8th Lesson Reflection… Wait What?

I can’t believe that I am writing my last reflection of this semester already! Where did the time go? 8 weeks ago, I started my pre-internship in a grade 7/8 classroom where I didn’t know the kids, didn’t know the teachers, and didn’t know my way around the school at all. I had no idea what kind of experiences I was going to have, and no idea how much I was going to learn. Now here I am trying to think of a way to sum up my experiences so far, and all I can say is that I have so much left to learn, and I can’t wait to go back in March. I feel like I have only scratched the surface, when I have an entire canyon left to dig. There was a lot of information to take in, in only 8 days, and I feel like I tried to absorb it all, but only got a tiny piece of everything, and nothing in its entirety. I’m excited to see how a classroom flows from week to week through the eyes of a teacher. I have spent a lot of time in classrooms, but being in this one, being the teacher, feels so much different. I still don’t think I’m used to being the one calling the shots, organizing everything, and ultimately being responsible for the learning of almost 30 students… Queue panic attack. Overall, I think it has been a great experience and I have learned a lot about classroom management and creating realistic, functioning lesson plans, but it hasn’t been realistic to only be in the classroom one day a week. It is hard to make a lesson that is meaningful and that I can see through in just an hour. Most lessons take more than one class to complete, and because our goal this semester was to teach as much variety as possible, we didn’t generally teach one class two weeks in a row. I’m nervous, but very excited for what is to come next semester.

For this week, I taught the grade 7/8s about plot in fiction. We started off with a mountain-type diagram with elements of plot, starting with the exposition, identifying the conflict, rising action, picking out the climax, then falling action and resolution. I had definitions for each, and as I read them, I explained each in more detail. Once everyone was done copying the diagram and definitions into their books, we watched two short clips and identified the plot in each one as a group. This activity went fairly well; it was a concept that most were familiar with so this was not completely new to anyone. Next, I handed out a blank copy of the diagram we had drawn earlier, and the short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber. I asked students to read the story twice–the first time identifying reality VS fantasy in the story and key events, and the second, to get a better grasp of the story and what is happening so they could fill out their plot diagram. (For anyone who doesn’t know the story, it flips back and forth between his reality and what he fantasizes about doing, so it can get confusing). This activity was more challenging than what the students were used to from me. Up until this point, I think I was more concerned about everyone in the class understanding what I was teaching so it wouldn’t take longer than the time I was allotted, and less concerned with making the content age-appropriate. The things I was teaching was curriculum-relevant, but didn’t make them think as deep as they should have. This story is challenging with the changing of fantasy to reality, and there are made-up terms in the fantasy portion that the students needed to infer meanings. Most of the students understood the story and were able to start on their plot diagrams, but I had a few students who were struggling with the read. If I had more time, I think it would have been beneficial to read the story as a class and pause after each paragraph and summarize what had happened so everyone could understand the story.

As far as classroom management and time management went, I think I did pretty good this week! My co-op said she was likely going to continue my assignment after I was gone, so I wasn’t worried about the students finishing their plot diagrams, and for the most part, students were on task for the whole class. I had a small class again this week because a third of the class leaves for band on Wednesday afternoons, so it made for a lot less distractions in the room. There were a couple students that were having a hard time all day, and I was able to bring them back temporarily, but they were off task quite often. I tried holding them accountable during class discussions, talking to them discreetly during work time, and my co-op stepped in once very quietly when everyone was working as well. These were two students that were struggling with the reading, but they were also having a hard time focusing during our video clips and class discussions as well, which leads me to believe that it was not solely the difficulty of the task that threw them off. I will need to come up with other strategies, as this is not the first time this has happened with these particular students in this class, to keep them focused. All in all, however, I think all of the students grasped the concept, and most of them were able to apply it to the story they were given. For the ones that didn’t, I spoke with as many individually as I could, and had I more time, I would have gone through everything together so everyone understood. It felt good hearing from my co-op that I had taught the lesson very similar to how she would have taught it and that she planned on continuing with it once I was gone. I have gained a confidence that I did not have in the beginning of the semester, and I can’t wait to go back in March!

