Part of the Process

Thoughts on becoming a teacher.


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Singing and Dancing in the 6th Grade

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am bit on the reserved side. I never had aspirations of seeing my name on a marquis or being up on a stage, singing and dancing my heart out. That being said, I’ll get out of my comfort zone if it benefits my students. As I’ve looked for ways to support my students, especially English Language Learners, songs and movement have come up a few times.

This is how I found myself singing and dancing with my 6th graders last week. I borrowed “The Number Line Dance” from Alex Kajitani, an educator in San Diego (I found his lesson on Integers on the Teaching Channel). Although, they pretended like they weren’t that into it, I could tell my students enjoyed this activity. It also helped students remember how to solve problems with integers. Many times throughout work time, I heard students softly singing the tune to help them remember which direction to go on the number line. I’m looking forward to more opportunities to bring music and movement into the classroom. Here are the lyrics and movements for the Number Line Dance if you are interested.

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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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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.


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The Wall!

Before the break, I was really looking forward to heading back to my main placement for a week. I ended up having a great week. I appreciated the chance to reconnect with my students, to see the progress they made and all the projects they were working on. The school I’m at had a big influx of students this past year and as a result, many classrooms are in portables. Being in a brand new portable has a few advantages, mostly heat and air conditioning related. I realized while I was back, that our class is kind of isolated though. Whenever I walk through the main halls of the school, I find myself lingering over the vibrant displays of student work. My students aren’t getting the opportunity to share their work in such a public way. Back in the portable, there was some student work displayed, but wall space was pretty much all used up. With the permission of my cooperating teacher, I decided what we needed to help this situation was a big space devoted to student work. A place that could highlight projects and work that students were proud of and one that would be immediately visible to any visitors coming in.

The Wall!   My Cooperating Teacher thought it would be a good idea to have the students name this new space. We started with a few suggestions, The Wall of Awesome, The Wall of Epic. As a class we brainstormed for several minutes and came up with many ideas: The Wall of !, The Wall of Fabulousness/Stuff/Greatness/Talent. This is sixth grade we’re talking about, so we also had the Wall of Swag, OMG! and Yolo! (of course). In the end the class voted and decided on The Wall!

I’m looking forward to seeing the showcased work when I return next week. I hope this gives the students in this class a bit of the recognition they deserve. When summer rolls around and I’ve had Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” stuck in my head for six months, I’m sure I’ll be appreciating the air conditioning in the portable even more.

UPDATE (2/9/14): The Wall!

It took me awhile, but I was finally able to get more than a few papers up on the “The Wall!”. The students in my class just completed a writing unit on Inclusion. This was a powerful unit and the students did a lot of deep thinking about empathy and understanding. Their final project for the unit was a five paragraph essay on the topic. They worked hard on these papers and I think every student wrote a paper they can be proud of. Yesterday, I hung all the papers up. As the students filed in this morning, more than a few gasped. They actually gasped! My cooperating teacher noticed a few students walk over to touch their paper. My teacher even invited parents to come check out the essays, if they were ever in the neighborhood. I loved it!