal I was apparently aware of the potential of an action plan, my first lesson with both groups appears to me now to have been rigid. One of the students, Wang Rongrong (Grade Three, Class One – Zhang Hongmei’s class) summed it up thus in her reflective journal:

 

Moira gives us a very new way of doing things. I am confused. I am not a good student because Moira speaks clearly but I do not understand her.

 

Wang Feng (Class Two) wrote this:

 

I hope we are going to practice methodology in this class. I have many faults to overcome and I want to ask Moira many things, but today there was no chance.

 

In my journal I wrote this:

 

These comments are typical. I knew before I opened their journals that I had made a poor start. If an action plan isn’t just a systematic rationale of reality, and can delve deeply into what motivates us, then that is what I have to do next. Delve into their motives. Get to know them. Ask them questions, invite their questions. Chinese students in my limited experience do not hold grudges at teachers. Many had already told me that they love me and that they are delighted I am here. Their eyes light up when they see me. If only I can make their eyes shine with the promise of being good teachers, to share with them something of what it means to contribute to the world from inside this wonderful, this amazing profession. To help them to see just how fulfilling it is to realise the dreams of others, for they are perhaps the truest dreams of all.

 

I felt very strongly that my biggest task would be, as it always is in teacher-education, to develop critical thinking. Whilst being aware that this would present unique difficulties, I wanted to help the students to learn the value of evaluation as a process, although their society would seem to view it wholly differently. I look back at my career and see that my concentration on standards of judgement, their developmental nature, my desire to emancipate the students I work with by equipping them to understand the value of what they’re doing, and indeed to see and strengthen the educational connections between value and content as they improve the quality of learning – all this has been the impetus of my educational development (Laidlaw, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001 – see http://www.bath.ac.uk/~edsajw under the Values section where all these works can be found).

 

Evaluation as Process: the heart of my educational epistemology

For many years now I have been convinced that my educational processes with the most developmental value are those at the heart of which lies evaluation as a process. When teaching at Oldfield School in Bath, I gave a seminar to my colleagues with this as a title in which I analysed the way I had been working with my Year Nine students in their self-chosen projects after the SATs examinations. It was the first time I had recognised the potential of this way of working. My doctoral thesis established the evolution of my educational standards of judgement as the central characteristics of my educational epistemology, and evaluation as process became its modus operandi. My work in China has benefited more from this way of working than any other aspect of my educational praxis because of the particular nature of the conditions here. Embodying my educational principles has enabled me to point out the necessity of practice to my students, the significance of ‘walking the talk’, the meaningfulness of gaining parameters through dialogue, the imperative nature of recognising the importance of improving one’s own insights and practice. In a culture which reifies the past, and established forms of knowing, the only way to convince students of the educational value of evaluation as process, it seemed to me, was to enable them to experience it for themselves. This has been the main aim of my Methodology course. If there could be no teaching practice before the examinations, and thus their learning would be largely theoretical in structure, I had to enable experiential learning to be at the heart of every action I performed.

 

So, what have I done?

Third year students at Guyuan Teachers College study Chinese and Western teaching methodologies. They have one short teaching practice of six weeks before graduation and after the theory, and their graduating does not depend on the outcome of the practical assessments.

 

I have concentrated on three main areas for discussion in this term’s course: classroom management, lesson-planning and pupil-learning. They seem to be the most significant aspects of pedagogy which the students need to be thinking about before they teach, at least from my experience of research and practice. I will look at each of these three in turn, showing extracts from my students’ journals, field notes from my journal, and colleagues’ comments. I have regularly been visited by colleagues in these lessons. Every week at my two classes, I have at least two visitors. The Vice Dean, Li Ling comes every week, taking notes, discussing with me afterwards, asking questions, and recently, joining in.

