DipTESOL observed practice – your learners

Your learners. It’s easy to forget them. All the pressure is on delivering great lesson plans and solid lessons. The intensity of this few weeks makes it easy to become a bit bound up in your own thoughts. Will my lessons be alright? Will I pass? Will I get slated during the feedback? How scary will my second observer be compared to the first?

If you are less anxious and self-absorbed than myself, you might already be thinking ‘but it’s not about you, you’re there for somebody else – it’s the students that matter’. This attitude will put you in a better frame of mind for the observed practice. If you care enough about your students then you probably think like this week in, week out in your regular job. Why change?

Actually, it’s a bit of interplay between these two outlooks that might be the best approach. Yes, the learners are at the heart of everything you do. But the more you learn about them, and show how responsive you are to their needs, the more it benefits you with regard to your marks.

To work both angles, show how your knowledge of your learners is developing, and then show how that informs your practice. This starts from day one, when you have a little meet and greet with them.

At my diploma training school we were introduced to the students the day before class. We were given a solid hour to get chatting with them, without knowing exactly which ones we would be teaching. If this is a similar set up on your course, then make the most of it. Get some generic needs-analysis questions into the conversation:

  • Why are you learning English?
  • Do you live here? Are you planning on living here (in the UK)?
  • What do you find hardest about learning English?
  • What type of activities do you like doing in class?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What qualifications do you have? What’s your field?

Etc.

You are going to know these students for a handful of lessons, and by the end of that you need to prove to the external examiner that you’ve learned about them. During our meet and greet we got to speak with groups of 3 or 4 students for about 20 minutes at a time each. After a bit of focus, the conversation descended into chit-chat, which was great for finding out the student’s level of fluency, but also for working out a few other things:

  • Are they shy?
  • Do they focus more on accuracy over fluency when speaking?
  • Do they dominate conversation, or are they a turn-taker?
  • How do they respond to other students?
  • Any obvious pronunciation/grammar problems?

It’s all a bit general, but eventually you start to build up a picture of who your learners are. Once the classes have been decided and you know your learners, you can use all the information gathered to decide on the best, most relevant functional language to teach them over the 5 or so sessions. The topic of ‘recommendations’ and a final task of a tourist information roleplay almost fell into my lap after this introduction, as I knew that half my students worked in, or had studied, tourism.

It’s vital that you use the notes you’ve made about your learners to inform your practice. It is also important that you keep analysing and recording information about your learners. For every lesson, you must write learner profiles. Here’s a snippet of mine from lesson 1:

Alessandro (Italian) – from Sicily, a graphic designer and former art teacher. He has an English speaking girlfriend which is a motivation for his studies. Very high fluency.

Clara (Spanish, Colombian) – Studying for FCE, says level is C1. Wants to practice pronunciation and speaking. Asks lots of questions about metalanguage (e.g. morphology). Wants to be an English teacher

Remember, every class is a learning opportunity for you too. Write down anything you learn about your students, and develop the learner profile each lesson. Anything you learn could be relevant:

Alessandro (Italian) – …picked up intonation for target language well in lesson 1

Clara (Spanish, Colombian) – …one of the stronger students, may not be the best to check instructions with as most likely to understand them

In lesson 2, maybe Alessandro might be a good student to model intonation of the target language from the previous lesson. You can make a note of this on your lesson plan.

By the final observed lesson, you will have a large chunk of information on each student, and you can use this to refer to in the pre-lesson discussion or feedback with the examiner where necessary.

Alessandro (Italian) – from Sicily, a graphic designer and former art teacher. He has an English speaking girlfriend which is a motivation for his studies. Very high fluency. Picked up intonation for TL well in lesson 1. He has a tendency to be over-curious and often asks the same question when presented with a range of similarly acceptable forms – ‘which is more normal?’.  He often continues to talk when the focus is on class feedback. Possibly a ‘field independent’ learner. Alessandro works well with Clara as a pair, they complement each other. He still has problems with the target language, ‘you can’ instead of ‘you could’ and ‘suggest/recommend + me’.

(During my pre-lesson discussion)

Examiner: can you take me through some of your anticipated problems and how you hope to solve them

Me: sure. If you look at the learner profile for Alessandro, you can see that he is still struggling with some of the target language from lesson 3 – ‘suggest me’. I’d be inclined to think this is a fossilised error. This makes it hard to address, but I will use explicit correction whenever needed… etc.

Top tips for learning about the students during observed practice:

  1. Plan basic needs analysis questions for when you first meet the students. It’s not necessary to have complete focus, but get some key facts, especially their motivation for learning English.
  2. Make a note of anything you learn about the students in class. Who works well together? Do any students have particular pronunciation issues? How do students respond to correction? Who is motivated by certain tasks? Who might be a visual learner? Add these to you learner profiles and make this the first thing you place on the next lesson plan.
  3. Talk to other teachers. There are probably one or two other teachers with the same group of learners. Do they have the same impressions about the learners?
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