Inside the Block

My 3-week teaching block is quickly coming to a close. So much faster than I ever anticipated, and it has been absolutely amazing!

Sure, I’ve had some “off” days with students who were unruly, disrespectful and who refused to do their work, but those days taught me how to manage, how to create strategies, and how to persevere. I’ve also had some truly incredible classes with my students where everything was just clicking, and moving through the lesson plan and into the next. My students have really shown me that I have all of the tools to be a really great teacher.

Here’s just a snapshot of what I have learned:

  • I have learned that not all lessons and not all days have to be perfectly planned.
  • I have learned that not all “fun” lessons are actually fun.
  • I have learned that routines are super important.
  • I have learned that university (and even pre-internship) only prepares you for 1% of the classroom management strategies you will have to learn, create and implement.
  • I have learned that some days are really hard (and I mean REALLY hard) and other days flow effortlessly.
  • I have learned over and over again that relationships are the biggest part of teaching. Students have to know you care, even if you have to be strict with them.
  • I have learned that I know how to have control and authority over my class.
  • I have learned that I hate the social studies textbooks. Don’t like them at all.
  • I have learned that other textbooks are ok and some are even pretty great!
  • I have learned that a half an hour class period is pretty much nothing and is best to use to have a discussion or to continue work from a previous class/day.
  • I have learned that boys PE is probably the worst idea ever.
  • I have learned that keeping up with marking is a struggle, but I totally realize the importance.
  • I have learned that what students go through (both inside and outside of school) will break your heart.
  • I have learned that I can function on less than 4 hours of sleep.
  • I have learned that I am far more creative and innovative than I give myself credit for, yet I still want to be more.
  • I have learned that it’s ok for your classroom to be messy. It means learning is happening and the mess is a product of the action.
  • I have learned that flexibility is a huge asset. Things change all the time in the school.
    There are: early recesses you didn’t know about, fire/security drills that take up half your class, gyms times that get cancelled, special guests and assemblies that pop up, impromptu lecture sessions by other teachers that derail your lesson and force you to teach something else, teachers who need/want to swap times with you, laptops that you booked being taken away by others who didn’t book them, laptops becoming magically available and taking the chance to use them (after verifying they really are available), opportunities for your students to go on special field trips that come up and you take them, and sudden illnesses cause you to have to leave at lunch time. (Yes, all of those things have actually happened in the last 3 weeks!)
  • I have learned that prep periods can sometimes be for prepping lessons or marking things, or just for taking deep breaths, having a snack and taking a break from the crazy day.
  • I have learned that lunar cycles are a real thing and can affect your students’ behaviour.
  • I have learned that I love teaching even more than I ever thought I did. I get a huge grin when I think of a cool idea and am able to put it all together for my lessons, and an even bigger one when my students are so into learning that they don’t want to stop.
  • I have learned that math games are magical.
  • I have learned that I can “trick” students into learning.
  • I have learned that learning outside takes practice. A LOT of practice.
  • I have learned that veteran teachers, while intimidating at first, are so willing to help.
  • I have learned that I have my own style of teaching, and that’s ok. It’s even great!
  • I have learned that students do not know how to dress for being outside and you must teach this to them. Even to grade 7s.
  • I have learned that some of the best lessons are unplanned.
  • I have learned that deadlines for student work really don’t mean anything, but also are everything at the same time.
  • I have learned that coffee can be your friend on crazy days, even if you’re not a “real” coffee drinker.
  • I have learned that I have a very high tolerance level for the general shenanigans of students, and know when and how to use my authority effectively.

If these are things I have learned in the past 3 weeks, I cannot even begin to imagine the teachings my first year of teaching will bring me! I also still have 3 more full days and a week of partial teaching days left too, so I’m sure I can still add to this list!

 

Third time’s the charm…and sometimes the fourth is even better!

We’ve all heard that internship teaches you a lot. We’ve all heard that interns make mistakes and learn from them. We’ve all heard that there can be a lot of stress, and even tears, during internship. We’ve all heard that internship is challenging and some days you feel like you hit a wall. We’ve all heard that it can be a tough four months, but we don’t always hear the rest of the story.

What we don’t hear about is HOW interns learn, and what that process looks like.

Let me start out by saying that I’ve been really enjoying my internship. I have a great class, a wonderful co-operating teacher, and have been having a lot of fun. Sure, some nights I’m up quite late (or is it early…) planning things and making sure my lessons for the next day are just right, and sometimes I’ve stressed about getting the curriculum covered the way I think it should be, but overall it’s been great.