7th Lesson Reflection

This week my partner and I co-taught a Phys. Ed. lesson to our grade 7/8 class. We lucked out as we had the opportunity to practice the lesson in front of our peers and get some feedback in our EPE class before we had to do the real thing. The lesson consisted of several yoga balance poses, and we talked about how factors such as points of contact, base of support, and center of gravity effect balance. Overall, the lesson went pretty well. There were a few classroom management issues that maybe could have been prevented had we set clear expectations at the very beginning rather than waiting until the students were excited in the gym already, but for my first time ever teaching in the gym, I think it went well.

The biggest thing I realized this week is that teaching to my peers and teaching to students is so, so, SO very different. Going into the gym with peers is pretty laid back. Everyone just walks in and starts chatting, waiting for further instruction. Then, once instruction starts, we all stop talking and listen to our professor. Once we know what we have to do, we do it. There is likely small conversations going on all around, and some people may be throwing a ball at one another or pushing and shoving a bit, but at the same time, we are setting up the equipment we need to and as soon as we are to start an activity, or need to listen, our attention is mostly with our instructor. Then, as we perform whatever tasks are asked of us, we do so with enthusiasm and willingness to participate and we don’t talk to each other at a level that would disrupt the class in any way. When questions are asked, they are answered by peers rather quickly and confidently, and there are never any major issues. Now, try that with a group of 30 middle years students… Chaos. Complete and utter chaos. Do you think they can go for 4 seconds without “speaking” to one another at the level that I speak to my 105 year old great grandmother? NOPE.. Definitely nope. And do you think that they can grab any type of equipment without fighting over it and beating the snot out of each other with it? (I’ll give you a hint: The answer is nope here too.) Not that our class was really that disruptive, but it was a big change from teaching a group of 20-somethings to a groups of adolescents. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that my peers knew the information that I was trying to teach already. This meant that we were able to have conversations about balance as we were doing the activities. My middle years group had never heard of things like ‘points of contact’ or ‘base of support’ so we had to have those additional conversations which created a lull in our activity, which caused some to start chatting. This also inspired more student questions, however, which was great for group conversation and student engagement because they were curious about the topic. We didn’t have a ton of troubles with students being goofy and not paying attention, but there were a few, and going from teaching in front of peers to teaching students, it was an adjustment that we had to make.

In terms of fixing this for next time, our co-op told us to start off in the gym as if we are setting new rules and expectations. It is generally understood by everyone that there is no running and yelling in the classroom, and students know when it is time to be quiet. In the gym, all rules seem to fly out the window and essentially she said we need to start fresh. Before they even get into the gym, or before they have a chance to get riled up and excited, just tell them “it needs to be quiet when I say ______,” or “do not touch ______.” If it is clear before they even step foot in the gym, it will be easier to maintain organization than if they get off task and I have to bring them back and then explain expectations.

Though this week was filled with a lot of learning for me, teaching in the gym for the first time to a middle years group, I am left with a question that came up in our post-conference. There is a student in our class who seems to want to blend in, which is easier to do in the classroom. She usually doesn’t do a whole lot to engage in any type of activity that the class is doing. This may come off as laziness or lack of interest, but after our class today, it became really apparent that she is afraid of being noticed. As we were doing some of our yoga poses, someone made a comment that she was really good. To many, this would be a boost; it would feel good. Not to this particular student. From that second on, she chose not to participate at all for the rest of the class. I’m really stumped at how to accommodate for that. Do I try and get those students out of their shell a little and push them? Do I allow them to just blend in and not participate in any risky activities? There has been a conversation between this student and our co-op that has taken place, so talking about it hasn’t helped thus far. What if pushing them causes them to regress and become even more inverted and frightened? I know there is no right answer, as everyone is different, but I’m just really wanting to figure out a way to engage this girl and I want her to enjoy her time at school. I feel bad that she was taking a risk and participating in our yoga activity and then one peer comment shut her right down, and she felt as though she couldn’t do it anymore. I spent a lot of my Phys. Ed. classes being terrified and trying not to be noticed, and it’s not a good feeling. I don’t know what made me more comfortable as time has passed, so I am at a bit of a loss as to what to do for her. I hope that I have a chance to get to know her better during the rest of our pre-internship, and maybe talk to her and come up with some strategies, but for now, I’m left feeling a little confused about the whole thing.

