Sunday, February 19, 2012

Schmidt Ch. 11 and "The Blur That is My Life."

After reading this chapter in "Classroom Confidential," I was feeling slightly overwhelmed by the amount to consider when preparing for communication with parents when I am a teacher. I agreed with everything that I read in this section. I want to be the teacher that knows the culture and makeup of her student's families so to show care and preparation for conferences. I want to be prepared for every situation, but as a teacher, I cannot realistically have every perfect response assembled. Part of my future career means surrendering perfection. 

I feel informed in preparing for communication with parents because this chapter has a basic checklist of things to consider including being: proactive, positive, frequent, clear, basic, attention grabbing, appealing, inclusive, timely, and error-free. After reading all of those things to remember and checklist, I was feeling like it was not possible to create the perfect communication. But I know that a teacher who cares and conveys effort to parents doesn't need to worry about perfection.

I really resonated with this segment "It may seem like there's a universe of cultural practices out there just waiting to be discovered, but with very little time on your hands, you may worry that you'll never learn enough fast enough to avoid cultural gaffes. But remember, parents are eager to help you. They're very forgiving when they realize that you have an authentic interest in their cultures and are passionately committed to the education of their child (p. 244-245)." 

In other news, I had another productive blur of a week. I absolutely love working with this class and doing this all day, every day. The days have started to blur together. My cooperative teacher and I have really settled into a routine of cooperative teaching. We communicate clearly about how the days are going. She has said that she feels like we work really well together; that I focus or talk about what she forgets and she does the same for me. 

One thing that I did this week that I think went really well was some of our RtI review. I talked with Mrs. Martinez about the benefit of having the students create poster to review some of the major Language Arts tools that they may need to remember for ISAT. I grouped the students off and led them through the process of reviewing, gathering information, creating rough drafts and working together. I had one partnership that was very frustrated at working together, and I simply discussed different things they needed from each other and that they were in 3rd grade and I expected them to be able to work together. In the end, they created a great product and they said to me: "Miss Blasen! What do you know? We were such a great team!" I think it was such a beneficial thing for all of the students to work on.

Next week, I hope to help my teacher prepare for ISAT and transition to the next unit. Mostly, I will teach they regular topics, but I assist her in test preparation and review. I hope to learn about the most effective ways to prepare students for this kind of test. My goal is to be up and moving through the classroom and following my teacher's lead up until ISATs. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Settling In (Oh my goodness this will be my 5th week!)

Before I reflect on the past week in my student teaching experience, I want to take a moment to respond to a couple of questions I have received about previous posts.

"I’m wondering if this new awareness of how you are managing your class is different than what you expected. How did you reach this conclusion?" The classroom management portion has been slightly different than what was expected because it is more of a co-management technique. I had never fully comprehended before how vital it is to know students. I have a slight idea of who the students are, yet I know more about textbook strategies for management. After teaching them for a year and a half, Mrs. Martinez absolutely knows this group of students and knows what will work and what won't. I had always pictured classroom management to be an in-depth process that students were involved in from day one, and I would use many different strategies to control the classroom. Yet that is not the classroom culture that I walked into. I can either be frustrated that it's not exactly how I pictured it, or I can go with the flow and learn how it is that Mrs. Martinez knows how to deal with each student and I can take that learning into my future classrooms. I have chosen the latter, or course!

"Your description of math shows you are using best practices in your teaching. Why did it work well? How did you know?" That math lesson was breaking new ground for me, because I had never been in a placement where it was my responsibility to teach an entire math lesson. I started by thinking about what I didn't like about math when I was in school and what I did like about it. I came to the conclusion that getting students interested and engaged was most important. So I decided to teach median and mode with out very own set of data, collected in partners around the room and out of our seats. I perceived such excitement from the students when they were allowed to get up and move around. However, I knew that it would involve a clear explanation of what they needed to collect, how they would do it, and behaviors I would not tolerate. Once I laid that all out, students followed. Mrs. Martinez and I equally went around the room helping groups. Then we collectively analyzed the data. I could tell that the lesson was working well because nearly all of the students were understanding and those who weren't were asking questions and following along. When I introduced a new method for finding the median, we got up in a line and modeled our set of data. It was an experience of joy realizing that you taught a lesson that incorporated many intelligences and that after informal assessment, realized that almost every student had grasped the information. 

On Monday, I walked in prepared for a typical day and needed the 30 minutes before class began to gather myself and get everything in order for my teaching. I walked into the office saying a cheery good morning and my response (along with the good morning) was that Mrs. Martinez wasn't in today and that I would have a substitute. The principal, looked me in the eye and said "Sasha, take charge. I want you to take charge." So with a new set of butterflies in my heart I set about trying to prepare. The day was slightly more chaotic and I had to teach more lessons than what I was prepared to do. But the sub and I worked really well together. We had a couple of behavioral issues that I had to address and that I did. I followed through on discipline and experiences some freedom in getting to do some activities that weren't "by the book" but that the students really enjoyed. 

One of the things we did was that I pulled up a picture of the night sky and students got to take turns coming up to the smartboard drawing their own constellations. We did this to illustrate how constellations can be unique to the viewer and can be difficult to see without the lines. At the end of the day, The substitute, who had been teaching and subbing for 30 years, said to me "I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed today. I have seen a lot of student teachers and you are by far the farthest along and most in control one I have ever seen. You handle issues in the classroom so well. Where I struggle with the words to use in a difficult situation, you have them. You are a natural." I couldn't beleive the amount of praise she was giving me, but I could tell that it was genuine. I appreciated it so much. It's not often in the "real" world that we are encouraged so, and it was very energizing and refreshing. 

