I spent 25 minutes in a Spanish 9 class this week.
I think it was one of the longest class visits I have had in the past three years. I realize my visits have become a quick walk-through — usually, no more than five minutes. When I am in schools, I do my best to visit seven or eight classrooms for a chance to see part of an activity, or to ask a few students to explain in their own words what they are learning.
I do attend some of the teacher workshops and share in what they are doing, but I very rarely take the opportunity to observe the flow of a class.
I had an amazing experience this week, in Ms. Michelle Metcalfe’s Spanish 9 class, at West Vancouver Secondary School. I had been encouraged to attend by Principal Steve Rauh; I have been meaning to visit for a while.
I had the opportunity to see, first-hand, some very interesting work Ms. Metcalfe, as well as others in the Languages Department, have been doing using Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) as the core of their language instruction. TPRS, places the focus on fluency over grammatical accuracy; some of the results are very impressive. Students who have been taking Spanish for only five months were doing free-writes of up to 100 words. It was agreed, the success West Vancouver Secondary is having with TPRS is worth sharing and, this spring, we will find professional development opportunities for other teachers who want to learn more about it. I am also very curious about other experiences with this relatively new approach to language acquisition.
TPRS, was only part of the story though. My time in Spanish 9 reminded me of what master teaching really means. Ms. Metcalfe had every student engaged. Spanish 9 draws an interesting mix of students. From my secondary principal days, I know the course does attract those interested in learning a second (or third, or fourth) language, but it has also attracted many learners who have struggled with French, and who need to find another language to help stay on the university path. Watching Ms. Metcalfe connect with the students, carefully timing her questions, checking for understanding and seamlessly moving between activities, is something that cannot be learned in a book. All students were truly engaged, leaning in towards her, and nobody was buying out. Ms. Metcalfe used every second of her class — right up to the bell. As she later explained, “We just can’t waste any time”. The experience epitomized the power of mixing the art and science of the profession.
So, some of the big ideas I left with:
- we need to expose TPRS to more people for consideration
- seeing students truly engaged in learning is very powerful
- excellent teaching is a joy to watch
- I need to find time to be in classes for more than five minutes
Thanks Ms. Metcalfe, Mr. Rauh, and the students of Spanish 9 — you engaged me in my best learning of the week.