Student Teaching Reflections

Week 11: 5/14-5/18

The Measurement of Student Progress, better known statewide as the M.S.P., is the storm that hit our school last week.  Classrooms up and down the corridor were silent or empty (students in the computer testing lab) due to the intense nature of this yearly standardized testing schedule.  While I feel that testing is necessary the pressure students feel to attian high score and the added high stakes this tests carries for teachers creates an extremely charged school wide environment. Students were scared and nervous.  For some the anxiety was even making them sick and for the teachers it was a challenge to simply encourage students to “relax and do their best” when the outcomes for testing have become such a hot bed of controversy.

In the multiage classroom that I am student-teaching in it was a challenging week for our 4th graders.  All sixteen fourth grade students were required to take both the writing M.S.P.’s.  This is comprised of both a narrative writing exam and an expository writing exam in the same week.  While these are skills that the students have been fully prepared for all year, the reality of the actual testing day was intense.  These students worked from 9:30 until 2:35, with some barely finishing.   The process includes a pre-write, rough draft, and then a final draft to be transferred into the testing booklet.  This would be a lot to ask of an adult.  I was completely impressed with the tenacity and ambition that these students used to focus and complete these two days of testing.  Meanwhile, in the classroom the seven 3rd and seven 5th graders reviewed concepts for the following week’s tests and completed projects that needed finishing.  However, we could not really start anything new with half the class missing.  An introduction to the revolutionary war was started when the fourth grade group was in class but the testing really did slow down momentum of the curriculum.

Next week our student will face the reading, math and science M.S.P.’s for another three days of testing.  Our school has chosen to participate in the pilot program for online testing for these three tests. Because of this we have had to participate in multiple training sessions to ready the students and staff to better understand the test taking tools and strategies specific to online testing.  While I think this is a more efficient way to test students who are digital natives they are being trained by adults who are more or less digital immigrants.  This differentiated learning curve between student and teacher makes training for the test a necessary component of instructional time.  As years progress, and the kinks of online testing get worked out, students and teachers will both be able to apply their personal schema from these testing and training days to future online testing, hopefully requiring less time.   I am happy to know that I now have the knowledge, skills, and training to participate as a proctor in future M.S.P. testing sessions.

Student Teaching Reflections

Week 7: 4/16- 4/20

This week proved to be exhausting, exhilarating, challenging, frustrating, educating and extremely fun as I was able to take part in a three day camping trip at NatureBridge in the Olympic National Park temperate rain-forest as the teacher.    While, I have been on over nights like this as a parent chaperone, going as a teacher is a wholly new experience that affords a completely different view.  First, the logistics of getting a trip like this to run smoothly is a mountainous job.  Second, this type of “classroom” learning experience forces students and teachers to adapt and be flexible to different styles of learning and teaching as the NatureBridge staff educators take over.  Students learning outside the “regular” classroom through hands on activities support a “real-life” experience rather than just mimic real-life.  Each day offered many occasion to strengthen their social bonds and unify as a group.  Additionally, I understand the importance of timing, when it comes to field–trip planning, as the rest of the week became very hard to motivate and focus the students.  Each day on this trip I was encouraged and my convictions that I am entering the right profession were reaffirmed.

Leading up to this week there was an enormous amount of planning.  Filed trip communications with parents was comprehensive!  Information including; important notices,  monetary obligations, transportation, chaperone notification, scholarships, fund raisings, medical release forms, logistical information, chaperone requests, constant emails, etc., began at the start of the year and continued until the day we left.  Needless to say, this type of learning experience takes careful planning and organization of epic proportions.

