STANDARD I – ROLES AND RELATIONSHIPS
The student teacher establishes a routine that students understand and respect. Activities reflect careful thought, take into account student developmental levels, learning styles and diversity, and create situations in which students construct knowledge. The student teacher exhibits respect and consideration toward colleagues, particularly in team situations, supports colleagues’ work and contributes an equal share to team efforts. The student teacher encourages and elicits interaction with parents and community and makes him/herself available to those constituencies when and where appropriate. S/he clearly demonstrates leadership in the classroom, guiding and directing activities and interaction in ways that contribute to a positive and safe learning environment. The student teacher exhibits a clear sensitivity to issues of diversity, particularly regarding race, class, and gender, in his/her interactions with students, colleagues, and community. The standard is met if the student teacher consistently models appropriate decorum and exercises control without intimidation or domination, promoting a genuine democratically-based classroom.
Half way through my time as a student teacher, I believe I am meeting Standard One: Roles and Relationships.
One of the goals I set for myself at the end of the summer was to make vocalizing my daily objectives a priority in each class. I believe I have succeeded at doing so: the students know where the objectives, the lesson's essential questions, and agenda are located in the classroom, and we read them at the beginning of each class and try to revisit at the end. What began as a thing-to-remember evolved into an integral part of my teaching practice, and the routine of having the objectives and essential questions up on the board helps me create student buy-in as it provides transparency for my actions.
Another equally important goal I set for my professional development at the end of the summer concerned awareness to diversity. Although I am teaching at a sexually homogenous place, there are many aspects of diversity I attempt to implement in my work. Creating awareness to various socio-economic situations, cultural values, or decisions made acceptable by the historical environment in which they were made has been one of the goals I set for my lessons on a daily basis. Primary visual and textual sources and daily probing questions have been assisting me along the way.
I am thoughtful of the activities I choose for each lesson, and I became a dedicated aficionada of the UbD approach. I have always believed in purposeful activities that make sense. When I began my teaching in Colorado, I was asked to replace a teacher who had engaged his students in a simulated Roman military formation. To much disappointment of my students and despite the lucrative promise of using lacrosse sticks for combative purposes, I refused to continue with the tradition. Back then, however, I could not justify my decision with anything but a feeble, "What is the point of this activity?" Now I am well-aware of what Wiggins and McTighe call "the twin sins of design": "activity-focused teaching and coverage-focused teaching" (Wiggins 3). To avoid the twin sins, I try to make sure that all the activities I plan are framed by the essential questions of the unit.
I am respectful towards colleagues, and I have greatly enjoyed visiting different classrooms to learn new methodologies. My observation log already has over 50 entries in it, but I look at the opportunity to visit classrooms as a privilege I should not miss, so I take full advantage of my colleagues' invitations and visit classrooms almost every day. I have seen a kindergarten reading session, advanced art studio, Debate Club competition preparation, a historic evaluation of King Leopold's behavior towards Congo, and English "a penny for your thoughts" exercise, to name just a few remarkable teaching practices. After each experience, I made sure to point out to the teacher how impressed I had been by their work. I did not say this to be polite nor to make sure I would be invited into their classroom again. I just thought that some kind words from an aspiring colleague might be a nice thing to hear for people who do not get professional praise very often.
To continue meeting Standard One, these are some things I need to focus on in my teaching practice:
1. I need to continue emphasizing the value of diversity. I also need to create classrooms where students can continue working on developing a strong sense of self-efficacy as intellectual and confident women.
2. I need to continue working with essential questions and daily objectives.
3. I need to remain cognizant about the "twin sins of teaching" and stay mindful of everything I ask my students to do.
STANDARD II – STUDENT AS LEARNER
The student teacher demonstrates an awareness of, and concern for, the people in his/her classroom. Focusing on learners as full human beings with a rich history, unique characteristics, substantive achievements, talents, skills and interests, the student teacher does his/her best to observe, document and learn about these students. S/he works hard to "understand their understanding."
After almost two months of student-teaching, I believe I am approaching Standard Two: Student as Learner.
