Sunday, January 29, 2012

Oy Vey... Classroom Management!

This past week, my third in the student teaching experience, was pivotal in becoming a teacher who disciplines in my class of third graders. Every single day was a struggle for behavior. By Tuesday I was fed up with how I was handling the outbreaks, unfocused back table, poor line/hallway behavior and complaints of "he said/she did." So after school on Tuesday, Mrs. Martinez and I had a conversation where I invited her to help me.

I explained first that I was frustrated at how every single transition I would get a flood of students that crowded the back table if I was sitting there. I loved to be helpful to the kids that needed help, but I was turning people away, and found that with some students, they didn't need help, they just wanted my attention. It was also frustrating because they would come to the back table and not focus on instruction or directions, or be called back to their seats. Often times, I would tell them to wait for directions, listen in their seats first, or only come back if they had something they needed help on. 

I offered up a couple suggestions, but ultimately she recommended that I sit at her desk and she sit at the table and I could circulate to help students. I felt a little odd packing up an moving to her desk but it certainly solved the problem. It ended up being a really good solution for our specific group of students.

The other problem I was having was hallway behavior when I took them to and from specials and lunch. I would be repeating myself constantly about staying in a line, in order, and not speaking to each other. It would take us a very long time to get from one place to another and I was not effectively disciplining to promote my expectations for their behavior. So Mrs. Martinez suggested that I have a conversation with them the next morning about my expectations and how I was disappointed. She said that it would mean much more if it was a conversation that would come from me. We also discussed effective ways that I could use classroom management with the class. As I began to implement her plan and hold firm to it, behavior began to change. 

In the last week it became clear to me how very important having a constant awareness of how you are managing your classroom. Along with instruction and other factors of teaching, I must maintain management for the class. I continue to grow in teaching the reading material and keeping students engaged. I had a great experience this past week teaching math, getting the students out of their seats and working with partners. 

In the week ahead, I hope to take on the challenge of planning the RtI time. The focus will be  on teaching the students how to discover the main idea in a story. With my new commitment to management I believe that the students will have more focus while I'm instructing. I hope to have more of a comfort with discipline when necessary and be fair at all times. As always, I'm looking forward to another week!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Great Teachers Are Curiosity Seekers" Schmidt Chapter 4

This chapter of "Classroom Confidential" was an emotional one for me. It included information about culture in the classroom, examples from culturally competent teachers and practical ways to teach in culturally responsive ways. As many White educators entering the field, I have a very unique view of my own culture and experiences and how that relates to teaching. 

Though my face is the face of the dominant culture, I have had different cultural experiences. With a mother who was born and raised outside of the United States, from the first moment I can remember, she challenged my sisters and I to dissociate ourselves from the mentalities of dominance and superiority that can be engrained in the Caucasians in this country. I attended a very diverse Elementary and Middle school that was effective at tackling big questions of diversity and encouraging us to see the beauty in every culture. As an ESL minor, I have spent many classes poring over books like We Can't Teach What We Don't Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Students by Gary Howard and Tongue-Tied: The Lives of Multilingual Students in Public Education edited by Otto Santa Ana. Multicultural education is one of my greatest passions, and quite possibly lies at the very core of why I feel called to teach. 

So this chapter served it's purpose in reminding me what is most important to me as an educator. While I read, it hit me that making the choice to be a culturally competent teacher and facilitator of multicultural classroom management will be the greatest and hardest thing I may ever do. It is a journey that requires dedication, commitment, and constant growth. In this chapter and in the book by Howard listed above, I learned that so much of the journey involves knowing myself and my students. I love the ideas suggested like talking to parents as experts to learn about culture and doing family interviews. 

Something that I encountered in the Santa Ana text above and was reenforced in this chapter of Schmidt was that this choice is about more than just being culturally competent or doing the right thing. It's about the safety, sanity and affirmation of the students in my classroom. When the educational system does "school" wrong, we tear down students of other languages and cultures, push them towards cultural conformity and ultimately strip them of their cultural identities. 

