NCSU ENGLISH DEPARTMENT
DESCRIPTIVE CLASSROOM OBSERVATION REPORT
Teacher Observed: Glenice Woodard, colleague
Class Observed: English 101
Date of Visit: October 4, 2007
Observer: Domenica Vilhotti
Before her class, Glenice provided me with a thorough lesson plan, detailed with activity descriptions, key points she wanted made, optional time-permitting activities, and a suggested timeline for each lesson portion. During class, she communicated her overall objectives for the day verbally to the class. The focus of that particular class, however, was atypical: the overarching objective was to call students’ attention to the ramifications of their lagging class participation and preparation. According to Glenice, the lack of student morale was beginning to seriously hurt class momentum, instruction, and the quality of student learning.
For instance, the “battle of the sexes” review of a reading assignment, an activity designed to enhance student engagement, relied upon students emailing her quiz questions based on their reading. However, of 22 students, only seven emailed questions, and five of those questions were not about the reading, but rather about requirements for their upcoming essay. As a result, Glenice opted for a Plan B, to verbally ask the seven questions to the class as a whole, abandoning the game format. Although no students were embarrassed or belittled, it was apparent, however, that students were fearful of responding to open-ended questions, particularly if they gave an incorrect response. At the end of class, students had to reflect in a freewrite upon a progress report of their absences, tardies, and class work and homework averages. Wearing a combination of glum, determined, cowed, and aspirant faces, students took to the task somewhat dutifully. Although most students put their best blasé faces on, however, it was clear that they heard the message, loud and clear. It’s important to realize that the students were wielding one of their most potent weapons during a (well-deserved) chastisement: faux boredom. It was impressive that Glenice was not personally affected by the class’ sour looks and instead continued with her dynamic plan for the day. Although this was not an explicitly expressed objective, it was a clever way to have students internalize the goal of that particular class day: to consider the ramifications of their lagging efforts.
Based on the need for this “classroom intervention” day, I was able to infer several areas in Glenice’s classroom that could benefit from some attention. There might be a disconnect in how students are (or are choosing to) taking direction from Glenice. Additionally, there also might be some room for improvement in how explicitly Glenice communicates expectations or directions to her class. Supporting activities could be better implemented to either help students move from points A to B, or on a relational level, to show teacher concern for their progress. Finally, it appears that the overall student-teacher relationship, also known as classroom culture, could stand some gentle tending and slight restructuring.
Possible solutions range from the pragmatic to the philosophical. Training the class to have better habits in terms of checking the online syllabus might be helpful. If the class is in need of resuscitation, temporarily avoiding activities that rely on their input to implement, like the battle of the sexes, might be a good idea. On this particular day, students chose not to hand in quiz questions based on their reading assignments, two selections from W.E.B. Dubois. While the students could certainly have been lazy or passive aggressive, they might also have been avoiding an assignment they struggled to read, did not understand the purpose of, or could not envision the connection to the overall unit goals. Although students were directed to answer reading questions at the end of the text, perhaps an intermediary handout, such as a graphic organizer or other form of focused note taking, such as Cornell notes, could have structured their reading better. A possible cause for students’ barely answering Glenice’s questions is that students were asked rather complex questions verbally, a process that can be difficult to navigate quickly and accurately. Similarly, because the class has reached a certain standstill, there is no incentive to answering correctly at this point other than appearing to play teacher’s pet. Possible solutions to both these issues include grouping and reporting out, having students turn to their partners and responding, allowing students to write the answer before responding, allowing students to view the questions as they are asked them, and “scaffolding” questions downward (“Would you say it’s A or B?”) so students are clearer about what is expected of them. I am not positive how participative the atmosphere is on any given day, but I would be interested in seeing more low-stakes opportunities for active group work in which students are expected to do specific tasks in a set time period. All of the above practices allow for minimal pressure on the individual student, yet maximal opportunities for engagement.
Of primary importance, however, is the issue of classroom culture. It is quite clear that students are frustrated with their own performance, but are not yet mature enough to take such personal responsibility and are instead directing their collective frustration at the instructor. It appears that the students have cast Glenice as a daunting authority figure in a manner that may be retarding their own progress. The primary solution I could offer, interestingly enough, is one Glenice had already taken upon herself in the weeks following this initial observation: the creation of positive personal relationships.
As I wrote and revised this observation report in my cubicle, I was happy to be privy to a host of students who visited Glenice’s neighboring cubicle. Coming for grading conferences, to discuss their upcoming essay, to inquire nervously about their absences, or at Glenice’s specific invitation, these students and Glenice forged genuine connections in ways that sacrificed neither party’s personalities. During one conference, both the student and Glenice bonded so touchingly over their first experiences at receiving disappointing essay grades that I resolved to begin asking students to see me more frequently to check-in. Overall, I have the utmost confidence that Glenice’s students will not only learn to deal with what they initially viewed as her stern classroom demeanor, they will mature greatly as students, writers, and people.