Now to the story…

Last Tuesday my advisor visited my class to do an observation of my teaching. I was beginning a brand new unit in subject I’d never taught before, social studies. I had worked with my co-op to make a great outline of the unit and I had a great concept for my first lesson. It was going to get the students excited about the unit, introduce the concept and be a lot of fun. Now, my class schedule is a little funny and on this particular day I had all of my students for half an hour and then the grade 6s went to band while the 7s stayed for more of the same subject. I thought the first part of the lesson went great. I did a bit of a modified think-pair-share concept as we explored the topic of our unit of inquiry, and all of the students were so engaged in the conversation. It was maybe a little noisy, but I don’t mind a kind of excited topic-related noise in the room. After the first half though, when I just had my 10 grade 7 students is where things started to go sideways.

I’ve struggled with management of my 7s before. They are just a loud and rowdy group; always blurting things out (subject related or not), and keeping them in check can be an issue. I moved them to a central point (which is usually a must with them), and we carried on with a deeper conversation that we had started with the whole class. For some reason though, my 7s thought that this period was one where they could just be silly and blurty and disrespectful to everyone in the room. I tried all my usual tricks – moving students, removing distractions, re-setting the focus of the class, and nothing worked. But hey, my advisor was there, what was I to do? So I tried to push on with the discussion, continually battling with a few students who were struggling to stay focused and on topic, and what should have been a 15 minute discussion took the entire 30 minute period.  I was exhausted. I knew I should have stopped, really addressed the issues, and then tried again to re-set the lesson. But I didn’t, and I felt so terrible.

Photo Credit: cyndisuewho Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: cyndisuewho Flickr via Compfight cc

Following my lesson, as it was the end of the day, my co-op and I sat down to de-brief. I knew I could have and should have done better. I tried to be strong, and explain why I did what I did, but I knew there was more I wanted to do. I tried to be brave and hold back my tears of frustration, but they came anyhow. I let it all out. Through it all though, my co-op and my advisor reminded me that I have the power in my class; I’m in control. I can stop things. I can start again. I can require my students to listen. I think the tears came more because I knew this was totally true.

Ironically, my unit and my lesson are all about power. Who has it in different situations and how we must work within a system of power and navigate amongst the good and the bad sources of it. I have the power in my classroom, and I need to use it. My students know that teachers have power and the authority to use it, I just have to have the courage to show it.

So, after 90 minutes of tears and realizations I tried to regroup and make a plan for action. Should I have used more power? Yes. But were my students still acting irresponsibly? Yes! So I made a plan for my next lesson to be about social obligations to others, about respecting those who have rightful power and authority, and taking ownership for their actions. I took a cue from my good friend, Amie, who had a very similar experience a few weeks earlier. She had her students write apology letters and explain their behaviour, and I tried the same with my students.

Photo by Simon Howden. Published on 22 February 2009 Stock photo - Image ID: 1004778

Photo by Simon Howden. Published on 22 February 2009 Stock photo – Image ID: 1004778

The next class was a VERY different one for sure. We discussed the previous class, why the behaviour they exhibited was not acceptable, considered what could have gone better, and establish an understanding of expectations. We even took a “field trip” to view the banner hanging in the front of the school that showcases the values that we are to uphold: I am responsible, I belong, I want to know,  I respect. Students were very sombre, realizing that they were not upholding any of these values in the previous lesson. Upon our return, students wrote formal letters outlining what happened and how they hoped to adjust their actions for future classes. I applauded students for being able to reflect on their actions, and shared some of my own reflections also. This hour long class went by quickly, and really helped set the tone with my students.

Now, the next class, that’s where things really changed. Just this Tuesday I had another shot with my grade 7s all on their own, again after a half hour period with the entire class. This time though, was great. I took the time to totally re-set the lesson, outline the expectations again, did a fun dance break, and got into a topic that was a little different than what we’d been doing with the whole class. Was it the most exciting thing? Nope, not even a little. We were looking at some sources of power, had some really good discussions about what they would look like, and recorded some student-created definitions of some terms. The class was very respectful, engaged in the discussion, and we got done what needed to be accomplished for the period. I was very proud of them, and of myself, for the turn around in attitude and outcome.

Photo by Danilo Rizzuti. Published on 17 November 2009 Stock photo - Image ID: 1009981

Photo by Danilo Rizzuti. Published on 17 November 2009 Stock photo – Image ID: 1009981

When I started writing this post after my lesson on Tuesday, and now it’s Thursday, and I’ve had another hour long class with my 7s. I thought that 3rd class with them was something pretty great, but today was even better! Today’s lesson was a look into some organizational power and  the levels of government in Canada. We played games, worked as a team, watched videos, answered questions, had discussions, had some disagreements, looked up answers, played more games, learned new things, and ALL of it in a very respectful, calm, yet totally engaging setting! It was a wonderful way to end out the day. I was so pleased with today’s class and am so proud of both my students and myself for really coming full circle on the issues we had been experiencing.

