Standard #4: 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 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.
For the standard of classroom practice, my student teaching practicum has offered many opportunities for practice in different strategies and options that I want to try out. When I came into the classroom, I was most comfortable with classwide discussions, but quickly learned that they were not necessarily the most effective method of teaching for my students, especially since certain voices dominated nearly every discussion. My goals were to then differentiate instruction each lesson, and to engage more voices in the class. By incorporating DTPs, workshops, and skill practice, I was able to place less pressure on myself to lead the class, and thereby provide multiple entry points for my students to engage with the class and material, outside of full class discussion.
Including all of my students into the classroom discussion proved challenging for me, as many students actively chose not to participate, and cold-calling did not always work. After observing different teachers and trying different methods, one that proved helpful was to allow the students to call on one another. This quickly improved participation as the students are much more willing to respond when they are called out by their classmate as opposed to the teacher. A goal of mine is to continue to try out different methods of classroom engagement and to do so with some of the methods that I have seen other PCS teachers use.
With DTPs, I attempt to keep them under ten minutes as engagement can often trail off after that time. Also, providing students with guided notes for both DTPs and discussions helps to maintain participation and to always hold them accountable for the material. Having a secondary activity to do during a full class practice is something that is not often in the forefront of my mind, but my mentor teacher has helped to offer reminders that help me to emphasize consistent and constant classroom participation in the classroom. This is a skill that I hope to continue to better myself on and to take advantage of the guided notes or worksheets to add to my lessons and the material, as opposed to purely a way to hold students accountable and on track.
For group-work, being thoughtful about which students work with one another, yet also allowing student agency in their group-work offered me challenges. I learned that setting and modeling group expectations is key, and just as important as being thoughtful about which students are within each group. In a specific example, I assigned groups for an interactive and creative project, and allowed many students to work with their friends after having an honest discussion with them about group expectations and my possible hesitations in placing them together. For most groups, this proved effective, but for two, I ultimately decided with my mentor that after the groups did not meet the standards and expectations I set for them, it became necessary to split up the groups and offer them an alternative, yet still creative and engaging, assignment. Group-work played a key role in my daily lessons, and my placement offered me countless opportunities to try out different means and strategies of partnerships and groups, so that I feel comfortable incorporating groups in my future classroom practice.
Finally, with being thoughtful of the work that I assign to students, I believe that I greatly improved on this throughout the semester due to the help of my mentor. Choosing the standards first, rather than filling them in after, and asking myself why I am assigning certain things, helped me to explain my purpose behind activities and to keep all of my work focused on achieving a goal or standard. By gaining the skills that my students need to improve upon the most from pre-assessments, I was then able to gear my assessments and work towards achieving those. A struggle that I faced was trying to focus on all of the skills at once, but with the help of my mentor and certain strategies that got to the root of each problem, I could focus my efforts on a realistic number of skills.
To improve on my classroom practice, I would like to take more risks in my planning and to try out activities and practices that I am perhaps not as comfortable with, or that might fail. One of these is the performance cycle, which I hope to lead before transitioning to the Civil Rights unit, and also more class-wide interactive activities that I have not yet tried. By constantly trying new activities, that I learn both from observations as well as my peers and classes, I hope to continue to diversify my classroom practice and to keep my students engaged with each lesson.