I am very interested in my students as human beings, and I am doing my best to learn their unique histories. What remains difficult for me is to understand the students' understanding as I try to differentiate my lessons in accordance with the learning patterns I see. I am mindful of students' particular strengths and weaknesses, and I think I adapt to their variations. When appropriate, I encourage the students to take risks and step out of their comfort zones. For example, participation in discussions has been challenging for one section of my classes. After trying to encourage the students to speak more regularly with the help of post-it notes, after talking to them and urging them to express themselves more frequently, and after asking them to explain (anonymously) in an entrance ticket why they believed participation was reluctant in their class, I am still working on understanding the reasons behind their reservations. My next plan is to use a modified version of Ed Abbot's class participation self-assessment form, which I intend to try out this week. I hope that it will encourage the students to view participation as integral to their learning (which is why I want them to share their ideas with each other) and to their assessment process (which is why they may be more inclined to speak.)
On the other hand, I realize that there are times when I must trust my students' academic habits and be respectful towards their choices. For example, one of my students, a very articulate and observant learner with great analytical skills, admitted to me in her introductory letter that she had an eye tracking disorder. One day, I mindlessly asked her to read the objectives I wrote on the board, and I immediately realized what influence her diagnosis had on her performance: reading off the board was a difficult task for that student to perform; her speed was irregular as she worked hard to decipher the written text. I thanked her for her reading, as I would any other student, and never called on her to read out-loud any more. That instance taught me that "afflicting the comfortable while comforting the afflicted" is not always the most constructive pedagogical approach: no student is a blank slate, and respecting students' diversity sometimes means letting them stay in the comfort zone they had established for themselves.
To improve my performance as a learner, here are my goals:
1. I need to keep asking my students questions, which will help me understand how I can effectively differentiate my practice.
2. I need to find a good balance between encouraging my students to take academic risks and respecting their existing academic choices.
3. I need to keep working on understanding "their understanding."
STANDARD III – PLANNING
The student teacher’s lesson plans are carefully written and detailed, noting content and skills objectives, describing activities, and noting special learning and diversity needs where appropriate. Lessons exhibit clearly focused, sensible connections from one to the next, and are designed to promote construction of knowledge by students. The student teacher takes time to explain lesson objectives to students and, using a variety of strategies, checks that students are clear about what they are doing and why they are doing it.
After 30 school days and 20 lesson plans, I believe I am approaching Standard Three: Planning.
I spend much time on my lesson plans, and I work deliberately on making connections between lesson plans and larger units. My lesson objectives are articulated daily and are written on the board; my unit objective is posted on the wall above the board, and I refer to it regularly to make sure the connections remain lively and coherent; I also decided to introduce the concept of the "big idea" to tie all the essential questions together. The structure of my essential questions develops from concrete daily ones, to analytical unit essential questions, to the philosophical big idea.
One of the goals I set for my planning practice at the end of Brown Summer High School was to assist in students' knowledge transfer process. I believe I am succeeding at helping the students transfer their knowledge across various historical topics and in different academic subjects. I take note of what the students say and refer to their commentary whenever a teachable moment arises. For instance, at the beginning of the year, the students were asked to evaluate costs and benefits of colonialism. I was surprised by their strong belief that Europeans brought a much desired technological progress into colonies, and after studying the effects of colonialism on nationalism later in the course, I asked the students to reevaluate what they had said earlier in the year. Most of them looked at their cost-benefit analysis with a more critical eye as they began to see hidden caveats to each benefit they had mentioned.
Across disciplines, I try to impart on the students the idea that academic English writing skills are not simply for the English classroom. When the students submit their writing assignments, I ask them to follow the SAT Timed Essay Writing Rubric, and most of them told me in a survey that they found the rubric to be very helpful. To make history relevant, I try to reinforce its themes with references to the books the students read in their English class. I believe this cross-disciplinary approach enhances learning and is an important part of knowledge transfer.
There are several areas where my performance needs improvement, however. I am still trying to understand how much information I can realistically present during the 50 minutes of my class time. My lessons almost never end according to the plan as we consistently run out of time. I have tried to be as precise as possible about the activities, in which the students will be engaged, so I could provide a more accurate time estimate. I have put very strict time limits on the pace of activities, and although this approach has been effective, I really struggle when I need to interrupt a good discussion or halt a great question because the time does not permit any deviations. Thus I try to simplify and focus on teaching one skill and one content objective a day.