The week started as the students loaded onto the bus early Monday morning.   Once seated and secure, which in and of itself is no small feat, all 29 students and nine chaperones were off on an adventure that I am sure will not soon be forgotten. The bus ride was, well, a bus ride… for two hours.  The kids were very well behaved and although one student got sick there was little to no incidents to report.  Upon our arrival we were greeted by the extremely friendly and knowledgeable staff.  They shared their expectations for and of us while we were there and got us sorted into our field study groups.  Once completely suited up for the continual rainfall, students broke into their groups and headed into the forest for a day of exploring and learning.  The beauty of this awesome program is that not only did the children get to learn from different teachers, the staff, but they were able to experience learning from an even more important teacher, the rain-forest itself.   The tall native elder trees,  covered in moss and ferns, every shade of green, dripping in a wet mist and filled with natures beautiful song, became the most powerful educator and the classroom for the next few days.  It was wonderful to see many of the students become immersed in science, nature, and the awe of what the forest had to teach them.  As we hiked throughout the forest and the park the kids learned about temperate rain-forest ecology in a very real way, one that they could never have experienced in the regular classroom.

Just as important as the lesson of forest ecology was the lesson of interdependence within our small learning community.  Social learning opportunities within our small group, between our group as a whole and throughout the NatureBridge facility was established as we shared the space with not only each other but other schools, too.  We had our community meals in a large dining and shared stories of the day, personal family-life, and individual experiences as relationships were strengthened and emotional well-being of the students was supported.  These shared times encouraged the building of relationships and supporting the character for all students.   If you ask the students they would tell you that these were some of their favorite times; just good camp fun! As important as the educational aspects of this type of environmental learning are, the social opportunities to grow as a member of a group hold equal value.

Lastly, Thursday and Friday of this week were difficult for motivating and gaining student attention.  Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was the excitement to share and chat about individual experiences, but I think, if given a choice when planning, I would schedule a trip like this to end on a Friday.  Even my mentor teacher and I felt the toll of the awesome adventure.   I, admittedly, was just as tired as the students on Thursday but was able to refocus by Friday.  I think the kids could have used a weekend to recover before getting back to regular work.

I would have never traded this experience for staying behind in the classroom.  I feel very fortunate to have been able to participate in an outdoor educational program with the kids under the guidance of my mentor.  I know that I will be better prepared for any future classroom’s outdoor educational experiences.  I now more fully understand the value of this experience for both academic and social learning.

 

Student Teaching Reflections

Week 6: 4/9-4/13

This week proved to be a very exciting one for many reasons.  First, it was our first week back from a long spring break, and the student’s enthusiasm, to be back with their friends and in school, was palpable.  Secondly, our class is preparing for a three day field trip and our class’s excitement grew with each lesson.  Lastly, on Friday the news that our school will not be closing was announced to audible sighs of relief and hoots of joy.

After a ten day break from school it was nice to see the students walk in fresh and ready to be back “to work”.  I don’t know if this was particular to our class but I seemed to notice an excitement throughout the school from kids in the hallways, in the playground, on their way to lunch and even in other classrooms. Student’s just simply seemed happy to be back.  As I began to teach math for the day, fully expecting to have to re- teach much of what we were working on before the break, I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of the students had retained the bulk of the concept for fractions.  We had full review day on Monday and then Tuesday a unique fractions unit review assessment.  This assessment, that I created, was a bit like musical chairs.  Each student started on one of the nine stations an independently worked through that station for an allotted amount of time.  The rotation was complete when each student had finished each station. This assessment seemed to go well and the feedback the next day when we reviewed the test together was great.  The kids really seemed to enjoy moving about between questions and like the variety of problem solving opportunities to show their understanding of fractions in different contexts.  I was able to better understand what “holes” I needed to address for further understanding of specific skills for individual students and better plan for future lessons.

Secondly, the students in the class have been actively participating and excitedly absorbing all the information we have been teaching about the Olympic Temperate Rain-forest.  We are headed to Olympic Peninsula Institute- Nature Bridge for a three day immersion in the unique biome that is the temperate rain-forest.  Because of the focus on the temperate rain-forest we were able to teach about the ecosystem specific to this amazing biome.  Throughout the week we lived and breathed the temperate rain-forest through study of the Tree of Life, the Temperate Rain-forest Food Web, expert study of the Northern Spotted Owl, development of our Cognitive Content Dictionary (CCD) or academic vocabulary, inquiry charts, sentence patterning charts, layers of the temperate rain-forest, chants and poetry, and much more.



