I walked into my third German class about ten minutes early and jauntily (dare I say gaily?) said ‘Wie geht es?’ to the half dozen students who were already there. We aren’t a very coherent unit yet, we haven’t really bonded during any of the activities that we’ve done, so the response was desultory for the most part.
Kirsten, my Brazilian work-partner from last week, gave me a big smile, which had Zum Beispiel Pizza written all over it.
Dora the teacher also gave me a bright smile and got up from behind her desk and walked over to me.
“Did you want to give me some feedback?” she asked.
To give her lots of credit on this one, Dora had written in her pre-course notes that she welcomed feedback, either written or spoken. At the end of the previous class, I had waited until all the other students had left and tentatively approached her and asked if I could make a couple of suggestions.
She had responded very positively to this, but the students from her next class were already coming into the room, so I said I would do it when there was more time.
And now she wanted to know, so we walked out of the room and stood in the corridor. Students heading to other language classes jostled past us. It wasn’t an ideal setting for feedback.
Dora looked at me, brightly and expectantly.
I started by truthfully telling her that she had a lovely manner in class and a beautiful accent which I found very easy and pleasant to listen to. She was exactly the right person to be a teacher and I was glad she was MY teacher.
Her response to this was to smile with clear gratitude. My theory that you should always start with the good stuff was very clearly vindicated and the fact is, Dora is a hard-working and dedicated teacher and she deserves lots of encouragement.
“So what am I doing wrong?” she asked, still smiling.
I smiled back, thinking this woman has a great attitude. “Just a couple of technical suggestions, if I may…” I began.
I talked about her habit of going round the circle of students in the order we were sitting to get responses or when she was asking for stuff to be read out. Always from the left, and always in the order that we were sitting. “Better to go left, then right, then middle – keep us on our toes,” I suggested.
I also mentioned the lack of feedback after our pairwork.
“Oh yes!” she said, almost slapping herself on the forehead. “You saw the trouble I was having with the audio. I just panicked!”
She had indeed encountered some problems when she tried to play the recorded material. Her first three efforts to find the exercise she wanted had produced material from other parts of the book. The point was, though, that she dealt with it calmly. There was no sign of panic.
I told her that if this was her panic mode, then she really WAS an excellent teacher. It’s awful when a teacher loses it and starts shouting about the technology in front of the students, partly because the students think it’s somehow their fault.
I was aware that my third suggestion was a bit more complex and would involve her in changing the way she does things quite radically. I’m concerned about her reliance on grammar as the backbone of any lesson. And the fact that she doesn’t give clear models of the new language items.
If we were going to have a grammar-based lesson, I thought she could improve things by giving us some clear models of chunks of language, maybe repeated chorally, for us to remember. I wasn’t sure if I should mention this, especially as we now had one minute before the class was due to start.
Those of you who speak some German will be aware of the gender thing – nouns are masculine, feminine or neuter – der, die, das – and there isn’t a lot of rhyme or reason behind the choice.
Parts of the body are a good example – why is it der Arm but die Hand? Das Bein (leg) but der Fuss? Das Auge (eye), die Nase (nose) and der Mund (mouth) – and die Lippe??
And of course, it gets more complicated with object forms, and variations after prepositions.
This is not Dora’s fault, of course – she can’t be blamed for the origins of her native tongue. All I know is that the prepositional phrases I remember are ones that I have seen in context.
Once when I was in Germany, I walked to the glass door of a restaurant and tried to open it. It was locked and I banged my head on the glass. When my head stopped spinning, I saw a sign – Eingang um die Ecke – entrance round the corner. I have never forgotten it. Context!
I have no idea what clever ideas are promoted by communicatively-minded trainers of teachers of German. I imagine getting students to bang their heads against restaurant doors isn’t part of their methodological suggestions. All I know is that, when it comes to prepositional phrases, talking about mit + Accusativ or auf + Dativ is not going to excite the vast majority of German learners.
But actually the problem I had with Dora was a little different. She had clearly been trained to elicit as much as possible from the students, and I have no argument with that.
Up to a point.
What actually happened when we were doing prepositional phrases was that she would give parts of an example and ask us to complete the phrase.
It went something like this …
Dora: Also, Supermarkt… in…?
Student (quietly and tentatively): dem?
Dora: Ja, richtig.
And we move on. If you didn’t hear what the mumbling student said, you had to ask. And I got a bit fed up of asking. I think most of the others just decided they would look it up later.
So, with only a minute or so more of feedback-time, I kept it simple and said that I thought she should model chunks for us in a situation like that. She nodded. I imagine some teacher trainer’s words echoed in her mind – this is why modelling chunks is a good idea.
It was time for the class to start so we went back into the class together. This seemed to create a bit of a stir amongst some of the students, and there was a bit of whispering behind hands.
Hey, it’s better to be talked about than not talked about. 😛
So – did Dora incorporate my suggestions or not?
I’ll tell you next time!