Finding Confidence and Realizing There is Never Enough Time

Time

This past week has been a pleasant shift for me. I am feeling more efficient, more organized, and more confident. These feelings mean that, even though I struggle with things and have lessons that don’t go great, I am putting my energy into growing and learning rather than feeling bad about myself. Getting to this point has depended on many things. I am the type of person that needs quite a bit of time to fully warm up to new things; I think I’m finally there. I have a great support team in my cooperating teachers and faculty adviser. They make me feel safe to try things, to make mistakes and learn from them, and to hear the advice they give so that I can improve. Lastly, I think I have gained a better understanding of the whole process of designing a unit, finding ways to help students reach the learning goals, and reflecting on the process.

I still have fears that I’m not moving quick enough or that I will let my students down. At the end of the day, I know I’m giving it my all. I have to believe that that’s coming through. I have to believe that the progress I feel I’m making, is coming through. I hope that this new found peace continues and that I can grow even more quickly in this second half of internship. I believe the stumbling and nervousness that I felt in the first part of internship were necessary to go through.

As I reflect and consider what’s ahead of me, I feel slightly panicked at the thought of all of the content I am running out of time to get through. My first unit went over the original time allotment and I worry that Hamlet will too. I just hope it’s not by too much. My brain is going crazy trying to think about where I will be able to fit in all of the things I need to teach my students. And I think it will be many tries before I am able to get everything done in good time. I think time is a huge lesson. How can I crunch everything together, make it cohesive, make it interesting, and make it beneficial for students to learn? I think this will be the question I ask myself throughout my career.

Taking Care of Myself During Internship

the screamI am one month into my internship. I am being challenged and rewarded in so many ways everyday. I have worked out my first evaluation with my coop and it has given me specific areas to work at, which I am thankful to have. My targets are better for it and I think my growth will be greater as well. I am also coming to the end of my first unit. I have been reflective throughout and will write blog posts on specific reflections, but for this blog post I wanted to be reflective on my feelings and overall health. Everything is so fast paced that it can be difficult to think everything through and prepare myself the way I wish I could.

First of all, people aren’t kidding when they say schools are full of germs and thus people who work in them often get sick. I have been fighting a flu of some sort since the beginning of the school year. It sucks the energy out of me and makes the dreaded energy drinks necessary when I need to plan, but feel the need to nap. Fortunately, I have been healthy enough not to have to miss any school. I really do not enjoy making sub plans or coming back to class and not knowing where my students are at. Hopefully, I am able to stay strong enough to keep this up.

There is another illness I have been facing and working to remain healthy against. And the liminal space I currently occupy as an intern has made this a challenge for me as well. My anxiety continues to be a daily struggle, but one I have been able to stay strong against. However, there are days when my thoughts get the better of me and I have to work to remind myself that being overly critical of myself is not helpful. I work hard to think constructively, because that is all I can do with my “failures” or “weaknesses.”

Overall, I am thankful that I have a strong support system and many ways to find help when I need advice on ways to improve my teaching. While, learning and teaching are the main focus of internship. Taking care of myself is also necessary if I want to be able to be successful. I can do little with a tired mind, so I am doing what I can when I can to be proactive in staying healthy.

Inquiry: Summary of Learning

I began my inquiry asking the question: “how can I support student-centered learning in my classroom?” I have researched and discussed with other teachers to learn about student-centered learning and begin to answer my question.  I got a lot of support and enjoyed hearing what others had to say and what others were doing to support student-centered learning.

I have put together a google doc that highlights what I learned and is cram packed full of resources that might be helpful for others trying to answer the same question I started with. Please check it out and leave comments as to further resources and ideas that relate to my inquiry project. I would also be very happy to discuss ideas around student-centered learning. I am no expert, but I am a very engaged life-long learner.

This inquiry project has helped my begin to put my philosophies and theories into practical teaching strategies and learning activities. While I have been struggling to structure my ideas, this has been an exercise in doing just that. Moreover, it has been another activity that pushed me to collaborate and reach out to communities of teachers, which I have yet again found so supportive and helpful.

As a last word, I am going to leave you with a video that I found and included in my document twice. I want to share this video, because if you only have time to check out one resource in regard to student-centered learning, I think this is a good choice. This video was a helpful resource for me as it given strategies, but also shows them in action. I can see myself using them now. If the video peaks your interest, check out my summary of learning package.

What do you think? Is student-centered learning something you would like to do? Please feel free to share and discuss.

Student-Centered Learning in my Pre-Internship

Before and during my pre-internship, I was inquiring into student-centered learning. My inquiry gave me many ideas and was reflected in my teaching philosophy. I would say that I made small steps toward my end goal. There were many things I was trying to consider as I prepared and taught during my internship.

