Professional Growth Plan

As I help my students reflect on their year of learning, I remind them that everyone still has things on which they need to work – even teachers. As I reflect on my year of learning and teaching, it is critical to identify the areas of weakness and how I will work to better myself in those areas in the future. The Professional Growth Plan (PGP, see Image 1) has helped me reflect on my teaching in a meaningful way and exemplify professionally-informed, growth-centered practice (HOPE principle E1). While this is required for my program, I felt it truly helped me lay out measurable plans for my future in teaching, as well as a baseline from which I can grow in my own classroom next year.

Image 1 - An excerpt from my Professional Growth Plan addressing improving Academic Vocabulary use in my classroom.

Image 1 – An excerpt from my Professional Growth Plan addressing improving Academic Vocabulary use in my classroom.

In going through the Washington State rubrics, I found a few areas in which I would like to grow in my next few years of teaching. While they had not been my focus as I was gaining footing in the classroom, it will be important that I implement these into my teaching in order to be a more effective teacher for all of my students’ needs. As opposed to other reflections I have done, the PGP requires the teacher to plan action steps that will begin progress toward the new goals set. For example, in order to better teach academic vocabulary (Criteria 2.7), my goal is to identify key vocabulary while planning the lesson, creating a word bank, and assessing students on key academic vocabulary. My action step that will set me in motion to reach this goal will be to specifically identify they key vocabulary in my plan book. In addition to writing the learning target in my plan book and on the board, I will leave space for vocabulary in both of those spaces as well. While the plans for the rest of this school year have been written and it would be difficult to begin a new activity with students so late in the year, I can begin the next school year with these goals in mind in order to make vocabulary a central focus in my classroom.

Collaboration within Schools

No teacher is an island. I have heard this phrase many times, but had little idea what it truly meant until I found out how much teachers rely on others for ideas and support. In order to exemplify collaboration within the school (HOPE principle E2), I must be open to collaboration and be adamant in my intentions to work with others. My mentor teacher has not only been a mentor to me, but she has also helped her grade-level partner in her transition into the second grade. Previously a third-grade teacher, she relied heavily on my mentor’s ideas to help her through her first year at the new grade level. Essentially, she provided a model for me to know how critical it is to ask for help during your first year – whether it be first year at a new school, a new grade level, or even first year teaching. As I prepare to go into my own classroom, I will use the relationships I have developed at my current internship site to ask as many questions about first grade as possible. I will be going into the Kindergarten classroom to see the level at which my next-year’s students will be. I will be going to the first grade teacher to get advice on the first few weeks of school – that critical expectations-setting time that can make or break your whole school year.

Image 1 - Often collaboration ends with planning the week, but it can be used for so much more.

Image 1 – Often collaboration ends with planning the week, but it can be used for so much more.

In reading education blogs, I came across a great post about teacher collaboration on Edutopia by Ben Johnson. The author notes that he had a very difficult time when he was first starting out since he tried to work in isolation. It was only when a coworker approached him for collaboration that he felt comfortable sharing ideas and being open to the ideas of others. Some of his advice for teachers is to build relationships from the very first day, observe other teachers whenever you can, ask questions, and be prepared for collaboration meetings. In having deliberate collaboration, and not just hoping that the answers to our problems will just spring out of nowhere, we can improve our productivity in these meetings, both formal and informal, and be able to improve the ways in which we teach.

Image 2 - Edutopia has a wealth of blogs about professional development, including collaboration.

Image 2 – Edutopia has a wealth of blogs about teacher leadership, including collaboration.

 

Reference:

Johnson, B. (2011). Making the most out of teacher collaboration. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teacher-collaboration-strategies-ben-johnson

Growth from Student Surveys

While I often receive feedback from my mentor teacher and university coordinator, I believe the untapped source of feedback for teachers in the classroom is the students. They watch us teach every day and are the ones most impacted by our lessons. How often do we get their responses? In order to gain a better understanding of how my students feel about my teaching, I gave them a Student Perception Survey. According to Hanover Research, these surveys “can provide valuable feedback to teachers that may ultimately help to improve their effectiveness” (2013, p. 14). Using these types of surveys can help me to exemplify professionally-informed, growth-centered practice (HOPE principle E1). The results of the survey I gave opened my eyes to some areas on which I can focus.

Image 1 - A student perception survey can help reveal potential areas for growth.

Image 1 – A student perception survey can help reveal potential areas for growth.

While many of the survey responses were very positive, one or two students had a very negative outlook across the areas I surveyed. While this survey was anonymous, this data tells me that perhaps there are one or two students that feel more neglected in my teaching than others. My first step would be to ensure that I am giving adequate attention to the needs of each student. After averaging the data (See Image 2), I decided to focus attention on the area which scored lowest: “My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.” While this area did not score drastically lower than the others on average, it would still be a good starting point for fostering growth.