I start my 3-week solo teaching block on Monday, and after today’s lessons I definitely am going into things feeling more confident in my ability to get things done, and not only done well, but done with the cooperation and engagement of my students. I thought the third time was the charm, but today really showed me that sometimes the fourth can be even better.

The Road to Success

When I began this semester, and my ECS 410 class, I thought that I had a somewhat reasonable understanding of assessment. I understood that assessment was important, that it should often be one of the first things that is planned when creating a lesson or unit. I knew that while formative assessment is needed in the classroom on a daily basis in every subject area, summative assessment should be provided only after students have had time to adequately understand the content, and are ready to be assessed on their overall understanding, knowledge, and ability to apply the concepts learned. What my ECS 410 class has since taught me is that assessment is not only required, but that it is imperative in helping to increase students’ ability to succeed in the classroom.

So, what does this look like? Well, that’s what I’m hoping I can explain to you in this post. I believe that my understanding of assessment is much more than what it was just a few short months ago, and that I now have a much better understanding of how it will impact and influence my teaching. I have learned that while there are literally hundreds of different tools, strategies, and opinions on ways to assess, there are also many ways to appropriately utilize feedback to optimize student engagement, enhance students’ learning experience, and to adjust the ways we teach to meet the needs of the students. I have gained new understandings of quizzes and tests, of homework, and I have developed opinions on how I see assessment working in my classroom to improve the experience for everyone.

Assessment is in many ways, a holistic endeavour that brings together feedback and student engagement. Without one you can’t truly have the other. If students (and teachers!) do not know how they are performing on a given day, then it seems to give them permission to “check out.” Students also need to know where they are going if they have any hope of getting where you want them to be. So, I have learned that you need to be open with students, share your learning goals with them, and perhaps even have them create their own goals within the path that you are guiding them on! This is the first key strategy that Dylan Wiliam‘s presents in his book, Embedded Formative Assessment, a book that we read in our ECS 410 class, and one I really learned a lot from. Wiliam goes on to discuss that students also need to know where they are relative to the learning objectives, so that both students and teachers have a base to start from and can then generate a clearer picture of how to get where they are going. It’s all part of creating a really solid “map” for learning. It’s pretty impossible to assess anything if you don’t know where you’re starting or where you’re going! Thankfully, these two concepts are ones that I had begun to understand in the fall, and have enjoyed working with the Understanding by Design (or Backward Design) style of lesson and unit planning.

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The UBD template for both unit and lesson planning puts assessment first. After selecting what it is you want students to learn by unpacking the curriculum outcomes, the ways in which you will assess students is determined. At first I wondered why you’d need to do this first. Why would you pick how to assess students before even deciding what they will do? Well, it’s because assessment informs and directs the learning. This is something that I really began to understand in this class, and throughout the semester. Previously, I’d thought that assessment was just a way to check that students “got” what you were trying to get them to learn, but now I see that it really can let you know where students are at, what areas they are struggling in, which students need to be challenged, and where you should take the learning in the days to come. This is because assessment is all about feedback.

Feedback, as I’ve learned this semester, is vital to the learning process. But how does one provide effective feedback? Well, Grant Wiggins, one of the co-creators of Understanding by Design, wrote an article about how to do just that. In his article, “7 Keys to Effective Feedback“, Wiggins explains the best practices and reasons behind providing feedback to students. He explains things like making sure that feedback is goal-oriented, so that it can help students make progress towards their personal learning goals, actionable, meaning that students can really take action on the things you tell them, and consistent, so that students are constantly receiving feedback to have a continuous understanding of where they are and where they need to go. The other keys that Wiggins mentions, I feel, really align with the ideas that Douglas Reeves presented in a video chat that we were privileged to have with him in one of our classes. Doug uses the acronym, FAST, saying that feedback needs to be fair, accurate, specific and timely. In this video, Doug explains how his FAST feedback can really be a powerful tool in the classroom (he also wrote a book on this concept).

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Assessment as feedback can be done in countless ways in the classroom. I created a resource of just 50 ways to formatively assess students in the classroom, but there are hundreds of ways to do this. The important thing is really not even how you do the assessment, but what you do with it. How will the assessment help students improve? How will the assessment help you as a teacher improve? As I created this list, these were things that I thought a lot about. I also started to think about those “old school” methods that we use to assess students, namely quizzes and homework. Are they of any benefit to students or teachers in the long run?