I wasn’t sure how far I could go and to be honest I felt like I still needed to control the direction of the class quite a bit. I wasn’t sure what I should expect. I wasn’t sure how much control I had over the direction of the class and my teaching. In part, I didn’t want to teach in a way that would be disapproved by others or would be too different. I hate having these kinds of thoughts. I know people say that there is no one correct way to teach, but sometimes I feel like as a young teacher some of the things I want to try might be chalked up to inexperience. I also worry that because some of my ideas go against super traditional ways of teaching, they will not be well received by teachers who prefer traditional teaching methods. I tried to give students a voice and incorporate student-centered teaching/learning methods when I could. This is still something that is really important to me, so I will continue to take bigger and bigger steps toward reaching my goals.

For my first lesson, I asked my students to fill out an exit slip in response to three questions:

  1. What is something I should know about you as a learner?
  2. What is something you find interesting about or would like to learn more about the subject? (The World Around and Within Us – Environmentalism)
  3. What is a question you still have?

I was really happy with the responses I got. It was especially refreshing to read those for question number one. Here are a few examples of what my students told me:

“Making connections to similar concepts when teaching something new aids in my comprehension,” “I am the type of learner that has a little trouble understanding things the first few times…,” “I rather be learning in groups and moving than sitting by myself doing something,” “I learn better if you provide an image for me or let me use hands on,” and “I like when people talk and have a discussion.”

My students were able to clearly explain ways that they learn best. This reiterated that students know what works for them and we need to listen more often. My education has given me many tools, but with the diversity of learners that exists, I need to pay attention to them to know what they need.

I didn’t carry out an inquiry project, although I would have liked to. As I reflected, I saw that I could have gotten students to inquire into an environmental issue. If I had more time and felt more comfortable getting technology access for my students, that is something I would like to do. I did, however, have my students write journal responses to prompts related to what we were learning. I told them that they would choose one in the end to revise and make a good copy of. I tried to make this project into a process portfolio of sorts. The assessment for the “journal project” included: drafts completed, revisions, conventions, and content & understanding. I made it clear that the goal was for them to make personal and topical connections and provide support for them. In this way, I was respecting their perspective, giving them a voice, and getting them to build off of what they knew.

The poster project I had them do was similar. I went through an article that showed ads against food waste and then gave them complete freedom to advocate for something regarding an environmental issue. During class discussions and journal prompts, I asked students about the issues that bothered them.

I tried to incorporate the things that they had told me about themselves into their learning. I used group work as a few students mentioned that as being beneficial for them. I also recognize the power of collaboration. I prepared a jigsaw activity to encourage students to take responsibility of material. Although, some students had some issues with the concept of teaching their peers. I still believe it was a good way to introduce ideas.

In the end, I believe some of my ideas came out and I was able to do some student-centered work. I also believe I could have done more and would have liked to do more. As I said earlier, I was still a bit uncertain as to what my role could be and how many different methods I could try to use. Time was another factor, I would like to give students time to explore and I would feel more prepared if I had time to set up the class for a more inquiry and student-directed learning environment.

Assessment: Late Work

In my final assessment class, I watched a video by Rick Wormeli that built off of the ideas I considered in the article,“The Problem with Penalties,” by Myron Dueck. After considering Wormeli’s video on late work and Dueck’s problem with penalties, has got me insisting that we teach constructively and not punitively. This is obvious though. I’ve learned to teach through constructivism. I want my students to construct their own knowledge. I also want my students to be inwardly motivated when it comes to completing assignments that demonstrate what they learned. It has to be a constructive process. Punishment shuts students out and does not teach or motivate them to do their work on time.

Wormeli gives a number of reasons why late marks and zeros (punishment) for late work doesn’t help improve students accountability or success. He asks, would I hold someone who is just coming to learn, and may still be struggling, to the same accountability as someone who is proficient at the work? No.

How could we? A really important part of my teaching philosophy is based on creating a positive and open learning environment. My students have to know it’s okay to fail at something. My students need to know that they don’t have to make them self sick with worry that they aren’t ready to hand their work in or write a test. There does need to be deadlines, but I need to be flexible, understanding, and forgiving. My students’ learning matters first.

Additionally, Wormeli says, most students from kindergarten to grade ten (and sometimes older) have little choice over their daily schedule. Practices, class times, assignment dates, at-home responsibilities are all dictated to them. He describes school scheduling as a factory type model. He then says, adult deadlines require adult capabilities and time management skills. To force such deadlines when they students can’t act on it, is an abusive method according to Wormeli.

I think there needs to be open space to ask students if deadlines are reasonable, if they are being drowned under other tests and assignments, and room for negotiation as issues arise. Students should be able to come to me and know that if they need more time that’s okay.

Moreover, Wormeli claims that the traditional school system conspires against students that don’t get things right away. And, in trying to get through the curriculum, we tell students ‘too bad you didn’t get it the first time it was taught, we’re moving on’. He says, it’s “no way to teach humans.” Again, their learning matters more. If it takes differentiation, and it will, we must commit to providing students with opportunities to learn. In this way, he says that summative assessment is not necessary in good pedagogy. We can always do better as we learn, a factory model doesn’t allow that.

