Multiple Outside Perspectives
In addition to regular observations of my teaching by experienced faculty in Cornell’s Romance Studies Department, I also request observations from David Way, Associate Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) to understand which aspects of my classroom management enhance learning, which elements could be changed, and how. Fresh perspectives from multiple observers create an integrated portrait of my teaching so that I can respond more effectively to student needs. After class observations, I meet with the observer to discuss their notes, and decide how to implement suggestions. Romance Studies observations conclude with a formal evaluation of teaching effectiveness and dedication to the department. For example, my Fall 2012 TA Performance Report reflected my enthusiasm for working with the TA Coordinator and other TAs to develop new teaching materials and test novel teaching methods. In our discussion of this document, Italian TA coordinator Kora Battig Von Wittelsbach pointed to upcoming textbook chapters that would particularly benefit from diversified activities. Forward-looking observations such as this help me to to use my teaching skill set to improve the class.
Written notes from an expert teacher offers a window into one’s teaching, but viewing one’s own lesson provides a mirror. In other words, filmed observation lets me observe my own classroom. From Fall 2012 to Spring 2013, David regularly filmed my classes so that I might see my own teaching as a student would. We then reviewed the film together, frequently pausing so that I could state what I had been thinking at a particular moment. This tact renders unacknowledged teaching philosophy explicit and obvious. The exercise taught me that I ascribe high value to students’ enjoyment of class activities. It also helped me to articulate an unorthodox tenet of my teaching philosophy: I do not believe exclusive use of the target language equates to greater learning. Incorporating English for the occasional grammar point or joke keeps students focused and comfortable. In the future, I hope to conduct filmed observations coupled with reflective discussion with a teaching expert once a semester for every course I teach.
For 50- to 90-minute videos of my teaching for Elementary Italian, Italian Intermediate Composition and Conversation I, or Food, Gender, Culture, please email me.
Teaching Film Sample
You can find a 10-minute excerpt of my 50-minute Elementary Italian class below. Composed of three clips, this film shows a conversation warm-up and two group activities. Please note that while I do not correct every student error. Constant teacher interference tends to inhibit conversational flow and experimentation with challenging grammar forms. I calibrate my feedback based on my knowledge of individuals’ learning styles so that when I do make corrections my students remember them.
Warm Up Conversation: “Com’eri al liceo?”
Conversational blackboard prompts using the week’s vocabulary and grammar greet students as they arrive. I use open-ended personal questions in Italian as prompts because they are similar to the types of questions students enjoy asking each other in English before class officially begins. In this lesson, students describe their personality and physical characteristics as young teenagers. I supplement the textbook’s adjective list with current Italian terms for different high school social groups, illustrated with cartoons on the blackboard. Because this week’s chapter focuses on the imperfect tense, high school memories provide an ideal conversational angle. Although this classroom provides ample space for students to sit side by side, I encourage them to take chairs facing one another because this configuration promotes greater engagement in both pair and group formats. Please note that I typically use the “Lei” form with students to provide exposure to the formal register, but refer to students by their first names to encourage a sense of class community.
Small Group Activity 1: “Mai e poi mai!”
For this activity, I place the students in new groups. By the end of a typical class, every student will have worked with each of their classmates, thus experiencing a variety of personal histories and prior Romance language experience. This structured grammar exercise comes directly from the Percorsi textbook. Using the provided negative constructions, students offer ideas as to what a typical high schooler would never do. To augment this exercise with cultural study, I ask students to devote half of the negative statements to what they think an Italian high schooler would never do based on the previous day’s reading on public and private Italian school systems.
Small Group Activity 2: “Una storia di giovinezza”
Now, students work with a different set of classmates. This new configuration underlines the activity switch and refocuses their attention. My preference is for guided group activities because they promote greater student participation and practice with the target language than teacher-centered lecturing. This activity extends previous grammar exercises involving the imperfect and adverbs as well as chapter vocabulary and optional slang. Using comical pictures of senior citizens, such as actress Betty White holding up a bank, students invent the backstory. In describing the characters’ youth, I remind the class that everyone must record all of their group’s work. This reminder ensures that every student gains additional Italian writing practice and no one occupies a permanent secretarial role.