I walk away from reading this chapter refreshed and feeling empowered to facilitate change. I actually have purchased two of the books mentioned in this section (Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner and There Are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquith) to promote my growth as an educator. The biggest challenge right now is being a student teacher and feeling like I can't do everything I want to because it is technically not my classroom. Yet there are still things I can do. I can greet each student by name, I can work towards including all students in discussion, I can be more conscious of wait time, I can tie the curriculum to student experiences (pages 84-85). This is something that I hope to make serious progress in this semester. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Great Teachers Are Power Brokers" Schmidt Chapter 2

What exactly is "eptness?" Eptness is a word that describes completely my desires for the culture that I cultivate in my classroom. I beleive that a classroom is a community that works as a whole to journey towards educational achievement. It means that I surrender control, apathy, and dullness that can exist in a school setting. In a culture of eptness, students take on the roles of both learners and guides. Everyone shares in the decision making processes involved in learning. They are students that see any obstacle as a chance to shine. Real-world issues are seamlessly integrated in an ept classroom. In the second chapter of "Classroom Confidential," Schmidt introduces many key behaviors on how a teacher can promote a classroom culture of eptness. 

The first behavior is to "model being a learner." She shares that students often have misconceptions that teachers know everything and have all of the answers. It is up to us to challenge students and help them to see that we too are constantly learning. That is the role of our brains. I will do this by remarking on the times when I learn something new, modeling the questions that I might have about something we are about to do, and bring in things like books or newspapers to show students that I am always taking in new information. 

Another behavior is to "model risk taking." It is so important to teach students that public learning is risky, mistakes happen, and we learn and grow from the mistakes we make. It will be easier to handle if they have seen an adult model how they might deal with failing. I will do this by making students aware of the new things I am trying with them in class, and if things don't go well, discuss it with them. I will use language that promotes this like: "We may be wrong, but let's try anyways." 

A final behavior to promote eptness that I would like to try is to "challenge old habits." This can be difficult because it may be difficult to plan ahead for, but it involves realizing that many habits exist in school that have no benefit at all to the students. It means having an awareness of the moment you realize how monotonous you may be and can incorporate new ways to change things up. This is something that I will continue to work on. This semester, I'd love to incorporate some new thing to do during the class bathroom breaks instead of just sit silently or read. 

I do know that I want to strive every day for a culture of eptness in my classroom. I want to advocate for imagination and curiousity. I want to be partners with students in learning. There is a handy self assessment on page 37 that I plan to check to see how much I grow in this area in the future. 

A Case of Judging Too Quickly

As I review my posts from last week I realize how much information I had received in such a short time. Here I sit, reflecting on my second week of student teaching, wishing I could hit pause long enough to figure out how everything could be so drastically different in a few short days. I entered into the classroom on Tuesday still feeling a bit insecure about my relationship with Ms. Martinez, yet hopeful and determined to use everything I had learned and know about myself as someone who works well with other people to build on our professional relationship. 

Because I began teaching the first time slot of the day this week, I felt there was so much that I wanted and needed to discuss with her, from my confusion with planning lessons using a scripted lesson plan to incorporating science/social studies in the classroom. After a nudge from Professor Mattson reminding me of some of the communication tools we worked on during student teaching, I committed to trying some of them. I started by extending an invitation. After a quick question from her asking if my planning was going well, I took a deep breath and gave it a shot."Could you help me understand how you plan and execute this scripted material? My sense of the program is that it feeds the information to students and that the 'Anchored Discussion' doesn't often produce the intended responses in students." 

What followed was a great conversation about how she has been struggling a bit to with certain aspects of the material. She began by agreeing with me and acknowledging that there were difficulties to consider when planning. I so appreciated that we were able to have a conversation about something that I was struggling with and she was able to pour wisdom into me. Because of our talk, I realized that the Pearson text was like a map, and that I had power to decide the way our journey looked, as long as students had understanding of the target skills. 