However, the highlight of the week, for the students and me, had to be the dissection of owl pellets.  While at first I was unsure what to expect, (I never had the opportunity to do this before) this proved to be an amazing hands on way to explore, create, discuss, hypothesize, infer, cooperate, and learn for everyone involved. The student’s paired up and worked together and their enthusiasm soared as they began to search the pellet for bones structures to organize.

It was amazing to see these young scientists discover complete sets of bones from ingested animals.  As the students explored they hypothesized what their owl had eaten and categorized bones accordingly.  Then, as they matched and developed full sets of bones, they were able to process the cycle of life in the temperate rain-forest with a bit more understanding. All in all, I think that this will be a learning experience that neither I nor the kids will forge for a long time.

Lastly, as I have mentioned before, the school that I am working at has been on the proverbial “chopping block” for budgetary cuts for the upcoming school year 2012-2013.  The news was announced on Friday that there will be no closing of the school for next year to much elation and relief for staff, students, and families.  However, this relief might be short lived as it is still in the talks for closure the following year 2013-2014.  The moral, at least for the day, was better and it was nice to see many people smiling.  I am constantly aware of the pressure that this type of closure and budgetary crisis’ puts on everyone in a district, town and community.  People become divided and angry.  So, for at least today, I can say it was nice to see the mood elevated…even if it is temporary.

Student Teaching Reflections

Week 5: 3/26-3/30

This week was a short one, with the students, but did not lack in new teaching experiences.  With only Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with the students we made and effort to focus on review of concepts already learned and to introduce our study of Temperate Rainforest before the long spring break.  Additionally, we worked hard to complete accurate assessments before Thursday and Friday when parent teacher conferences were scheduled.  Although, I have been through this experience with my own children as the parent I have not yet participated as the teacher.  I was impressed and amazed at the complete confidence and support that my mentor teacher shared with each student and parent. Each conference was unique to the student and allowed the parents a myriad of information about their child’s academic performance and social growth. Each conference was filled with details of student progress and yet offered glimpses of personal achievements and social growth.

The quick 30 minute conferences do not allow for unpreparedness and by no means was my mentor teacher unprepared.  She has a system of filing that gives each student a drawer with pertinent information and student work to share with each parent.  When it is time for conferences she merely has to organize the paperwork and she is ready to go.  This paperwork includes assessments for reading fluency and comprehension, samples of student math work, writing samples, and M.A.P. testing scores.  She provides both numerical and pictorial graphs for parents to visualize and understand their child’s academic successes as compared to the national and school district norms.  In advance she has students write what they are most proud of for each area; writing, reading, mathematics and social skills.  Each student shares these proud accomplishments as well as goals for the remainder of the year.  The student becomes an active participant in the conference.   What captivated me the most was the depth that my mentor teacher understands the individuality of each of the students.  She “gets” individual student learning style and social well-being.  She supports not only academic but social growth for each student and throughout the conferences was able to share with parents support for any concerns they might have.  I was also able to witness as one student who has struggled for years, finally qualify for the support of a I.E.P.   This turned out to be a relief to everyone; the parents, the teacher and most of the entire student.  She now will receive support to support her academic success and the skills to apply for future learning environments.  It was amazing to see how closely the special educational staff and the classroom teachers work with students and parents all to benefit academic growth.

I feel very fortunate to have participated in such a seamless parent-teacher conference schedule. Although, each conference is only a 30 minute session, in this short amount of time everyone seemed well attended to and their needs were met.  Each conference provided specific individual student details and provided a deep understanding of each student. I am sure that in the future I will develop my own routines for conference time.  For now I am glad to say that I had the experience of witnessing conferences from a teacher perspective.  I hope that when I have a class of my own I will be able to connect as thoroughly with each student’s individuality and offer support for parental concerns as well as my mentor.

