End of practicum

This semester has provided me with a large learning curve. Nothing compares to hands on experience with teaching. This semester taught me about how I really respond to students when in the classroom.

For one, I figured out that I am more like a permissive instructor than I am authoritative. Last semester, I thought that I would be an authoritative educator when it came to behaviors but I noticed that I would give students many reminders and warnings but would rarely implement a consequence.  This is definitely one skill that I need to work on. I really need to examine what I shall do when students are going against classroom rules. I also need to know that there is a difference between threatening a students and reminding students of consequences. I often do not remind students of what the consequences of misbehaviors since I am afraid that it will adopt too much of a threatening tone.

The one strategy that I try to use to help with classroom behaviors is follow Albert’s Three C’s. When the class is in whole group discussion, I try to value everyone’s contribution by verbally thanking them for their thoughts and I try not to tell the students that they are wrong. In other words, I want to show them that I value their thinking and them. To support this, I will pause a student who is sharing when I hear other students talking. Then, I remind those who are not paying attention that (blank) is sharing a very important thought and that we should all be listening respectfully. I also fully believe that students have the most control over their behavior and that I am there to support and guide them to making wise decisions (Charles, 2002).

Non-verbal cues have seem to become my friend when I am teaching and I only need to address one behavior. I often walk around the class when I am doing a read aloud since the book is a chapter book. That allows me to look around and interact with those who are not paying attention. This might mean that I stand by their chair while I read or I will tap their desk. Tapping their desk lets them know that they need to focus and sometimes reminds the students that they are off-task. Non-verbal cues help to minimize interruptions to a lesson (Levin & Nolan, 2004). Only the student any maybe a few surrounding students will notice the cue and the lesson can continue on without you forgetting your thought or embarrassing the student. I do believe this is especially good for those students that are reprimanded too often and for those who are very nervous about how their peers perceive them.

Finally, I learned that you can become very attached to your students. Time spent with the students allows you to learn much about them and they are so willing to let you into their lives. I know that I have much that needs to grow when thinking about my teaching but I do believe that I have learned much about myself and I can begin to work on my weaknesses and improve my strengths.

Charles, C. (2002). Linda Albert’s ‘Cooperative Discipline’ In Building classroom discipline (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Levin, J., & Nolan, J. F. (2004). Principles of classroom management: A professional decision-making model. Pearson Higher Ed.

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Third Observation

My final observation for this semester took place on Wednesday. It was my first attempt at teaching social studies. As with any lesson, there were goods and bads. However, my worst problem with this observation was time management.

Normally, social studies has a thirty minute time slot which is covered on Tuesdays and Fridays. Since I wanted practice with teaching a social studies lesson, I asked if I could teach the subject on Wednesday. When I completed the lesson, it had taken an hour to complete and it was not as thorough as I would have wanted it to be.

My main problems came in with discussion time and remembering to set the timer during paired and individual activities. Time management is such an important skill to build as a teacher since you do have to keep a lesson moving to make sure that all subjects are covered.

I have been thinking about ways that could improve my time management skills. First, setting the timer for all tasks that are not done in whole group. Programming the timer and sticking to the time allotted is very important. I have a habit of not setting the timer often and when I do set it, I always extend the time for those few who are not ready to move on. Learning when to say, ”We have to move on,” will be a skill that has to be worked on. It will encourage students to not work as slow as they do and will keep your lesson on time.

Another way to cut down on time is to not listen to every response or comment a student wants to share. I do believe that this is my biggest problem. I want my students to feel as if their comments are important and valued so I try to listen to them. However, sometimes I do this for too long a time. The solution might be to pre-warn the students that you will only accept three answers and then move on. This might mean that you will have to give them the answer and move onto the next question. And to make it fair, recording who talks on your anecdotal notes will allow you to call on those students who have not shared yet.

I know that time management takes time to perfect. However, I do think this will be one of the more difficult skills that I will need to work on.

Peer Observation Two

For quite a while now, I have been working to improve the way I handle student behaviors while I teach. Therefore, it was very helpful to have a peer come in and observe me teach a lesson. As usual, I did have a few students who became distracted but I do believe I improved.

When I am at the front of the class, it is sometimes hard to keep track of misbehavior that is happening in the back. My peer was very diligent and pointed out a few students who were distracting one another while I was carrying out a class discussion. I did notice that I was mainly hovering in the front of the class during instruction. So when this was pointed out, I realized that I could have been walking around the classroom. This would help me to see which students are off task. Walking around would also allow me to freely move closer to students who are sharing a response but are soft-spoken. I think it is important for me to be an active teacher and I can demonstrate this through moving through the room even during class discussion. Also, students need to be attentive to the lesson so that they can learn. Therefore, it is my responsibility to reroute student attention back to the lesson.