I did a little extra investigating into these two assessment methods that often get a lot of flack from students and parents, because quite often they seem to have little purpose and result in little feedback. As Doug Reeves presented in another video, quizzes do in fact, actually have the ability to provide great, instantaneous feedback to students. They can be very informal and stress-free, which can lead to students feeling a sense of accomplishment. In this respect, I realized that there are actually several methods, like Poll Everywhere, Google Forms, and the incredibly fun Kahoot! game that certainly lend themselves to a quiz-based assessment. If you’re looking for some “lower tech” yet still fun options, Plickers, class created flashcards, or even a class race to answer a set of questions may be great options. The thing about these methods of quizzing, is that the feedback is in real-time, and quite instantaneous, which is why they can be quite effective. The tech methods even allow you to save data so that you can go back afterwards to analyze trends of find students who may still be falling behind.

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It is this instant feedback that is often lacking in using homework as a type of assessment in the classroom. Homework needs to not only be checked for completion, but for understanding. If students simply get a mark for completing the work, how is that an accurate reflection of what they’ve learned? It’s not. Our friend, Doug Reeves speaks to this a little in his videos, but another educator, who’s opinions I really agree with is Myron Dueck. In his video clip about his book “Grading Smarter Not Harder“, and this great article, “The Problem with Penalties“, Dueck explains how so many students often don’t do the homework because it’s either not interesting, too challenging, not challenging enough, or because they know that there’s nothing the teacher will do if they don’t do it. The problem is that penalties don’t really work, what Dueck suggests is motivating to students is the chance to improve. He suggests that students really do want to improve, but some students perhaps just don’t know how to go about doing this. Homework and in class work can be helpful in this aspect, but as Reeves pointed out in his video, that homework needs to be something that students want to do, something that they understand how to do, something that has a purpose, and something that is at the right level of difficulty for every student. I’ve seen this backfire in the classroom, even in my short time of teaching, and at that point I didn’t really see the point behind homework. If I gave students homework, the ones who really needed the practice didn’t do it, and the ones who didn’t need the practice often finished it in class time. I now can see how the “right” kind of homework can really be more motivating to students and empower them to be in charge of their learning.

This ownership and power over their own learning is something that Wiliams talks about in the last chapter of his book, and is something that I have begun to feel really passionate about. Really, who doesn’t want their students to feel proud of their learning and want to continue to learn more? Isn’t that every teacher’s dream? The problem is, it’s a challenging thing to actually achieve as I am very quickly finding out. It takes a lot of practice, persistence, and perseverance as a teacher to help students achieve ownership of their learning. Wiliams (2011) suggests that, by outlining what you’re wanting students to learn, promoting the thought that student success and ability is always increasing, making it difficult for students to compare themselves to others, providing feedback that will help them in their journey, and empowering them to be in control, that students will begin to see their own potential and take more ownership of their learning (p. 152). I think that these thoughts also really align with Paul Solarz, author of “Learn Like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed“. In his book, and on the website, Solarz explains practical methods to encourage students to take charge of their learning, even leading the direction of the learning for the class. It all comes down to that concept of making sure students WANT to learn by creating opportunities for them to engage with relevant topics, allowing them to work collaboratively, and of course, providing a lot of feedback. I am not quite finished reading this book yet, but I am very excited to try out some of these strategies in my internship experience in the fall.

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These understandings of student ownership I think can be made even more powerful by reinforcing the idea that growth is constant and that one grade doesn’t make or break a student. This was a concept that we discussed in our class quite a bit, and is one that I have really taken to heart. Why should we penalize students for not understanding the concept at the start of the unit, but being confident with the same material at the end? Why do we often just take an average score across all of the work the student has done, making it look like they have only achieved an average score, instead of acknowledging the growth that they have shown? These are questions that I think still need to be examined in many classes, including our university settings. It seems to be a mindset that we have to take the average scores in any situation. Why is that though? Is it to create a more “even” field? To make everyone “average”? I’m really not sure at this point, but I do know that it is frustrating. It is frustrating to a student who receives a 20% on an assignment, and perhaps is then given the chance to improve upon his or her score, and receives an 80% on the second try, but when those scores are averaged only receives a 50%. This really just doesn’t even seem fair! So why do we do this students? Why, after our attempts to build them up and show them how successful they can be do we take away their success? I unfortunately do not have these answers yet, but they are ones that I am beginning to work through as I create my own assessment philosophies and strategies. The trouble is that during pre-internship and even our internship in the fall, it is difficult to really stamp out your own understandings, as you have to work within the format that your co-operating teacher has for his or her class. So, while I am beginning to create a vision of assessment that includes showing a students’ growth and putting more emphasis on the process and end result, this may not always align with other teachers that I work with.