 

We started by looking at what, in the students’ opinions, makes a good teacher. Here is a variety of their written responses, which I think will be surprising to western eyes, but not perhaps to my VSO colleagues. I have not corrected any linguistic mistakes, preferring the reader to sense the reality of the writer behind the words:

 

I think a good teacher should have a good character because students always comply with what teachers do and say, so a good teacher teaches students to be good people. Hard work and vision make the best teachers. (Xu Haijuan)

 

We must build up a good character for ourselves, set a good example in all respects. Secondly we must pay attention to those areas we have not covered in ourselves yet. Third, we must do what we promise. (Li Ying Tong)

 

For me being good natured is the most important thing. So I will teach my students to be a good man [sic], a useful man to other people and to the whole society. I will begin my class on time so that the students will do the same. In other words what I require my students to do is what I must do before them. (Zhang Xiaoju)

 

It is not easy to be a good teacher, frankly speaking. I know that quality is the most important thing. It seems that the quality like character to have great knowledge or a role model. (Yang Feng)

 

You must have a high status in your students’ minds, so you must do what you say and expect good behaviour from your students. I must ask them to study and be an honest man [sic]. If I respect them they will respect me so we will have a good relationship. Therefore they must be interested in the class. (Dong Xiaorong)

 

The teacher must not only speak well, she must act well too. She must smile and love her students. She must greet them as people not students. With her heart she must say: ‘hello students, I am pleased to spend time with you today!’ (Zhang Hongmei)

 

First I must communicate well with my students, and know them as people. For example, I must try hard to know what they are thinking. Secondly I must work hard myself and set an example to them. I must try to improve myself as a person for the benefit of my students and for China. (Du Xia Yu)

 

And comments from my journal on receiving these ideas:

 

September, 2001. I feel very close to the ideas being written about for the students’ first piece of reflective pedagogical writing. I am so taken with Zhang Hongmei’s sense of speaking from her heart to people. I am sure that this is what truly communicates. And learning a language is so much more than learning words and idioms and registers. It is about speaking heart to heart, soul to soul, taking in culture with the words we speak. In terms of the patriotic comments, like working for the motherland, I find myself moved by those sentiments. I don’t perceive them as difficult or suspicious in themselves at all. I think that patriotism is often used to exploit the vulnerable, but in itself, I see something noble in it. I guess the flavour of difference I detect between my students’ ideas about being a good teacher and mine, is that my sense of responsibility comes from a lifetime of trying to work out things I have not been told (my present emphasis). I sense that the duty-ethic here is explicitly fostered by those around them, by society at large, by the government. I wonder whether what we are looking for is so very different, though. I may come from a liberal western tradition in which heterogeneity is advocated, and here homogeneity is practised writ-large! But surely there is a similarity between those values which have enabled me to come to a sense of community in action research, and those values here in China which emphasise the wider society. I know that there are times when I feel the similarity, when they are talking about working for the motherland with genuine fervour, and it resonates with me because of the moments I have shared with the action research group in Bath, and in classrooms here, in Britain and in New Zealand: a sense of a nobler purpose than the individual, a sense of working to a common good. Isn’t that why I’m in education? It isn’t just to foster individual growth. Ultimately, it is to foster the growth of the whole human race. Chaim Potok says that ‘we exist by virtue of what we can do for other people’. I am beginning to think he is right.

 

Although there are tensions between Northern and Southern perspectives about the purpose of a single life, I can see huge potential for connections between the senses of community that we can build together, our goals being so similar, it seems, goals to do with the betterment of living conditions, of living together. These appear to be shared goals and I know I must work in China with a sense of what binds us as humans, rather than what divides us. Too much work has already been done in that area! I feel a confluence between my world and theirs in the sense that I perceive in my students a strong understanding of a natural connection between morality and education. I have worked hard over the last ten years in particular to understand more precisely the dialectical relationship between the ethics of my practice and what it is that I do in the name of education. Here I perceive that my students think such a connection to be indivisible, i.e. what is educational must by its very nature be moral. Of course, we may, my Chinese students and I, disagree about what constitutes morality, but we have this ground in common. When I talk about meaning, and significance and purpose, I can begin to make assumptions about their perception of the moral nature of our endeavours. I find this very exciting as a means of communicating with my students in order to enable them to evaluate what it is they are doing. And in Methodology classes in particular, skills of evaluation seem to me to be fundamental in enabling students to learn critical thinking, how to improve their practice, and to be able to qualify for themselves what constitutes good teaching and learning.

