Standard One: Roles and Relationships
After completing my teaching at Brown Summer High School and much reflection about myself as a teacher, I believe I am approaching Standard One: Roles and Relationship of Brown University Practice-Based Standards.
I put much care and thought into developing educational activities, and I try to take into account students’ developmental, cultural, and learning differences. I am respectful towards my colleagues and enjoy teaching in a team, and the feedback we received for our team efforts complimented our work together. I believe I am a clear and well-defined leader in the classroom, and I hope my students see me as a just and democratic teacher.
Besides the standards I believe I have approached, there are some that demand my attention. During the Open House for Brown Summer High School, I felt the success of my communication with students’ parents to be limited. Primarily, I could not speak effectively with families of ELL students, and whereas seeking a translator might have been more respectful and appropriate, I resorted to each individual student’s abilities and willingness to translate. Secondly, I felt like a very tongue-tied spokesperson for the program in general because at the time, I was not sure about its details. Consequently, I do not believe I did the BSHS program initial justice, which could certainly be viewed as a weakness in promoting the educational values for which it stands.
During the Friends and Family Night, however, I felt better prepared to answer questions about the program. I talked to my students' parents about the students' academic, personal, and social growth. I also had paid special attention to the families of my ELL students when I asked one of my bilingual colleagues to call them and invite them to the event.
Although at the beginning of BSHS, I frequently neglected to address my daily objectives (written every day on the board and in my lesson plans), I made it my explicit goal to talk about them. Together with my teammate, I assigned a time keeper and an objectives monitor before each class, and this process, becoming a routine, helped me to stay focused and created a student-teacher mutually dependent learning environment. I would like to keep working on explicitly defining and addressing my learning objectives in the future. Although I have made some progress, I would like to make objective-setting integral to my practice.
Finally, my professional and personal experiences with cultural, social, and gender diversity are rather limited. Sonia Nieto in her What Keeps Teachers Going makes an insightful observation when she says: “Coming as they do from diverse ethnic and cultural identities, and primarily from the White lower middle class, many teachers have been compelled to buy into the myth of the ‘melting pot,’ to see education as ‘the great equalizer,’ and to cherish the notion that being ‘colorblind’ is always a good and noble thing” (Nieto 25). My background and philosophy do not fit Nieto’s description of a standard teacher, yet I commit some of the mistakes she criticizes because I lack experience. Whereas I am sensitive to issues of diversity and I am passionate about creating awareness regarding its value, my lack of experience limits channels through which I can express this commitment. I encourage and praise intellectual diversity in my classroom, but I cannot always find appropriate ways to account for other types of diversity. For example, I address my students as “guys,” knowing that not all of them are male, and occasionally, to draw students into discussions, make sweeping generalizations. I am aware of my shortcomings, and I am working on overcoming them. I hope the reading I would like to do over the summer will help me as I learn.
In order to meet Standard One, these are some changes I need to make in my teaching practice:
1. I need to continue embracing my students’ personal, cultural, and social backgrounds to make sure they feel welcome, respected, and valued.
2. I need to continue making my daily objectives a priority. Their presence gives students structure and guidance and keeps me orderly on track, and their value is unquestionable.
3. I need to make awareness to diversity in its many manifestations one of my key professional goals.
Standard Two: Student as Learner
After completing the last day of teaching at Brown Summer High School, I believe I am approaching Brown University Practice-Based Standard Two: Student as Learner.
I deeply care about my students, and I wish I had more time to get to know them better. As I saw them walking out of the classroom for the last time today, I felt very fortunate to have known such beautifully diverse people and very privileged to have been able to teach them even for a brief duration of summer school. I made personal connections with my students when we talked about college and their dreams in our advisory group, when they shared their beliefs in classroom activities, when I chatted with them at breakfast, or when they visited our classroom with their parents during the Friends and Family Night. I also learned about them from the written work they produced, the side conversations they invited me to join, the faces I observed while we watched movie clips during class, and the many ways in which they reacted to controversial conversations in which they participated. I learned about their families and traits of character when they filled in index cards with little pieces of special information about them; I learned about their kindness towards each other when they complimented every class member on the last day of the course; and I learned about their preferences every day when we took attendance and asked them to choose between: muffins and donuts, Coke and Pepsi, Shrek and Wall-E, amusement parks and beaches.