6th Lesson Reflection

This week I taught my first literacy lesson to my grade 7/8 class. We were focusing on setting in fiction, and what impact setting can have on a story. They were also looking at fairy tales previously in literacy, so I decided to bring the two together. I took the story of Cinderella by Disney and rewrote it in the 21st century, and rather than Cinderella going to a royal ball, she was going to the school dance. I changed the descriptions of what everyone was wearing, what they were saying, and instead of the fairy godmother having a magic wand, she had an app on her iPhone instead. The kids loved it! They thought it was interesting how the setting can change the entire story. We did some brainstorming and figured out that even though the setting can change in a story, the character traits stay the same, which led into our assignment. I asked the students to do exactly what I did and take the story of Sleeping Beauty by Disney, change the setting to wherever and whenever they wanted, and see how the story unfolded differently. We brainstormed some character traits of all the characters so everyone had the same idea about who the people in their stories were and then they were off. Everyone was working hard for most of the class, and some were disappointed that they didn’t have enough time to finish their stories during that period. I felt good, not only because they liked the lesson, but because I feel like they learned something from it (I know that’s the whole point, but it’s still exciting :)).

One thing I found really interesting this week was the behaviour change of some students when others were absent. About half of our class is in band, and they leave shortly after 11 and don’t come back until last recess. This means that during literacy, only half of the class is there. One boy in our class takes shy to a completely new level. He won’t even ask his peers for a glue stick or a pencil sharpener because he is too shy. To my disbelief, when a large portion of his peers were gone, he became the most outgoing kid in the group. He volunteered to talk in class, answer questions, and read aloud. When I handed out the version of Sleeping Beauty that I wanted them to change, I asked if anyone wanted to read. He was the first one to put his hand up. He read it in different voices, and he was animated and confident the entire time. It was so nice to be able to see that side of him, because it doesn’t come out very often. Though it was only one instance, I feel like that experience spoke to what small class sizes could do for students. I think everyone got more out of the lesson when there was only 15 of them there, versus almost 30. I heard from students that I never hear from in class, and I saw an effort and a drive that hardly ever appears. Or maybe I just don’t get to see it because there is so much else to be looking for when there are 30 bodies that I am supposed to be teaching. It really made me appreciate growing up in a small town where even when there were 3 grades put together there were less than 25 kids in the room. I think my learning was much more personal and I got a lot more attention than students in a city school do.

One thing our co-op mentioned to myself and the other pre-intern I am working with is giving the students challenging material. I think I am having a hard time with this because I don’t know what is appropriate but difficult for students at that age, and I’m so focused on having a successful lesson that students understand that I almost try and make it a little easier so I have a better chance at succeeding. I know this isn’t doing myself or my students any favours, but I’m sort of struggling with posing a challenge. I also find it difficult to do so because it is never anything that can really be continued if the material needs to be worked through together and takes longer than expected. That has been one of the most challenging aspects of pre-internship for me–not having that continuation. Sometimes lessons take longer than planned for, and with having a week before I can return, plus we don’t usually teach the same subject twice, it’s hard to actually teach a lesson that has meaning. I used to think an hour was foreeever when I was in school, but when I’m teaching, it flies by and it seems like I don’t have time to do anything. Hopefully when my 3 week block comes around, I will be able to pose students with more challenge and feel better about what we are accomplishing. Thinking back to when I was in school, I don’t think hardly anything that our teachers taught us only lasted one class, so maybe the ability to continue with the lesson beyond one class will allow more in-depth lessons that have more meaning for myself and my students.

