The setting of the learning environment is the third lesson - in this point I would like you to be reminded with the setting of my first play observation which was this class’ introductory lesson - of the same language class consisting of students – speakers of other languages - at the age of 6-8 years old who are taught English as a foreign language. Julie, the child who the Play observation emphasizes on, is a new student, from Greece, coming to the school for the first year. Julie has already completed 3 weeks attending the school’s classes. On the day the second play observation took place Julie was sitting next to one of her classmates, another girl and seemed feeling quite relaxed and enjoying the anticipation of the lesson’s procedure. Her hesitant smile had been replaced by a vivid one, exchanging encouraging smiles and looks with her classmate and showing each other their homework. She wore a red tracking suit.
The objective of this lesson was to teach children new vocabulary and revise the one already taught through role play. The aim was to familiarize students with the social context of the language used in some specific occasions and familiarize them both with new vocabulary and with the social function of the language taught.
Role playing had been constructed on behalf of their teacher having taken into account the information on his students’ likes and dislikes, special interests, hobbies, learning progress. The teacher asked them to sit in a circle opening space in front of them which would function as the stage of their performance. He helped them rearrange their desks and then he laid in front of them on the floor four (4) large cartons on which he had written four different situational dialogues. Each situational dialogue had advice and instructions on the dialogue which was to be developed in front of the others. Students were asked to write on a piece of paper without letting the others see it their choice. In case more than two chose the same situation then drawing of a paper with eyes closed would follow. The four (4) situations were all on introducing themselves. A boy introducing himself to his girlfriend’s mum, a boy introducing his best friend to his cousin coming for a visit, a boy introducing himself to his mum’s elder uncle who finally came to visit them after so many years, a mum introducing herself to her child’s new teacher of Math. Eight (8) different roles, one for each one of the students of the class. When Julie’s turn came to stand up and let the rest of the class be informed on her choice, she showed the paper on which she had written her choice, which to my amazement was the one of the Math teacher. She gave the rest of the class a hesitant smile and waited to see if she would be given the role.
The moment she became certain a wide smile lighted her face which she made no effort to hide. She did not lean backwards but stood without turning red in face, showing only a bit of discomfort. She gave the impression of feeling a bit uneasy since she was holding the paper with her hands not totally stable but flirting with an almost invisible trembling. During the role play she did not take her eyes off the paper given by her teacher with the instructions on it. She played her role following her teacher’s instructions by the book. Her voice was louder and more stable but she did not seem to have any special acting skills. She seemed a bit obsessed with making sure that she would make no mistakes. Surprise came to me though when at the end of her role play she stared her teacher in the eyes waiting in a way for an encouraging look that she performed well. Notice ought to be paid to the fact that all students had been asked to keep notes on the role paly they would watch every time so that all this feedback on what went well and what probably went wrong could be the warm up activity for their next lesson the following week.
The role play activity reached its end just a few minutes before the bell rang, and they all seemed happy to have experienced such a learning activity, having enjoyed their teacher’s help in occasions of getting stuck during their dialogues and their ability to use the language taught in real-based settings.
The above mentioned Play observation provided me with valuable reflections on Julie’s change and progress. It was a very fruitful experience presenting me with the truth lying in Vygotsky’s, Piaget’s and Mead’s psycho-pedagogical theories. Vygotsky’s beliefs in the significance of the social environment and its stimulations to a person’s evolution, are once more reinforced. Julie keeps on showing the profile of a clever student, fully able to comprehend and follow instructions given by the teacher/ educator. She can meet the expectations of the class’ demands and now she seems to have made a step forward since there appears to be a kind of improvement in her social skills. Julie doesn’t appear to hold the same difficulty in expressing or developing any social skills. First of all she is dressed in red, a vivid color which shows that Julie doesn’t seem to be feeling as shy as she did in the first observation play, which was her first introductory lesson. Now she wears a vivid color, appealing to looks. Also, Julie sits next to another girl, which shows that she has started socializing. She still seems to be looking for instant and continuous encouragement on behalf of her teacher, but she does it directly and not indirectly. She is not as much afraid as she was to express her feelings. Now she seems to feel much more comfortable. She seems able to share her tasks and work since she seems happy to participate in a role-playing activity. Special notice ought to be taken of Julie’s gestures. She stands up without leaning backwards in an effort to find support in an invisible wall, like she did in the first observation play. She seems a lot more confident for her appearance.
Special reference ought to be made to the fact that she chose the role of the Math teacher, a difficult role demanding high levels of self-confidence and self-esteem, two traits on which she seems to have progressed. She can address her look immediately towards the others. Once more Julie gave the impression of being obsessed with the idea of being perfect in what she does, avoiding any mistakes. Her tendency to perfection is in contrast to her biological age, an age characterized by spontaneity and tendency to act more light - hearted leaving one’s self lots of freedom. Julie’s personal restriction of her freedom proves Vygotsky’s belief that the socio-cultural environment is of great significance in a person’s emotional development defining in a way the evolution of his/her learning. Piaget – as already mentioned - had emphasized on the environment being a factor contributing either a lot or less in a person’s development. Julie’s change is a result of her new social environment and normal adjust to it. Vygotsky’s theory on the Zone of Proximal Development is once more depicted. Julie’s normal participation in the learning procedure was a result of her teacher’s constant encouragement, something she went on looking for after the end of her role play. The encouragement she took by her teacher will contribute in her future performance. Her obsession with perfection though, is still based on her preceding social environment, the one of a country strictly hit by a severe economic crisis, leading her citizens to overcome their weaknesses in an effort to look for an immediate escape from their country’s dark tunnel. Julie seems to have learnt to live and survive under difficult, oppressive situations. The teacher once more managed to meet the differentiations of his students presenting them with successfully designed role plays. Not repeating themselves the instructions given managed to keep the students alert and fully engaged to the activities, motivating them to present the language they had been taught. This ultimately contributed in the teacher managing to present his students with the results of his effective teaching, giving them satisfaction on their performance.
Julie seems to have made at least one friend with whom she feels comfortable, the one sitting next to her. She shows much more comfortable to participate in a team activity compared to her first reaction and behavior in the introductory lesson. Keeping in mind Mead’s theory on the significance of gestures it is clear like in the first observation play that Julie employs gestures showing her thoughts before her responding. Now that the learning environment within she is asked to participate is the one of a language she has started becoming familiar with, this is an extra factor making her being adjusted much easier than in the beginning.
The special patterns aiming at encouraging Julie to use the new language she is to learn are performed in the form of role playing with incessant encouragement, in this second play observation. Once more Julie she managed to respond to all the demands of the lesson showing her innate strength of character. Her evident change in participating energetically and having overcome some of her socializing problems, intrigue my interest in her future evolution