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Classroom observation paper


Author: Gbor Szekeres
Programme: MA in TEFL
Academic year: 2014-2015 Autumn
Course: Classroom techniques

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Focuses and aims:
In the past few decades an increasing interest has been paid to language learning motivation in
the field of language teaching. Motivation has been recognized as one of the key factors to
active and productive classroom work and successful language learning altogether. In this
paper I am going to analyze an EFL lesson critically to highlight how motivation works in an
L2 classroom and what can and what should teachers do to get their students to do their best.
My observation paper has numerous focal points (classroom atmosphere, teacher personality,
behavior, rapport with the students, motivation and attitudes in general, etc.), because as it is
going to become apparent, all these points have a role to play in increasing student
motivation.

Literature review:
The primary theoretical base of my classroom observation paper is Zoltn Drnyeis Teaching
and Researching Motivation, which summarises recent mainstream ideas about motivation
research in general and how the results of these researches can be implemented in L2
classrooms.
According to Drnyei: the most educational researchers can do at present is to raise
teachers motivational awareness. What he means by this is that many findings of
motivational research is too vague, situational or generalized and it is questionable whether
these findings can be translated into educational recommendations or not. Most teachers have
to come up with their own strategies to affect language learner motivation based on the
language learning situation and the individual differences of the learners themselves. The
problem is that there are teachers who have not yet realized or considered that their teaching
could be made much more effective if they started consciously working on their students
motivation. This is what Drnyei means by teachers motivational awareness.

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Drnyei also quotes Stipek (1996:85) about the importance of classroom-specific
motives, which means that although every student varies in terms of motivation, the
immediate learning environment, that is class atmosphere, the teacher, the teaching
methodology strongly affects this motivational baggage.
In Teaching and Researching Motivation there are four educationally motivated
motivational constructs presented. These psychological models are not going to be described
in detail in this paper, for further reference see Chapter 4 in Drnyeis book. It should be
mentioned though that these psychological constructs can (and should) be seen as
organizational frameworks designed to help to get oriented among the plethora of of
motivational influences relevant in the language classroom. They can make teachers think
about the importance of motivation in L2 learning, which is the first step towards
incorporating these ideas into their teaching principles and afterwards techniques and
strategies may be designed which may help them in their professional work.
During my classroom observation it was apparent to me that teacher whose lesson I
visited had a deep understanding about her students motivations towards learning English in
general. She was able to address most students on the micro level (Crooks and Schmidt
Theory, Drnyei 2001), that is could keep the students focused on English language learning.
Meanwhile, as it became clear after exchanging a few words with her before and after the
lesson, she also kept in mind the long-term goals presented by the curriculum which basically
was analogous with the needs of her students. This goal is a successful school leaving exam.
I have also relied on Diane Larsen-Freemans Techniques and Principles in Language
Teaching so as to be able to identify the methodology (the direct method) the teacher adhered
to during class.

The context of the research:

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The observation was conducted in Mihly Babits Gyakorl Iskola s Szki in Pcs, in
November 28. 2014. The lesson was 45 minutes long and there were 10 students in class
altogether (one of which arrived later). Although all of them were 12 th graders, the groupd was
mixed, students came from two different classes. The situation was unique too, as students
from one of the constituent classes were supposed to be out of town on a school excursion. It
should be noted though that some of them skipped the excursion in favor of the English
lesson.
At the time of the observation the students and the teacher have already had four
lessons that they. Fatigue was ought to have its mark on everybody, but still students remained
attentive.

Research questions:
1. How did the teacher behave and what kinds of strategies did she employ to affect her
students language learning motivation?
2. How did the students respond to classroom-specific motives?

Data collection:
Data was collected via focused classroom observation conducted in a Hungarian secondary
grammar school. It should be noted that the school (Babits) is prestigious has close ties with
the University of Pcs. Teachers in training often do their practice there, in-service teachers
and students are accustomed to being observed. Other than me, there was only one other
teacher in training who observed this very same class. Our presence there did not have a
strong effect on the normal course of the lesson.
The lesson started at 11:50 and lasted 45 minutes on Friday. The students were all
tired. 10 students were observed (5 females, 5 males) and all of them were 12th graders.

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Before the lesson I had the chance to speak a few words with the teacher. From
previous contact I knew that she has more than 15 years of professional experience. She told
me that the group is not one of her most highly motivated groups and that their main goal is to
prepare for the school-leaving exam in English language. She also told me that curriculum is
based on their coursebook.

Procedures:
The observed English lesson is going to be analyzed in a linear order, based on the notes I
took during my observation. A high emphasis is given to student-teacher interaction,
classroom atmosphere, observed student motivation and other factors I deem relevant to the
aim of the research paper.
I am going to progress task by task through the lesson and I am going to make
comments and references based on the primary theoretical resource of this paper, Teaching
and Researching Motivation.