Image 2 - Average results from each statement. (1 = Never, 5 = Always)

Image 2 – Average results from each statement. (1 = Never, 5 = Always)

For a long time, I tried to stray away from the idea of dominance, as it seems like an idea akin to threatening and intimidation, but there is a certain level of control a teacher must have within their classroom. Marzano stated the idea in a more approachable way, even for someone who wants to have positive relationships with their students. He says that assertive behavior based on body language, appropriate tone of voice, and persistence can help a teacher maintain control of the classroom (2003). As I begin my first year of teaching, I will try to focus on those three things in order to be a presence that students will respect as an authority.

 

References:

Hanover Research (2013). Student perception surveys and teacher assessments.

Marzano, R. J. (2003). Classroom management that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Mentor Observation 3: Management Strategy

Students are at unique places in their lives. Classroom management systems should accommodate for this, as each student has different needs that must be fulfilled. In order to honor student diversity and development (HOPE principle H1), our management strategy needs to fit each of our students where they are, as well as help them work towards where they should be. In our classroom, students know the expectations and understand why we have them, thanks to hard work on my mentor’s part at the beginning of the year. While we have students with different behavioral quirks, we use the same system with each of them, with slight modifications. This system is centered on a behavior chart (see Image 1) posted at the front of the classroom.

Image 1 - My Mentor Teacher's behavior chart. All students begin on "Good Day" and are moved depending on behavior.

Image 1 – My Mentor Teacher’s behavior chart. All students begin on “Good Day” and are moved depending on behavior.

During lessons or transition time, my mentor teacher would ask a student to “move up your number” or “move down your number” in order to positively enforce good behavior or have students acknowledge that the teacher noticed their misbehavior. For some students, we enforce simple behaviors that they are working on, such as not shouting out and raising their hand instead. For others, who typically exhibit good behavior, the expectations are slightly higher before they are bumped up. Regardless, students who have a whole week on “Good Day” will be bumped up for the final day in order to reflect a week without serious negative behavior. This classroom management strategy is useful in that it allows the teacher to constantly reward behaviors, both positive and negative. Some students need additional motivation for positive behaviors, so a few students receive small rewards for achieving the “Great Job” status multiple times per week, such as a special pencil or notepad.

Parents get notified daily of their student’s standing. Students reflect what their standing is on their behavior chart on the back of their reading logs. Part of the daily homework is that parents acknowledge and initial their student’s standing for the day. This constant updating allows parents to express their concerns before students receive a grade on report cards or progress reports and opens the avenue of discussion about student behaviors. Additionally, the data allows my mentor teacher the ability to track behavior long-term (see Image 2). In my classroom, I will have a similar system in order to both monitor behavior and keep long-term records of changes in behavior or a student’s behavior trends. This data can help the student’s both current and future teachers understand the best way to create a learning environment with few behavioral distractions.

Image 2 - Collecting the behavior data can help teachers find trends and changes to student behavior.

Image 2 – Collecting the behavior data can help teachers find trends and changes to student behavior.

Appropriate Challenges

While many students in the classroom are at grade-level, there are bound to be students in any classroom who fall well above or below that range. In order to allow students to keep learning, we must offer an appropriate challenge in the content area (HOPE standard O2). For the higher students, this means being prepared with deeper-level thinking questions and enrichment material that will keep them engaged. For lower students, however, who are not able to complete grade-level tasks independently, we must work within their Zone of Proximal Development. Vygotsky’s theory of the Zone of Proximal Development, according to Pressley and McCormick (2007), is the cognitive space between the most challenging task a child can perform on their own and the most challenging task they can perform with help.

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Image 1 – A piece of yesterday’s reading group lesson plan. Each group has its own modified version of the lesson in order to give them a challenge appropriate to their learning level.

In our reading groups, this support comes in the form of reading prompts. While our highest-level readers read whole paragraphs and our grade-level readers tackle a sentence at a time before reflecting on the meaning of the whole paragraph, our lower readers get additional support in reading grade-level texts with prompts to aid comprehension. When asking a student to read, my mentor teacher and I prompt the reader with a question such as “About whom is this sentence going to tell us?” To which the student will respond by reading the subject of the sentence. “What did that person do?” would prompt the next student to say the verb, and so on. After reading through with prompting, students will get the chance to read the passage all the way through in order to assist in fluency. By assisting the students in breaking down the sentence into phrases and giving them prompts about how to relate the parts of speech, students are still able to read the same grade-level passages as their peers, but are not faced with a challenge too great for their current comprehension level. In my future teaching, I will gladly provide student the support they need to perform grade-level tasks with a challenge appropriate to their learning level, even if it does require extra effort on my part.