For example, one of the biggest issues I was having was with the daily concept talk, where the class had guided discussion about the "Question of the Week." As we discuss, I am supposed to be producing a concept map that answers the week's question. On day one of the unit, I am encouraged to say to students: "How did people long ago explain groups of stars in the sky?" The student response follows in the teacher's edition like this: (They told stories, or myths, about how stars got there.) And finally, I am told to say: "Let's add myth to our concept map." 

First of all, I am not sure what third grader would respond like indicated in the parenthesis above. Most of my students had to have the question broken down for them to understand it. Second, that doesn't feel like the student has really had a valid role in the creation of the concept map, like the answers are predetermined. So on my first day teaching, I decided that we would build our own concept map from the discussions that we had each morning and add any valid responses, as well as reminders to how we got there. Also, we would add the unit's "Amazing Words" to the board as we defined them. 

I found as I talked with them, students were able to give examples about how we answer our questions about nature or explain nature (like finding things out on the Discovery channel) and that the more they talked, they showed me that they had a real understanding of the question. 

The map is not finished, we still have two more days of discussion, but I have really found that this new spin on a technique listed in the book helped my students grow. Actually putting up the map (which wasn't something Ms. Martinez did before) helped me incorporate   something for those who have visual intelligences. It was a great reminder for all the students and they continue to use it as we discuss the question. Another great thing about this entire experience was that I realized that the Pearson program was not the "death sentence" I made it out to be last week. I can still be passionate, creative and visual while following the layout. I judged too quickly. 

That was hands down my biggest mistake so far. I waltzed into my placement and thought that everything was figured out and set in stone after a few days. I have had such a shift in paradigm since then, about nearly everything. It's like I put on "take it slow" goggles. I am lucky that I was proven wrong. I misjudged the role of curriculum, I misjudged my cooperating teacher, I misjudged the entire experience right out of the gate. I sit, humbled and know that my role is not to just let things happen to me and react to them. If my cooperating teacher and I are having issues, it is my job to communicate effectively. 

In the next week, I begin taking over another time slot of instruction, and I hope to continue to plan effectively and passionately teach. I have learned that there actually is a management plan put into place, and that I was observing the week after break craziness and getting back into routine. So I hope to exercise discipline with students with students when needed to establish that I am a teacher who needs to be respected like any other. Once again, I also hope to post more often. The last week was crazy, but I know that it will help me in the long run. Let's see if I can actually manage that in the next week! 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Great Teachers Are Equal Opportunists" Schmidt Chapter 1

When studying Education, much discussion is devoted to the multiple intelligences. It's all rooted in the work of Howard Gardner, who put together a theory that showed the world that there are more ways that a person could be "smart" than simply having a high IQ score on a test. As a teacher, this is something that I beleive is a very important focus, since many students may be struggling against misconceptions that they are not intelligent, due to their experiences with standardized testing and complacent educators. 

Out of the nine intelligences, or "smarts" as Laurel Schmidt refers to them in her book "Classroom Confidential," my lofty goal would be to find a way to incorporate each intelligence into my instruction and classroom environment. It is an unrealistic expectation, I believe, to plan that every single lesson perfectly connects and promotes the specific intelligence of every single student. But the journey to effectively incorporate them into your classroom begins with knowing your students. It has been my experience that though most people have what I would call a "top" intelligence (the one that they are most strong in), many have a couple that are also helpful expressions for them. 

I hope to provide the chance for each student to have a role or chance to exhibit their strength in their intelligence at least once a grading period. I think a helpful way to do this, is when creating projects, homework, or assessment, make sure that a variety of intelligences are included for a student to choose to give evidence of their learning. The focus on including all of the intelligences is incredibly important, because it ensures that each student feels seen, heard, and encouraged, all of which are vital to learning and success in the classroom. 

When the correct amount of focus is put into the multiple intelligences, it means that your classroom buzzes with activity and creativity. In the first chapter, Schmidt begins to describe something she calls "full brain learning." It is the learning that takes place when the mind is fully engaged and the multiple intelligences are stimulated. 