Lastly, he argues that giving zeros doesn’t teach students. He says, getting students to complete the work does. Students needs to become responsible for their learning, and recover from not making the deadline. We can’t assign a zero and expect them to learn to do their work. Late marks and zero’s also do not prepare people for the larger world, he claims. As the real world, allows us to be late more often than not. It is not the end for us, we are allowed to make mistakes, and recover and complete our duties. Adult level maturity comes from making mistakes and learning from them not from feeling the sting of a zero grade.

I know that late marks and zero grades are fiercely debated, but I think we have to be more understanding. Things can quickly become about punishing others for not reaching expectations, but is that the best policy? What do we really want? Do we want our students to learn or be left behind? The purpose of education, in my eyes, is not to punish students when they don’t do as we command. Education should be a constructive process. I want every aspect of my teaching policies to support that.

Dueck, Myron. “The Problem with Penalties.” Educational Leadership March 2014: 44-49. Print.

“Rick Wormeli: On Late Work.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Nov. 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHeij2Zfil4&gt;.

Assessment: The Problem with Penalties

The practice of using penalties as a way to get students to do their work or punish them when they don’t is something that has been debated both way in many of my classes. Do we give late marks? Should we assign zeros? Should we assign homework and how do we assess it? These questions deserve consideration and I know people have a lot to say either way. Teachers and non-teachers seem to take an interest and voice opinions on this subject.

Myron Dueck wrote an interesting article on the problems he sees with penalties and I find myself agreeing with his points. Dueck devises what he calls “the CARE guidelines” for penalties to positively influence behaviour (44). CARE stands for care about penalty, aim aligned to penalty, reduction of undesirable behaviour, and empowerment through informed decision making. Because these guidelines aren’t met when grading homework or using punishment to encourage effort, Dueck says that traditional penalties aren’t effective.

An important part of why I agree that grading homework isn’t good assessment, is because homework is the practice and so summative evaluation of it doesn’t give students the ability to show their improvement fairly. It can also be a practice that perpetuates inequality based on the socio-economic status and home life of students. Not all students have home environments that allow them to do their best work, so it is not particularly effective to grade homework.

It also becomes clear that punishment doesn’t encourage increased effort or student empowerment. Students don’t need to be punished when they don’t do their work or don’t try their best. They need more intrinsic motivations to make them want to do the work. They need to have their personal interests drawn into their studies. Students need to be responsible for and included in their learning. We need to understand what makes students not want to do their work and find ways to engage them, not push them away.

Dueck, Myron. “The Problem with Penalties.” Educational Leadership March 2014: 44-49. Print.

Assessment: Communicating, Evaluating, and Reporting

“… we can tell a little more of the truth. In doing so, it turns out that we can avoid pretending that a student’s whole performance or intelligence can be summed up in one number.” -Peter Elbow

As Davies describes throughout chapters nine and ten of Making Classroom Assessment Work, there are various ways we can assess and communicate a students whole performance/intelligence that are more reliable than a single mark or number on a report card. I can appreciate and see the importance of encouraging consistent communication, throughout the learning period, between student and teacher as well as parent and teacher.

As an elementary and secondary student, I always discussed my schooling with my parents, but I know that not all students do the same. In fact, some students actively avoid doing so. However, as Davies emphasizes, communication is a key part in the learning process. I really like the approaches Davies provides to help improve communication between parents and teachers. I like the idea of an open house where students lead the demonstration of their learning. I also like the idea of a class web page with examples and evidence of student learning. Students could be involved in creating these kinds of communication tools, which would support learning through reflection and support computer use in the classroom (what I view as building valuable and real-world relevant skills).

I also, prefer student-led conferences to teacher-led. This belief is supported by the idea that getting students involved helps their learning, but also in personal experiences. In one of my elementary school conferences, I had a teacher ask why we came, because there was little to say (meaning: I didn’t have any problems in school). This didn’t give me a voice to discuss my learning or ideas of areas I could improve in. While in high school, I lead a conference and was able to take responsibility of my learning and express my thoughts on how I can improve. I feel the latter was more beneficial.

When it comes to reporting student achievement, I think the communication piece is still vary important. Because it is a subjective process, it can be very challenging. However, when we consider all of the procedures completed throughout the process, it is easier to reflect and be confident in our professional judgement. That being said, I really like the idea of involving students in this process as well. Davies says to consider asking students if the report makes sense to them, if they feel it reflects what they learned, if it’s fair, and if we missed anything (99). I think this could be a really constructive method. I think, because our goal is to consistently involve students and have them reflect on their learning, asking them such questions would further support this goal.

Elbow, P. 1986. Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching. New York: Oxford University Press.

Davies, Anne. Making Classroom Assessment Work. 3rd ed. Courtenay, B.C.: Connections Pub., 2011. Print.