 

What else have I done? Classroom Management/Lesson Planning/Evaluating Pupil Learning:

Using Northern techniques of pair and group-work, discussion, debate, reflective-writing, trial and error, I spent the first third of the term acquainting my students with alternative methodologies for use in their future classrooms. I made attempts from the first lesson to acquaint the students with the ways in which I was effecting the methodology, particularly as it related to the areas of classroom management we had been discussing – like the arrangement of furniture, constructing a form to each lesson, setting out aims and objectives. At the end of the first lesson I asked them to evaluate the class. I was unprepared for the lack of sophistication of their responses:

 

‘We worked in pairs today. We talked about classroom management. We wrote some ideas. I answered a question.’ (Mi Zhanhai, Class One)

 

‘We talked about classroom management. It was quite interesting. We looked at different ideas about Classroom Management.’ (Zhang Shujian, Class One)

 

‘First you talked to us about what we were going to do. Then we did it. It took about thirty minutes. You asked us questions and we answered and wrote some notes in our books.’ (Ren Xiaoxia, Class Two)

 

‘I talked to my desk-mate about classroom management. We wrote down some notes. You asked us some questions.’ (Xue Yongshun, Class Two)

 

I wanted to evolve a learning environment in which the ways in which we were studying mirrored what we were looking at. If classroom management is about more than, say, the arrangement of furniture, and reaches into areas of the organisation of learning through dialectical development between groups and individuals, and intra-personally, then I had to find ways of communicating this to my students in ways which made this learning more likely. I realised it was feasible that it was through evaluation as process that this learning would most likely take root, but as you can see, my first attempts were fairly primitive. Not one student had made connections between process and knowledge, which, of course, is central to my methodology.

 

At the end of the next lesson I asked them to look first at what we had done and then how we had done it, in other words in pairs, groups, through dialogue, in open discussion, alone, through writing etc.. They seemed confused:

 

‘We spoke in English.’ (Cao Huixia)

 

‘We discussed lots of ideas, about how to move the furniture but this is difficult in some schools.’ (Du Xiao Yu)

 

For several weeks I pressed on, asking for reflective comments in journals, and having faith in the communicative methods, which VSO had sent me to teach. At some focal point in each lesson I would draw students’ attention to the processes we were undergoing. I would talk with them about the need to look critically at what we were doing, and after each exercise and activity I would ask them what we were doing and how. I think I was trusting in constant dripping wearing away the stone! And at last, in their reflective journals, I began to receive the glimmerings of evaluative insight.

 

For example, Xue Yongshun wrote:

 

I enjoyed today’s lesson because we looked at the ways a teacher can approach same situations in different ways according to what is happening. It was interesting to see the same event in different ways. I have not seen this before like this. I am beginning to understand that methodology is different to the way I thought before. I thought the teacher had to say what happens and the students do it, but it is more than that. It is an art you are teaching us. (My emphasis)

 

This comment typifies the ability of my students at times to take great leaps in imagination and creativity and arrive somewhere wholesome. I have seen it time and time again. Yongshun’s conclusion that methodology is an art is an insight which I knew I could work with in order to help him evolve his own teaching style.

 

Du Xiao Yu and Zhang Hongmei:

At this point, I want to return specifically to Du Xiao Yu’s and Zhang Hongmei’s educational development. For an early homework I had asked the classes to deliberate about some conflicts which can arise in classroom management – i.e. difficult students, apathy, the unexpected in a lesson. We began a writing correspondence in their reflective journals, which is what I had hoped might happen:

 

DXY: What worries me is what you do in a mixed-attainment class. How can I organise the class so that all the students are learning. I really don’t know what to do. Can you help me?