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The awesome thing about feedback though, is that it is most powerful when working with a team of other teachers. So, while I may work with other teachers in my internship, it is going to be those relationships and professional learning communities that are not only going to have an impact on me, but to my students too. While I had the chance to work with one really great teacher in my pre-internship, I really hope to be able to work with even more teachers throughout my internship this fall. The idea of collaborative teaching is one that I think can be really powerful. I have found that The Teaching Channel is a great resource, and this video on collaboration amongst teachers is really great. Many of their videos look at how teachers work together to plan and reflect on lessons and units in order to improve the learning of their students. They are really taking the assessments that they give their students and reflecting on how to improve their teaching. This was something that I found out very quickly during my pre-internship. I really had to stop and take in the information that I was getting back from the students in their work and use it to guide where I would take them next. When we had previously just taught single lessons this was not nearly as important, but I have now really realized just how important it is to use all of the feedback to design the next learning steps. When working with other teachers I think this has the potential to create even better lessons for students, especially if you have teachers of a variety of experience levels. Everyone brings different ideas, insights and opinions to the table, and that’s what makes us all better teachers.

Collaboration with other teachers is something that I have really enjoyed doing in the last year or so, and my love for connecting with other educators I think is just continuing to increase. I have established a wonderful PLC within my cohort at the University of Regina, I have a great group in the #saskedchat Twitter group that discusses new topics every Thursday night, and it is through these many avenues that I have created real collaborative power with many educators that I know will help me plan, reflect, and continue to learn. Opportunities like EdCampYQR are also great to help make those new connections, hear new ideas, and collaborate on future projects. The main idea is that we can always learn from each other, and this will make us better educators, which in turn, will hopefully make us better teachers for our students as we empower them to take charge of their learning experiences.

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What I have realized over the last few months is just how much there is to learn about assessment, and what an integral part it plays within the classroom. While I once thought that it was just about tests and projects, I have now come to the realization that assessment truly is everything! It is what shows students how they are doing, it is what shows teachers where students need help, it is what encourages students to learn more, it is what drives the classroom. While I had spent the first two months of the semester just trying to digest all of this information, in my pre-internship I had a brief chance to try and put some of this learning to the test. Although I don’t feel like I came even close to where I wanted to be in terms of assessment, I certainly learned from the experience. Assessment is complicated, but only because it encompasses so much. It is my hope to continue to learn more about assessment throughout the summer as I prepare for my internship in the fall. I hope to be able to put all of my “book knowledge” to use and be able to inspire students and activate them to wanting to learn. I know that this will be a challenge, but I’m excited for the uphill climb, because the view from the top is going to be spectacular!

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The Learning Never Stops

As I look back on my pre-internship, I am almost at a loss for words about what I have learned. I feel this way, because I feel like at almost every moment that I was teaching I was learning something new. Every sentence I spoke showed me if I was on the right track with the students or not, every demo or example, every game, and every video taught me something about my students, what they were learning, and how I needed to proceed. Every conversation I had with a student allowed me to learn more about them, their learning needs, and how I needed to teach them. So how is it possible to even begin trying to put those thousands of little moments into words?

Well, I’m going to try to put it into just two main ideas…ok, maybe three.

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The most important lesson that I learned through the process of my pre-internship is FLEXIBILITY. Now, as gymnastics coach, you might think I understand the concept of flexibility pretty well, but, when it comes to teaching in the classroom, it was a concept that I had a difficult time adjusting to. When I’m coaching my gymnasts my flexibility and adaptability seems to come naturally to me. Didn’t finish a routine in the timeline I wanted to? No big deal, we’ll do it next class. Didn’t finish a lesson, a worksheet, or a project in the timeline I wanted to? I freaked out, cried, and thought I was an awful teacher. (Don’t worry, this was not in front of students, or anyone but my husband.) So what made this concept so difficult for me to grasp? Why was it that I could just let things roll of in an easy flow as a coach, and not as a teacher?

I think it comes down to my own perfectionist tendencies. I wanted my lessons to be perfect, and I wanted my unit to go smoothly, making sure to get in all of the fun lessons that I had planned. The problem is that students are not perfect, and neither is the classroom environment. Things come up that you can’t control! Students are away for various reasons, kids get into disagreements outside the classroom that migrate into the classroom, technology is sometimes not the friendliest of friends, students sometimes don’t “get” what you think is pretty straight forward, and your great ideas are not always that great in reality. I had a difficult time adjusting to this. I wanted my lesson plan to go as I planned it, and not have to somehow find a way to stop in the middle and pick up again next day. Having another teacher coming in right after me to teach (as we had to go teach another class usually), also meant that I had no option to even take a few extra minutes from the next period to finish something. At first, this was really devastating to me. I was so frustrated that the students just weren’t getting what I needed them to get or being able to finish what I needed them to finish, which meant having to find ways to add in more lessons, shuffle things around, and make the unit plan work somehow. My flexibility skills were being put to the test every day.

