Robert Märcz, University of Pécs, Hungary
Report on the peer observations in Warsaw
The observations took place between 24th and 28th October 2016. There were two teachers from the University of Pécs, Dr. Erika Berkics, who teaches Russian and Spanish, and myself, Robert Märcz who teaches English.
I observed fifteen 90-minute classes during the week. The languages and the levels taught were the following: English (B1, B2, C1 and C1 ESP), Russian (A2), Spanish (A2), French, (A2, B1), Norwegian (A2) and Swedish (A2), six languages and three different CEFR levels.
Structural differences in language teaching
There is a basic difference between the structure of language teaching in Poland and Hungary. In Hungary the government decided that it would not support general language teaching in higher education. The reason is that our education system provides students with about 900 language lessons between the time they enter public education in first grade and graduate from secondary school. This is almost twice as many as in for example in the Scandinavian countries or in Poland. To be absolutely precise this number is 936 in Hungary (in Poland it is 532 lessons for 9 years). According to the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) 500-600 lessons are enough to reach a level-B2 proficiency in a foreign language. Before this decision the various university faculties had language teaching departments where teachers taught foreign languages, that being mainly English and German. By today all these departments have transformed themselves into departments of languages for special purposes. This means that general language teaching takes place only at the primary and secondary levels. In universities only language for specific purposes is taught. To receive a degree in higher education graduates must have a language certificate at B2 level. This language exam must be taken at one of the accredited language examinations systems operating in Hungary. This exam cannot be an internal language exam provided by the university where of the given student. From 2020 only those students are allowed to apply for admission to any Hungarian university who already possess a language certificate at B2 level.
In Poland, in contrast, the government sponsors 250 language lessons to university students. Although they study languages in primary and secondary schools, they can continue – or start – to study languages at university, too. To get their diploma university students must take a language exam at B2+ level, however, this language exam can be the internal language exam of the university they attend.
Both language education systems have their own merits and disadvantages, however, looking at the statistics (Europeans and their languages. Eurobarometer report) neither countries seem to be doing well.
The general impression that I have about the lessons was that Polish teachers at the University of Warsaw seemed to use the tools of formative assessment more consciously than Hungarian teachers. The teaching methods are very similar in both countries that share similar educational traditions, that of frontal teaching and grammar-translation. It is also visible that in both countries there has been a marked shift towards communicative language teaching. My impression was that, similarly to Hungary, teachers still apply the traditional methods and mix them with communicative tools. My experience is that there is a slightly stronger emphasis on applying communicative methods in Poland than in Hungary. The status and role of teachers in classes, the respect they get from students is very similar to that of their Hungarian colleagues.
The observation form
The form itself is the product of a long discussion, however, it is not without its faults. An observation form is used to observe activities, teaching methods, aids, materials, techniques and practices that may usually take place during language classes. The observation form we have created focused on all these areas from the point of view of formative assessment. This maybe the reason why there are questions in the form that cannot be always answered after observing a lesson.
In the following I will list those questions that may not be answered precisely in the case of every lesson and also provide some argument why I think so.
Does the teacher take into account individual differences of every student (their needs, strategies, learning styles, previous experience, etc.)?
If there is a student in the class in whose case it is visible – for example a student with any disability – than it can be observed, otherwise this is something that teachers do before the semester starts. When asked about this they all said that at the beginning of the school-year they assess these differences and knowing them they adjust their teaching to meet their needs. However, it is frequently not visible in their teaching.
Does the teacher provide feedback on what is correct and positive about the students’ speaking? Does the teacher provide detailed feedback and advice on how student’s performance could be improved?
Does the teacher point out the students’ strengths to them?
Teachers cannot provide such feedback and advice every time their students say something. These take place on particular occasions.
At the beginning of the lesson:
In the following I will present the practices that I found to be work disseminating:
The seating arrangement at the beginning: students has to link a word to a picture, then as a warm-up, they hade to imitate that word so the others can find out what the word is.
During the lesson:
The method of peer teaching was used all the time whenever something new was introduced.
The use of coloured cards: students were asked to judge how much they think they acquired the use of idioms by showing cards of different colour.
The use of ICT (Edmodo) was integrated into teaching.
The teacher, together with the students, clarified why they were doing the listening task and provided detailed explanation on it. After the task they discussed what went wrong and how to change this task next time
The class discussion/debate in the form of a role-play when students had to represent somebody else.
A very recent video was shown about people who see colours the first time in their life to introduce adjectives describing feelings.
Using a popular music video was a great idea, it was fresh, modern, up-to-date, appealing to this young generation so it served as a great source of motivation.
On the atmosphere of the lesson:
The classroom rules were great, they were created together with the students.
The literature on student motivation shows that intrinsic motivation works better than extrinsic motivation. This class was a good example of how intrinsic motivation can be „installed” into the students so they may be able to learn more effectively.
At the end of the lesson:
2-minute pair work at the end discussing what they take away from today’s lesson.
At the end she gave out a little paper with the following content:
- I have learnt about/that…
- I am starting to wonder…
- I am happy with…
- I should work more on…
A wrap-up exercise: students are asked to make statements on how they feel about their progress and about what they learnt.
At the end students were asked to draw a simple picture about a word they learnt and found really difficult.
The end of the lesson activity when students were to think of five words they learnt that day. This made it possible for them to reflect on what they covered during class.