Classroom Management

This week, we were to read two blog posts about classroom management. One on deception about rules in the classroom, and one about the use of a program called ClassDojo as a form of management. The former resonated with me in a big way. I had one high school teacher in particular that was guilty of the “one rule” policy. There were never-ending struggles with what was okay and not okay, and there was a pretty even split of kids in my class that would be extra careful not to poke the bear, and ones that would jab it continuously because there was no “rule” that said not to. This lead to countless arguments, hours spent out in the hall, principal visits, and unnecessary yelling matches that never led to anything good for the teacher or the student. This particular teacher was a brand new teacher, fresh out of university, and I think this played a part in her unsuccessful strategy. The rule “Respect Others” seems rather nice, doesn’t it? Kind of brings the images of rainbows and smiles to mind. But in reality, I think students need more structure, and the values with rules that relate is a good idea to start with in a class.

All the time in university, we are asked the question “But what does that mean?” and though frustrating, it’s a good question to think about because not everyone shares the same brain. When we say “respect,” what does that mean? What it means to the teacher, and what it means to each student may be very different. So if one of your class values is “Be Respectful” what does that look like? What does it mean to the ones who must abide by it? Having rules that fall under categories of values is a good way to have students think critically for themselves. Once all the rules are set in place, and students have an understanding of all of them, rather than just getting angry at Johnny for being disruptive in class, you can ask him “Are you being respectful?” Based on what you have come up with for rules, if that is one, he can think for himself and decide that he is not. I think it would hold more meaning behind it if students had to come up with their own guidelines or “rules” and they would be more likely to abide by such rules.

The ClassDojo has me a little more on the fence. Yes, it is interactive and holds kids responsible in front of their peers, but I’ve seen many different ways of doing essentially the same thing and it never really works as well as it is intended. I’ve seen the strike system, teachers calling out students in front of their peers, losing time at recess because of specific students.. All essentially the same concept, and I don’t think that dressing it up with technology will make much of a difference in the long run. Also, what teacher has time to sit at their desk during the day and keep track of this stuff as it happens?! I know when I’m teaching, I don’t sit down at all! If I had to take 30 seconds every time someone did something good or bad to document it on this program, I wouldn’t have time to be interacting with the students during class at all. I wouldn’t be answering student questions because I would be too busy looking at my computer screen, making a note that Amy was talking to Jennifer in class, so they both lose one point that class. I just don’t see how it is practical. And at the end of the day, it depends on the type of students that are in the class because honestly, some just don’t care that they lost a point and they may lose some privilege or have some negative side effect to their actions. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t work for some classes and some teachers, but I just can’t see myself using it in the classroom.

5th Lesson Reflection

Okay, so honestly, I’ve been having a minor mental breakdown for the last couple weeks because I’m pretty sure I’m the worst teacher ever and my time management is never going to get better and I suck at explaining things and I’m terrible at planning and my lessons aren’t engaging and I don’t know what I am doing and I’m never going to get better so I should just be the Hillbilly Vac Shack Gorilla on Victoria Avenue for the rest of my life, and forget about teaching entirely *deep wheezing inhale*. But this week… Ooohhhhh this week. This week was fantastic. Brett and I did a two-part lesson on bullying and it went really well! Coteaching is something that our co-op teacher and another teacher in the school do often, and she believes that we should have a chance to practice this as well. We had two different time slots to break our lesson into. The first was 45 minutes and the second was an hour. We gave them some case studies that were examples of bullying and asked them if and why they would consider them to be forms of bullying. Then, we had them brainstorm some types of bullying and we wrote them on the board in categories, but we didn’t name the categories. When they were done brainstorming, we had them come up with the titles of cyberbullying, physical bullying, social/psychological bullying and verbal bullying. Because they had some prior knowledge of bullying, this was done really well. Then we came up with a class definition of bullying. After that, we watched some video clips of bullying in some familiar TV shows and movies. This ranged anywhere from Nelson on The Simpsons to Regina George on Mean Girls. Then, we had them sort the clips into the categories that they came up with.