Imagination, creativity and passion for learning are the things that I crave in my classroom, and they are the tools that must exist for full brain learning to take place. To encourage this type of learning, I plan to incorporate the arts into my instruction whenever possible. The arts can appeal to different intelligences as well, whether it means performing a skit for the verbal/linguistic and interpersonal students, creating a tableau for the kinesthetically strengthened, or painting a mural for those gifted intrapersonally. This promotes the connection between the brain and the activity in the hand, therefore promoting full brain learning. 

This chapter of "Classroom Confidential" is brimming with good information and tips about using projects, information about specific intelligences, or things that teachers need to do to nurture their students and create the best possible environment for learning. My goal is to take advantage of this resource through out my teaching and continuously holding myself accountable to fostering all intelligences in my classroom and using full brain learning. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Longest Week of My Life

In the days before my student teaching placement began, all I felt like I could do was hold my breath. All I had in my bank of knowledge was a brief and awkward meeting that had occurred before Christmas break and the (extra) Teacher's Edition to Hoover's scripted reading program. I couldn't picture how the days would be structured, what the third graders were like or the relationship that my cooperating teacher and I would have; and oh, how I wanted to know. I just wanted to picture it, to be in it. So as I laid in bed, tossing late into the night, I imagined every scenario that could possibly happen. I eventually lost consciousness, of course, and then it began. 

The first day of any experience, in my opinion, is often a blur of overstimulation, excitement and the struggle to guzzle in every aspect of your surroundings and commit those images to a neat flash card in your brain that will never fade or disappear. This placement was no different. I am thankful that we begin by mostly observing, because it gave me the opportunity to furiously scribble down my reactions and thoughts to everything before they passed through me and were forgotten. 

There is so much about this specific time that is awkward and new and strange and good. I feel that I know so much about teaching; I have near fully developed ideas of how I want to manage my classroom, things that I'm passionate about (social justice teaching, using authentic literature), and how I want to teach. Yet, the situation I'm in is still one of learning, which I wholly appreciate. This is not my classroom. I feel the tension of that sometimes and  I sure hope that it's normal. I have never been in a school that has so much technology resources available to them. Every classroom is equipped with a smartboard, and each student has their own netbook that stays in the classroom. I have never been in a school that spends 160-220 minutes per day on Language Arts instruction. For those who share my  terrible concept of time, that's the whole day, except for lunch, specials (art, gym, music, library), a 15 free time, and a 50 minute math lesson. 

Still during my first day, the students were instructed to view six images from the story they had just read that were in sequential order. They opened their netbooks and were told to go into Word and "retell" the story, writing a sentence that corresponded to each image. Mrs. M. reminded them that they did not need to be on the internet for this activity, since the images were displayed on the smartboard. I began to move around the room. I noticed a student opening internet explorer as I walked by, so I knelt down to his desk and reminded him that he only needed to be on Word. With attitude, he told me he knew and that he was going to the Pearson website (the student/teacher resource site that corresponds to their reading program). I was struck back a little by his tone with me, so I gulped and muttered "okay." I realized that I had no idea what to hold firm to, and how to guide students following someone else's management plan. 

After the day was over, Mrs. M. and I walked silently dropping the kids at their busses outside. I was feeling like our relationship was strained and uncomfortable. My attempts at questions or professional conversation were quickly dealt with and dismissed, like a checklist of things to do. The difficulty here is that it makes me more insecure in seeking her help, advice and wisdom, all three of which I need and value. She did end our time together that day by telling me that now that I had an idea of how things go and who needs more focus, she wanted me to circulate and be more helpful. I appreciated the direction that she gave me, yet it was paired with a slight frustration that I had been wanting to get up and move all day, but that I somehow felt that I needed her permission. 

The brightest part of this day was popping in the office on the way out and introducing myself to Dr. Mays, Hoover's new principal. She was incredibly warm and welcoming and offered to take me on a tour the next morning. Since I felt that I had absolutely no idea what was going on at the school, I appreciated dearly the chance to take in the big picture. On the drive home I processed, and determined that I needed to be more assertive and involved. 

