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.

Reflecting on a Bad Day

I’m sure there are times in every teacher’s career that they have a bad day, and I had one.

I attempted to let students read a short story and discuss and answer related questions in groups. I gave them a guiding time frame, because this was only one of the activities I wanted to cover in the class. The short story was not a difficult read, I asked them to fill out an anticipation guide before and during reading to help them, and I allowed students to work in groups of up to three. I thought groups would be a nice break from the individual work from the day before. Additionally, some students answered the exit slip question, “what should I know about you as a learner?” by telling me they enjoyed group work. I personally, enjoy discussing what I read with others and find it helpful in identifying different potential meanings of a story. However, it became a social opportunity and I could see that many students had completed very little of their anticipation guide. I realized that my class was going to need the entire class to finish what I hoped they would, so I let the rest go until I could cover it the following day.

This behaviour came from two general things. Firstly, in my haste to cover everything, I made the mistake of not clearly connecting the previous day’s work to that day’s. Secondly, after starting out assertive and audible, I reverted to my timid and quiet voice. Maybe I was tired out or nervous, but the students noticed.

FailureI was upset at first. I knew the mistakes I had made immediately. I felt like a failure. After calming down, I made myself acknowledge that I would not learn from beating myself up over it, that I had to dust myself off and take the experience for what it was — a learning experience. The next lesson, I focused on my presence and my voice. I also dedicated the period to connecting everything together and establishing the importance of the learning activities and the routines. The lessons that I have taught since, have went according to my plans and I am looking forward to improving more and more. In the end, things have gone well and I was able to learn from my “bad day.”

In addition, to overcoming fears and learning from mistakes, I really felt the support of my teaching communities. My partner and my cooperating teacher gave helpful feedback, support, advice, and specific things I should do next class to be more successful. This helped me emotionally prepare myself and it helped me make the most out of the lesson I learned.

Inquiry: Student-Centered Instructional Strategies

I found this video while inquiring into student-centered learning. I like it because it targets the practical aspects of teaching in this way and provides clear examples as well. The video presents idea on direct instruction, indirect instruction, learning in pairs, cooperative groups, heterogeneous grouping, individual roles, intelligent behaviours, inquiry and discovery, project-centered, writing across the curriculum, learning by games, graphic organizers, mnemonics, and music and movement (strong memory devices). Of these, there are a few that I would like to further reflect on.

Direct and indirect instruction

I like that direct instruction isn’t completely abandoned, but that it is said it needs to be limited/brief. I think for most learners learning purely through direct instruction doesn’t work. Moreover, instruction of all kinds need to be varied to target different levels of thinking and differentiate for learner needs. Indirect instruction may align more easily with the idea of student-centered learning as it can be a more constructive approach. I think both are needed and the extent to which each is used must be decided by the teacher and learners of a classroom.

Different ways of groups/group learning

The video expresses different ways and purposes of grouping. Pairs and cooperative learning groups are two things that I have been slowly wading into. My first instinct as a student is to recall frustrations that come with group work, but I am seeing the power of collaboration more and more. I believe that collaboration is important to learning and is a skill students will need. The idea of heterogeneous groups is another idea brought up in the video. I think it is good to have some groups, but I still think there is a place for some homogeneous grouping that can help with learners at different ability levels. I do, however, believe that creating groups that are made up of diverse learners with different and unique abilities could be a powerful learning experience for all.

Inquiry, discovery, and project learning

I really enjoy this aspect of student-centered learning. I believe that this is where direct instruction can be minimized. I believe that inquiry, discovery, and projects support higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Inquiry projects allow students to learn through areas of personal interest. In an English classroom, I think this could easily be done for essay writing by allowing students to research something they want to. I also believe students could pick out a theme or idea from a novel to explore further. Discovery and project learning invite hands on learning. I want students to take responsibility for and enjoy their learning. I think these strategies allow students to see how learning is relevant and how they, as individuals, are important.