ML: Yes, that’s a difficult one, Du Xiao Yu. In England teachers are always asking this question. Every classroom is a mixed-attainment classroom, however it is organised. You need to think about the most highest and lowest-attaining students in your class and prepare enough work for them as well, so that there is always something for them to do. Perhaps you can always check if there are any extension exercises from the book to help the highest attaining students, and when you walk around the class – remember we talked about that? – you can check how the slower students are getting on.

DXU: Yes, I see. Thank you Moira. This is difficult though, to plan so much. Are we going to look at how to plan lessons?

ML: Yes, that’s the next part of the course after Classroom Management.

 

I am impressed by Du Xiaoyu’s question to me about the course. It is unusual, as far as I can make out, for Chinese students to ask questions of their teachers. For her to state a preference is the beginnings of evaluation, it seems to me. She is beginning to work out what it is she needs in order to improve her understanding.

 

I had also asked the students to write about how they might end a lesson well, for a particular lesson they had in mind, which they would be required to teach on teaching practice. Zhang Hongmei wrote this:

 

ZH: A good lesson is made up of three parts, it seems to me: an attractive beginning, a concentrated process in the middle and an unforgettable ending. In other words, how to end a lesson well is very important both for students and teachers.

In my opinion as a responsible teacher, we must make sure that the students have gained the main points of the lesson. So we have to check up on them. Moira does this with us, but when she started to do this, I didn’t understand what she meant. When she asks, what have you learnt in the lesson? we have to think whether we understand. Our Chinese teachers ask us if we understand. We always say yes even if this is not true. Moira tests us by asking us questions, and getting us to ask her questions. I can see that this is a good way. So in the last part of a lesson, I need to get students to talk to me about what we have done together. A good lesson also ends with what is going to happen next lesson. Moira tells us this all the time and she asks us what questions we have for then, so we can think about it.

Moira I have a question for you. What can you do if a child is bored in your lesson? It must happen sometimes and I don’t know what I would do in this situation. Can you help me?

ML: First I am delighted by the way you are thinking now. You are beginning to evaluate what you are learning and how you are learning it. Well done! Now to boredom! I always think there is a reason for boredom. The child may have things on his/her mind, so s/he can’t concentrate. Perhaps there is a problem at home. Perhaps s/he is not well. Perhaps the child is simply not in the mood for your lesson, although this is no excuse. Perhaps the child doesn’t understand and therefore has stopped listening to you. Maybe the child is not active enough and you should be trying to make sure that s/he is sufficiently stimulated in your lesson. Do you see that you must know a lot about each individual in your class so that you can work out why s/he isn’t paying attention? It is not enough to know that the child isn’t paying attention you must know why. Then you can do something about it?

ZH: Yes, I can see what you’re saying. I watched you this week when [student] was not paying attention at the back. You were not angry with him but you told him quietly not to disrespect the class. You seem to know what is happening in the class when you are writing on the board!

ML: Yes, sometimes, I think it would be a good idea for all teachers to have eyes at the back of their heads!

 

Zhang Hongmei is showing a pleasing degree of sensitivity to the ways in which I am working as she reflects on the way in which she can work. I don’t mean that I want her to follow me, but I do want her and her classmates to be aware of the connections between process and learning. Indeed, it seems to me that this is fundamental to the success of this course, that the students gain an awareness of such a dialectical epistemology.

 

Action Planning: a preliminary stage of ‘Evaluation as Process’.

Reflections in other journals also pointed out to me that perhaps the students were ready to tackle an action planning process. I spent an hour talking with each group, giving them each the five-question format on the blackboard for them to copy into their books:

 

 

What do I want to improve?

What are the reasons for my concern?

How might I improve my practice?

Who can help me and how?

How will I know that my work has improved?

