Monitoring: Context & Emotional Proximity

When you observe 41 teachers, you learn a lot. This is what I did during the last 5 weeks. My task was to observe my participants’ microteaching, and give them feedback on what I noticed. The most memorable teaching behavior I observed throughout this experience was the different monitoring styles, notably the “too-close-for-comfort” teacher, and the teacher I like to call “the avoider”.

*Disclaimer: the avoider was a teacher who never gave feedback on his/her students’ performance throughout the lesson.

During our last class together, I thought it would be important for me to help them become aware of how these different monitoring styles might affect their students. With the inspiration of a quick 5-minute, pre-class brainstorm with my colleague, Michael Griffin, I decided to give my participants insight into their monitoring habits, and did a little microteaching of my own; I became the teacher, half of the participants took the role of students, and the other half were observers.

Monitoring Role-play: The Too-close-for-comfort-teacher & The Avoider

I asked my “students” to find as many adjectives as possible in a text. I gave them brief instructions and then immediately went to the front right corner of the class and sat. I sat for about 2 minutes (e.g. the avoider). Then I went outside the class and stayed there for about a minute. When I came back in, I went to each student and monitored in various ways. At one student I got very close and just stared at her work (e.g. too-close-for-comfort). I then went to another student and told him he was a genius for having done the work he did. I ignored one student, and told the other to hurry up. I asked one if he had any questions. He did, and together we cleared up any confusion.

After 10 minutes of this role-play, elicited by what the observers noticed, we reflected on how the students felt. One student remarked that he was glad that I sat down because it gave him the time and space to just do his work. Another felt uncomfortable about me sitting at this time because he had questions about his task. When I asked him why he didn’t raise his hand to ask, he said he felt embarrassed. He thought that since everyone else was doing the activity, he should also know. By asking me a question, he thought he would interrupt me, and also make himself look stupid in front of his peers. When I did come to his desk after about 5 minutes and asked if he had a question, he said he felt relieved. Once I answered his question he said he was happy that I moved away and gave him the space to do his work alone.

When I asked about my “too-close-for-comfort” behavior, one student said that because she was comfortable with me, it didn’t bother her. Another student reflected that my lack of concern for her personal space made her very nervous and she wasn’t able to complete her work.

Context

In the case of “the avoider”, we decided that the students’ response to monitoring, or lack thereof, was connected to context. I had just given them instructions, and my behavior told my students I was unavailable. Because the one student didn’t feel like he was in a safe and familiar classroom environment, he didn’t want to ask his peers what to do, let alone ask the teacher. In this context, he would have needed me to stay in closer. However, he reminded me that when he was clear about how to conduct his task, he was happy that I wasn’t near him. At this time the context was very different.

Emotional Proximity

When it came to the “too-close-for-comfort” monitoring, the students’ reaction depended on their emotional proximity to the teacher. One student felt at ease with me being so close because we had developed this kind of relationship; however, the other felt anxious. Their reactions could depend on a number of factors. It’s possible that the anxious student is unsure about her skills and as result, her affective filter was way up. Perhaps the comfortable student is less concerned about her skills, and maybe she has spent more time getting to know the teacher.

Discussion

In a recent blog entry, Kevin Giddens asks the question:

When is it ok to just sit down while monitoring during group work?

To this I answer,

It depends on the context, and the emotional proximity between the teacher and the student.

What do you think? Join in the discussion at The DNT Machine, On monitoring during groupwork – When is it ok to just sit down?

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3 thoughts on “Monitoring: Context & Emotional Proximity

  1. I would love to comment at DNT, but it just doesn’t open tonight. So, at the risk of repeating what already has been added to this discussion, let me share what I think from my experience:

    Learners thrive on consideration, but as humans in a world full of people, they need to learn:
    1. That people are different and unpredictable.
    2. That there is little anyone else can do about it.
    3. In the end, overcoming these variables and obtaining the education, itself, is most important.

    Every reasonable personality style can add its own benefits to any situation. Educators need a plan with definite goals, to coax all students into a sense of ease with every reasonable personality type and situation. So, when I taught, I mixed up my response methods, and expected my students to overcome their preferences a bit. This was to accustom students to real life.

    1. I began each day with intense input, actually reading to them from literature, and even telling them how to think about it, but encouraging and even requiring they answer with their own thoughts, too. During this time, I initiated close physical proximity, but spread it among all the students.
    2. Following this was a lengthy time of self-governed learning, with freedom to consult me with any questions. This freedom was regulated by normal rules of politeness. At this time, I sat. Often, if their question required a lengthy explanation, they sat, too, but only if they desired. These times were not intimate, just informal and relaxed, which I believe adds to the ease of learning.
    3. Following this was a time when I made myself inaccessible and required they think and solve their own problems.
    4. Occasionally I added lecture with blackboard diagrams requiring intense concentration and copying. This time was deliberately lengthy.
    My students usually were unhappy with one or another of these methods, but always grew to expect the routine and I believe they learned a more well-rounded response to life, in general, and teaching styles, in particular, instead of a reacting to their perceived likes and dislikes.

    1. Katherine, thank you so much fir your thoughtful and in-depth reflection on this topic. What especially resonated was when you wrote this “and expected my students to overcome their preferences a bit.” I’m happy that you brought this up because I hadn’t considered it in that way. It is true. In life we have to deal with events that don’t correspond to our expectations or preferences. It’s truly this challenging moments that help us become more open-minded and willing to accept any differences they encounter in the future. Your description of your process of monitoring helped me understand how this concept of “overcoming preferences” would look like in the class.

      I think I found the connection problem for joining the discussion on the DNT Machine. If you are still interested, please visit here http://donothingteaching.posterous.com/#!/on-monitoring-during-groupwork-when-is-it-ok

      I look forward to you comments!

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