30 October 2008

Small Wins

First off, I'm feeling strange about calling my fellow intern "my fellow intern" or by some other ambiguous name. From here on out, I'm going to call her "J." And my mentor teacher, I'll call her Ms. H. It's started to become tedious blogging about them, and having to find some way to not use their names, but still keep my sentences from becoming cumbersome. Wasn't working.

Placement is still chugging right along. J and I are becoming more and more involved in classroom activities as the weeks go by. Our mentor teacher officially designated a class for each of us to take over every once in a while. We've been taking over bits and pieces since the beginning, but not by ourselves. I think she's trying to prompt us to step outside our comfort zones, which is good. J had first hour, I have second hour. Second hour is the more talkative, less mature, predominantly male class. This should be interesting. Wednesday, we each got to prepare the students to start their second round of literature circle discussions, making sure that they had everything out that they needed to and asking them to take a minute to compare their discussion questions to the "Good Discussion Questions" sheet from last week. I got an email from Ms. H today telling me how well I did getting second hour ready to begin their discussions. This was helpful for me, since I still feel a little bit like I'm on stage when I'm at the front of the class by myself. I felt a little more like a teacher yesterday, though. For one thing, after I finished prompting them to analyze their discussion questions for a few minutes, I helped a student who hadn't been there, and didn't know what worksheet I was referring to, or even that she was supposed to have discussion questions prepared. It made it more like what I think my own classroom should feel like. Not me standing at the front of the class waiting for the students to get done with their tasks, but still instructing some while others are already working.

Small win for me. I'm hoping for a series of these in the coming weeks.

I'm learning a lot more about the students. I astounded myself the other day when I realized that I knew all of second hour's names. I'm also learning things about them that give me more insight into why things happen in the classroom the way they do. For instance, there is a student in second hour who is pretty resistant to English and everything that English involves. He's emotionally impaired and usually sits there with a scowl on his face, not participating. It's interesting to see how, when the students do small group work, this demeanor seems to affect those around him. I've noticed that not many of his classmates speak directly to him. On Wednesday, he turned in his assignment without the required rubric stapled to it. I decided to accomodate him a little, even though it had been made pretty explicit that the rubric was to be attached to the assignment. We both went over to the box where extra handouts are kept and searched for a new rubric (he had lost his) and I talked to him about the book he's reading while I was shuffling through papers. I didn't expect him to respond to my questions, but he was actually pretty talkative. This is the same student who, on Monday, turned in a test reflection sheet (a guided tool for reflecting on study skills and test-taking) filled out with a manifesto about the teacher's grading system and how unfair it is instead of what was supposed to be on it. I'm interested to see where he ends up in this class by the end of the school year. I'd like to see him change his attitude, but I'm willing to be that most of the adults in his life think that's unlikely.

On an end note, we had an awesome guest speaker in my methods class yesterday. Our talk was about visual rhetoric. A talk with students about this and also about critical visual analysis would be a great way to get kids thinking critically about texts before you ask them to do it with literature. A mix of visual stimulation and pop culture!

Happy Halloween!
The Almost Teacher

25 October 2008

A couple of weeks have passed since I last posted. This year is turning into one of the busiest in my life. Due dates are overwhelming me. That said, I haven't meant to neglect the blog at all. And I'm afraid that I won't be able to talk about everything that has been happening. But I'm certainly going to try.

Everyday when we leave placement, my fellow pre-service teacher and I talk about how lucky we feel to have ended up in the classroom that we're in. We both feel like we're learning so much from our teacher. The overlap between our placement and our seminar class seems to just be happening. By that I mean that we're not having to stretch for connections. The biggest overlap that I'm seeing is in how much I am learning about dialogic instruction and discussion first-hand. For instance, just last week, we were able to lead part of a lesson about good discussion questions. The kids are just beginning literature circles and they had their first meetings last week. In order to foster good discussion, we talked with them about how to avoid falling into common traps when they formulate discussion questions for their literature circles. So many of the things that we've talked about in seminar (avoiding yes/no questions, finding questions that ask for reflection/extrapolation on the text/predictions about the text instead of asking for reiteration of events in the text, etc.) are the same things that we talked about with the students.

These lit circles have also given us the opportunity to sit down with small groups of students and talk to them about the discussions they are having. On Wednesday, our mentor teacher asked us to circulate and listen in (without inposing on) the students' discussions. After the kids had been working for a while, she asked us which groups we thought were being most functional and which ones were not functioning as well as they could be. I was pretty proud of myself when I could identify which groups were having a productive discussion and why they were being productive. After we had talked with our mentor teacher about the things we had noticed while we were circulating, she gave us the opportunity to join the group that we thought might need the most feedback for their discussions next week. In first hour, we joined a group of girls who was reading "Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes" by Chris Crutcher. When we were observing this group, the biggest issue we noticed was that they were done discussing about 15 minutes before everyone else. This led to them having discussions about everything other than the novel. When we identified this as being the group that we wanted to join to for metadiscussion, we were thinking that either the students were prepared for discussion as they were supposed to be. Or as horrible as this sounds, we thought that they were being typical 14-year-old girls, letting gossip get them off topic. Our mentor teacher thought that it would be a good idea for us to dig a little deeper. Once we joined up with them, we realized how wrong we were. It wasn't that they weren't prepared and it wasn't that they weren't trying to do the assignment. As soon as we sat down with them and asked them how they thought their discussion went, they were eager to tell us about how confusing the first part of their book was, and how they all had come up with very similar questions. They shared their questions with us, and some fell into the "discussion question traps" but many of them were very thought provoking and insightful. It turned out that they really had come up with similar questions because they were all confused about similar events in the book. To combat this for next time, we suggested to them that they talk about predictions that they might make for the future of the story and why they think these predictions could turn out to be true or false. Upon reporting this back to our mentor teacher, she wasn't surprised at all that we had made the mistake we had, and she seemed pleased that we had learned a lesson about this group.