 

It was clear that they were disconcerted at such a process, because it seemed far-removed from their expectations about a Methodology course. It was also firmly expecting them to take responsibility for their own learning, something that Chinese students are not taught individually to do at all. It is no wonder that I found their early attempts very disappointing. It wasn’t simply that I was asking them to do something unfamiliar, I was challenging the sense they had of the connections between teaching and learning. Students would write things like this:

 

I want to improve my English and Methodology because it is important. I will try very hard to do it. My teacher will tell me I have improved.’ (He Xiao Yu, Class One)

 

Despite having told them to pick something manageable, to write in detail, to confer with their learning partner (set up in the first week), such responses were the norm:

 

I want to improve my pronunciation and intonation and my listening skills. I want to improve my methodology. I must read a lot of books to help me. I can listen to tapes and my foreign teachers. (Zhang Xiaoqing, Class Two)

 

There were a very few students who began to grasp the outline of action planning fairly quickly. Du Xiao Yu wrote:

 

I want to become a good example to my students. How can I do this? I think I must insist on studying to improve myself then I can encourage my students to read many books and become a knowledgable person for society. There are many other things because this is not enough.

 

I replied:

 

Please let me now what those things are. We need to talk about this.

 

She didn’t respond to this question, however. My diary from the time reflects my unease:

 

This is so frustrating, and not only their written responses, but the atmosphere in the room. It’s daunting. I can tell that they think I’m talking rubbish. And Li Ling (colleague) asked me at the end of the lesson today: ‘Moira, are they going to talk about methodology in your classes?’ It felt like a slap in the face. It wasn’t of course, but it felt like it. It also felt like pressure, which it probably was. I am confident about the educational value of action planning, but if I can’t help my students to experience its value, then I might as well it up, and that’s like giving up my educational values. I can’t do that so I have to find a way to communicate this. If this is about experiential learning, then I need to find a way into their experience, to join their present, apparently theoretical experience into their teachers. I wonder how they’re feeling at the moment. Wow, that’s it! I need to tap into the energy of their feelings in these lessons. They certainly have them – resentment, I assume at the moment, because they don’t seem to be learning anything. They are but they don’t perceive it. Right.

 

Next lesson I asked them to work together with their desk-mate, their learning partner usually, to discuss what it was that they most feared about their classroom management. It was as if I had burst a dam. These are some of the subsequent written responses I had from them:

 

I am most worried about standing on the platform at the beginning of the lesson. I know that the students will see I am new. I don’t want know to do when I am nervous. I forget everything. I think perhaps if I can practise in Moira’s lesson then I will get some experience. (Ma Zonghong, Class Two)

 

I most fear making a mistake in the class, or I don’t know what the student means. Perhaps he asks a question and I don’t know the answer. What can I do then? I must make sure that I read many books so that I can always answer the questions. (Liu Fang, Class One)

 

To this I wrote:

 

Have you considered saying you don’t know the answer? Do you remember that time Ma Jie asked me a question in the class about grammar and I didn’t know the answer? Was this wrong? I wasn’t bothered at all, Liu Fang. I didn’t mind not knowing, yet I was able to tell her where she might find the answer. I think as long as you are honest and give the student an opportunity to find out what he or she wants to know, then you are still a good teacher. I sometimes think that teachers needing to show their students they always know the right answers has nothing to do with education, but it is to do with confidence and ego. What do you think?

 

She replied:

 

I hadn’t thought about that before, but it’s true. When you didn’t know you make a joke about Chinese students knowing more than you about English grammar. We thought it was funny. We still respected you. I think you are right. But I still need to improve my knowledge.

 

I felt that we had now established a dialogical form of problem solving in the classes, which I emphasised in every feedback in lessons and written comments on their homework. I set them a specific homework from the lesson: ‘What do you most fear about your classroom management skills and why, and how can you begin to resolve this fear?’ Zhang Hongmei wrote this:

 

I fear most about my classroom management skills is that I couldn’t express myself exactly before my students, the reason is not only for my poor vocabulary but also my nervousness, when I am standing in front of the class. I must teach my students in English in the future but if I do not use the correct words and grammer how can the students get the knowledge from such a stupid teacher: ‘I’m a knowledgable person but I can not tell you.’ If I told others like this no one would believe it. We teachers depend on our knowledge and in the ability to teach, in my opinion, the expression is very important. I’m not so confident in myself and I don’t think I am very good at teaching, and nervousness will stop me doing a good job.

