Part of the Process

Thoughts on becoming a teacher.


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Exit Tickets

I’ve had mixed feelings about exit tickets. As a student, I’ve felt frustrated when they are given out without adequate time to fill them out. I’ve felt like they put pressure on me. But, I’ve also seen them as a way to have a personal conversation with my teachers. Because of my mixed feeling about exit tickets, I was a little hesitant to introduce them to my class. I ended up using them three times this week, and the information I gained from them was really helpful.

Three days this week for math class, I asked students to fill out an exit ticket with two content related questions, a self-assessment question and a question asking them to identify how they could extra help if they need it. The content questions provided me with a quick and simple tool for assessment. It only took a few minutes to get an idea how every student in the class was doing. I like the self-assessment question for two reasons: I can easily get a sense of who needs additional support and it provides a way for my students to take ownership of their own learning. The last question, where they identify how they can get additional help if they need it not only promotes a sense of ownership, but allows me to get to know my students and their study habits a bit more. For example, I can see that D feels most comfortable asking his parents for help, H actually uses the online textbook tutorials and J likes to ask students at his table group for help.

Using exit tickets this week also allowed me to have evidence of student learning to share during post observation conferences. It was great to have an assessment that I could go through in just a few minutes. When asked what I thought students had learned, I could easily point to evidence from the exit tickets (in addition to other evidence). I know they don’t give the whole picture, but I feel like they are a valuable tool. I even had a student ask if we were going to do them more often, because she really liked them.


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More on the power of relationships…

As I was reading through some of the blogs I follow this morning, I came across this post by Katherine Sokolowski. She saw a picture of a book that she had read as a second grader and it reminded her of the powerful role her teacher played in her life that year. I thought it was a great reminder of the power a teacher can have, but what drew me to her post was the picture of the book. My cooperating teacher read the same book to our 6th graders on the first day of school this year and has read the book to all the kindergarten classes in the school. I loved that this simple book has served to strengthen relationships!


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Goals

I’ve had the opportunity to teach a few writing lessons with my 6th graders over the past several weeks. All of the lessons have been fairly short, but I have really enjoyed teaching them. The first one I had the chance to do was on goals. Every student set an academic goal for themselves in the fall, these were shared with parents at conferences.IMG_0204 They identified a goal, as well as things they needed to do to help them reach their goal, how they would know and two things that would help them stick to their goal.  I had the students return to those goals and reflect on their progress. I wanted them to write about whether or not they had reached their goal. If they hadn’t, did they need to modify it? Was it an attainable goal? Did they need to identify additional ways to stick with their goal? This type of reflection didn’t come easy to most students, but I think it can be a powerful exercise in thinking about your own learning and used as a way to promote ownership.

The next day, I let students know that we would all be setting new goals. This time students could choose an academic goal or a personal goal. I planned to model my own goal setting and let them choose if I they wanted me to write a personal or academic goal for myself. Not surprisingly, they all wanted me to model a personal goal. I asked the class for help with my own goal and to share ideas of how I could stick to it, they were eager to help me out! Every student set at least one new goal, and many students chose to set both a personal and academic goal. Many of the students set goals in the subject areas that they struggle in.

These goal sheets are printed on heavy card-stock and students keep them in their binders. I have seen students referring to their goal sheets on several occasions. I thought this activity was great because my students were engaged, we got to know each other better and it gave students a chance to reflect on their own learning and behavior. As the year goes on and my students are looking ahead to middle school, this ownership and ability to reflect is something I want to continue supporting.


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Classroom Community

Over the past couple of weeks, classroom management has been a hot topic. As student teaching gets closer and closer, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my students are going to behave when my Cooperating Teacher is out of the room. I know that a huge part of the the classroom community is dependent on the relationships he has with the students. I’ve been worried that things will fall apart in his absence. As all these thoughts went through my head, the opportunity to test it out arose. My CT had a sub for the first time this school year. I wondered how behavior would change in his absence.

Overall, the students had a great day. But there were definitely some issues that came up and a few incidences that occurred that probably wouldn’t have if my CT had been there. I have been focusing on building relationships with these students since the beginning of the year and I know that it will continue to be a focus of mine. I’m a big believer in following a Positive Discipline method in the classroom (I used this approach in my preschool classroom and have seen how well it works). I’m figuring out how to translate my knowledge of Positive Discipline with 3 year-olds to something that will work well with 6th graders.

I’m also interested in helping create an environment that isn’t so dependent on the teacher. I came across this blog post by Jennifer Orr where she is thinking about the same issues. She raises the question of how to create communities that don’t fall apart when the teacher is gone. I wonder if finding ways for students to strengthen their relationships with each other would help. Would cultivating a stronger identity to the group/school help lessen the impact when the teacher absent?