Another area where I would like to improve my planning is differentiation. I have two different sections of the same course, and the qualities my students bring into their respective classrooms are very diverse: one group is composed of attentive listeners yet reluctant talkers; the other group is made up of avid participants who may need to improve their listening skills. I began differentiating my lessons in accordance with these patterns, but there is much I can still do to improve my planning.
There is one more thing I would like to improve about my planning. Although this goal is not part of the standard's description, I think it will be very important for my future professional life. I spend about eight hours on four lesson plans every Saturday. During the week, I continue working on the plans to make sure they reflect the pace of our classes. Overall, my lesson plans are a very large time commitment, and I simply cannot see it as a sustainable practice when I need to teach four or five Carnegie units independently. I do want to continue implementing Wiggins' and McTighe's ideas, though, because I find such planning to be very effective; so I need to find ways to be more efficient.
As I think about planning in my future practice, these are my goals:
1. I need to be very mindful of the time each part of my lessons takes. Occasionally, time may be difficult to estimate, but some of it can be predicted if I remain focused throughout the class, remind the students to stay focused, and follow my essential questions and objectives.
2. I need to continue looking for ways to differentiate my instruction to accommodate for a wider range of learners.
3. I need to maximize the efficiency of my planning. I think that time and practice will help me in doing this, but I want to be cognizant of the current process so I can learn efficiency in the future.
STANDARD IV – CLASSROOM PRACTICE
The student teacher exhibits confident control over a variety of approaches to classroom pedagogy. In direct presentations, s/he demonstrates sensitivity to pacing, timing, amount and sequencing of material, and form of presentations, as well as inviting student contributions and interactions. Questioning strategies are thoughtful, considering a range and arc of questions that develop logically from simple to complex. Group work is used effectively and students are carefully coached on the purpose and strategies of collaboration. Work required of students clearly reinforces basic skills (reading, writing, note-taking, oral presentations, listening) and builds toward more complex mastery (critical thinking, problem-solving, analysis, and synthesis). Technology skills are incorporated into lessons as frequently as possible, with the student teacher modeling the use of technology whenever possible.
Halfway through my student-teaching, I believe I am meeting Standard Four: Classroom Practice.
Since I began teaching, I have been very conscientious about the classroom practice goals I set for myself at the end of the summer, and I believe I have improved my performance. Wait time and pacing were my major focuses, and I have been working on both since my first day at Lincoln School. I believe my pacing has improved and reflects students' own learning paces. The fact that I write on the board as I engage the students in discussions helps my pacing significantly. I am rarely asked not to erase something before someone is done taking notes, which I take as a sign that the students can keep up with me; and because the students give adequate responses to my questions as we discuss and summarize what they learned in exit tickets, I know that they follow and engage with the content.
I have also been careful with my wait time when I ask questions. In the past, I tended to fill the silence with more explanations, which could have confused some students and intimidated the shy ones. Now I wait in silence. Some students find this silence "awkward," but I am not bothered by this discomfort: for once, I am now a part of the community where silence is celebrated every Friday during silent meetings, and I know that the awkwardness the students refer to is not their discomfort with silence but the urge to break it. And in one of my groups, this urge is exactly what I would like the students to feel: the longer they wait, uncertain about whether to take the risk and speak, the more likely it is that they will participate. I notice that the students volunteer their responses more willingly now as my wait time remains impassively patient.
The last goal I set for my classroom practice at the end of the summer was incorporating technology. I have made several PowerPoint presentations and showed a video clip, which, alas, have been the extent of my technological use. I still rely on discussions, reading, writing, and analysis of texts. I am working on incorporating more images into my lesson plans to inspire the students to read not only printed text but also visual art. And I intend to use more videos in the future. My biggest reservation about more technological use has been the time constraint, but I realize that a short video clip may be much more powerful than a long discussion of something the students struggle to relate to. Thus, although I have not met this goal yet, I am actively working on it and hope to reach progress by the end of my student teaching.