The lit circle situation has also given me some insight into another area of interest for me this semester. One of the assignments for my seminar class is a small group inquiry project, where we investigate a specific pedagogical area of interest or concern to us. My group is investigating diverse young adult literature, specifically issues of controversy that might arise when a teacher brings young adult literature into a classroom. Experiencing these literature circles in placement has shed some light on the issue for me. I discussed with my mentor teacher how she had placed the students with the particular books they were reading. She began telling me about how, this year, she faced some limitations that she wasn't used to. For example, one of the students in class was only allowed, by his parents, to read one of the seven or eight books on the list. The book = The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. Why? Because it was the one that they considered most valuable as a piece of literature and because it deals with the fewest controversial issues. I didn't have time to discuss with her how she dealt with this, other than by simply placing him in that group. It seems that with the lit circle format, the decision was pretty easy to make and didn't disrupt the classroom in any way. But how would she have dealt with it if it had been a whole group of parents who were upset that their children were even made aware of the existence of a certain novel? Or if there hadn't been a single book on the list that these parents found suitable for their child? How do you counteract a parent claiming that you have picked novels that aren't valuable, especially when you can assume that these parents have not read the books themselves? I've got a million questions going at once. I'm curious to find out what she has to say.

I think I've covered most of the big things that I wanted to talk about. I'm just so pleased with the amount of interaction that I'm getting with the students and that almost everything I'm seeing has some connection to what I'm learning about teaching in my methods class. All in all, going well, and I'll keep posting as we go!

Signing off,
The Almost Teacher

14 October 2008

It's so cool!

A very neat tool for anyone, but especially teachers and students. There are so many ways that this could be utilized in a classroom. Interested? Visit librarything.com to find out more!

11 October 2008

The first of many

Last Wednesday marked my first day in a high school classroom as someone other than a student.
I am so excited for the rest of the semester, and next.

Placements began last week. I'm placed with one of my classmates at an area high school, in a ninth grade English classroom. I was slightly nervous, but mostly to meet my mentor teacher. I've been in placements before, so I was past the whole "nervous to meet the students because what if they don't like me?" stage. Plus, it's nice having someone else there with me. I was more excited than anything. Tired, too, because I get there at 7:40 in the morning. Welcome to being a teacher, I told myself, on that count.

We haven't really had much of a chance to interact with the students yet. The most talking to them we did on Wednesday was introducing ourselves to the class. That was more difficult than I thought it was going to be. We practiced a little bit in class earlier in the week, introducing ourselves to each other as we might introduce ourselves to a classroom of students. Once I was up there, though, I told them my name and then, it was like I forgot everything about myself. It's strange being called Ms. Very "othering." All I could think to say was, "I'm an English major at MSU, and I'm in my final year of studying to be a teacher. So, you guys aren't the only students here. We're all learning from each other." Cute, right?

After introductions, we observed the teacher, talked to her about classroom procedures and choices that she's made so far about seating arrangements, etc. in the in-between moments. I feel like we have more to learn from her than we could ever imagine. I was particularly amazed by the fact that, within the first 25 minutes that we were there, she had the class complete three activities. THREE. And in our teaching lab, we're freaking out about having to do one activity in twenty minutes. It comes with knowing what your, and your students are capable of, I suppose. She also pointed out to us that no amount of lesson planning outside of the classroom will ever be able to 100% predict what you actually can get done in the classroom. Her advice was to not get frustrated if you find yourself a day and a half behind in your lesson plans, because you can usually adjust yourself to be back on track in no time. This made me feel a little better about the fact that my otherwise successful lesson in lab the next day went over our 25-minute time limit by a touch.

I was also fascinated by seeing the different atmospheres in her first and second hour classrooms. Both classes are ninth grade, both are literature composition classrooms. They are completely different from one another in every other aspects. First hour seemed pretty tame. The kids answered questions by raising their hands every time, they quietly did their individual and group work when it came time for that. They were just quiet, in general, and in comparison to how I remember high school classrooms being. Second hour was...not like that. The teacher had told me, when I asked her if she had assigned seats, that she had actually let the kids pick their own. This had worked well in first hour, but second hour had already been rearranged once. After ten minutes in second hour, it was pretty clear why. It's not that they are a disruptive bunch. They just like talking. To each other. A lot. You can pick out, too,the kids who would probably find a way to be social butterflies even if you gave them their very own desk in a sound-proof box. It was this class, though, that was further ahead in the lesson plan than the other. Maybe it's because they get through the discussion-based portions more quickly?

I was so glad to be able to just observe in placement this past week. I can't wait to start working with the students, and to figure out with our mentor teacher where she thinks she can incorporate us into instruction. I think we needed that first day, a probably a few more, of solely observation, just to get used to how these classrooms work. Mondays and Wednesdays from here on out are going to be interesting, I think!

Signing off,

Almost Teacher