Meta-Meta-Talk

Since today was day 3 of the two-week practicum, I finally had the wits to focus on a specific topic during my observations: the teacher’s use of language in a classroom. In fact, as I type I’m slowly beginning to form an inquiry question in my head.

Photo credit to the Bureau Labour of Statistics

Before we even think about inquiry though, let’s just talk about teacher-talk. We’re gonna meta-talk. And since we’re talking about how we’re gonna meta-talk, maybe you could call this meta-meta-talk. Deep stuff, right here.

What exactly do I want to observe today? I asked myself. Let’s look at the kind of language the teacher uses, my pen replied. My topic was set for the day and my teacher (my business SA) would be my subject of observation for the whole day. “All right, students, settle down.” drawled my SA. He has a deep, calming voice and an easygoing manner of speech. “Grade 8’s, I need you to pay attention. Before we begin, I have a special guest I’d like to introduce to you. This is Ms. Lai, and she’ll be working with myself and [another SA] for a little while. I’d like you all to be as welcoming as you can be.” The first thing I noticed, because this wasn’t the first time I had heard my SA refer to the class, was that he rarely referred to the class by anything other than “students” or by their grade number. Personally I don’t mind if someone refers to a group I’m in as “hey guys” but gender-inclusive language is something we’ve discussed plenty in university and teacher education, so I did pick up on his choice of words quite readily. Throughout the class my SA interacts quite freely with his students as he gives a short lecture, walks around, checks on students’ progress (this particular course is project-based) and keeps students on task. Watching him joke with students or scold them lightly is interesting too: he never resorts to harsh words, nor does he ever attempt to embarrass students in front of their peers.

Photo credit to Sherif Salama @ Flickr via Creative Commons

The best examples of his patience through words came at the last block of the day: I was tired (this teaching thing is exhausting, and I haven’t even really started teaching, haha) and the students were evidently more restless. Several students fidgeted in class or played with their phones repeatedly and for a while my SA gave out verbal reprimands only. In the case where students were fidgeting, he gave direct commands without raising his voice. “Put the poster down.” “Let go of the door.” “Please stop.” Despite some students being disruptive repeatedly m SA gave very explicit instructions and didn’t waste time on shaming students. In the case of repeat phone offenders (students who had played with their phones in previous classes) my SA would give one verbal warning before taking away their phone, and he made this expectation very clear at the beginning of the class. His verbal warning consisted of a look and the student’s name. His tone was barely raised but you could hear the warning in it. You know what I mean: the slight extension of the vowel, the telltale dip of the voice. The students that had their phones taken away were given longer verbal warnings about what would happen if they were to ignore the teacher’s instructions next time. Yet again there was no raising of the voice or harshness; the student felt comfortable enough to joke a little and my SA shot a repartee as the student left. Now I would like to observe more classes and see how exactly a teacher’s tone of voice or perhaps choice of words affect student response (this is the inquiry question that I was thinking about). My SA was very obviously in control of his classroom; there was never any question of his authority. I wonder if his speaking tone is reflective of his teaching philosophy (especially regarding classroom management) or if his speaking tone is what manages his classroom; in short, I am asking which comes first in managing a class, the speaking tone or the attitude? I feel that “attitude” would be an obvious answer but I also feel that more observation in this area would be useful. Also, on a more personal note, I think that his speaking tone and language are things I want to emulate because even when I talk to him his voice does set me more at ease. It’s hard to believe I’ve made it past the halfway point in the week, but here we are. Hurrah!

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