Aug. 5th, 2010 07:29 am
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Stephanie Dube
Education Portfolio: Part Eight
Summer 2009
Tom Del Prete and Kate Shepard
The teachers at UPCS involved with the Clark MAT program have been a fantastic resource. Observing them in class and then being able to discuss how classes have gone and how students are doing, both in post-rounds and informally between classes has given me a much better idea of what goes into planning, assessing and replanning lessons and units than I had before observing and participating so closely and consistently.
One thing I took away from the experience is an appreciation for how much thought and attention is given to each student as an individual, and to the dynamics of the class as a whole, behind the scenes. I began to see the class as something like a puzzle where each students brings his/her own unique personalities, interests, strengths and weaknesses to the table. It has been really fascinating and rewarding to observe how they have, even in just three weeks, become more comfortable and developed as thinkers and communicators. The teachers pay close attention to how the students are developing, individually and how they are coming together as a group, and respond, on a daily basis, through verbal and written feedback to the students, through reworking their lesson plans, and through looking for small, specific instances where they could do more. The job of the teachers is to keep track of how the students are responding as they continually work to create activities that engage them, meeting all of their needs, and get them interacting productively with each other.
In the post-rounds sessions, the teachers made clear their lesson-specific as well as major overarching goals for the students are. These goals are generally clear to anyone witnessing the lessons, but they might not have been if the teachers had not thought them through so thoroughly before-hand and continually brought them back up in conversations when assessing the success of their lessons. As Jodi Bird pointed out, it is very difficult for one teacher to see what is going on with each individual kid throughout the class, or to notice and take every advantage of teaching-opportunity that may arise. Therefore, in the post-rounds sessions, the UPCS teachers asked us observers for evidence regarding students' success and struggles with specific concepts and skills. They wanted ot know how students were picking up routines, how they were interacting with each other, how they were handling specific concepts and tasks, and to what extend a productive and healthy classroom culture was developing. These questions drew my attention to the little things these teachers did (and occassinoally didn't do -- as Jodi said, teachers can't see everything) to bring about their goals for the classes. For example, Kate asked on one post-rounds sheet, "What things did I say or do to help establish the expected routines and procedures?" This brought my attention to a number of things Kate, Kevin and Jodi said repeatedly in their classes: "Remember, you're supposed to be talking math only," "Who starts class? You do." "I like how you referred to your research. That is what scientists do." "As always, I want your thoughts. Don't try to give me what you think my thoughts are." These little things go a long way to establishing classroom culture and expectations for the students. I think that I have a better sense of what to look for now, in other teachers' classrooms and what I should be checking for in my own classroom, when the time comes.
The workshops with Dan, Kate, Peter and Bob were also quite helpful. These involved a lot of talk about teaching concepts that we've been talking about and reading about in the MAT program for some time now, like scaffolding, literacy circles, collaboration, and low-stakes writing; in these workshops, the UPCS teachers brought these concepts alive in a way that was really engaging and exciting. I got a better sense of what some of these best practice methods really look like, and what they can achieve. The samples of students work were very exciting -- they've gotten some great results with these techniques. I began imagining what it would look like for me to implement some of these techniques myself this year. The sample LAPs were also really helpful in this regard too. I may steal some of Dan and Peter's activities and lessons for English classes outright (adapting them to middle school material).
I hope to shape my lessons and units around big, powerful, multi-faceted ideas that the kids can really dig into and bring up aspects of that I hadn't thought of myself, and I want to present these ideas to them through multiple genres, media forms, and provide them with multiple ways to process and respond to these ideas and presentations of ideas. As Dan St. Lous pointed out, giving students open-ended, meaningful topics to consider and the time to reflect on these ideas, is key. Low and mid-stakes writing assignments really appeal to me; they let kids gather their thoughts and ensure that they have somewhere to start in a class conversation. It also provides students (and teachers) with something to look back at and connect or compare with various texts. Over time, as this is done more often, it should become second-nature to them. Powerful ideas, particularly important controversial issues can generate great thought, discussion and reflection; this can begin even before writing, with activities like presenting different sides to an issue and having the students move to corresponding corners of the room. With this method, everyone has a voice without even speaking. Something like this could provide a really good starting point for jumping into a text, or a debate or writing assignment.Getting the students writing, talking, expressing and discussing their views a lot also puts them in a position of picking out the important topics related to the subject matter, empowering them and transforming the class into something really meaningful and authentic, as opposed to something forced and stilted. Peter's impression of a bad English teacher brought back some memories I'd rather not have relived -- it was a worthy reminder of what I do not want to put my students through.


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