Then, after last recess, we played Bullying Family Feud. They guess the top 5 reasons why people bully, and it did not take long for them to guess all 5! Then, we went through a powerpoint outlining some ways to prevent or deal with bullying. The class all had good points as to why certain strategies would or wouldn’t work in different scenarios. The last half hour of class we created groups and handed out the scenarios that we used in the morning, and asked that the students make a skit. Their skit had to include the scenario that they were given, and how they would handle that situation. They could use the strategies that we outlined in the powerpoint or their own. I couldn’t believe how well done these skits were! They all had a lot of fun, and even the ones who complained that they didn’t like acting, or were shy did a really good job. I was really impressed by their work. 🙂

I think this lesson went so well because the class had prior knowledge on the topic. So far I have been trying to teach them something that was fairly new to them, and because it was out of order of what it would normally be taught (because our teacher isn’t big on connections right now, just us trying out new things while we are teaching) it has been hard for them to understand the material and work with it. I also think it went so well because it was a lot of group activities with the 7s and 8s together, so it was easier to budget our time. By having activities that were done as a group, it didn’t allow anyone to get ahead or fall behind, and I still think everyone got something out of the lesson. Also, we had a lot of smaller activities planned and they all flowed together, and were timed in a way that just when the students were starting to lose interest, the task would switch. Overall, I was super happy with the way it turned out. Maybe I can do this after all..?

4th Lesson Reflection

This week I decided to try and tackle the whole fractions thing again because I had materials prepared from last week, but I never got the chance to use them. I have a whole new found respect for my teachers all through school, as coming from a small town, I don’t think I was ever not in a split class, and I never had any type of appreciation for their management skills. I sure do now. Though I had activities planned for both grades, and in my head it was all timed just wonderfully, in actuality, my grade 8s are really super duper good at math and they finished a lot faster than I had expected. This meant that I was trying to get their next activities going while my poor grade 7s got a lot less attention than I had planned for. Good thing they’re also super duper smart and FANTASTIC independent workers because they continued on with their activities despite me not being there to give instruction.

Though this makes life easy while I am still extremely unexperienced and have no clue what I am doing, I can’t help but think that this is not realistic. This class seems like a dream class; they have very few challenges for me to overcome or deal with. Not that I am complaining in any way, but I think that once I get a class that doesn’t work so well independently, or are not all at around the same level, I am going to have a really hard time adapting. That being said, I am thankful that I don’t have to try and learn how to handle a more challenging classroom at the same time I am learning how to teach for the first time. I can focus on learning how to give clear instruction and classroom management and all that fun stuff right now, and then apply that to different challenges and obstacles later.

Sadly, even with my awesome class, some things that really made sense in my fraction-loving brain did not quite click with the rest of the class. Many of them understood the worksheet I had given them to do, but even after my whole group instruction and then small group explanation afterwards, it just wasn’t making sense to others. I tried to use the standard way of solving fractions as well as breaking it down pictorially and kinesthetically and the multiple intelligences were very clearly outlined in the class. Most of them understood and preferred the standard way of solving fractions to using playdoh or drawing it out. I found this interesting, as most of the kids in the class are very artistic and I would have guessed that they would prefer more hands-on learning. Of course, just because they didn’t take to one type of hands-on learning doesn’t mean that they do not like learning that way at all, and I will try to continue to provide that option as much as I can anyways, in all other areas.

Time management is something that comes up every week that I seem to have troubles with. They always take either a lot longer or a lot less time doing something than I think. Of course, this comes with experience, and I will continue to overplan so I am never caught with nothing for them to do, but it is definitely an added challenge to my time management to have 2 classes to plan for.

Crab Apple Jelly Inquiry Project

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This week, we looked at an inquiry project that some interns from the university are doing with their class right now. Their class was looking at reducing the amount of crab apples being wasted locally. They decided that the best way to do this would be to make jelly out of the apples and sell the jelly around Regina. Our task was to lay out how we, as teachers, would carry out the project in our own classrooms, some ways we would assess our students based on the outcomes we chose and some challenges we may encounter. We found a lot of ways it could connect to the grade 8 curriculum, and I think it would be a great way for students to become involved in their own community and feel accomplished about something that they did on their own. The earlier we encourage students to be socially responsible citizens, the more likely they will be to carry on with those types of actions for the rest of their lives. Through this quick assignment, I realized that even though an inquiry project like this takes a lot of time, it hits several outcomes and is directly applicable to real life for students which often motivates them to participate to their full potential and come up with an amazing product.