Day 13: In what would be my most perfect, cozy ELA classroom, everybody would love to learn and would read feverishly and write with their heart and talk meaningfully and listen respectfully. And whether or not they loved the actual reading, we could discuss and challenge each other and collaborate thoughtfully, genuinely, and passionately in comfortable chairs in a circle with tea and snacks and non-blinding/artificial lighting. We would make nerdy literary puns and work our asses off to create brilliantly thought-provoking and creative writings and projects… *smile and sigh* Sounds wonderful to me. Except in reality, the trouble is that not all students love to read, and not all students realize the potential within themselves to make a difference in their world through reading, writing, speaking, listening, and collaborating… “Mind over matter” has been a life-changing mantra for me for getting through, persevering, and accomplishing any and every challenge my life has brought me…
Grit is a hugely underrated quality in our society. I love that quote about falling seven times but rising eight. I really do believe that effort is the key to success 9 times out of 10, and I love the fact that “Work Hard” is a pillar at this school. All of my students, no matter who or where they come from, no matter their diagnosis or prescribed ability levels have the capability to work hard… It’s tricky to design lesson plans knowing that oftentimes only 1/4 of the class will have actually done the reading homework. One tactic for still having meaningful classes in which even those who didn’t read at all can participate is focusing the activities on specific pages of the reading. By chunking the activity’s primary text of the novel into even smaller chunks of the assigned reading, all students can participate as it is easier to skim, manage, and analyze four pages in class than the full forty that were for homework, but the activity can theoretically work to strengthen many of the same skills. I think that as a teacher this is a difficult skill to successfully scaffold activities and discussions between those who did the full reading and are on top of the comprehension charts and those who have chosen to take a pit stop after chapter one… I’m an optimist with a twist of realism who is willing to work my ass off for anything. But there is only so much that I can do to set my students up for success before I have to relinquish the responsibilities to themselves… As the teacher, I won’t always have students… who want to contribute, but the biggest challenge for me will to be finding a way to motivate them and get them successfully involved without too much hand-holding or me taking it too personally. I want the best for all of my students and really everybody in my life, and it breaks my heart when I see somebody allowing themselves to fail, because I do think that failure is a consequence of a series of unproductive choices… I’m going to have to continue to stay positive and encouraging no matter how much I just want to ask wtf is it so impossible to do the reading on time?!
Day 14: Observation Day #1: Today was a phenomenal day! Dr. Z. came and observed me teaching a 70 minute lesson on distinguishing between fact and opinion, and then we had a two hour discussion after. Students used whiteboards to give me instant feedback as I asked them questions that were either a fact, opinion, or a few that were tricky and could be debated, then we read one of the vignettes from the book of the unit, They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky, then students partnered up to create their own fact or opinion statements from another vignette to share and vote on with the class. They loved the whiteboard aspect and were impressively responsibly about not drawing random things or getting distracted or side-tracked! The lesson Dr. Z. observed went really well for the most part, though there were a couple of things I could have done to make it better. One area for improvement in this regard is having directions written or displayed visually, not only orally. I definitely understand the value of this, and today was a good reminder of just how important techniques like having directions presented in multiple ways is for students. The second area for improvement was the partner work. Instead of focusing on the content comprehension, my lesson and DLT (daily learning target or objective) achievement would be strengthened if the activity was instead focused on the skill rather than the text, which the class has been struggling with. Completing a model of the activity before sending students off into their groups would have raised the success rate of the work, as students would have already understood and had time to process any questions they might have. Dr. Z. loved that I have good relationships with all my students, and they know that I enjoy being with them everyday. I’m still working on finding what techniques are best for my personality in classroom management, but those will continue to improve with time. We talked a lot about student motivation and incentive. It’s definitely an area of teaching that I would like to do more research in! What makes people want to learn? It’s sort of an oxymoron, but can intrinsic motivation be taught?
After Dr. Z. left, I got to teach the rest of the day, which was so much fun! After the long reflection of my strengths and areas to improve on, I was able to tweak the things that needed to be tweaked to make my lesson close to perfect. It was rewarding that I got to make the improvements that we talked about for the next two classes I taught in the afternoon! Both changes made a huge difference, and the rest of the lesson plan was extremely successful again. We got a little silly in the last class, which is definitely my favorite, and spent some extra time on the hook of the first fact/opinion questions which in the other classes stayed about me. We branched out to “Drake is the best rapper,” “Danny is Ms. B.’s best student” and a couple other lighthearted debatable questions. They loved it, and we were still going towards the DLT even while a bit off topic. It’s the best feeling when the lessons I’m creating myself are going off successfully for the most part. I feel like I have a good judge of how long I want the class to spend on the different tasks, and Renaissance’s model which includes the Do-Now, a mini-lesson, the application, and the closure falls in good line with the templates we used last semester. It makes a perfect combination that keeps me focused on the lighthouse and also super organized.
Day 15: Last night, Ms. C’s Facebook status was: “From the files of room 101… Katie Barsevich did an amazing job teaching a lesson on distinguishing between fact and opinion and continuing to build strong relationships with our eighth graders. Prediction: She is a future teacher of the year!” After that awesomely flattering shout-out, I made sure to bring us both Dunkin’ hot chocolates this morning :) I also heard that my mentor teacher Anne Marie Bettencourt has been awarded a Pioneer Valley Teacher of Excellence Award!! I’m so grateful to be mentored by teachers who are clearly the best of the best.
Today was … the first time that I’ve seen the students do group work in bigger numbers than twos and threes. I’ve been interested in the components of group work for a while, and I took special attention to how different students worked together. Ms. C is thoughtful about the dynamics of each class, so some she allowed them to pick their groups… In other classes, however, she picked those groups, distributing on-task, high-achieving students with those who typically struggle. This is in the hopes that those students with good comprehension can use their skills and knowledge to keep the other students on task and act as unofficial group leaders. With my past history of often getting stuck being the one to do the whole project so that it’d be up to my standards, I see problems in this type of system. Not all students who are labeled as high-achieving have the best leadership or group relationship skills or inclinations, and not all students will work cooperatively and contribute to the group work. Ms. C tries to keep all group members honest and on-task by having individual and group reflections at the end part of class. Groups also checked in with the rest of the class at least three times throughout the period, making sure they were progressing towards where they needed to be… One tip I would really like to try is giving each member of the group a specific role, such as facilitator, time-keeper, scribe, etc. Should these groups remain the same over a period of time of the year, students would theoretically build relationships with each other to work together better, roles inside the group would rotate, and the individual and group-member reflections would keep students motivated to contribute responsibly. And as always, the more meaningful and engaging the actual group work is, the less inclined students will be to get off-task…
Day 16: Too personal reflections about students to share here… Here’s a clip from Dr. Z.’s response though:
IT IS MY PLEASURE! IT IS SO REWARDING TO SEE YOUR PROGRESS IN THE LAST 6 MONTHS! HELPING STUDENTS BECOME GREAT TEACHERS IS WHERE I GET MY JOLLIES, SO HAVING STUDENTS LIKE YOU THAT WILL BE MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN KID’S LIVES FOR THE NEXT 25 YEARS IS WHERE IT IS AT FOR ME. YOU MAKE ME VERY PROUD AND EXCITED FOR YOUR FUTURE STUDENTS… STAY WARM AND ENJOY THE STORM!
Friday: Snow day!