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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pressley, M. & McCormick, C. B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
H5 – Honor student potential for roles in the greater society. Students often wrongfully believe that their live does not interact with society as a whole. Though often fully often absorbed in their own lives, they don’t see how their life affects other people and the world around them. While some teachers try to emphasize to students that they are just one of many, an excellent teacher will help students investigate their role in greater society. Before I left my first internship site, the combined 4th grade classes took a field trip to Carkeek Park in order to see salmon at the end of their migration. The key question asked by our guide was “How do we play a part in salmon migration?” Though stumped at first, after a game and some observations (Image 1), they soon realized that they do play a role in the salmon life cycle.
In the game, students ran through an obstacle course pretending to be “salmon” evading the foes and woes of their life cycle. Young fries had to make it through powerful turbines, away from the fisherman’s hook, out of the mouths of orca whales, and safely back to their streams as spawning adults. Adding the “pollution” obstacle made the game even harder, and many “salmon” had difficulty making it through the man-made hydropower turbines. This activity made students more aware of the physical challenges that faced salmon before humans contributed to the mix, allowing them to become aware of the little things they do that affect salmon habitat.
Groups then switched and we went on a scavenger hunt by the stream (Image 2). We saw salmon at the end of their lives, struggling to make it to the spawning grounds, as well as those who had already spawned. Our guide also pointed out to us the drainage pipes that released water from our street drains (Image 3). Having one of those drains just outside the portable classroom, students instantly were able to recognize that what they put down that drain would go directly to an important piece of salmon habitat.
While students had often been told how important it was not to litter, they hadn’t often been told why. This field trip helped them realize their role in society – as a generation that recycles and uses chemicals sparingly knowing the hardships they can cause wildlife. Thanks to this half-day in the field, they now know one more way in which their choices can have an impact on society.
P1 – Practice intentional inquiry and planning for instruction. Using questions in the classroom can help students think about what they are learning and how it applies to the world outside of the classroom. It can also help students better understand the processes and complexities involved in a concept. When I observed Mrs. L’s 4th grade class on September 16, I realized what a key role questions played in getting students thinking.
When listening to her line of questioning, I found that she hardly ever let a closed question rest. In math, there are typically only “right or wrong” answers, but Mrs. L has them explain their thoughts behind it. The students are shown a problem and asked to respond on mini white boards, as shown in Images 1, 2, and 3. If their work is not shown, it is considered wrong. This technique gives her immediate feedback on where individual students might be struggling, which she tracks on note paper for reference when there is time to conference with her math students or to better plan instruction.
Having the students explain their work also allows Mrs. L to know which key pieces might be missing from their overall understanding of the concept.
Before this summer, I thought that formal assessment such as quizzes and tests would be the best measure of student progress. When I read about the many informal formative assessment methods, I thought they might feel out-of-place and forced. Seeing similar strategies at work in a classroom make the idea of formative assessment less intimidating. Simply asking students to go deeper into content is an excellent way to get them thinking critically and to make sure they are understanding the content.
In the beginning, I envision learning a great deal of information in a short amount of time. Coming from a background unlike many others in my cohort, I feel slightly behind. Many of my classmates have spent time in a classroom recently, whether tutoring or assistant teaching. The last time I was in an elementary school classroom, I was attending the elementary school. The learning curve will be steep, but I am excited to progress my skills and learn something new. I will spend five weeks learning the basics, then spend a whole school year in a classroom with an experienced teacher while continuing courses. I learn best by observing others, so this will likely be the time of the most professional growth for me. Even after the program, my passion for learning new things – something my dad instilled in me – will keep me moving forward and trying to better myself in an ever-evolving field.
Although I do have this slight handicap of not working in schools, I have taught in a way some teachers find difficult. I have spent the last five years working in informal science education, so I know a lot about presenting difficult concepts to children with varying understanding of the idea. I also have a background in science, which is not all too common in elementary school teachers. Even though I am passionate about a wide range of topics, science became a highlight for me in high school. I hope having a scientist as a teacher for at least one year of elementary school will give the kids I teach a better respect for and understanding of the importance of math and science.