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In addition to my own lessons, I also saw the need for flexibility in many other ways each day. Things just tended to “pop up”. There was the surprise arts workshop that de-railed the plan for the day for our classes outside of our grade 7/8 room and interrupted a super great lesson at the end of the day. There were times we forgot to book the laptops or iPads and had to make plans to share with another class. There were demos that didn’t go as planned, sound systems that didn’t work, photocopiers out of toner, computers that locked, accounts that crashed, fights between students, teaching guides misplaced, major power outages, and many more things that just meant that we, as teachers, had to always have a Plan B (or C or D!) ready to go. As the days went by, I definitely got better at this. I became less stressed about the “perfect” lesson, because I understood that it wasn’t real, or at least not in the way I had originally imagined it to be. The perfect lesson is not getting through what you planned out. I now understand the perfect lesson to be one in which you really connect with the students, and they connect with you, and you all are on the same page, and you are all learning together, are all engaged in what is going on, and all come away with some newly learned concept, even if it is learning more about each other.

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The next most important thing that I learned is that CLARITY is crucial. If nothing else, you have to be so clear in your instructions to students that there’s no question about what you need them to do. And you need to give these instructions to students in many ways; telling them is not enough. Say it, give them a copy, have them write it down, post it on the board, write it in the sky, and even then you still have a chance that they will ask you, “What are we supposed to do?” When explaining what to do it’s also key to give an example of what you’re looking for from students. Don’t just expect students to be able to read or listen to something and then go and do it. I learned this the hard way a few times during my pre-internship, and then the next day had to back it up and re-explain how to do the activity. One great moment though, was when a pair of boys really listened to the re-explanation, realized they had done the activity incorrectly the first time, tried it again, and got 100% on the assignment!

This lesson also became very important when outlining expectations of students during a lesson. Sometimes you want students to discuss things, and it’s ok for them to just talk, but other times you need them to raise their hand. Sometimes it is ok for students to work in partners, but other times they need to work alone. Sometimes it’s ok for students to work in their own space in or just outside the classroom, but sometimes you need them in their desks. If you don’t outline these expectations at the start of the lesson, then students will just assume whatever they want, which can quickly turn classroom management into a living nightmare.

This concept snuck up on me multiple times during my pre-internship, and I think it’s one important area that I feel I still need to work on a lot. I certainly got better at outlining expectations and providing instructions the more I taught, but there were still many times where I could look back and go, “Right…that’s why things went as they did. I should have fixed that.” This is definitely an area that I hope I’ll get much better with during my internship.
I just learned so much during my time in the classroom, and I cannot wait to learn so much more during my internship! I had an uphill battle going into a classroom that I didn’t get the chance to work with during my first 7-week experience in the fall, but I am so grateful for all that this experience taught me. I learned so much from the students, the staff, my partner, and especially from my co-operating teacher. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to be able to go back to university next week, and stick it out for nearly three more weeks, but I’m hoping that the next three weeks will allow me to get even more excited about going back out to the classroom, and that I’ll be able to go and visit my class again soon!

Bubble Burst

I wrote recently about stepping outside the bubble. I wondered if teaching would really be all that I had imagined in my head, all that I had planned for on paper, and all that my peers and I had hyped it up to be.

It wasn’t.

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In so many ways my pre-internship experience was nothing like I had imagined.

I thought that my unit plan was solid, and would be the best thing ever. It wasn’t.

I thought that I’d coast through my three weeks with my head held high and confidence in my step. I didn’t.

I thought that I would be able to do all sorts of amazing things, and totally wow the students with a wonderful math unit experience. I didn’t.

Now, I’m sure by this point many of you (especially you, Mrs. G!) are thinking, “What?! Seriously? You didn’t have a good time? I’m sure you were awesome and had so much fun! You were born to teach! ”

These are the types of statements that really bug me. Did I have fun? Sure, lots of times! Was I awesome? ….well that’s debatable. Am I a born teacher? I am definitely nowhere close to being some sort of prodigal teacher who can do no wrong; believe me, I made plenty of mistakes in the past few weeks to prove this point. The thing is, my pre-internship went so beyond the perceived ideals I had before my pre-internship, and the experienced realities of the classroom have had such a huge impact on my understanding of education.

My super great unit plan did not turn out the way I’d planned, but what I taught my students was what they needed.

My confidence did not carry me through the last few weeks, and I had several days of near (or actual) tears where I contemplated how I got myself into this “mess”, and if I am really cut out for this profession.