Student Teaching Reflections Week 4

Week 4 Reflections March 3/18-23

This fourth week of student teaching was a lesson in experiencing many firsts: my first supervisor observation, my first attempts videotaping for the TPA (Teacher Pedagogical Assessment), my first educator’s job fair, and my first time experiencing the work-load after a day away from school.  This week also afforded me the opportunity to feel a sense of comfort amongst the chaos as I spend more time in front of and next to the students and less time on the sidelines.

My first “set of firsts”, focused in the beginning of the week with preparing, organizing, and developing a unit for fractions and lessons that would be appropriate for the students’ mathematical development of fractions.  The unit needed to meet the requirements for not only student performance expectations and state standards but also be appropriate for my supervisory observation and videotaping for the TPA.   I started the unit by exploring fractions and creating fraction kits with the students.  Then we continued throughout the week to use these kits during lessons to help the students with classwork/homework and to improve their understanding, by using them to play many games, and to support the relationships between fractions and a whole.  Along with the students, I developed a cognitive content dictionary that supports multiple learning styles and defines vocabulary that is specific to mathematics.  I completed two-hours of videotaping and will focus on finding the right ten minute segments for the TPA reflection and submission. The observation by my supervisor was helpful in providing me with concrete feedback about instructional tools and opportunities for me to refine my teaching style.  I look forward to more observations as it is always nice to have feedback to better craft your personal teaching techniques.

The job fair for educators, held in Tacoma at the Tacoma Dome, proved to be overwhelming and exciting all at the same time.  Although, I understand the national crisis that education is facing, it was promising to see so many people still seeking employment as a teacher.  On the other hand the vast amount of people (probably somewhere in the ballpark of 1200 candidates) looking for jobs and the actual jobs available was somewhat disconcerting.  I have faith that I will find full time employment as a teacher… it just may take some time.  The beauty of this experience was that I was forced to revisit my resume and add my new experience to my past experience. This afforded me the opportunity to see my accomplishments of the past two years and realize the potential opportunities for this new career.   I was encouraged when talking to potential employers in various districts about the turnover they imagine happening in the near future, 2-5 years.  Although, the ability for relocating to another part of the state or country is not a reality for me, there are still prospects available for educators to get a foot in the door and begin a career in teaching.

The work load, after a day away from school, is another “first” I was able to experience this week.  I missed a day for the job fair where the students completed assessments.  While this is a good day to miss as the students are focused on their tests, assessments involve time for grading and evaluating which I had to make up for upon my return.  It is easy to see why teachers are rarely eager to take time away from their classrooms when it means that the catch-up work grows exponentially in size.  Even the e-mail load upon my return was tripled in size.  The small actions and interactions that seem to go unnoticed throughout a normal school day become substantial upon your return.  Simply being in the classroom to answer questions as they arise, being available to students, parents, or principal, or even to run ideas/thoughts/plans by colleagues, helps make the daily workload manageable.  While there are and will be times when it is necessary to be away from the classroom I see the great importance of everyday consistency for a teacher’s presence and availability.

Lastly, this week I began to feel like a real part of the class.  I seemed to start to assume more often the role of teacher and with that began to feel a sense of place. This sense of place directly relates to a sense of purpose for me.  I know I am doing the right thing even though I may feel at times uncomfortable in the uncertainty of my future.  Even in the classroom, filled with routine, a sense of controlled chaos that seems to afford me comfort.  Comfort in the knowledge that I am doing what I should be, comfort in the idea that I will always be learning, and comfort in the fact that I can make a difference.  My sense of ease grows each day along with my abilities and strengths as a teaching professional.

EDU 6363 Language Arts, Social Studies, and Arts

EDU 6363 Social Studies, Language Arts and Arts

Fine Arts and Technology

Within every community there begs opportunities to implement and involve the arts.  In Seattle alone there are over 30 museums.  While each of these field trips would cost money there are group discounts and programs available for education that may require little or no monies.  School districts have funds set aside to support some additional curriculum and if married with another discipline of study a natural integration of curriculum occurs.  Even if there are no opportunities or funds to take a field trip the beauty of technology is that “virtual” field trips are a comprehensive way to support what in the past could only have been observed by leaving the school campus.

