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Friday, June 1, 2012

Observing a Freshman English Class

Angie Chang

I used to think that the factors that make a class work were the teacher, the materials used in class, and the way the teachers uses those materials.  When my friend and I visited two Level 4 Freshman English classes, we changed our thinking.  The students also contribute a lot to how well a class succeeds.   

We went to two classes, and although they both were Level 4 classes, they were almost totally different from each other. After our visit to the first class, the teacher told us that, in the second class, most of the students sit in the back of the classroom.  He felt that because they are so far away, they did not feel like contributing to the class. I had the idea that if students sat in the front of the classroom, they might be willing to contribute more. Thus, my friend and I decided to do a little experiment; we sat in the front of the classroom, and watched to see if the students would move to the front of the class with us and be more involved in the class. However, where we sat did not affect the class at all.

We think that the experiment failed because there were already many small groups in the class. The students were more affected by the other students in their groups, their closer friends, than by the students in the rest of the class.  Also, the experiment did not last a long time; we were there for only one day. We believe that if the teacher asks the “leaders” of these groups to sit in the front of the classroom, it may encourage other students to follow.

The classes were different in other ways, too. The first class we visited was active, and the second class was passive. We noticed that the teacher responded differently to each class. In the first class, the teacher taught by lecture. The teacher explained the text and the structure of a story for the students. However, during the lecture, the students were distracted and paid little attention. Before the end of the period, the teacher gave the students a small group activity. The teacher read one paragraph from an article and, after he had finished, asked the students to rewrite the paragraph from memory. The students actively participated in this project. The teacher used this game to test their grammar and vocabulary, and to see how well the students learned the lesson.

The teacher had the different way to teach the second class. In this class there was more interaction between the teacher and the students. The teacher gave the students some vocabulary and asked them to make sentences. The students who were asked to make sentences were forced to be involved in the class. This class also did the same small group activity as the first class. The students in the second class also actively participated in this task.  

The teacher taught the first class by lecture, which allowed the more active students to be distracted. The teacher taught the second class only through activities, and the entire class participated.  The second class had a more passive “personality,” so the teacher used interactive activities rather than just giving a lecture. These activities helped the students concentrated on the class. During these learning activities, we found that the number of students involved in the class was about the same in the two classes.

From our small experiments and observations, we learned that different types of students will influence both the type and difficulty of the teaching material a teacher uses and how the teacher uses that material in the classroom. There is no good class or bad class; there is no good teaching style or bad teaching style. Even the teaching material cannot be judged good or bad.  How all three – the teacher, the learning material, and the students – interact in the classroom is the most important thing.

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