Relationship with students
I tried to create a safe and secure learning environment for all of my students by consistently and fairly reinforcing our classroom norms of behavior and respect. I introduced my classroom rules with Ms. Kelleher’s Twelve Tables at the start of our unit on Rome. Each student was given a copy of my Twelve Tables and they were posted in the classroom. We had a discussion as to why codification of the laws was important and how I was not going to be able to arbitrarily punish them. I had an issue with reinforcing the rules at first where I went overboard and got students really angry at me but I was able to resolve the issue and while it was a learning point for me it also helped show students that I was in charge and that testing me because I was a student teacher wasn’t going to help them much. The students were quite respectful for a while and while I eventually had a problem with discipline in one of my classes but after consulting with my mentor teacher and teacher education professor, I was able to resolve it over the course of a few days. I also began to recognize when outside factors, such as the fact a student got in a physical fight the period earlier, influenced students disruptive behavior so I could better address it.
When I started using guided reading questions to scaffold reading homework assignments I also starting using them to provide an outline of the class discussion the next day and this helped the students understand where we were and were we going, and stay focused, which reduced behavior concerns. The fact that all students had opportunity to work with the questions before hand also meant that I could call on any student and expect them to share an answer with the class and I did randomly call on students. This set that expectation that all students needed to be prepared to participate and also helped keep them focused.
The classroom I was in was organized so that most students can see each other and the front of the room and an effective discussion among students can take place, which I tried to capitalize on. I consistently prepared and organized my materials before class so that searching for materials does not routinely take away from my focus in the classroom. I developed activities in the classroom that reflect careful thought on my behalf and are organized for students with different developmental levels, learning style and diversity. My activities engage students in a number of different ways, from small group work and class presentations to note-taking from lectures to Socratic seminars using different mediums such as primary sources and images. I provide students scaffolds such as graphic organizers and guided reading questions or other reading comprehension strategies on a regular basis. I created situations were students are able to construct real knowledge and develop higher level thinking skills.
I made a consistent effort to understand students learning and cultural backgrounds. At the beginning of my time in the classroom I asked each student to complete a survey about their learning style and preferences, studying, reading and writing habits and interests as their personal interests. Students were consistently impressed when I say something like, “Put away the iced coffee, you’ll be able to drink coffee in the classroom when you’re a teacher” to a student who wrote down that she wanted to be a second grade teacher in the future. Students were just very happy to have someone interested in their lives like when I asked how the variety show went to the students who were involved in it over the weekend or checked-in with students who were out sick about how they were feeling. Also on the blogs I asked students to post questions they still had remaining about Rome and answered the ones I could through some simple research and got to really have a more personal back and forth with students about individual topics of interest that were important to them—then I tried to incorporate these interests into future lessons as much as possible, like discussing women in Rome, giving students an extra reading on how Romans viewed the “Barbarian” invaders since some students showed particularly interest in the German tribes or bringing up in class the difference between the Pantheon and the Parthenon since some students were getting them confused. I posted my e-mail address routinely and encourage students to e-mail me if they have any questions or concerns and students do. I also tutored students in small groups before the test on Rome afterschool and had many students back before and after school to complete the essays on their exams.
I discerned and addressed stereotypical references to gender, race, class, age, culture and sexual orientation on the rare occasions these issues arise in my classroom and set the standard that this was not acceptable in our classroom particularly as we moved into the world religions unit which might have potential breed such problems. I considered it part of the normal reinforcing of the classroom norms and behaviors. I role model being active in disengaging these stereotypes in just who I am as a person in everyday life and I do not hide this part of me away from my students. I asked the students to complete a diary entry from the prospective of a person from Rome and most students selected a person largely left out of history, like a wife of a common man, a slave, etc. The students got a lot of these assignments, particularly when they peer-edited each others and got to read how another student saw life in Rome through someone in (or typically not in) history’s eyes. I stopped students who are calling other classmates or themselves dumb or stupid and remind them that they are all very bright students, some of whom just need to work a little harder.
I was constantly conscious and aware of the classroom dynamics and climate. After I had a very disruptive class one time and my attempt to “lay-down-the-law” rather backfired I created assigned seats that now consistently reinforce in the classroom that has really helped alleviate the problems I was encountering earlier. I also make an effort to assign diverse groups when assigning students to group work so students are forced to engage with other classmates outside their direct circle of friends. I maintain a warm and friendly classroom environment by trying to be as personable to students as I can and being consistent and fair with all students with expectations of both behavior and academic work.