There was little wow factor in the way that I taught my students, because I had to change on the fly, shift my unit, simplify, and adapt to the needs of my students and ensure they were learning what they needed to learn.

So no, my pre-internship experience was not what I expected; it was what I needed and so much more.

I learned so much about myself and the way I teach, that I still don’t know where to begin to explain it all. I didn’t blog last week mainly because I was just so caught up in the changes I was feeling within myself that I couldn’t pluck a tangible thought to share with everyone. Now that my time is over, I’m still sorting through everything, and hope to come out with some clearer thoughts in the next few days about what I really learned the last three weeks.

I have always found it really difficult to look back and see what I didn’t know before. Once I learn something new, I don’t remember what it was like to not know it. Perhaps this is why I can easily apply newly learned things into my life, because they kind of feel like they’ve always been there; like I just uncovered something that was always there, but I hadn’t noticed before. This is how I’ve felt a lot during my pre-internship. As I learned something new, I’d get a feeling like, “Huh, that’s neat,” or “Whoops, guess I won’t do that again,” and then the next day I could usually apply that concept and make things better. Now, this wasn’t always the case, and it lead to some major inner conflict and struggle, but I think in the end, I was able to really learn a lot of things about myself.

So, what did I learn? What are my biggest take-aways from my pre-internship experience? Well, I guess you’ll just have to check back later for another blog post…because I’m still sorting all of that out myself!

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What about me? How do I learn?

What does a “traditional” classroom look like? To me it is a teachers who gives information via lectures, notes, handouts, etc, and the students receive that information by writing things downs, completing worksheets and trying to cram it all into their minds. Does this work for everybody? Probably not. Did it work for me? Well judging by my marks all through elementary and high school I guess you could say it did. But is this really the way that I learn best? A year or two ago I would likely have said yes, mainly because I was unaware that any other ways really existed.

Yet when helping co-workers solve problems, or coaching my gymnasts in rhythmic gymnastics I was quite aware that not everyone learned the same. In fact, I would frequently adjust how I was helping others learn. For some I would have to walk through steps with them one-on-one, for others I would write down the process, and still others would need a demonstration. I have always been very aware that there are multiple intelligences (though I have only mainly known about the auditory, visual and kinaesthetic learning styles) and that some learn differently than others. But do teachers in a classroom have the time to do this every day during every lesson? Not likely! So how do you make sure that everyone can learn in a way that suits them?

I know that I learn best through seeing visual representations of the information or concept that is to be learned, but I also like to have a set of logical steps to work through. I also know that I typically require music playing in the background (even if it’s just in my head!) to really let something sink in, and also to spark creativity when I am working on a project. I was very grateful that when I attended SIAST I actually had an instructor who really appreciated this and even allowed me to listen to music on headphones during exams! (He checked my play lists before hand of course to make sure that I couldn’t cheat, and this was before cell phones had music and internet on them.) So when we did some multiple intelligence tests in class this week I was not surprised to find out that my highest scores were in the categories of Music & Rhythm, Visual Spatial, and Mathematic Logical.

 

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Often, people say that you will teach the way that you learn best, and while I can certainly understand and appreciate this “fact,” I would like to think that my past experiences have made me aware that this is not the only way. Sure, I will always find it easier to teach in visual and logical methods, and perhaps with some sort of rhythmic or musical component, but I am quite aware that I will be working with students who do not work in the same ways that I do. I think that the areas that I will have to be most aware of are the Interpersonal and Naturalist intelligences; the two areas that I am weakest in. These intelligences do not come naturally to me, but I am certainly working towards being better at them.

I think that balancing all of the multiple intelligences and planning for differentiated instruction in the classroom will be a challenge. While I realize that this is certainly in the best interests of the students, I wonder how to accomplish this in the “real world.” In fact, I even came across this article yesterday that goes against differentiated instruction, saying it doesn’t work, and after reading it I can see some of the stumbling blocks in differentiated instruction. How do you make students feel “equal” if some are doing less work than others? I also really like the idea of creating project based learning (found a great article to start with), and ideas like Genius Hour, where students choose their projects and methods for learning. I think a lot of the struggles come from the fact that most students are accustomed to that more traditional way of learning and expect their teacher to tell them what to do! I actually am really looking forward to doing a similar type of learning project in this class though our Inquiry Research Project (I’m sure I’ll post more about this later!).

Back to Genius Hour though, I have watched many videos and looked at many websites over the last few months about this learning medium, and I really appreciated what this teacher had to say…

 

I can see both sides of the argument on differentiated instruction through multiple intelligences, and I am curious to learn more about it. I was never taught this way, but rather than fearing something new I am looking forward to discovering new ideas and running with them in my own way. Sure, these “new” methods of instruction may be scary for students, and even for parents, but I am hopeful that I can work towards change. Some of my instructors last semester really encouraged me to step outside of my own box, and I think that learning more about the other intelligences and how to assist those students who have strengths where I do not will help me continue to do this. I want to find ways to truly engage all of my students, and will do whatever it takes to help them achieve their best.