No, while I do believe the experience of seeing artwork in person is a gift it is not often the reality for many districts across the nation.  Online support then becomes a perfect opportunity for viable experience for arts education.  For example the Simthsonian, based in Washington D.C., offers virtual tours and online art education.  Artwork that students might not be able to afford to see in person they can now witness and enjoy repeatedly online.  By simply having access to a computer a whole world of arts education is open to all, no matter the socio-economic status.

In addition to funding, the challenge of time often becomes an obstacle for comprehensive arts education.  Virtual educational art programs offer a compromise for integration of arts into classroom curriculum with no additional time burden.  With fewer and fewer specialized art teachers, the regular classroom teacher is forced to seek out alternative options for exposing students to fine arts. Some of these virtual programs are user friendly and support the average classroom teacher who is looking to incorporate the arts but might not be as knowledgeable as an art specialist.  Teachers are nothing if they are not resourceful and the following websites are some great places to start looking for local  and virtual resources to support and supplement arts education.

Seattle Art Museum- SAM

Website Seattle Area Museums

Smithsonian

EDU 6363- Language Arts, Social Studies, and Art

The 7 Continents and 5 Oceans

The other day, fueled by the energy of my mentor teacher and the excitement of a new unit, I observed a beautifully orchestrated interdisciplinary lesson.  The learning target: to teach the students, to mastery, the seven continents and the five oceans as they are located on a map.  This learning target was written on the board and the lecture began unfolding as maps, globes, pictures, labels, colors, and facts came to life before the student’s eyes.  The integration of curriculum was flawless.  The students became an active part of the lesson by participating both mentally and physically in the gathering and presenting of information.

The lesson started by first looking at a globe.  The students used their knowledge to share what they know about a globe versus a map.  Next the class examined aspects of the world map by observing a teacher created map. Before their eyes the teacher presented a lecture/drawing of the world.  The lecture started first by drawing a sphere and markers representing the equator, and latitudinal and longitudinal degrees.  Then she began to illustrate the continents starting with North America.  She drew the shape of the continent and explained facts about it while providing details and additional pictures to support geographically significant areas i.e. Florida’s unique shape or The Great Lakes.  The lecture continued for each of the other six continents, providing support for each continent with significant geographical areas of importance.  After each continent was represented on the map, the five oceans were then introduced.  Historical significance was developed about the origins of their names, i.e. Atlantic Ocean was named after Atlas Atlantic meaning “the sea of Atlas”, or that the Southern Ocean was only just discovered in 2000 by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).  Each fact or supporting detail that she offered was documented and or labeled on the map.

Pictures of supporting evidence developed throughout the lecture and labels of the seven continent and the five oceans were then passed out to all the students.  The teacher then went through the lecture again by asking students questions.  This prompted kinesthetic connections by providing an opportunity for students to place labels or pictures on their World Map.  After this the teacher took students through a sketching exercise helping to additionally solidify information through mind mapping and art.  The teacher taught the students “quick draw” a map with seven circles and showed how they could be used to label the seven continent and five oceans properly.  The students then had the opportunity to sketch their own world map in 10 minutes and provide proper labeling.  The sketches were collected and assessed to see if additional instruction was needed and ascertain if the learning targets were met.

The lesson described above is a social studies lesson that beautifully incorporates history, art, literature, science, geography, and math.  It is an example of a successfully planned interdisciplinary lesson using integrated curriculum.  Each of the different levels of knowledge that were addressed in the reading this week; facts, topics, concepts, enduring understanding and principles and theories, were represented and practiced throughout the lesson.  The ideas of KNOW/DO/BE were woven into the fabric of the lecture, practiced, repeated and observed while the students actively participated.