To continue meeting Standard Four and to improve my practice, these are the goals I set:
1. I need to incorporate more technology in my teaching.
2. I need to continue planning my lessons around essential questions and I need to continue reinforcing the correlation among various themes we study through the common core of essential understandings.
3. I need to continue reinforcing the importance of class participation as I encourage students to take risks and share their thoughts with others.
STANDARD V – ASSESSMENT
The student teacher demonstrates knowledge of a variety of approaches to assessment and evaluation. Assessment is seen as integral to the curriculum and instruction process and employs a repertoire of formal and informal methods. "Traditional" tests and essays, as well as performances, exhibitions, and portfolios which allow students to demonstrate what they know in a variety of media and technology are used. Students are also given various opportunities to self-assess progress and their classroom work is guided by known criteria and standards developed by the student teacher with the class (or with the class' knowledge). A focus on continuous student improvement in skills and content knowledge is emphasized and grading reflects that objective.
After turning in the students' mid-term grade checks, I believe I am approaching Standard Five: Assessment.
I have always found assessment to be the most challenging area of teaching, and I have been trying to use my time as a student teacher to experiment with various ways of assessing student learning.
I learned from my mentor, Ruth Marris-Macaulay, that the much feared "end-of-the-unit test" does not need to be feared not a test. I followed her example and engaged the students in a game of jeopardy at the end of the first unit we studied. The assessment became fun for the students, which neutralized their anxiety, yet it provided me with a solid diagnostic of their understanding.
To assess students' writing competence and analytical skills, I assign one writing project a week. Students receive a handout with expectations on Monday and submit their finished work on Friday. To bring clarity into my expectations, I have been using the SAT Timed Essay writing rubric. I have found it to be an effective tool to guide the students towards explicit expectations, which will be practical in their academic future as they prepare for standardized exams. After the first rubric-guided assignment, I gave the students a chance to improve their work and re-write their piece. Most of them took advantage of this opportunity, which led to a more attentive reading of the rubric and a stronger performance on subsequent assignments.
To assess the students' daily understandings, I have been using daily entrance tickets and regular exit tickets. I also ask many questions in the course of the classes to have an informal check of students' understanding, the responses to which become part of students' class participation effort.
One key area where my assessment skills need to improve concerns expectations. I need to provide explicit expectations for each assessment I ask the students to perform. Sometimes the language of my assignments is too oblique, which creates confusion. Sometime I believe my language is explicit but it turns out that the students did not find it so.
STANDARD VI – PROFESSIONAL KNOWLEDGE AND GROWTH
In face-to-face debriefings, journal writing, and formal self-analysis, the student teacher demonstrates the positive acceptance of feedback and makes a thoughtful response to it. Classroom planning and implementation demonstrates that the student teacher has internalized and is making use of feedback. Beyond the classroom, the student teacher avails him/herself of professional publications, conferences, and workshops to improve his/her practice and to develop the habits necessary for continued professional growth.
I believe I am meeting Standard Six: Professional Knowledge and Growth.
From the first day of Brown MAT program, I knew that I wanted to learn as much as possible to become the best teacher I can. I have been directing my efforts towards learning in everything I do. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be observed and for the regular feedback I receive. I reflect upon these comments and make changes in my practice to implement my mentors' suggestions. I realize that an outside observer may have a more accurate perspective on what happens in the classroom, and I know that my student teaching experience provides me with an invaluable opportunity to hear from colleagues, to improve my work, and to receive additional feedback as I grow professionally. I know that such a collaborative environment where feedback is given constructively and regularly is unique, so I take full advantage of it and shape myself as a teacher under its guidance.
Since I began teaching at Lincoln School, I have tried to become a positive part of its community. I have attended department and faculty meetings, and although I do not speak much in such gatherings, I take note the multitude of ways in which people effectively communicate. For example, I think the structure of a clerked meeting is incredibly helpful in closing the gap between faculty and administration: during a clerked meeting, a clerk faculty member becomes both a representative of the faculty and a facilitator of the discussion, focusing the conversation on the topics generated by the faculty.
Although I have not participated in any professional development activities outside the classroom, I am hoping to do so in the near future.