As we attempt to honor our students’ access to course material (HOPE standard H2), we must keep in mind that our students’ efforts to pay attention can only go so far. There are two main points to consider when designing a classroom environment that engages students’ minds: their motivation and their attention.
Pressley and McCormick (2007) present many factors that can influence a student’s motivation to put forth effort in the classroom. The factor that concerned me most was that of self-efficacy. The authors define self-efficacy as “a learner’s perception of his or her capability of reaching a desired goal or a certain level of performance” (p. 292). When students have the belief that they are able to successfully accomplish a task, they are more motivated to attempt similar tasks in the future. When they are continually unable to accomplish tasks, they are discouraged from attempting such tasks in the future. A student’s belief in their own abilities can change the course of their lives, influencing the decisions they make and where they place their efforts. A way teachers can boost students’ self-confidence in a given subject is to take advantage of the review periods at the beginning of the year. While some might find it dull and repetitive for the students, those struggling with material can have a second chance to understand hard concepts and feel more confident in their ability to perform those tasks.
Medina (2008) designates an entire Brain Rule to attention. Contrary to popular belief, he notes that “attentional ability is not capable of multitasking” (p. 85). While we may think that giving directions for a second activity while students are actively engaged in the first activity would benefit students and cut down on transition time, it actually requires them to shift their attention from their work, then back to their work once instruction is over. This results in a loss of concentration and possibly, as shown in studies, a loss of time and increase in errors. In order to ensure students are paying attention to only one stimulus at a time, teachers should honor the time students have to complete a task before frontloading the next.
Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
Pressley, M. & McCormick, C. B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York, NY:
H3 – Honor the classroom/school community as a milieu for learning. It is important that all people involved in the education of students see that the school is an environment of learning. If any parties do not take view the classroom as a sacred place of learning, it will hold back the educational process. If teachers do not view it as such, then they might have some misconceptions about their career. If students do not view it as such, then they will not approach the classroom to learn, thus making a teacher’s job difficult to say the least. Finally, if parents do not respect the classroom as a learning environment, they might see the school as nothing more than a tax-sponsored babysitting program.
During Curriculum Night, my mentor teacher made sure to emphasize the importance of being in school every day possible. The handed out the sheet shown in Image 1 as part of the night’s paperwork. Under the daily schedule, she reminded families of the importance of each day in the classroom.
It is unfortunate that some parents bring their kids back from a long absence, see that there was little homework, and then comment that they’re happy their child “didn’t miss anything important.” It is this mentality that needs to be stopped. In education, we already have so few days with our students. Each day is important. Each hour. Each 15-minute segment. Any mini-lesson might be the one that finally gives the students that “a-ha” moment they needed in order to no longer struggle with certain content. If they are pulled out of school early for a vacation or to get to a concert early, they might miss that key piece that they need. In my own classroom one day, I will be sure to emphasize the importance of each moment spent in the classroom and hopefully make an impact on the families’ views on the classroom as a place of learning.
P2 – Practice differentiated instruction. No two students learn the same way. Each has strengths and weaknesses. In response to those differences, instruction can be modified or tailored to the student’s needs. In our school, we use leveled readers in order to ensure that each student in reading at an appropriate level. Many students will try to read books that are above their ability or comprehension, not understanding that it is too difficult for them, at least until they have invested a great deal of time and stress in the reading. We want to show students that when a book is “just right,” reading can be an enjoyable experience.
We did an individual evaluation for each student to allow them to read books from the class library that are suited for their level. Each book is labeled with a letter that corresponds to a reading level, as shown in Image 1. These evaluations consist of reading aloud for fluency and self-correcting, reading silently, recall of the selected passage, and answering both open and closed questions about the text. The assessments we use are based off of The Teacher’s College assessments. According to the group, when student fluency falls below 90%, this often indicates that the book level would be too hard, even with assistance, and the student might become frustrated with the text. One student’s running record is shown in Image 2.
Although some students came to our class with evaluations from their third-grade teachers, we re-evaluated them just in case their reading improved over the summer or in case they needed to take a step back due to a summer reading lull. We also re-evaluate students when they feel that they are ready for more challenging books. They can only request to retest if they have conferenced with us about multiple books that they have read at their level.
As opposed to reading a whole-class novel that may be too advanced or too simple for some students, we can group students based on their levels so they can set their own goals and make progress based on their own starting point. These groups’ books are shown in Image 3. This is a great improvement on the basal reader, which rarely takes into consideration that many students are reading below grade-level. The students enjoy reading the same book as others in their class, but as opposed to a whole-class novel, they will be reading a book that is appropriate for their abilities.
Vygotsky’s theories include many aspects that could translate easily to the classroom. The main one I can think of as being useful is his Zone of Proximal Development. The zone of proximal development, according to Pressley and McCormick (2007), is the space between the most challenging task a child can perform on their own and the most challenging task they can perform with help. This is important in a school because we can “scaffold” students’ learning in order to help them do more than they could on their own, gradually giving less and less support, until they can do it independently.
An assignment I have been working on for my students is a Think Aloud. A Think Aloud is when you model strategies for students as you read, allowing them to understand the though process surrounding the strategy – making my private speech vocalized. While the text may be too difficult for some students, hearing how someone else approaches the text can help students better understand the strategy – like an apprenticeship when the understudy watches the professional. After modeling, the teacher coaches the student, reminding them to “talk to the text,” in order to remind them of the strategies they can use. After time, the strategy becomes a skill and the student is able to tackle the previously-difficult texts on their own.
I have had many assignments in which I’ve had to work with other students. At times, working with partners was simple because we “were on the same page.” I believe this derives from coming from a similar background and being on the same cognitive understanding of the topic and assignment at hand. There have also been times when it was difficult. This might have stemmed from differing backgrounds, differing opinions on how something should be done, or simply a difference in how we communicate causing friction. It is important for students to learn to work with others, since they will be doing so their entire lives, regardless of if they can learn to work with someone else or not.
Pressley, M. & McCormick, C. B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York, NY: Guilford Press.