Next week, I will begin another quarter of courses, including EDU 6132: Learners in Context. Before I begin this class, I have been asked to reflect on what I already know about child and adolescent development and how that relates to teaching. While pondering the topic, I realized that I know very little.
The only thing I know for certain about child and adolescent development is that no two people are the same. Identical twins, who are genetically the same at conception, can develop at vastly different rates. Some children reach benchmarks early, while others struggle to say their first words by a given time. Some of those “late bloomers” grow up to have no learning disabilities while others continue to struggle throughout life. What I have read thus far of Brain Rules (Medina, 2008) confirms this certainty, explaining that each brain is completely unique, even in its structure, due to different experiences and perspectives.
Most of what I know about child and adolescent development comes from the news – those 60-second segments that report on the findings of new research. A course on the subject will expand my knowledge, which will be beneficial both as a teacher and as, one day, a mother. It will help me better honor student diversity and development, one of our program’s HOPE Principles (H1). While we typically think that only those children who have been tested and diagnosed with a “special need” are those who learn differently, it is important to know that each student comes to the classroom with unique experiences, strengths, and weaknesses. Knowing more about how those differences develop will help me become a better teacher in that I will better be able to recognize and accommodate for those qualities that make a child unique.
Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
H4 – Honor family and community involvement in the learning process. Having parents involved in a student’s education can open opportunities for learning outside of the classroom and can be a critical component to a student’s success. The U.S. Department of Education says that “research overwhelmingly demonstrates the positive effect that parent involvement has on their children’s academic achievement” (2003). When families know what is going on at school, they can incorporate appropriate vocabulary and questions into everyday life; no longer creating a void between “school time” and “not school time.” In order to help close this gap, Mrs. L, my mentor teacher, has a class blog that students, parents, guardians, and other interested parties can access. An update to the conventional letters home, the blog can be updated frequently, can include pictures and documents, and is more likely to be seen since it can’t get lost in transport (as school letters so often do). Mrs. L’s blog keeps parents informed about what their student is learning as well as upcoming events that may concern the community such as a book fair or PTA event. Figure 1 is a screenshot from the class blog. It is expected that students remind their parents to check the blog during the first few weeks in order to build the habit of checking the blog daily and rewards are given to students who come to class with the secret codes posted on the page; the code in Figure 1, for example, is “because,” a word we are trying to encourage the students to use more.
I have always heard of the importance of school-parent relationships, but never knew my skill with social media could benefit my students’ learning via parental involvement. In a time when most parents of young students are more connected than ever, having an online source that keeps them connected to what their children do for eight hours per day is not only beneficial, but also convenient. As technology progresses, too, I hope to remain electronically literate in order to continue to be able to communicate with parents on a convenient and understandable level. The feedback from Mrs. L’s blog is very positive, one parent said via e-mail, “I love that you have a class blog.” Mrs. L also credits it for being able to get last-minute chaperones and volunteers, as well as donations of much-needed classroom items.
U.S. Department of Education. (2003). No child left behind: a parent’s guide. Retrieved September 23, 2013 from http://www.ed.gov/parents/academic/involve/nclbguide/parentsguide.pdf
H2 – Honor student access to content material. Most general-education classrooms are designed to cater to the majority of learners. These classrooms often need to make specific modifications in order for different types of learners to do their best. For example, in our classroom, we have an English language learner who is not receiving specialized English instruction. She is starting from nearly zero and, in order to make any progress whatsoever, she will need to earn the English language, building her vocabulary and learning how to read. In order for the student to have proper access to the class content, we have been taking her aside to build vocabulary.
Figure 1 shows vocabulary sheets my mentor teacher developed using Richard Scary books from the library. After copying the pages, we whited out the labels. We then laminated these sheets so we can use dry-erase markers on them and reuse them. I realized that, even though we don’t have an ELL specialist in our school, we can still develop resources in order to help our students that need accommodations. It also showed me that, given the right resources, even the students who struggle most can make great strides. Using this method, our student can already identify many classroom items and actions. This allows her to better follow instruction during class and participate when she can. When this participation occurs, she is able to show how much she truly understands. This has been evident in math where, once she understood the numbers and what it meant to take out a pencil or add numbers, she was able to show us that she was up to standard on her math skills.