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

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