This week was mostly just standard teaching. I am comfortable in my role as teacher and using best practices like discussion, visual concept maps, technology and games to engage students. I took over the RtI time this week and we focused on finding the "Main Idea" in a text.  I was able to find and create some really engaging SmartBoard lessons that helped the kids practice. Then we played a board game called "The Main Idea." The students really enjoyed it, but it took some work to make it effective as opposed to general mayhem (which it was the first day). After the first time playing the game, I thought about how I could make it better. Teams needed to be at table groups instead of all around the room. Each group needed to have their own dice to roll instead of waiting to pass it. Each team needed a stack of new "main idea" cards at their table so I didn't have to hand out new ones after they got the right answer. After I implemented the new strategies, it went incredibly smoothly and everyone had a lot of fun. 

One of the most exciting things that had happened this week was getting to spend time working with the ELL student whose parents don't speak English and often seems confused. When I attempted to discuss her with Mrs. Martinez, she made a comment that she thought this girl had "more issues than what we can address in the classroom." I wasn't sure if this meant that there were extreme issues at home or that she thought she had special education issues. The implication was that she couldn't succeed. Because of my ESL minor, and how I feel about teaching these students, I took that as a challenge. The next day, during their practice reading assessment, I worked with Kelly through it. I realized that her vocabulary was lacking and it was keeping her from having even a basic understanding of the questions. Once I had explained to her everything from what "fins" are to what it means when a question asks you to "draw a conclusion" she came up with all of the correct answers. I wanted to whoop with excitement and I did tell her how very proud I was of her and how smart she was. 

The next day, Mrs. Martinez asked what I was doing with Kelly. I explained that she was incredibly intelligent but that her academic language was such a struggle that she didn't have the basic foundations that other students had. I wanted to explain to her strategies that she could use on her own when working with multiple choice questions. Mrs. Martinez, after realizing that I wasn't giving her the answers, seemed very excited about what I was doing. It was such a joy to have that breakthrough with Kelly and talk to Mrs. Martinez about some ESL strategies that she could use. 

In the next week, my responsibilities increase even more as we prepare for ISAT. I have found confidence in my voice and Mrs. Martine and I have discussed ways that we can help every student succeed by using visuals and teaching good strategies. I want to see myself rise to the challenge and go above and beyond in helping these students prepare. It will take a lot of work, because we plan on reviewing all of the RtI focuses and creating posters for the room. I can't wait to see what the students produce. 

"Great Teachers Are Ringmasters" Schmidt Chapter 3

In starting this chapter, Schmidt asks us, "What's the bid idea about behavior?" The minute I laid eyes upon that question, my mind immediately had produced an answer. Behavior is everything! Without wanting to make it the total focus of everything in my classroom, I have believed behavior to rest near the bottom of some sort of classroom hierarchy of needs. Maslow's hierarchy of needs shows us that without certain things, we cannot be concerned with the higher aspects of the triangle. 

A good classroom example of this would be that a student who has not eaten breakfast yet will not be concerned about doing their academic work. Their biological needs come first. In reading the rest of the chapter, what I had believed has been reinforced and added to.  

I have been having some slight adjustments and growing pains when it comes to behavior in my classroom. The classroom Schmidt describes in the beginning of the chapter transported me into mine. Often, the instructions to complete something is met with a flurry of sharpening pencils, asking to go to the bathroom or their backpacks, getting up and grabbing something that they don't need or blank staring at a piece of paper. Some student tells a joke to his table and they all erupt in laughter and hands go up uttering the same phrase over and over: "I need help." 

All of these varying behaviors are motivated by one of two basic instincts. The students are seeking pleasure or avoiding pain. As pictured above, without a feeling of safety in the classroom, students often won't reach higher order thinking. It rings so true in my classroom. Many of the students feel as though they are unable to complete the tasks laid out for them and express frustration in many ways. Currently my cooperating teacher and I are working with each student on different days, teaching them necessary strategies and helping them realize that they can achieve success. I believe that helping them realize their abilities has helped many students become more focused. 

I have ultimately learned that whenever I witness an odd or frustrating behavior from a student, to ask myself "What are they hiding?" I can't wait to be in my own classroom where I can employ some of the strategies listed in this chapter. In my current classroom, I don't feel like there is enough room for variety. I don't know how it would go over if I were to suggest that students complete an assignment or project that was of their suggestion or tailored to their intelligences. The reading program has become the structure and deviation from that would result in re-teaching behavior and management. Yet there must be something I can do. I want to be the teacher who plays music to energize the classroom or lets to students draw out concept maps but without instruction in doing any of these things, the students lose control, or spend too much time coloring and not showing that they grasp the information. 

Some of the other techniques listed I have found that I already use, such as self-encouragement or eye contact. I have a few students that whenever they have lost focus or are making a decision that they shouldn't be, seem to find my gaze. I give them a look, either a "is that the choice you should be making?" look, or a "you can do it, keep going!" look. They respond well to that. 

Ultimately, I hope to take what I have read from the chapter and look for ways that I can introduce some of the concepts into my classroom, to make it a better environment for all of it's members.