When you observe 41 teachers, you learn a lot. This is what I did during the last 5 weeks. My task was to observe my participants’ microteaching, and give them feedback on what I noticed. The most memorable teaching behavior I observed throughout this experience was the different monitoring styles, notably the “too-close-for-comfort” teacher, and the teacher I like to call “the avoider”.
*Disclaimer: the avoider was a teacher who never gave feedback on his/her students’ performance throughout the lesson.
During our last class together, I thought it would be important for me to help them become aware of how these different monitoring styles might affect their students. With the inspiration of a quick 5-minute, pre-class brainstorm with my colleague, Michael Griffin, I decided to give my participants insight into their monitoring habits, and did a little microteaching of my own; I became the teacher, half of the participants took the role of students, and the other half were observers.
Monitoring Role-play: The Too-close-for-comfort-teacher & The Avoider
I asked my “students” to find as many adjectives as possible in a text. I gave them brief instructions and then immediately went to the front right corner of the class and sat. I sat for about 2 minutes (e.g. the avoider). Then I went outside the class and stayed there for about a minute. When I came back in, I went to each student and monitored in various ways. At one student I got very close and just stared at her work (e.g. too-close-for-comfort). I then went to another student and told him he was a genius for having done the work he did. I ignored one student, and told the other to hurry up. I asked one if he had any questions. He did, and together we cleared up any confusion.
After 10 minutes of this role-play, elicited by what the observers noticed, we reflected on how the students felt. One student remarked that he was glad that I sat down because it gave him the time and space to just do his work. Another felt uncomfortable about me sitting at this time because he had questions about his task. When I asked him why he didn’t raise his hand to ask, he said he felt embarrassed. He thought that since everyone else was doing the activity, he should also know. By asking me a question, he thought he would interrupt me, and also make himself look stupid in front of his peers. When I did come to his desk after about 5 minutes and asked if he had a question, he said he felt relieved. Once I answered his question he said he was happy that I moved away and gave him the space to do his work alone.
When I asked about my “too-close-for-comfort” behavior, one student said that because she was comfortable with me, it didn’t bother her. Another student reflected that my lack of concern for her personal space made her very nervous and she wasn’t able to complete her work.
In the case of “the avoider”, we decided that the students’ response to monitoring, or lack thereof, was connected to context. I had just given them instructions, and my behavior told my students I was unavailable. Because the one student didn’t feel like he was in a safe and familiar classroom environment, he didn’t want to ask his peers what to do, let alone ask the teacher. In this context, he would have needed me to stay in closer. However, he reminded me that when he was clear about how to conduct his task, he was happy that I wasn’t near him. At this time the context was very different.
When it came to the “too-close-for-comfort” monitoring, the students’ reaction depended on their emotional proximity to the teacher. One student felt at ease with me being so close because we had developed this kind of relationship; however, the other felt anxious. Their reactions could depend on a number of factors. It’s possible that the anxious student is unsure about her skills and as result, her affective filter was way up. Perhaps the comfortable student is less concerned about her skills, and maybe she has spent more time getting to know the teacher.
In a recent blog entry, Kevin Giddens asks the question:
When is it ok to just sit down while monitoring during group work?
To this I answer,
It depends on the context, and the emotional proximity between the teacher and the student.
What do you think? Join in the discussion at The DNT Machine, On monitoring during groupwork – When is it ok to just sit down?