Later we arrived at an evening class touted as ‘globalization.’ We were curious as to how the new teacher would run this class and we saw it as a golden opportunity for feedback with our bright young teacher trainee. There had been talk of me training the new teacher as well, but the training process for a new teacher is very intensive; especially when the teacher comes from a background of bad teaching and learning, that I cannot take on a new pupil at this time. As we watched gleefully we wrote many notes. It was a classic lesson which would be classed as good by many untrained eyes, and even actually many professional teachers. However, once the surface is scratched, there were many typical mistakes strewn throughout the 45 minutes. I was eager to get to the feedback and see how much of the teacher training had been absorbed and how many of the classic errors would be spotted by my teacher trainee. I was practically skipping home when both I and the trainee were clothes-lined by a fallen electricity wire. It only grazed my nose fortunately, but caught my poor trainee across the neck. This accident elicited the telling of a very sad tale of a local child who had died from electrocution when he tried to retrieve a fallen wire from the river.
During feedback (for which the new teacher was not present), we stated how there wasn't an engage section in the lesson. There had been something of a warm-up which involved the students sitting and standing to answer various questions about their families. The critique that my student had was that this was not related in any way to the rest of the lesson. I had to agree, and although I felt that the activity had merit and could be used in a positive way, the lack of tied-in topics made it a waste.
I felt over the moon when my trainee started his next sentence with ‘Before I met you, I would have said it was a really good lesson.’ That is what I have been working for. Many of my recent entries have been on the pessimistic side, and I will readily admit that I find it hard to stay upbeat in the face of so many bad lessons. I know that my students also feel bad and like they are letting down the side and the overall atmosphere becomes one of depressed pessimism. However, when I heard that beautiful sentence uttered I felt a sense of relief that the hours of hard work were paying off. Eager to understand why my student had had a change of heart and desperate to see why he would no longer consider the lesson good, I gently concept checked. I did not want to ask leading questions and I certainly did not want to give the answer to my student. The more he discovered for himself, the better I have done my job.
The main problem with the new teacher’s lesson was a distinct lack of concept checking; he asked “did you understand?” and “can you explain?” to the poor volunteer teachers, who could not explain in English words even if they did happen to understand the somewhat haphazardly chosen topic words. There was no discernible link to globalization in the class despite the billing. A few of the students gallantly volunteered explanations to the vocab words. This is where concept checking comes in. It is hard. It is not natural. But it is necessary in an ESL classroom. Often the student will understand a concept, but simply does not have the words to explain it. Teachers mistakenly assume that they can bark a definition at the bewildered student who in turn can parrot back that sentence to them. They can’t. Ever. The human brain is not designed to withstand that amount of pressure and memory retention is not that fast-paced. By thinking about what properties are unique about the object in question, the teacher must design simple questions that have a closed answer for the student to demonstrate their knowledge.
We discussed the lesson for an hour and a half before breaking to plan the grade 8 lesson for the following day. As I set my alarm for 12 midnight I had a fleeting thought of how unhinged this must seem to the locals before lying my weary head down for a brief nap.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer