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Hera's teaching portfolio 2005

Learning Through Observation
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*This a a reflection where I become aware of my teachings through a videotaped self observation of one of the first Spanish classes I taught in the University of Massachusetts.

"Friday, the day where I like to have my students relax a bit more. We watched a 'Fotonovela' briefly, went over some of the important expressions presented there, did some pronunciation exercises and I gave them an interesting homework assignment! I knew when I did my self observation I wanted to use the Reasoning in Action book by Karen Johnson, to pull apart some of my teaching tactics, and see why I do what I do, and maybe what triggered it. I knew by watching the videotape I would be able to see what I do from another point of view, and analyze it. I just didnt know which day I would be able to use my friends video camera!

As I said, it fell on a Friday, the day where I like to have them relax a bit. I start off the class by talking to them. Only one problem...I talk with them in ENGLISH! I cant help it, I LOVE these kids and I want to hear about everything and tell them everything, and they just dont do it in Spanish and I think they feel like they cant. This is my fault, its in my personality to be very talkative and friendly, and this is how I started out in the beginning of the year. They got to know me, and I got to know them very well through our stories and our recaps of our weekends. The one thing I can say is that I know we all enjoy coming to my class and I think it motivates them to learn. My students do a lot of studying on their own. There isnt a night where I dont assign them homework, and we all know its for their benefit, so they do it!

Well, I did this observation in the beginning of October, which has turned out to everyones advantage because I have changed the style of my class after watching the video. Its not that I feel I am doing a bad job, but I found out where I could improve. After I changed the style of my class a bit, I would have to say Ive seen major differences in their work as well. They are definitely learning, and using Spanish more and more when they speak to me. Part of it is in turn because I started speaking to them in Spanish more and telling them 'how much I love it when they speak Spanish to me'. Im telling you, if I didnt have their respect, I dont know how this class would go. I see them doing things to make me happy, to make me laugh, and I think its because that is how I try and go about teaching that class. Anything I can do to make their lives easier, less stressful, funnier...I will do it! We laugh in my class more than anything and I think thats why they come, thats why they are learning, and thats why they are trying.

So, to continue with my Friday, I mentioned we watched the Fotonovela. We think they are so cheesy, but we know how important they are to hear how actual SPanish conversations go. Right before the Fotonovela, I have them open their books and we read together the useful expressions they use in the video. Here, I do however, instruct them in Spanish. Opening our books, page numbers, where to look on the page, these are all phrases they are familiar with. I call on students to read each expression, and then explain how they could use each phrase in their daily lives, so we change some of the expressions to fit their personal experiences, and I make them say the phrases. We go over which classes they take, things they like and dislike, and expressing location. As I watched myself on video, I can see how much time I spent relating the things we were learning to their lives. This I did for their motivational level and they responded extremely well. I saw myself looking at each of their faces, calling on them and asking them to give me examples. I also saw myself looking at the clock every once in awhile, I think because I was trying to be conscious of the time only because we still had to watch the Fotonovela and practice pronunciation.

We spent a good twenty minutes on these expressions and the Fotonovela. Whenever an expression we just learned was used in the Fotonovela I stood next to the TV and pointed to my ear and nodded, trying to reinforce what we just learned, allowing them to hear it in actual conversation. I have them follow along with the dialogue in their books because I think it helps them to hear it and see it. After Fotonovela is over, I always have them pick out the familiar phrases they heard. this time I had them pick out phrases they heard where someone talks about likes and dislikes, and phrases they heard where someone talked about their classes. I think this motivates them because it allows them to get motivated about getting a correct answer. They all look very hurriedly in their books and shout out the answers one by one. I repeat their answers and give positive feedback: 'Good', 'Gracias', 'Muy bien'...

Next I tell them that in a few weeks we will have 'examenes orales' and I explain to them what they are. So we do a few pronunciation exercises with vowels, and I give them little tricks to work on their pronunciation. Here, I had to use the book to explain to them what was happening on a certain page. I break down the pronunciation for them, and show them what their mouths should do with each vowel. They laugh as I make silly faces, and make them imitate me. Then I recite the vowel a few times and have them repeat after me. This also turned into a laughing matter. I mean, think about it, imagine reciting the vowels and then having a whole bunch of people screaming ooooos and aaaaas and uuuuuuus. We laughed, but overall I think they got the idea of how each vowel sounds, and probably wont forget them now. I told them to go home and practice and gave them a corresponding Lab Manual to hear the vowels as they practice them. I told them I was thinking about having a surprise pronunciation quiz the following week, maybe 'miercoles', and I think I just did that to make sure they go home and study it, because I never gave them the quiz!

Time was almost up for our short, fifty minute class, and I told them one last thing, theyre homework. They had to practice the pronunciation of the vowels and study the upcoming pages, which was the conjugation of -ar verbs, and come in and teach it to the class! I said I would call on the person who least expected it, so they all better know it well! I thought it was decent homework for a weekend. All they had to do was review some stuff...not hard at all. I like to shock them every once in awhile with different things and I think telling them that they would possibly be the teacher for the next class, definitely surprised them! Class was over and I wished them all a good weekend in Spanish and English and they left.

After watching myself on video tape, I saw all of my attempts to keep the class interesting, to relate it to their lives, to make them laugh. I saw how Im always making jokes and laughing myself. Its something I never knew I did so much. But I can also see when someone asked me a question, how serious my face got, and how hard I really tried to explain it, and get them to understand it. I always doubled checked after each explanation whether I did a good job or not by flat out saying 'good?' and moving on when they told me 'yes'. I also saw my tendency to sometimes spend too much time on certain areas and expand on it a bit too much. Im still working on that, but I always say to myself, that the class is not a strict set time where we have to get this, this, this, and this accomplished. I remember the readings we did where they say a teacher should be flexible and go according to the needs of their class and I do feel like I do that. I may have to get a little bit stricter on the time I allow for it though.

Overall, Im really glad I got to do this observation. Since then I have made some changes in my class, and little by little, they use more and more Spanish with me. It has given me a chance to improve on my class, and be able to start fresh next semester, after learning from my mistakes with this class! I can see how with time and experience, one gets better and better at teaching. One thing I have decided, after doing this observation and seeing the changes in the following weeks, is that next semester Im going to make my students come in for a mandatory appointment with me in my office hours a part of their participation or quiz grade. I think I need some individual time with each student to assess their learning and see specifically where they are at, and so they a get a little more individual time. Looking at my video, I see how hard it really is to get to everyone, and how time consuming it is for just a fifty minute class. So I think that would help a bit in all of our efforts to improve. This self observation was probably one of the most valuable things I could have done for my teaching and understanding why I do what I do and how I can improve on it."

October, 2003

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