Standard 4: Classroom Practice
Meeting Standard Four:
"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 for collaboration. Work required of students clearly reinforces basic skills (reading, writing, note-taking, oral presentation, 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."
- Brown University Teacher Education Handbook
The sheer amount of stuff that goes into Standard 4 makes it one of the most challenging standards to meet. It contains elements of every other standard, and brings them together into the immediate context of the classroom. Much of good classroom practice lies in careful planning, but it also builds upon mere planning by emphasizing sensitivity in the moment of execution. The quality of a lesson depends on my conscious awareness of how my students are responding to every element of my plan, and on decisions I make on the fly to dig deeper here, re-explain something there, and scrap an activity if I have to.
I learned, over the course of the practicum, the value of clarifying objectives, giving clear directions, checking for understanding in the midst of presentations and activities, and making each activity explicitly meaningful. These were all things we struggled with at the beginning of our course, and sometimes we lost both our students and ourselves in trying to get through a plan without making it clear what we were doing, why we were doing it, and whether it was working. For example, on the third day, we attempted a geologic timescale reconstruction activity, but were short on time and were unable to provide clear instructions, get feedback on how it was going, or discuss its purpose. After that disaster, we realized that omitting or postponing an activity is usually better than rushing through it at the cost of allowing it to resonate.
Our classroom practice improved from that point on, as we focused on providing better directions (for instance, using teacher and peer modeling), making explicit connections to course objectives, and asking questions that engaged increasing levels of thinking. For collaborative activities, we made sure to hold students individually accountable for their learning. Examples of successful activities include the concept map activity and the students' experiments on Daphnia and subsequent presentation of their research.
There are many aspects of my classroom practice that I intend to work on in the future. One is making clear the purpose of collaborative work. Though we used collaborative activities every day in our course, we rarely discussed the purpose of collaboration. There was a particular student in our class who disliked group work, and when she refused to cooperate with her teammates, we explained to her that people have to work together to solve many problems in science. Getting this point across to everyone would have been a valuable thing to do. Along the same lines, I would like to improve the way I hold individual students accountable for participating in group work. We often asked groups to assign individual roles, but enforcing this is an issue that needs attention.
Next, I intend to expand the variety of questioning techniques I use during presentations and discussions, such as wait-time, rephrasing, and asking for counter-examples. Finally, something we could have done better is to instruct students on oral presentation skills. Because of the numerous aspects of classroom practice that I still have yet to master, I believe I am currently approaching this standard.