How might I solve my fear? First building vocabulary in every minute. Of course that is not enough, because although you have huge quantities of vocabularies, you still can’t speak them properly, so that is not enough. So reading [aloud] is important. Getting up early every morning and reading [aloud] for twenty minutes. I have started to do this now. It helps. I think if I keep doing this I will become more confident too. Secondly I can catch every opportunity to speak English, with my foreign teachers, with classmates, and at English Corner (a monthly public meeting of interested students and colleagues at an open-air venue, in which only English may be spoken – this happens in one form or another at every higher education institution in China). Practice is important. During the time I practise I could improve my oral English and my courage. In English Corner I talked with my classmates and with Middle School students. I know I made a lot of mistakes but I tried my best to say correct sentences. I will continue to do this.

 

Encouraging micro-teaching: a further Stage of ‘Evaluation as Process’

At the end of every lesson I asked the students to discuss with each other, with me, and in their journals what they had experienced in each lessons. I varied the formats so that it would not become a simple routine. I tried to get them to explore beyond the initial surface descriptions of what happened, into how it happened and why, and then how we might improve what we were learning about Classroom Management and, by this time, Lesson Planning. I also had inaugurated opportunities for students to elect to take a twenty minute micro-lesson which they would carry out in front of the class, and then subject to analysis.

 

I asked all the students to make lesson plans (which we had discussed in class in terms of what constitutes ‘good’ lesson planning, with some examples of my own, written by me in detail, and then shown to the students after they had experienced the lessons themselves). Then every week, we would ask two or three students to take a lesson and the students would behave as the designated Middle School students. Of course, this is not an ideal situation, but I felt that some valid learning would come out of it, and enable the students to begin to frame their understanding about evaluation, development, learning and teaching. After each lesson we discussed issues arising, like the teaching of grammar, classroom management, aims and objectives, coherence, educational value and so on. Here are a few of the written evaluations of classmates’ lessons:

 

I enjoyed Ma Ling’s lesson because she made the aims clear on the board first. This lets the students know what the purpose is. She then wrote some new words on the board for the students and then told a story using these words. It was a moral story and one of her aims was to improve the moral of the students. She asked the students two questions and then asked us to discuss the answer. This is a good way to make students active in the class so that we practise. Her time-keeping was good. She let us have the right time to practise. I think she could ask for more feedback. She asked if we understood but she didn’t monitor us. The homework was educational. (Liu Bing Yun, Class One)

 

I didn’t think much of […]’s lesson today. I don’t think he prepared carefully. He kept looking at his book. Perhaps he is nervous. He didn’t give aims for the lesson and at the end he did not set homework. I think his students will not respect him. He must plan carefully so that he can anticipate questions from his students. When Su Juan Guo asked a question he didn’t listen carefully. I think he was nervous. Next time I am sure he is better. (An Zhi Qing, Class One)

 

I now want to come to Du Xiao Yu’s and Zhang Hongmei’s lessons. First Du Xiao Yu. When she took the lesson I was away in Lanzhou at a conference. The previous week, I set up the class, asking two volunteers to facilitate the micro-lessons in each of the two hours. I gave the students a hand-out with the following rationale on it:

 

By leaving you in charge next week, I want to show you that:

l      You are becoming more independent and can take more responsibility for your own learning;

l      I trust you and view you as self-determining adults, doing something important;

l      You can learn independently and use the skills of evaluation which will help you in your future careers;

l      You can organise for yourselves;

l      You can change the ways in which you do things when you co-operate with each other.

 

(The latter point is one that I often stress here, because it taps into the Chinese sense of responsibility for community.)

 

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