Thursday, 4 October 2012

Watch and Learn: how lecturers can learn from each other

How it came about

I watched a colleague teacher yesterday. We are supposed to peer review our teaching but this wasn’t what I was doing yesterday.  Now that I’m in charge of a programme on which I don’t teach, and a programme on which I do teach has a side totally unknown to me, I thought one of the most efficient ways to find out what goes on would be simply to go and see a class in action.

What I saw

I watched a second year Drama and Creative Writing students in their The Method class. I arrived half way through the session. I found a large group of young people sitting in a circle totally absorbed watching a couple of their peers rehearse a scene. Later another group of three was chosen for another scene. The lecturer prompted them to think of various aspects of their performance. Next came a set of questions related to what had been happening in the class so far. The students were then assigned roles. Some were to rehearse the first scene we had studied. Just two groups will rehearse the scene with three: there are only two males in the class and this scene involves a male character. They had a short time to start on this in class.
They will spend another two weeks on this. Then they will rehearse another scene from another play, finally completing one on which they will be assessed. The class starts with warm-up exercises that are also very educational. They look at various ways of getting into these characters.
Expectations are high. They have quite a bit of homework. Not only must they come to class next week able to put the books down, they must make notes in their journal and they need to produce a one-page autobiography of their character.

The familiar

This lesson was not actually so very different from some of our creative writing ones on character. Before I arrived the class had completed an exercise involving looking in the mirror and trying to make themselves look like the character they were representing. I have been known to do this when working on characters in my fiction. Charles Dickens did it too.

Some observations

I now know a little more about what happens in our Drama classes. But there were some general points to ponder anyway. I saw:
A well-structured course
A firm but relaxed manner with the students
High expectations of student engagement
High expectations of independent and collaborative work by students       
Were there any negatives? I couldn’t see any though no doubt if I’d had a checklist I could have found something.
Could I see any room for improvement? We talked briefly at the end about rehearsal space for the students. As I’m our Technology Enhanced learning champion I did wonder whether we could make use of the electronic journal supplied by Blackboard 9, our Virtual Learning Environment.
What did I see that I could use? The warm-up, the gradually letting go that leads to independence. I guess I do that but not so smoothly.

Some more thoughts about peer reviewing

This visit wasn’t quite about that but it does make some suggestions for peer review. I used to be a Head of Modern Languages in a secondary school. Peer observation was high on the agenda.  It can feel threatening. It is very easy to dwell on the negatives.
Maybe it is less threatening and in fact more useful if we simply ask ourselves these three questions:
What is working really well here?
What else might this teacher do?
Is there anything I can adapt for my classes? 

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