Reference:

Pressley, M. & McCormick, C. B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Responsibility of a Safe Environment

It is understood that teachers are responsible for the education of the students in their care. Many are unaware that our responsibility to our students goes beyond academics. We are also caretakers, responsible for the wellbeing of the child within our classroom as well as becoming aware of their wellbeing outside of the classroom. In order to exemplify an understanding of professional responsibilities and policies (HOPE standard E3), we must be aware of our role as providers of a safe environment. The Archdiocese of Seattle requires all people who come into contact with youth and vulnerable adults through church-sanctioned volunteer or paid work to complete a Safe Environment training. While the circumstances that led to these trainings is unfortunate, it is beneficial that the Church make its members aware of the signs of abuse and how to respond to suspected abuse. I believe this program prepared me for being more alert to signs of abuse that a student might show as well as behaviors of adults that may be red flags.

Image 1 - The Safe Environment Program website: http://www.seattlearchsep.org/resources.html

Image 1 – The Safe Environment Program website: http://www.seattlearchsep.org/

Image 2 - A description of the class required for all volunteers who may be in a supervisory role with children.

Image 2 – A description of the class required for all volunteers who may be in a supervisory role with children.

Recognizing abuse is a situation we hope we will never have to face, but it is one of the sad realities of being a teacher. It is also an opportunity to step in at a time when a child needs you most. Teachers have a unique role in that they see students almost as much as parents do, but also see a different side of them, perhaps one they would not show their parents or family. In order to work in a public school, I was asked to complete a background check and became familiar with abuse reporting policies for teachers. The Catholic school took it one step further in helping us better understand warning behaviors from both children and the adults who may take advantage of them; they also require annual refresher trainings in order to continue working around children. Even if I do not end up in a Catholic school in my employment, I intend to continue with these trainings, as they have helped me understand my responsibility to my students and have better prepared me for that responsibility.

Standards-Based Assessment

Most students’ mastery of standards is measured during state testing periods, but as teachers we need to be aware of students’ progress toward standards long before that time. In my case, my students will not be taking a standardized test to measure their mastery of the standards, so practicing standards-based assessment (HOPE principle P3) is even more critical. In order to ensure our students are meeting the goals that have been set for their grade level, we must both align our teaching to those standards and adequately measure students’ developing mastery of that skill or ability. Finding appropriate ways to measure their progress is critical. Thankfully, the widespread adoption of Common Core State Standards allow teachers from across many states to share evaluative resources. A quick Google search of the standard to be assessed can bring multiple pages of options for ways to assess students’ progress.

Image 1 - Our math text, My Math, identifies each standard that is addressed in each lesson, allowing the teacher to use formative assessments to measure progress toward those standards.

Image 1 – Our math text, My Math, identifies each standard that is addressed in each lesson, allowing the teacher to use formative assessments to measure progress toward those standards.

Image 2 - In addition to lesson alignment, each formative "quick check" assessment aligns to a standard, giving concrete data on each student's progress.

Image 2 – In addition to lesson alignment, each formative “quick check” assessment aligns to a standard, giving concrete data on each student’s progress.

Our math curriculum, My Math, is useful in that it links every lesson (Image 1) and quick check (exit ticket) (Image 2) to a standard, then breaks down the post-assessment by which problems assess which standard. In literacy, assessments are broken down into each component that addresses a standard. For example, a research paragraph can measure multiple writing standards as well as some language standards, so each applicable component will be given a score measuring progress toward mastery. This allows us to key in on each standard that is being measured and appropriately track students’ understanding in each area. This also allows us to see which areas still require more data in order to better represent the students’ knowledge. Going back and revisiting standards introduced previously allows us the ability to measure student retention of concepts, as well. Students benefit from this data collection in that we have sufficient information on which standards most students have mastered and which ones should be revisited or retaught in order to improve student understanding.

Aligning Lessons to Goals

In lesson planning, I have become accustomed to essentially planning backwards – starting with the goals and choosing lessons that will align to those goals, which helps me to offer an organized curriculum aligned to standards and outcomes (HOPE principle O1). My internship has emphasized the importance of learning targets and goals. According to Marzano, a learning goal is “a statement of what students will know or be able to do” (2007, Location 205). We sometimes refer to these as learning targets, which is more specific to an individual lesson. Each learning target is a critical piece of building towards the central focus, or goal for the series of lessons or entre unit.

When designing lesson plans in this way, starting with our central focus and learning targets, we ensure that every lesson has a purpose. By starting with what students are to learn before focusing on how they will learn it, each lesson, each question, and each activity will be focused on and aligned with a specific outcome.

 

Image 1 - A part of two consecutive lesson plans, each sharing the same central focus and standard, but whose targets build on each other.