Learning through games

This is a newer concept for me. I have looked into gamification of education and I have liked what I’ve found. To me, gamification uses intrinsic motivation that people have when they play games, but for educational purposes. For example, we will repeat a level until we succeed and we will work hard to gain and improve our skills related to the game. Why? Because we want to. Education can be the same. I think learning through games is completely relevant. It is another way to make learning engaging and get students responsible for their learning progress.

Strong memory devices

I know that some memory devices are needed. My worry is about the idea of memorization. I am more interested in deeper methods of learning, but I believe that ways that can help students own their knowledge is still good. Ideally, students will be able to analyze, evaluate, and create. In which case, simple memory devices won’t be necessary. I think it is important to use different learning styles (such as music and movement) in the classroom, but the goal should not be to memorize. The goal is to be able to do something with the knowledge.

Conclusion

These are some strategies that I will continue to consider and inquire into using for the purpose of student-centered teaching. Do you have anything to add? Are there issues with any of these methods or additional methods I should look into? I would love to hear feedback and get any further advice that can help me in my inquiry into student-centered learning. Thank you.

Student-Centered Assessment

Assessment

In Making Classroom Assessment Work, Anne Davies cites, “[r]esearch shows that when students are involved in the assessment process… they learn more, achieve at higher levels, and are more motivated. They are also better able to set informed, appropriate learning goals to further improve their learning” (82).

This chapter has connected a few ideas for me. Ways of involving students in the assessment process continue to be generated, process portfolios have been presented and modeled for me, and I have been exploring student-centered teaching. As I see everything come together, I get a sense of how I will be able to structure student-centered assessment in my classroom.

I really like the idea of a process portfolio, because in addition to allowing student to show their growth over a period of time rather than through high-stress exams/final assignments, as Davies mentions, they allow students to take ownership of their learning and often end up learning more as a result. Davies argues that “students need to be accountable for their learning” (77) and I agree. I want my students to engage with their learning and I think that means that I don’t try to make it all about me. For this reason, I also like the idea of expanding the audience to whom students share the evidence of their learning process with (78). I think it would ease any parent’s worries to see how this type of assessment functions through a student-led conference. I think this will also prepare students and allow them to make connections between what and why they learn class material. Presenting evidence of our learning, our abilities, and areas we are working on improving, are lifelong skills.

I am excited to include assessment into my consideration and practice of student-centered learning/teaching. I am intrigued by the opportunity to have student involved in another aspect of their education. I want to consider more the idea that Davies presents at the end of chapter eight, that is that I must “decide the balance of teacher work and student involvement” (83). I believe that as a learn more I will gain a better sense of what that means for me, but more so, I will learn through experience.

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

Inquiring into Student-Centered Learning

I am making an inquiry into how I can support student-centered learning in my classroom. I want to be able to help students become active in their education. I want them to construct their learning in ways that are meaningful for them. I don’t want to talk at students and tell them what to learn and how they should learn it. I think that giving students a voice is an important part of my job. I want to learn how I can take these theories of learning and teaching and work them into my practices.

I would like to hear from other educators. I am interested in thoughts and concerns, experiences in what worked and what didn’t work, and any other words that can help me in my inquiry. I will be sharing my journey and would love to have discussion throughout.

I am starting my journey with some rough ideas and general thoughts about where I will be going. I view student-centered learning as being generally about moving away from a teacher-centered approach and allowing learning opportunities that take into account student interests, student needs, and student ways of knowing and showing their learning. I have an understanding of the constructivism, but am interested in classroom structures that can support the concept.

Any words, resources, thoughts, and/or questions are welcomed.

Lesson and Unit Planning as a Preservice Teacher

As a preservice teacher, one of the things I want feel more proficient at is lesson and unit planning. I can find my way around the Saskatchewan curriculum quite well. I have many activity ideas, especially when it comes to English Language Arts. However, I don’t yet have experience carrying out the unit plans I have constructed. I am not sure I have succeeded at creating the kind of continuity in concurrent lesson plans that I hope to. Likely, the only way to really know and learn how to improve is through doing. Luckily, I will have the opportunity to do so in my pre-internship and internship. In the meantime, I wish to learn as much theory and practice putting my ideas together.

