Peer observation – Triad (Amanda Carroll/year 10 English)

Standards: 1.5; 2.6; 3.2; 4.5; 6.1; 6.2; 6.3; 6.4

Today I had the opportunity to work with Amanda Carroll’s year 10D English class. They have been thinking about the theme of evil within the Hearts of Darkness unit and have discussed and annotated a selection of poetry on the theme of evil.

Here is my issue with the one-off lessons we (teacher librarians) do for things like this PD requirement or in our general situation:

I haven’t been present during all the thinking and discussion that has taken place prior to this lesson. I would have liked to have been part of that learning process, to develop a rapport with the students, and to learn alongside them.

The one-off lesson is limited; its purpose is didactic – to teach a discrete skill or technique. It is not an integrated kind of teaching. I didn’t know many of the boys so I wasn’t able to address them by name. I could only hope that my one-off lesson works for the short time they have my attention.

It didn’t.

Although I had come in before school to set up the technology so that I could demonstrate things on the screen, the computer was situated on a low table facing the front. As you can imagine, as I’m navigating from tab to tab, opening up links online, I’m seated and with my back to the students. That’s no way to teach. I tried rotating the computer but the wires restricted this, and the table is so low that I can’t stand and use the mouse.

There was no way I could maintain the students’ interest with barely any eye contact and with my focus on the computer. My confidence was affected and I knew I was struggling to keep the boys engaged. Don’t get me wrong – they were great and mostly attentive but I was aware that I was focused more on what I was doing on the computer while swivelling back and forth, than I was on developing the thinking behind the activity.

I knew Amanda was not only concerned with the technology tool, I knew she wanted to unpack the concept of evil, for the students to relate back to poems they had studied (which I hadn’t read), for the search for images, quotes, websites and videos to be following the critical thinking beyond the search term, ‘evil’, to dig deeper and encompass aspects and synonyms they had been thinking about in previous lessons. To be honest I didn’t feel I’d been able to do this part properly because of my technical issues.

I realise now that I should have taken notice of my instincts and not tried to also talk about the new feature for research within Google Docs, to talk also about the search engine, Athenir, which unpacks the search term and gives a visual representation for the different aspects of the term. But when you only have one chance to share things with a class, it’s very difficult not to take the opportunity. And so I also showed students the online resources I had curated for ‘Hearts of Darkness’ in a Pinterest board which was linked from the library website. So that meant that I was trying to tell students about too many things at once. Not telling them would also not work.

If this was my class I wouldn’t have to try to cram too much into one lesson. But for a teacher librarian, who has to fight, cajole, beg teachers that she has something of value to add to the students’ learning, it’s more likely to be a short stint and less than the length of one lesson.

The other issue is that it can only be a didactic lesson which is not the ideal way for learning to occur. It’s frustrating because I’m aware that this kind of lesson doesn’t work very well but I’m often forced to work within these confines. It would be more valuable to work with students individually or in small groups as they learn to research their terms and think about the point of using something like Thinglink than stand at the front (sit at the front with my back to them in my case) and give instructions. I’m aware that this is the lowest form of teaching even when it does work.

So although I’ve been negative so far – and it’s probably because I really want to be successful in enriching the learning that’s already taking place in Amanda’s class (and any others I come into), the students were doing fine with the task. I walked around and saw the range of images they had chosen to pin their links to, and would have like the opportunity to ask them why they had chosen these images. As Amanda kept reminding them, they need to think more specifically about what or who represented evil to ensure that their images were specific to their individual perception.

And now my observation of Amanda’s part in the class:

It was evident  that she knew her class well, and that she was in the middle of a unit of work she had thought about and carefully orchestrated. She was clear in her summary of where the students should have been by that stage, she was clear in her projection of what students were to attain by the end of the lesson and for homework.  Amanda reminded them repeatedly about the thinking behind their search and their selection of image onto which they would pin their chosen images/quotes/videos, etc. She was confident, approachable, helpful and succinct. She checked that her students were keeping up on their screens by asking randomly selected students to read sections out loud.

My observation is short but I would appreciate the opportunity to be in Amanda’s class over a period of time to see how she unpacks units of work, how she engages her students, how she fosters a love for literature and ideas, how she creates a rich learning environment. Today I saw some of this.

My lesson  plan and links are here.

Here is Amanda’s observation of my teaching of her class:

Professional Observation:  Tania Sheko

Date: 8 September 2015

Observer: Amanda Carroll

Class: Year 10D English

Lesson Focus: to use thinglink  to engage students in exploring the significance of a quotation about the nature of evil by enabling effective research methods and the organising of resources in different forms (video, sound, images, text, websites) into a cohesive, interactive thinglink.

Location: T10

Students involved: 26

Professional Focus:

  • to be an integral part of the teaching and learning in the English classroom
  • to enable a means of differentiation through providing opportunities for students think deeply and make connections between their learning.

Tania had organised her work station and presentation prior to this lesson so that there was no time wasted accessing the material for the lesson.  I know, speaking with her afterwards, that she felt that the position of the teacher computer at the front of the classroom facing the board meant that both operating the presentation and addressing the students directly was very difficult and stressful but none of this was apparent in her delivery which was clear and succinct.  Observing the lesson, however, all students were engaged and focussed on the presentation, which include clips and examples of the ways thinglink could be used.  The students were particularly impressed with the cycling example and vocalised their approval.  Tania’s presentation also included Athenir search engine which students could use as an alternative to Google when trying to identify related material on the internet and the Pinterest board that is another way of organising information. 

After initially providing the students with a series of examples, Tania went on to add to a model thinglink – an image to which ‘hotspots’ are added with links to a variety of media – which she had prepared prior to the lesson on the topic of evil.  This demonstrated the stages and steps involved in constructing an interactive thinglink image.  Students had the opportunity to comment and contribute to the demonstration.  They then got to work on their own thinglink which took a quotation about evil then linked it to a range of resources which illuminate the idea in the quotation of their choice.  Students were focussed logging in to thinglink and began to select their images and link their materials.  Student began the construction of their thinglinks with the ultimate aim for them to be uploaded to their blogs.  Tania circulated the room attending to individuals’ needs – assisting them both with the material relevant to the Hearts of Darkness unit and the thinglink user experience.  The class ended with a follow-up session scheduled for the library.


Questions for reflection:

  • How can students’ creativity be supported and encouraged to take them beyond the first results of a google image search (ie plugging in ‘evil’ and then taking the first image that appears)?
  • What kind of support is required from the IT department to enable students to readily access the technology in the classroom environment and how can the technology problems be anticipated/avoided since some of these are particular to individual students?



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