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Math dreams and math realitites

Math Gallery Math in my main placement has been pretty predictable: we try to stick with the district pacing guide, have minilessons (with some student input) and most of the work is from the book.  So when I was asked to find problems that would lend themselves to rich mathematical discussions, I wondered how I  could make it work with my class. Imagine my surprise, when I walked into the classroom on Monday, and saw several new posters up on the wall depicting math problems. My CT told me he had given the class a few problems to think about on their own and then assigned a problem to each table group. Each group worked on the problem together and then made a poster showing their thinking. The timing of the whole thing was perfect.

IMG_0268My CT really wanted me to be able to see it in action, so we planned another problem for the students to work on. We presented the problem to the students and let them work on them individually for a few minutes. The groups then came together to decide on a common strategy to represent on their posters. The particular problem posed didn’t have one correct answer, so there was a lot of discussion on how to solve it. As I circulated around the room, I heard students posing arguments, compromising and defending their thinking. After each group completed their poster, we had a gallery walk. Students were encouraged to use sticky notes to leave questions and comments on the posters.

I loved seeing my students so engaged in a math activity. They did a great job of really engaging with the work and each other’s posters (resisting the temptation to use this as a social time). I’m looking forward to having more of these activities included in our math curriculum!IMG_0265


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Environmental Education

IMG_0187Environmental education is near and dear to my heart. I focused on Environmental Studies during my undergrad education and also had the pleasure of doing environmental education and outreach during part of my service in the Peace Corps. So I was excited to take part in an a Project Learning Tree environmental education workshop in my Science methods class. I really enjoyed this workshop and have been thinking of ways I can incorporate environmental education into my classroom.

One of the things I thought was great about this workshop was the approach of teaching children to love the environment before asking them to take steps to protect it. In other words, we need to build awareness before we introduce an activism component to environmental ed. Often times, there is a doom and gloom feel to environmental education and the stories we hear in the media. I think this approach can lead people to think that doing anything to help the environment is futile. In the workshop, we also talked about guilt. Guilt is not a good way to call people to action, it may work in the short term, but it isn’t sustainable.

As a child, I was able to spend lots of time outdoors and was fortunate enough to visit many national and state parks with my family. I believe these experiences lead me towards studying the environment and being interested in learning stewardship and sustainability. I know that many children do not get the chance to have the experiences I had as a child, which is why I think it is so important to bring experiences with the environment into our classrooms.


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Grumpy

I have a student, Derrick*, in my class who is never without his “Grumpy” (the dwarf) sweatshirt. This sweatshirt is often a quite literal reflection of his mood. I know that school is not an easy place for Derrick. Derrick struggles. He is several grade levels behind in reading. I have seen him work diligently on a project for 45 minutes, make a small mistake, and then just throw the whole thing away. Derrick has a good relationship with my cooperating teacher (he was in his class last year too). I know that he enjoys his time in the Learning Center as well. Derrick loves to stay in during recess, and will talk your ear off about his hobbies and interests. But, here is my struggle: every time I try to check in with him during work time he just shuts down. He often works himself up to the point where he is breaking his mechanical pencils into pieces or scratching holes into his paper.

I’ve been having a mental wrestling match with myself. I want Derrick to know that I care about him and as his teacher, I can’t let him sit idly by. I know that relationships and trust are built over time, but on the other hand I don’t want him to think that it is okay to sit and break pencils if I ask him how he is doing. On Tuesday, we had an incident where this happened and I could tell that Derrick was having a hard time for most of the day after that. I tried to be understanding, to let him know that I understood that he was frustrated. My CT thinks that he probably doesn’t want me to see how much he is really struggling, that its hard for him to admit it.

I decided to just try to connect with Derrick at times when I could see that he wasn’t frustrated. He stayed in during recess on Thursday and it was just the two of us. We had the chance to talk about why he likes the Learning Center, more about his hobbies (seriously hard to get a word in, once he gets going!) and about some of the writing we have been working on. The next day he asked me for help in math. I’m not saying that Derrick and I are great terms yet, or that we can put the broken pencil days behind us, but it felt like a small step in the right direction.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Derrick this week, wondering what I should do. I’ve leaned heavily on Faber and Mazlich’s ideas in How To Talk So Kids Can Learn, and some of the principles of Positive Discipline that I used in my preschool class. Honestly, I’ve been frustrated, but I’ve also tried to look at things from Derrick’s perspective and practice empathy.

*a pseudonym

***UPDATE***

I’m happy to say that Derrick and I are on really good terms now. I think what really helped our relationship is my learning how to anticipate his reaction to things better. When I got to know him better, I knew what his triggers were. This allowed me to talk with him before an assignment or unit to come up with a plan together. For example, when I was planning to teach probability in math I knew he would become frustrated right from the start because it involves so much reading. We were able to talk about it and I let him know that I would be there to support him and he could choose to work with a partner as well. The following weeks went really well for him and he was happy to help motivate his partner to get work done too. When I look back on our relationship, I feel really good about how far we’ve come. It feels good to be a trusted adult in this student’s life. I hope that through our experience, we will feel at least a little more trusting of teachers as he moves onto to Junior High next year.