I did a good job of planning my lessons to build both content and skills development in my students concurrently. I am able to recognize the larger ideas, patterns and themes in a unit and focus my lessons around them. For example, in the unit on Rome as part of classical civilizations there were two essential questions provided for in the school wide history curriculum. The questions were: What make civilizations endure and decline? and What are the lasting legacies of Rome? I structured my unit to focus around both of these questions. I had student development knowledge and comprehension of the early republic and the development of Rome, what made Rome “Great” in regards to geography, political system, values, etc. Then I discussed with them the destruction of the republic, adding the decline to the endurance question, where many Romans were poor and landless after returning from the wars of conquest in the Mediterranean and the rise of individual leaders who tried to respond to these problems and/or capitalize on them to prevent the decline of the civilization. Then we had similar discussions about the high days of the empire and its eventual decline, attempts at reform and fall of the empire. Throughout this chunking of time by endurance and decline, endurance and decline, I consistently incorporated the legacies of Rome today into class, including dedicating an entire period to how I am (and my university, Brown is) personally affected by Rome’s legacy, which I think really helped develop a warm and more personable relationship between myself and my students.
I carefully created and scaffolded a problem solving task to conclude the unit on Rome with one of my classes and to support the school’s desire to support students mathematical development. I continued the same with the next unit on world religions were the essential question is: How do belief systems and society shape each other? I’m starting both classes off with a blog entry, how does your religion or belief system shape your life and your family? For extra-credit students will be able to interview a relative asking the same question. My hope was that this introduction to the unit, along with a breaking down of the essential question and what it really means, will get students excited and personally connected to the material as well help develop connection and respect between the students in the classroom through sharing something of ourselves.
While each lesson I prepared was focused and has individual goals and objectives. I also make a point of incorporating into the lesson connections to other material I covered or I know they covered before I arrived. For example, I frequently referred back to their mid-term prompt which asked them about whether security, order out of chaos, is necessary to create culture in a civilization. I was very explicit in putting the agenda on the board with the days objectives and going over them so students can see where we are headed and how the lesson relates to the whole curriculum. I frequently used technology in and outside the classroom, as everyone in my classes reported having access to the internet, we continue our class discussions on a class blog nearly every night and I frequently used powerpoint in class with the students or print outs from their library’s internet resources. The students spent a good chuck of the fall semester working on individual research projects in the library that culminated in them each presenting a powerpoint presentation so while I might do some more work in the library or computer lab in the remaining time with my students I’ll keep it to short lessons there instead of long term projects.
I planned a wide variety of activities into every class period. My students read, write, talk and think every class period, even if it is just something small like writing a conclusion to the notes we have taken in class or doing a think-pair-share activity. I have used individual assignments, whole class presentations and/or discussions, and many small group assignments in class, including small groups presenting to each other and jig-saw activities. Students engaged well with the activities I present and through the variety and scaffolding of activities, I feel I am able to accommodate different learning styles well. Even when doing direct teacher presentation, sometimes I incorporated photos, sometimes I have notes on powerpoint, sometimes I wrote notes on the board just to mix it up so there is something for everyone. I worked particularly hard to scaffold all these learning activities for my college prep class that needs more organizational structure and I work individually with the special education teacher for my student with an IEP.
Throughout the semester, I learned more about how my students construct knowledge and how they need repetitive exposure to information to really be able to internalize it. Therefore, I built this into my planning and exposed students to key information they need to retain in get excited about it connection activities, homework, teacher presentations, group work, and discussion activities. I improved throughout the semester at scaffolding the learning process for particularly my lower level class and trying to help both classes make explicit meaning out of lessons. I am focused on drawing them to the big picture that the little details fit into, such as the problems of the late republic and how these leaders tried to resolve them, instead of memorizing people and dates which is harder for students to do. Students were very forthright with me on their surveys at the beginning of my time with them that the part of history they had the most trouble with was memorizing names and dates. Therefore, I have tried to focus on the big picture to help them see where and why the names and dates have meaning and build the web of connections in their brains, particularly cause and effect, while also enforcing the importance of key facts of history.