I made academic connections with my students when I saw: who talked more than they wrote; who took twice as much time to write something down than the rest of the class but only a third of the time other students needed when on oral question was posed; who had to move around to visualize knowledge; who translated from Spanish to understand English; and who had to repeat what I said to understand what I meant. I also learned about my students’ diverse learning styles when I failed to provide them with the quality instruction they deserved, and I improved my teaching to accommodate for their needs.
Although I do work hard to “understand their understanding,” I do not believe I have an effective grasp on the ways my students think after three weeks of teaching them. I agree with my colleague, Julia Keller, when she said that the teacher-student relationship is anything but linear. Even though I have worked hard to get to know my students and to get to know how I can teach them to the best of my abilities and to the most of their needs, I cannot say I fully grasp their understanding. I have not come up with effective techniques to use with specific students on a regular basis: what worked well on one day might have fallen apart the next time I tried it. I am not sure if what I experienced was caused by the short classroom time we spent together or if my relationship with my students will never be a linear progression of understanding at all. But I would like to hope that in the future, I will be perceptive enough to make notice of my students’ many ways to understand and I will be able to incorporate their cognitive multitude into my practice.
In order to meet Standard Two, these are some things of which I need to be mindful:
1. Every day of my teaching practice, I need to learn from and about my students. I don't believe there will ever be a time when I can say that I know who a student is, and I need to remain humble as I try to understand.
2. Paulo Freire beautifully wrote in his Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach: "It is impossible to teach without the courage to love, without the courage to try a thousand times before giving up" (Freire 5). I need to keep working on compiling at least one thousand methods (metaphorically, of course; I believe there will be more in reality) to successfully accommodate for my students' learning diversity.
Standard Three: Planning
After three and a half weeks of teaching at Brown Summer High School, I believe I am approaching Brown University Practice-Based Standard Three: Planning.
Although my lesson plans were carefully written with due attention paid to objectives and activities, and I tried to accommodate for a wide range of possible learning differences in my classroom, I still need to work on expanding my teaching methodology to be able to deliver successful lessons to all the students who are present in my classroom. Since the beginning of my classes at Brown University, I have begun to compile a list of approaches to appeal to the different strengths and knowledge bases of my students. I used kinetic and audio-visual methods in teaching, and I used reading materials of different levels of difficulty, ranging from Philip Gourevitch’s scholarly We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We will Be Killed with Our Families to newspaper articles to spoken-word poetry. I believe Wiggins and McTighe are correct when they say that educators “need to put students in a position to learn far more, on their own, than they can ever learn from us” (Wiggins 44). To do this and meet Brown’s Standard for Planning, I need to continue departing from the style I favored in my past teaching experiences – direct teacher presentations – and work on enabling students to reach the transfer stage of their knowledge with my help but on their own.
Defining and articulating clear and coherent lesson and unit objectives, in consideration with students’ background knowledge, is another area where my planning skills need to improve. In his Teach like a Champion, Doug Lemov describes the 4Ms, designed by Todd McKee, as the criteria for effective teaching. According to Lemov, learning objectives need to be manageable, measurable, made first, and focus on what is most important. I believe most of these criteria to be valuable and applicable to any effective pedagogy, and I need to work on all of them. I need to improve my objectives’ manageability, since they tend to be opaque or broad. I need to pay attention to the measurability of my objectives as I try to synthesize my teaching, students’ learning, and the assessment process. I need to continue with the backward design teaching model to make sure the activities I employ are guided by concrete and well-articulated objectives. And most importantly, I need to prioritize the content which I teach to avoid tangents and keep my lessons clearly focused.
As I continue teaching, these are my planning goals:
1. I need to work on expanding my teaching strategies to assist in my students’ knowledge transfer process.
2. I need to continue working on setting clear and well-defined objectives, which follow a clear progression , are manageable, measurable, made first, and focus on what is most important.