Another slight problem that arose during the lesson was the introduction of the Post-it Notes. Students were to work together to list important points and their feelings about what they read on these post-it notes. However, it was evident that I did not explain my expectations for the use of the post-it notes. Since the students rarely use these sticky notes, they were quickly becoming distracted and were not focusing on their main task. This was also mentioned by my peer observer. It is very important that an educator explains expectations to the students so as to prevent misuse of time and resources. If I were to use post-it notes again in class, I would want to inform the students that the sticky notes are not to be played with or wasted. Instead, they are a tool that students are supposed to use to help record their thoughts. I would then have to keep a vigilant eye on their actions to redirect students.

I was happy to see though that I was noticing more behaviors than before. I was pleased to see that both my verbal and non-verbal cues seemed to be working effectively when I did notice off-task behavior. This helps me to understand that the strategies that I am using are working well for my students. I would like to keep on developing different cues so as to add variety and to also keep students on task without stopping the flow of the lesson.

Formal Observation 2

This week, my third grade students had their first encounter with FSA testing. Knowing from my experience with testing, the students would be drained from taking this test in the morning. I did go in with the idea to make this lesson light while still having them learn. I was to model how to plan for an opinion essay and then let them try the process on their own. Since they are very slow with planning, I wanted to make the concepts clear while speeding up the process.

There were quite a few things that did not work as anticipated. First, I did not expect my students to ask as many questions as I did during my modeling. There was so much that my students were trying to influence my modeling that it actually turned into a shared plan. This caused the time that I had allocated to expire before I was even close to finishing the plan. I do believe that the constant interruptions developed since I did not give clear instructions when I first began to plan. Looking back, I should have told my students that I wanted them to be silent and attentive while modeling and that I would take questions and comments after I was done. Clear expectations help diminish undesired behaviors. Setting those clear expectations would have allowed the first part of my lesson to function as a model. Another way to present their questions during the model would have been allowing them to write their questions on a sticky note to help them remember their questions would have worked.

One large issue that I realized when releasing the students to form their own opinion and their topics was that my students did not realize the difference between fact and opinion. I had assumed wrongly that their teacher had thoroughly covered the difference between facts and opinions. What I truly should have done was stop the lesson and help them understand the difference between the two since it was such a key concept for planning the opinion essay. I really should have stopped and helped to clarify the concept so that least a few more students could have successfully written their opinions and topics understanding that they are separate ideas.

One strategy that I did use was having students just think about their opinion. It was a simple question of if they thought that Pluto should be a dwarf planet or a regular planet. I knew that if I released them to write immediately, it would have taken longer for the students to form their opinion. I had them think in silence for close to 45 seconds. It worked wonderfully. I only had to assist a few students with this idea. I will certainly use this in future lessons since it forces students to take their time and think.

Once I did release students to work on their plans, their behavior became a bit disruptive. Students would talk to one another which created an environment where students had a hard time concentrating for an extended period of time. I gave them many warnings and disciplined a couple of them but I do think that I was just threatening them and that I truly had no plan to handle those behaviors.

“The teachers who are most successful at creating a positive classroom atmosphere that enhances student learning are those who employ a carefully developed plan for classroom management. (Levin & Nolan, 2013, 82)”

If I had set clear expectations and acted upon students who were not following rules and expectations, the lesson would have progressed a bit smoother. I also should have taken a minute break to let them get the “wiggles” out. Leading a quick exercise burst would have allowed the students to settle down and focus instead of finding ways to let out their pent up energy and stress from taking the FSA.

Levin, J., & Nolan, J. (2013). Principles of classroom management a professional decision-making model (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Peer Observation

I had a wonderful classmate come in and observe me teaching a lesson to my third graders. My lesson was covering the third scene of a play but my observer was focused on my teaching behaviors. She offered wonderful advice and gave great encouragement.

Improvements to be made:

  • I need to work on my teacher voice. This was mentioned once or twice in the feedback. It made me realize that I often do not worry if I am speaking loudly enough for the students to hear.
  • Directions should be clear and given before releasing students. I will sometimes give vague instructions and then students often have to ask for clarification. I really need to focus on what I want students to do so as to make their time focused on learning rather than trying to figure out what I want them to do.
  • Of course, I need to be aware of distracted students. I struggle with this bit and often do not notice silent behaviors. I only really notice when students are talking. Therefore, I really need to make sure I am monitoring all of the students’ behaviors.