The YouTube Debate

Is YouTube really a great tool to use in the classroom? My classmate, Dustan, and I hash it out for you…

And as promised, here are some funny videos that are actually educational!

…Now if you want to see some adult educational humour check out this YouTube channel. A tad bit of inappropriate language, but oh so funny, and also highly educational! (I highly recommend the one on the Mantis Shrimp.)

The bottom line is that the main goal of using YouTube in the classroom is to encourage this

engaged children raising hands

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not this.

bored children watching a video

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Unlock the yousician in you!

Today, when I was looking for some youtube videos to play along with, an ad popped up before the video played. Now normally I begrudgingly wait the required 5-15 seconds and skip the ad, but this one had my attention.

Presenting yousician.com where you can learn how to play the guitar with a series of video tutorials and games that test your skills, earning you points so you can move up levels. Games + Learning? Cool! I’m in!

So, I checked it out. Turns out it’s made by the same folks who make GuitarTuna (the tuner I learned about a few weeks ago in this post). Now, I had tried to check out the GuitarBots site, but you had to keep adding friends to the site in order to unlock anything, even the very first lesson. Yousician doesn’t have these same restrictions and I could sign up and play right away!

It started off very quickly introducing ideas of reading TAB music (which took other lesson sites a while to get to), and playing along with music to a beat in a game-like fashion. You do have to download a utility driver for the program to work, but it’s well worth it. The videos are nice and short, and you can replay them if you want to, and then it goes right into playing a game! The platform accesses your computer’s microphone and can tell if you’re playing the right note at the right timing to the music. Only downside I can tell so far is that you either have to keep the background music soft, play loud, or wear headphones so that the computer can pick up your guitar sound.

Here’s a little screencast of me playing along with one of the levels I unlocked. Yes, that’s really me playing!

What’s the Point?

For many students, school just is. School is a chore, it is something they HAVE TO do, and it is not something they do very willingly. Why is that? Why have we made the idea of learning, growing, and becoming independent thinkers such a depressing and un-motivating thing for students, especially in the middle and high school years? I do not think that it is because every teacher that those students has hates their job and is an un-motivating teacher, but I do think that it has to do with teachers not giving students purpose and ownership in the work that they do.

Sure, there are some students who will do the work because the teacher asked them to, or because it is worth so many marks and it gives them some value to earn, but for the majority of students this is not enough motivation for them to really care about doing anything. So how do we get students to care? How do we get students to do the work and do their best? Simple, by giving them a genuine desire to want to do it.

By creating an open learning environment, where students are participatory leaners rather than just kids in desks we have the opportunity to truly engage their minds and make them feel like they are doing something worthwhile.

I found a number of videos, blogs and websites that in just a few short hours of searching have really opened my mind to the idea of creating participatory learning communities in classrooms, rather than just teaching TO students. Involve the students in their own learning!

This TED Talk from Alan November really demonstrates the great worth there is in getting students to find their own purpose in learning and take ownership of their projects.

I found a cool project going on in Europe, ROLE, where they are creating technology that “is centred around the concept of Self-regulated learning that creates responsible and thinking learners that are able to plan their learning process, search for the resources independently, learn and then reflect on their learning process and progress.” Check them out here.

Edutopia also had this great blog post the other day on the topic, linking the ideas of student work ethic and enthusiasm to professional careers. It makes a lot of sense! If you hate your job are you willing to do a good job for no reason? Probably not. The same can be said for students. If we, as teachers, don’t give them some reason to want to be an active participant in class or in projects, then they won’t bother.

Ok, so I need to involve my students and make them feel like they are part of a community and have some control over their own learning, but how do I do that?

This blog post has a few suggestions, but the best one that I took away from it was start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a participatory learning environment (or “personal learning environment” as I’ve also read it) won’t be either. This type of environment is going to take trial and error (probably more error at first), and lots of revision. You need to talk to students, not just other teachers to find out what works, what they would find helpful or useful, and what is fun.

I think that technology can certainly play a role in this open and participatory environment, but it’s certainly not the only thing that will make this work. I think that you have to foster this learning environment from the start and continue to build upon it through discussion, interaction and collaboration. This is not just a matter of using a few apps and thinking that’s all it takes. This is a major shift in education, and one that is often met with a lot of opposition, but I believe it is one that is incredibly valuable and will make for not only more enjoyable classrooms, but for better learners for life.