I showed up on day two ready to begin again. Mrs. M. and I discussed some of the students she wanted me to concentrate on. One was a student with a speech IEP, another was a energetic and distracted student, and the other was one of her two English Language Learners (ELLs). Mrs. M. was excited when I told her that I was minoring in ESL instruction and could focus on giving these two students extra support when I could. 

The tour was so very special, everyone was open and encouraging. It became clear in the next few days that everyone I met remembered my name and continued to ask me how my experience was going. I was so grateful for the one-on-one time with the principal to talk about my interest in teaching, passions and impressions of the school. When the other staff members found out that I was student teaching with Mrs. M., the positive response was overwhelming. One teacher smiled while still clasping my hand, "You have a great, great mentor to learn from." That helped push me past the little sensitivities I was feeling about our relationship and set a strong goal and reminder to learn all that I can from this cooperating teacher that I am working with. 

At the end of day two, and every day since, Mrs. M. lets me pull the guided reading groups to the back of the room and work with them. This first day that I worked with a group, I was thankful that I was working with the two ELLs along with two other students. She gave me the "Strategic Intervention Low-Level Reader," which was a simple text that supports the story the class is reading together. The class story for this and next week is called "How Do You Raise a Raisin." The class had already read it twice at this point, had discussed it both times and I was now given a book called "Raisins" which simplified the process of "raising" a raisin. The students seemed disengaged, surely bored at this point by discussing raisins for the third day in a row. Thankfully I was armed with plenty of ESL strategies. We used hand  motions to model the process of planting a seed, picking a fat grape, laying it the sun, and waiting as the sun beat down on our grape, shriveling it into a raisin. The students perked up and were able to better describe the process and use their vocabulary words. 

I fell into a routine after Wednesday, learning something new each day like procedures for taking attendance, breakfast/lunch time, recess, bathroom breaks, dismissal, and gave my first spelling test. I am now in charge of all of these things, and often work with a few students in the back of the room staying on task. I learned a great deal about the kinds of technology used in the classroom, and at the same time discerned what technology still made the students lose interest and how I hope to change that when I teach. 

My two biggest struggles of the week were observing her classroom management and trying to swallow this reading program and all that it entails. Her classroom management plan seems weak and unenforced. There is a wall with a pocket for each student containing four different colored notecards signifying a certain reward/punishment by the end of the day. All students start on "high-five" which are the rewards that they receive and can spend at the school store, the next level is warning, the one after that is loss of free-time, and finally office-referral. This system has potential, but often it is used as a threat that is not followed through on. It just doesn't seem to be a huge care of Mrs. M. to strictly manage the classroom environment. I don't want the classroom to be a boot camp style where no movement is allowed, I just don't understand why the students are allowed to walk around, grab books during math, or walking over to take a lego piece to play with. From what I observe, since the students aren't always held accountable for paying attention, the class transitions to an activity and a handful of students have no idea what is going on. It makes me worried for when I begin to teach, how I should frame things to not step on my teacher's toes. 

My second big struggle is with the reading program. I have a diverse bunch of feelings about using scripted programs like this one. I see how helpful it could be to teachers and there are an absolutely incredible amount of resources that come paired with it. I however mentioned earlier that I am a proponent of using whole language programs and authentic literature in the classroom. I am incredibly frustrated by the stories that serve no purpose than to further a specific vocabulary list and target skill. I don't like handing the "low-level" readers to students who ask why they can't read the "high-level" reader about California field workers on strike in 1965. Obviously there is not much that I can change about the use of the reading program as a student teacher however, I'm feeling limited by how much I can challenge myself and my students while still fulfilling the standards and topics in the textbook. 

Still, I am looking forward to the next week and what this experience will teach me. Beginning next Wednesday, I will be teaching the first time slot of the day. I hope to find myself able to rise to the occasion managing the classroom and using my scripted teaching material. In the experiences I've had this week, I hope to be a slightly more firm and "teacher-like" presence in the classroom. This means upping my discipline and holding students accountable to my standards of behavior as well. I hope to begin blogging a couple of times in a week, so that not every post is quite so long. 

And so ended the most emotionally-packed, transition-y, and observational week of my life. I can't wait for the next one.