Positive aspects:

  • My attention grabber was effective. In class, I count down from 5 while using my hand as a visual cue. This signals to students that they need to focus on the teacher and quickly finish their discussion. This is effective but I would like to try a few new ones with my students to mix it up.
  • My use of jokes and excitement when I am teaching makes the lesson fun. I really do try to get the students interested in the material, especially if the material may not be exciting or something that they are not interested. I was really happy to see that someone noticed that I do this.
  • The use of popsicle sticks was good for participation. Certain students are willing to share their answers. However, I want to make sure that I am calling on all of the students. The sticks help me keep track of who I call on. I also like using these for when a lot of students want to share and I am not sure who to call on. Also, I make sure that if a student does not have an answer, they can call on a “buddy” to help them out.

Overall, I really appreciated the feedback given by Mika. She did a wonderful job of bring up points of my teaching that I need to focus on like the positive and negative aspects.

First Formal Observation

My first formal observation took place this week. I was instructing a group of third graders on poetry and how knowing a character’s feelings and motivations influences the sequence of events in a story. Although I planned for the lesson to go on for about an hour, I knew my students were going to need more than that amount of time. I really had planned for the best case scenario. But the time was not of much concern for my lesson since the students have a two hour period in which they are to learn the material. With any leftover time, students are normally independently reading while my CT or myself pull a guided reading group.

Overall, I think the lesson went well. Students seemed to like placing tabs to identify each stanza and they were very willing to answer questions in class. There were a few big things that should have been fixed. I was able to do this with the second class I taught after the first group.

The first thing was managing classroom behavior. I often get caught up in teaching the material that I forget to also focus my attention to what the students were doing. Another thing that I also have trouble doing is trying to stop the behavior when I notice it. I don’t want to stop instruction to stop the students and sometimes being in close proximity does not stop the students from being distracted. There was one time where I was able to remove a distraction from a student without interrupting the lesson but I was less successful with those who were distracted. Therefore, I did my best to move around the class when I was talking with the students instead of staying near the front.

Another problem I had with the lesson was explanation of ideas. I would normally ask the students a question and then release them to turn and talk with their shoulder partner. I would then circulate to see what students were saying. Most of the time, I would have to turn off the timer and walk around for a bit more to finish a thought with a student and circle once more before bring the class together. Then, I would have students offer their ideas. My first problem was calling on almost all of the students who raised their hand. I was hoping that one of them would give the answer. When none of them would contribute a close answer, I would then try to reason it out with them. Part of learning is not being given the answer. Instead, coming upon the answer on your own through thought guiding questions is what truly helps you learn the material. This reasoning would take too long and once I finally gave in and gave them the answer after a very long time. I was even losing the students attention at that point.

Next time I instruct, I am hoping to keep the lesson tight while not being as afraid to correct or even discipline students who are constantly distracted.

STEM Fair

This year, I attended the 2015 STEM Fair that is hosted by the Hillsborough County School District. This event features students from grades 3 to 12 in a competition where their investigation is judged against others in the spirit of science. Students could either work in a group or individually and the participants were separated by grade and science category. My function was to judge third grade group projects under the physical science matter category.

I was very nervous to serve as a judge for such an important event. These students have been working on their investigation for months and have many things riding on their project. Students want to place (win awards) and win prize money. My judgement based on the criteria could allow them to win a prize or not. Together with my partner, we visited nine projects. My main job was to look through the log books that the students had complied to represent their entry into the competition.

As I was looking through the log books, I repeatedly saw the same pattern of investigation. Students thought of what they wanted to learn more about and then followed the “Scientific Method” to see if they could answer a question that was held about the topic. There is a myth that exists about science that “a general and universal scientific method exists” (McComas, 1996). The students did not have any variation on how they conducted their investigation. They all followed this set procedure of how to do their project. I do not fault the students for their procedure. However, I do think about how the teachers are presenting science to their students. These kids mostly have no knowledge about the different methods that scientists employ to work through their questions and the ones that were present in the science fair do not acknowledge this diversity.

I hope that teachers will look at how they are presenting science to their class and make appropriate changes so that science is not presented in such a stagnant manner. Steps that are taken by scientists can be varied and certainly do not fit into a single step by step plan. Now, educators need to make sure that we are presenting the full story of science.