Standard Four: Classroom Practice
After completing my work at Brown Summer High School, I believe I have begun Brown University Practice-Based Standard Four: Classroom Practice.
Whereas I am sensitive “to pacing, timing, amount and sequencing of material,” and I certainly invite student responses, I can improve the speed of my presentations, my wait time, and focus. M.C. Gore in his Inclusion Strategies for Secondary Classrooms gives great advice to fast-pacing teachers when he asks us to “simply slow down” (Gore 70). He explains: “A morpheme is a unit of meaning…Nine morphemes per statement is the maximum that people can understand without loss of meaning.” (Gore 70) If I slow down my presentations, prioritize the content I attempt to teach, make clearer statements divided by enough time to process information, and provide students with sufficient wait time to respond to my questions or reflect on what has been taught, I will be able to approach or meet this standard.
Another area where my performance is lacking is in preparing students for group work. Although I used group work throughout the course at Brown Summer High School, I do not believe I provided careful enough coaching or set explicit purposes to explain most of such work. The most successful group work assignment of the summer was the final monitored discussion. The students received clearly defined roles, they knew what our expectations were, and they successfully followed directions while working independently. I realized during that activity that the more explicit detail I put into my directions for group work, the easier this work becomes in practice.
Finally, I do not believe I incorporated many technology skills into my lessons this summer. Cope and Kalantzis make a prophecy in their essay New Media, New Learning when they write: “The new digital media will change the face of education” (Cope 87), and I believe the academic impact of this statement shall not be ignored. Good teachers of the 21st century need to take pedagogical advantage of fast-developing technology for two reasons: to prepare students to succeed in life defined by rapid technological progress, and to keep content real and applicable for students’ lives which are heavily rooted in technology. Whereas I fully understand the value of incorporating technology into classroom practice, I have not been able to do it as effectively as I wish. In the course of the summer, I made three Power Point presentations, we showed several video clips through a projector, and we listened to some music from the Civil Rights Movement. That was the extent of my teaching with technology. I think that a semester-long class will provide me with more opportunities to use technology, and I hope to incorporate it into my lessons on a regular basis.
Thus, to meet Standard Four: Classroom Practice, these are the things I need to improve:
1. I need to pay special attention to the pacing of my oral presentations, wait time as students process information, and prioritizing content as I present information in direct teacher presentation or discussions.
2. I need to continue working on setting explicit and clear directions, particularly for student group work. Because of some success I achieved in this area, I now know what these directions should look like, and I certainly know first-hand how helpful they are to effective student participation.
3. I need to continue finding ways of incorporating technology into my lessons.
Standard Five: Assessment
After finishing teaching at Brown Summer High School, I believe I am beginning Brown University Practice-Based Standard Five: Assessment.
Throughout my past teaching experiences, I have been very conscious to make sure that students see the process of assessment as integral to their learning, formative in its structure, and celebratory in its end. I have employed a wide range of assessments, including traditional written final exams and research projects, progressive simulation performances, cumulative portfolios, and oral chapter exams, which appear scary to the majority of American students but were a key part of my personal Russian education. Yet, my past assessment tools lacked two very important components: not always did they check for students’ daily understanding, and their criteria were not always transparent and explicit.
Wiggins and McTighe write in their Understanding by Design: “To get beyond mere rote learning and recall, we have to be taught and be assessed on an ability to see patterns, so that we come to see many ‘new’ problems we encounter as variants of problems and techniques we are familiar with” (Wiggins, McTighe 40), and I could not agree more. The difficult thing for me is to implement this idea into my daily lesson plans. When I assess students’ understanding at the end of a semester, unit, or even class, I can create questions which will force them to apply their newly acquired knowledge to unfamiliar or forgotten situations, which regularly reveal students’ understandings or misunderstandings. However, in the course of a class, I find continuous assessment of understanding to be more difficult, although I whole-heartedly agree with the above-mentioned authors when they say that educators need “to be aggressive in assessing as [they] teach, uncovering the learners’ understandings and misunderstandings all along the way” (Wiggins, McTighe 247). I ask students to summarize what they have learned as we talk, I pause to give them time to write down a sentence that describes a new idea, I pose questions to different students, and I cold-call on reluctant participants, but these tactics do not seem enough.
