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Analysis of a classroom interaction

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Steve Jones :
(From previous issue)
"This house is called a "Queenslander" - has anyone heard of that before….it has verandahs - and is often raised on stilts to let cool breezes in to the house" It was encouraging to note that many students appeared relaxed and motivated in the classroom environment. Taylor makes the point in much of his work on the subject, that active participation from students in the classroom is integral to a successful learning experience for many language students. He states that "activities undertaken in an atmosphere conducive to active participation…can be intrinsically motivating and can engage learners directly. (Taylor 1982:49) This activity drew on students prior knowledge, looked to identify concepts and skills the students both had and did not have, and aimed to introduce some new concepts, vocabulary in context and cultural meanings. This particular classroom interaction saw the teacher take on a clear and planned role in the first stages of the lesson - she set up the activities without making herself too 'prominent' in the classroom, and then became more of a 'facilitator' in the later stages of the lesson when students were working more independently. This lesson highlighted the teachers' flexibility in taking on different roles to suit different activities and student needs in the classroom. Evidence of the teacher as a facilitator exists as discussed briefly above, however, the teacher also took on the role of 'prompter' and 'participant' - for example when role-playing as a tradesman with students reporting problems in the home.
"Hello, what seems to be the problem with your sink?"
"Did some food get blocked in the pipe?"
"The paint is peeling on your walls - do you want me to fix that?"
The role of the teacher in the interaction is flexible and 'in tune' with student needs and learning styles. The role of the teacher is both facilitative and controlling - and this lesson highlights the importance of flexibility and adaptability in the classroom. As Harmer states, 'good teachers must be prepared to adapt and alter their plans…  and (act not only as a controller) but in the role of prompter and participant also. (Harmer 1991: 239-241)
Material used in the interaction:
It was interesting to note that the teacher in question used a variety of different materials and resources in the lesson. A course book was utilized during part of the lesson, as well as supplementary materials such as magazines, handouts/worksheets, and flash-cards.
The lesson made some use of the 'set' textbook, 'Reward Intermediate' (Reward 2003) which appeared to be used rather more as a helpful aid and facilitator of language learning rather than as the major teaching tool in the program. The materials in the set textbook appear to be reasonably flexible and offer a balance of activities and experiences for the language learner. The textbook provides meaningful and realistic learning tasks but did need to be used selectively throughout the lesson. Students responded positively to the combination of using the textbook in conjunction with flash-cards, magazines, pictures and so on. Using a variety of materials is advised by the majority of English language teaching experts - it helps individual students to understand and develop their own specific language skills and learning styles.
Materials used in the interaction can be classed as both 'controlled, non-authentic' texts and resources and authentic 'real' texts. Using actual pictures of houses from the "Gold Coast Bulletin" was just one example of allowing students to experience authentic materials in the classroom.  The students are given a variety of 'roughly-tuned' as well as completely authentic materials such as pictures of houses, yellow pages advertisements for handymen and teacher role-play participation in class throughout the lesson. A selection of reading material, listening tasks, pictorial stimuli, and question and comprehension sheets as well as the course book were used effectively in the lesson.
Material appeared to be culturally sensitive, clearly structured and user-friendly which are all important considerations in the ESL classroom. The course book has a clear and uncluttered layout and presentation and appears to present a 'balanced' insight into English language and society. McDonough and Shaw highlight the need for materials to be balanced, usable, flexible and engaging for both students and teachers in order to be effective in the language classroom. (McDonough & Shaw 2003: 65-66) The visual material used in the interaction was engaging and interesting for the students; it sparked debate and communication amongst the students in the classroom. This was pleasing to note because again, it catered to different learning styles and attitudes - some students who apparently disliked reading and comprehension exercises thoroughly enjoyed looking at the pictures of houses, speaking about why they liked them and so on. The material in the interaction catered to learners who perhaps felt more comfortable in the spoken language situation as well as those students who preferred using written material and tasks.
After an analysis and observation of an ESL language classroom it has become clear that several language learning principles are involved in the lesson and overall program. The lesson embraced the idea of teaching as a learner-centred, humanistic activity - students are seen as social beings that need to learn in a realistic and communicative environment.
A balanced-activities approach underlies much of the lesson interaction and was followed by the teacher. The teacher made use of a selection of materials, teaching methods and strategies throughout the lesson in an attempt to provide a variety of learning experiences. The lesson and materials utilized ideas and concepts from a diverse range of language learning principles including the lexical approach, cognitive and communicative theories, affective and humanistic principles of language learning. A number of presumed principles of language learning and acquisition were also noted in the interaction and included the reading approach, communicative and cognitive principles, concepts of fossilization and natural order, and modality. A teacher is influenced by a great variety of language learning principles and theories, as   well as their own particular beliefs, values, style and perceptions. The classroom interaction witnessed highlighted the diverse range of learning principles which are often presumed or followed by teachers in the classroom - and in turn influence the learning environment and experience of the language learner.

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