Results:
The language of the lesson was English from the first moment on. The teacher rarely reverted
back to Hungarian, only to quickly give the Hungarian equivalent for some advanced pieces
of vocabulary (e.g. adjacent, vicinity) and only if no one could deduce the meaning of these
words from context. The teacher also tried to teach advanced vocabulary via examples with
synonyms and antonyms of the given word and most of the time she succeeded in doing so,
Hungarian was only used as a last resort.
It is important to use English during the lesson and to make the students use it too,
because it reinforces their belief in the teachers command of the language and makes them
trust that the teacher is indeed somebody they can learn it from. Also their belief in their own

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abilities is reinforced if they can witness the extent of their command over the language
throughout the lesson.
The students also used English predominantly, they rarely needed to be reminded that
they should be using the target language. The teaching method was mainly frontal so the
teacher immediately became aware of any non-English speech in class.
At the very beginning of the lesson students were told to sit apart from each other.
Personally I found this surprising at first, but it turned out to be a good move as it kept
students away from off-topic conversation. All attention was given to learning and also,
surprisingly none of the students objected to the teachers command. Disciplining was rarely
an issue later on. The teacher was very well-established, she had a set of sophisticated,
working strategies to keep her students from misbehaving. E.g. she would stop talking when
she heard that someone was talking when he was not supposed to, and she would stare at him
for a few seconds silently. This usually worked, although at about 10 minutes into the lesson
she had to scold one of her students: Balzs, you are being impolite and I hate it.
Generally classroom atmosphere was relaxed and non-threatening. The teacher dealt
with arising problematic situations diplomatically, she was open-minded and kind, which
made the students reciprocate her attitude towards the learning situation. They did their best to
pay attention and some of them were quite actively participating in teacher-student
discussions even though they were tired.
According to Drnyei, motivational strategies cannot be employed in a motivational
vacuum, there are some conditions that need to be present, basic motivational conditions
have to be created. These conditions are:

1) appropriate teacher behaviors and a good relationship with students


2) a pleasant and supporting classroom atmosphere

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3) a cohesive learner group with appropriate group norms (Drnyei 2001)

In this case, all these conditions could be observed, the group could work well and effectively,
there was not any time wasted.
This claim is well exemplified by a problematic situation which occurred about at 10
minutes into the lesson. A student arrived late to class, while the group was checking
homework. The teacher immediately realized that he looked obviously distracted and
fatigued. She decided to let the student join in without a bad word or punishment. She only
engaged the student in a quick conversation in English to set him in the mood and to enquire
about his howabouts, but then she resumed work with the group and she let the latecomer sit
down where he wanted to sit.
This attention to details and ease of problemsolving tells a lot about how wellestablished the group is and how well the teacher knows her students and how to deal with
them. The validity of this example is going to be further strengthened later on in connection
with the very same student.
At about halfway into the lesson, during a speaking activity the teacher was asking
some students about the problems they have encountered at their homes and how they
repaired these problems. After a while she tried questioning the student who came late, but the
student did not understand the questions. The teacher tried rephrasing the questions and
explaining the context in case the student was not paying attention, but it did not help either.
He was obviously very tired and he lacked focus. Maybe this would have discouraged some
teachers, but in this case the teacher was obstinate and without hesitation she asked the
student for the reason of his tiredness. She did not give up and she was able to get an
explanation in English: the student was practicing making cocktails for a job as a mixer. The
explanation was quite lengthy, complex and entertaining at the same time. The student

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produced a few target language sentences for practice and the group got a short break away
from the main topic of the lesson while still practicing their listening skill. There teacher did
not make a fuss about the students inability to answer the first questions, there was no anger
or tension and the problem was solved productively. The teacher could have chosen to scold
or punish the student, but she did not do so, because the motivational potential of praise and
encouragement is much more effective in teaching. Also, one of the key issues of quality
learning experience is the students social image. According to Drnyei (2001): Maintaining
face is a central concern for most school children. Students should not be belittled or
humiliated in front of their peers, because it reduces their enthusiasm towards the learning
situation itself.
Another interesting aspect of the observed lesson was the teachers use of praise and
rewards. It seemed natural that the teacher thanked students for their contributions during
speaking activities, which must have boosted their motivation towards productivity, because
the teacher made them feel that their answers were appreciated. Also, it seemed that the
teacher had a well-established system of rewards.
The teacher offered a + mark twice during the lesson. The first time was before the
students started a gap-filling exercise in their coursebooks. The student who was able to solve
the exercise without mistakes was promised to get the + mark. Unfortunately I was not able
to observe the motivational force behind the teachers rewards, because she forgot about it
and the lesson went on. It was not clear whether any of the students had any mistakes, because
there was no feedback after they had finished checking the exercise. I asked the teacher about
this after the lesson had ended and she told me that she was certain that the students would
remind her about the promised reward if any of them had earned it, because they usually do
so. She told me that they do not forget about rewards, because they consider it valuable and
important thing.

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Conclusions:
Generally the teacher was successful at keeping the students focused on English learning
during the lesson. This was reinforced by her positive and reassuring attitude towards her
students and the learning situation. The group was able to go on with the planned learning
material, because there was not much need for disciplining and the circumstances were ideal
for work.
The way the teacher dealt with emerging problems was effective too. She was able to
make the students speak English even if the students were unwilling, or too tired to do so. She
was able to keep the group productive with successfully employed motivational strategies and
with the help of well-established group dynamics.
With more attention towards the rewards the teacher promised, she could have boosted
student motivation more successfully. Also, although the teacher could make anybody speak
during the lesson, due to the frontal nature of her teaching many students did not get enough
chance to produce English. With more varied tasks and groupwork activities the amount of
student speaking time would have multiplied, but it was not sure that the students would have
remained focused on task without the teachers constant supervision.

References:
Drnyei, Z. (2001): Teaching and researching motivation. Harlow: Pearson Education
Limited.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (1986): Techniques and principles in language teaching. Oxford
University Press.