In the blog post “Planning the Best Curriculum Unit Ever,” Todd Finley blogs about eight planning steps. In this order, he describes the steps as:

  1. Describe your vision, focus, objectives, and student needs.
  2. Identify resources.
  3. Develop experiences that meet your objectives.
  4. Collect and devise materials.
  5. Lock down the specifics of your task.
  6. Develop plans, methods, and processes.
  7. Create your students’ experience.
  8. Go!

He also notes that every lesson and unit has to be uniquely crafted to support the diversity of your students. Differentiation is important and it is important to make sure your lessons aren’t cookie cutter and adapted to suit student needs.

Ideas for unit planning and backwards design is well explained on Dr. Bilash’s website. Here there are different types of units described: “Theme based unit, Literature basedGames basedContent basedField trip basedWriting based, [and] Project based“.

Bilash also provides videos of the process of backward planning from the perspective of a preservice teacher:

Finally, “Strategies for Effective Lesson Planning” can be found on the website for Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. The site gives six steps for lesson planning: “Outline learning objectives,” “Develop the introduction,” “Plan the specific learning activities,” “Plan to check for understanding,” “Develop a conclusion and a preview,” and “Create a realistic timeline”. Breaking the planning process into clear sections can make the task manageable. Planning becomes really fun when all of your ideas can be put into a cohesive learning plan.

While these ideas are helpful, practice and classroom experience is the greatest opportunity for learning what is going well and what needs improvement. I am excited to be able to put all of my ideas together and teach a full unit of study. My goal until then is to consider the process of planning and work my ideas into clear plans.

I would like to receive any additional advice that can help me in my own learning process. What tips do you have? What resources helped you? What else can I do to be prepared to teach?

What Happens Next and How Can I Prepare Myself?

After reading David Theriault‘s blog post “How to get hired and stay hired. A drama in four parts“, I realized that I have been so focused on my education as a pre-service teacher that what I do after wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. As a student in the education program, I feel that I know where I’m going – I know what I am going to do with my degree (teach!). However, now that I am closer to that part of my journey, I see that it will be a process as well.

As far as pre-service teaching goes, I can see the value in gathering evidence of my internship to show the kind of work I’m doing. I have been lucky to have classes that have allowed me to work on an e-portfolio over the course of my education. I will be working to add more and create a space that gives others an idea of who I am as an educator. I will be working on making lasting connections. Because I am shy,  it can take me a while to feel comfortable in new social groups. I will be making an effort to work through my nervousness, so that I am able to make connection from the beginning of my internship experiences.

Getting hired afterword suddenly feels like a daunting task, but it is something that I will be committed to succeeding at. I am excited to get into my profession and I am open to working in new environments and areas that may not be my specialty. Getting an interview will take effort, so it is important that I prepare myself to the best of my ability. David provided a great resource to get prepared to answer possible interview questions. I think one of the best way to quiet nerves before an interview would be to prepare. I would like to make my portfolio available in both digital and hard copy, so David’s example was nice to see.

After one gets hired, the work will change, but it will also be a priority to make the most out of the position. While I am eager to teach, I am eager to learn and make my teaching better. I will need to give everything I have to teaching, but also to keep up with professional development opportunities and information related to teaching and learning. It sounds like a lot of work and time, but I believe that it will be rewarding to do something that I value so much. I believe that the work I will be doing will be well worth the effort.

Although the journey is daunting, it is nice to know that social media provides a space for new teachers to connect with experienced teachers. The advice that is out there is truly helpful. The ideas and opportunity to make connections is invaluable. Finally, creating a community of educators is a great way to improve our education and the quality of education we provide.