Image 1 – A part of two consecutive lesson plans, each sharing the same central focus and standard, but whose targets build on each other.

Another benefit of this style of lesson planning is that students understand what they are supposed to be learning. As Jim Knight said, “When students understand what they are supposed to learn, the chances are much higher that they will actually learn it” (2012, Location 914). One of the areas on which I am still working is to ensure students have time to reflect on their progress toward the learning target at the end of the lesson. I believe this is critical because students should have a better idea of how confident they are in their abilities and where they may need to work harder.

References

Knight, J. (2012). High impact instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Technology in the Classroom

In an elementary classroom, it is difficult to begin integration of technology. Developing the trust required to put a hundred-dollar piece of electronic equipment in students’ hands takes time. Using HOPE principal P4, practice the integration of appropriate technology with instruction, requires a leap of faith with your students, but allows that leap to be appropriate for their ability and responsibility levels. We have begun using iPad games as review before math tests. After students have learned the material, they get a day to play on the iPads – using a game that will help them better understand the concept or deepen their learning. Last week, we used iPads to work with money.

Image 1 – Students playing Counting Money, a free game on the iPad

Image 1 – Students playing Counting Money, a free game on the iPad

Technology allows students to get excited about material. My students’ eyes light up when they see the stack of iPads on the windowsill. The room develops a dead silence as students become captivated by the screen. The Counting Money App forced students to think about money in a way that was different than what was in their book. What they had been working with so far was being given a set of coins, then having to find the value of those coins. The app gave students a money amount and challenged them to find which coins would make that number. Further challenging students to use the fewest coins possible, they had to think critically about what they had already learned. The app was also useful in that it fully engaged students, allowing me time to work with specific students who had been struggling with the concept. The results are encouraging. Scores on student post-assessments were 3s across the board, save two students. I cannot fully attribute their success on the app, but it did provide a fun review that gave them more practice with coins and their value. Moving forward, I can see myself using similar technologies in my first year of teaching. Students see them as a reward for hard work during a unit, while I am secretly sneaking in more practice before their assessment.

Image 2 - A student finding $0.73 using the Counting Money App.

Image 2 – A student finding $0.73 using the Counting Money App.

EDU 6136 Reflection

In EDU 6136, we learned more about 9 key pieces to effective instruction: Assessing prior knowledge, student assets, academic language, scaffolding, supporting, deepening, feedback, student reflection, and teacher reflection. Since reading more on these ideas, I have found myself implementing them more in my instruction. My growth as a teacher through this course is evident in how I approach lesson planning. Many of the changes I’ve seen in my approach is in my questioning. I want to find ways to deepen student learning and do so through effective questions that leave students thinking more about the answer than I thought about asking the question. I feel this shift is closely related to HOPE Principle P1 – Practice intentional inquiry and planning for instruction. By ensuring my questioning is intentional, I can ask questions that bring about the kinds of answers that will help students better understand concepts.

For my Classroom Tips assignment, I created a Questioning Questions sheet that I, and other teachers, can look over when coming up with questions for a lesson. Inspired by Caram and Davis (2005), one of our readings for the course, it helps highlight the kinds of questions that do not cause deeper thinking and guides educators to use more effective questions. When used in conjunction with a goal of using multiple levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom et. al., 1956), questions can be designed to have students think in meaningful ways about the content.

Additionally, according to Caram and Davis, “Teachers need to go with the flow, using student responses to bring depth and breadth to the lesson” (2005, p. 20). Not only do we need to have questions planned, but we must also be ready to abandon some of those questions we took so much time to create in order to ask questions and elaborate on ideas that will better benefit student understanding. This is why I am beginning to create a scale of questions for each lesson. While each lesson does not need a full outline, it is important to have key questions prepared – the questions that must be asked, the questions that can be asked, and the questions that can be dropped. The higher-order questions should be in the first category, while lower-order questions are included in case there is time, but can be dropped should a more important discussion present itself.

Image 1 - Questions for an Upcoming Lesson in 3 Groups: Must Ask, Can Ask, Can Drop. The Must Ask questions help student progress to the goal while the Can Drop question reviews a concept previously taught.

Image 1 – Questions for an Upcoming Lesson in 3 Groups: Must Ask, Can Ask, Can Drop. The Must Ask questions help student progress to the goal while the Can Drop question reviews a concept previously taught.

Using this system, students will be asked the questions that will deepen their knowledge, will still be able to learn based on their immediate interest or needs, and teachers will be able to get students thinking more about important concepts.

References:

Bloom, B. S.; Engelhart, M. D.; Furst, E. J.; Hill, W. H.; Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company.

Caram, C. A., & Davis, P. B. (2005). Inviting student engagement with questioning. Kappa Delta Pi Rec 42(1) p. 18-23