The other area where my assessment skills need to improve concerns transparency of learning objectives I set for the class and my subsequent performance expectations. I need to make my objectives clearer, more ubiquitous, and an essential part of every lesson. As a result, I need to make sure students understand the direct relationship between assessment criteria set for their performance and learning objectives set for the class. If explicit learning objectives evidently guide everything that happens in the classroom – my teaching methodology, the materials I employ while teaching, the information I present to the students, and the activities in which they engage – it will be easy to explain and understand that the assessment process, too, follows the same logical path of expectations set by objectives.
The final area to which I need to pay extra attention is creating and using an effective rubric. Although I made a writing rubric for the class over the summer, I did not think it was clear or practical, and I did not manage to utilize it to the students' learning benefit. Even though the students were expected to follow the writing rubric in their final written pieces and I expected them to do so, I found it very difficult, as I was grading, to use the rubric myself. Although I was guided by the rubric's standards, I did not make this fact explicit to the students.
Thus, in order to improve my performance as I attempt to meet Standard Five, I need to do the following:
1. I need to continue employing a wide range of assessment tools to check for students’ daily understanding. Brief summaries, “whips,” and exit tickets are some of the techniques I plan to use.
2. I need to keep lesson and unit objectives transparent, and I need to make the connection between objectives and assessments more explicit. To do this, I plan to continue emphasizing that the assessment process is part of learning, and objectives serve as a focus for both. And I plan to embrace objectives as a guiding force for the teaching and learning that happen in my classroom.
3. I need to continue researching various educational sources for an appropriate writing rubric which will be helpful to both the students and myself. I also need to be guided by a rubric when I grade students' work to make grading as objective as I can.
Standard Six: Professional Knowledge and Growth
After the Brown Summer High School program and daily meetings with our mentor, Jill Gray, I believe I am meeting Brown University Practice-Based
Standard Six: Professional Knowledge and Growth.
Daniel Weisberg et al. critique traditional teaching peer evaluations in The Widget Effect: “In districts that use binary evaluation ratings (generally ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory’), more than 99 percent of teachers receive the satisfactory rating.” (Weisberg 4) Stephanie McCrummen echoes the impact of the “widget effect” in her article, entitled Evaluation of D.C. Teachers Is a Delicate Conversation, which appeared in The Washington Post: “‘There is this ‘Bless your heart’ problem in the teaching profession,’ said Jason Kamras, the key architect of IMPACT. ‘It’s, ‘This is so hard, so bless your heart for trying.’ That’s not how you become a real professional. We need to be honest about this conversation.’” (McCummen 2) Both of these comments left a deep impression on me, and I am very grateful that my time at Brown Summer High School was free of either the appalling generalizations critiqued in the former or the meaningless platitude described by the latter.
The comments I received from our mentor were practical, helpful, and specific, and I took them very seriously and tried to implement them the moment I could. I reflected on every single suggestion, I wrote down various ideas on how I can improve my teaching, and I consciously paid attention to my work to make sure it reflected my learning and progressed toward the ultimate goal I aspire to reach: becoming the best teacher I can. I found the video recording of my teaching very helpful, as well. Looking at myself through the lens of the camera was an uncomfortable experience, but I learned much about my classroom management, pacing, delivery of information, clarity and complexity of speech, and little irrelevant mannerisms when I replayed my lesson at home. The formal observation by the Social Studies Program Director, Maureen Sigler, was also instrumental in my learning process. The suggestions I received were astute and reasonable. As I heard about my strengths and weaknesses, I became aware of where to place the focus of my learning efforts, and this knowledge really helped me define and myself as a teacher and improve as the program continued.
The only element missing from my current performance is the one that promotes continued professional growth. I have not published anything, nor have I been to any conferences or workshop outside the requirements of the program. I do plan to attend conferences in the future and I do not intend to stay intellectually idle either when I begin my student-teaching or after I receive my degree. The incredible experiences I have had in the program so far have reminded me that I know that I do not know, and that I would really like to learn more.