Expectations of students
I established and maintained an orderly classroom in many of the ways I already discussed, consistently enforcing classroom rules, particularly around respecting other students in the classroom. I set up many opportunities for student to engage directly with other students in cooperative efforts to help foster the cooperation and teamwork skills so important for a global economy such as those I did around the essential question for our world religions unit. These activities also helped students develop respect for other students in the classroom and diminish behavior problems that stem out of disrespect for other students in the classroom. I also tried to consisting enforce classroom rules though I need to be stronger about this. While I tried to consistently enforce classroom rules inside the classroom, I also consistently enforced them outside of school when it comes to deadlines for homework or longer term assignments. I consistently only accepted homework on the day its due for full credit, after the day its due it is consistently half credit. This still provides students motivation to complete the assignment but strong incentives to be active in their own learning and complete the homework assigned on time, which is important so we can build off it in class.
I make many demands of my students in the interest of their learning. I required that they take notes during teacher and fellow student presentations in class and give them class work grades for completion of these and other in-class assignments. I give quizzes to help students recognize what they know and don’t know before tests so that they can prepare themselves for the tests. I give students opportunity for extra-credit to improve their quiz grades after the quiz if they did poorly and to help them structure their additional time studying and re-learning material. I expected students to take responsibility for their own learning with the help of unit reviews I put on the website and other aids. They also keep track of their grades on iparent and communicate with me regularly about what assignments they need to turn in late, which some students routinely do. Particularly when I focused on using questioning in the second half of my course I really focused on putting the emphasis on the students developing their own learning.
The learning environment I created was characterized by mutual respect as seen in many of the methods discussed above and intellectual risk-taking encouraged by creative and engaging assignments, including class discussions, that force students to go beyond memorizing and recalling facts to comprehending the bigger picture of a time period in a certain location or a sub-unit like “Social Unrest in the Late Republic.” I gave students graphic organizers to understand these sub-units and think critically about why they matter. I asked students higher level questions in class and using primary sources ask students to engage with each other about what they think these texts mean, what their authors are advocating for, and how the texts fit into our bigger picture of our unit. I did this with both classes with the Socratic seminar documents, both classes with smaller primary and secondary sources that we discuss in class, and with my honors in a jig-saw discussion in which I assigned students the introduction of one of four Roman historians histories to see how Romans viewed history and its purpose as well as connect to our larger them of Roman values. I also set up group interactions for students to grapple with higher level questions in groups.
Relationships with colleagues and the school community
I fulfilled my classroom and school responsibilities regularly. I participated regularly in Common Planning Time assignments and discussions, school wide faculty meetings and social studies department meetings. From informal discussions with other teachers and school officials have learned a lot about teaching and how schools run. I have also developed a good relationship with many teachers, but particularly those in the social studies department through observing classes and simple things like discussions in the lunchroom. I’ve also worked extensively with another student teacher here from Rhode Island College who is also teaching Early World History, particularly around designing a sample problem solving common task that we tried with our students designed to directly respond to the schools low NECAP scores in math and the fact that requiring reading and writing in every class has improved the schools English NECAP scores and we hope that if we can demonstrate to other teachers how problem solving can be used in every classroom it will begin a movement towards doing the same type of integration into the classroom with problem solving, an important math skill for the NECAP and for life. We will be presenting the results of our trial run at the next faculty meeting. The students generally enjoyed the exercise and clearly understood the importance of it, recognizing how their opinions on the best solution changed over the course of the weeklong exercise. I also attended the Rhode Island Skills Commission Spring Task Development conference at the end of April for three days.
I communicated regularly with the special education teacher who teaches the student in my class with an IEP and ensure that he is getting extra-help on history assignments outside my classroom. I also communicated regularly with students and parents through e-mail outside the classroom. I regularly and promptly responded to student and parent e-mails. I wrote a letter to students on the first day I was with them encouraging them to contact me about the course, many have, many also use the blogs to take a similar opportunity. For example, I gave students the opportunity to earn extra-credit for a completing a blog that asks them to engage their parents in discussion around the material we are beginning in class on how religion affects society.