Observing a Lesson in an Unknown Language

I’ve recently been participating in discussions about observation following the fascinating posts in “The Observation Issue” on the iTDi blog.

Epstein Family Photos
Epstein Family Photos

Today I observed an English  lesson for deaf  students who speak Arabic. The lesson was grammar based, on the topic of the past simple tense and the main mode of communication was spoken Arabic, with some Sign Language as well.

I don’t speak Arabic.

Here’s the thing – it didn’t matter very much.

I knew the subject matter and was able to follow the points the teacher was trying to make (she used visual aids, which helped me too).

I could observe how long the teacher spoke vs. how long the students did.

I could observe how active/passive the students were, and how engaged  they seemed to be.

I could observe how varied the activities were.

I could observe how much time was devoted to theory and how much time was devoted to using the grammar in context.

I could observe the manner in which visual aids were utilized.

I could see how well the relevant vocabulary was familiar to the students or not. Despite not understanding the students’ replies when the teacher asked “What does this word mean” I could tell if the replies were correct or not by the teacher’s reactions. Which also gave me a chance to observe her style of feedback.

I could even observe how the teacher reacted to a question from a student. Did she repeat the question, drawing the other deaf students’ attention to it, before answering it?

In short, there were a great many aspects of the lesson the teacher and I could discuss afterwards, despite the drawback of not understanding Arabic. Observation encompasses a multitude of things. Words don’t tell it all.

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