Chelsea L's Field Experience

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Learning about the learner


The image above reflects a lot of what we read this week in terms of differences in learning styles.  The girl learns better by reading each step one by one and planning how she will assemble the airplane, while the boy just plays with the airplane and makes it himself without reading directions.  This is representative the variation between hands-on learners, visual learners, etc.  Larson and Keiper discuss adolescent development in chapter 4 and the potential effect that biological, psychological and social/cultural changes can have on the student.  It is interesting to think about these changes as I observe my students, especially with teaching 9th graders.  For example, one day I had a student who got an unsatisfactory grade on a homework assignment come up to the teacher and start crying because she was so upset.  This seemed to me to be more of a product of her hormones than her being actually upset.  I also notice the vast differences in the students based on their age/grade in high school.  It is just interesting to think about how these hormones, emotional changes, etc may effect the way they learn and operate in the classroom.


Another topic that Larson and Keiper focused on was multicultural education.  While I teach in an area with very little diversity right now, it will be important for me to think about teaching students with different cultural backgrounds, language barriers, etc when I decide where I want to live/teach in the future.  I have always thought it would be cool to live in an urban area when I graduate, but I also need to consider the implications of that decision.  I will be exposed to greater differences in the student’s home life, where they are from, what languages they speak, etc.  I think this is especially important when teaching social studies because I will need to teach different perspectives and world views.


Another topic that was discussed this week was teaching ESL students.  I have been lucky enough to see a case of this struggle first hand in my classroom at the high school.  There is a student who has a language barrier in one of my classes and my teacher is still trying to figure out how to teach her best while still being empathetic of her background knowledge.  One day we were doing vocabulary development where the students had to write who, what, when, where, why, how for different key words in our unit.  This student could not understand what the directions were and had trouble actually getting her thoughts down in English.  My teacher asked her to start off by writing her ideas in Spanish and then asked her to try to translate into English once she had the Spanish sentence written down.  I though that was pretty cool because he was recognizing that she was more comfortable with another language but also let her know that she is expected to work with the vocab words until she can successfully translate into English.


One last topic that is important to think about when moving forward is the use of technology for leading instruction.  I have had a struggle with technology recently because of our online classes and my own personal lack of comprehension.  However, I do see cool technology use in my own classroom experience.  For example, my school has an online program that is similar to Scholar in which the students can access the text, their homework assignments, etc. during class time and after school.  The other day, the students needed their book for their mapping assignment and a few students didn’t have them.  My teacher allowed them to access the online portal to look at their books and explained to me that he would rather they use their phones in class and gain from instructional time than not use them.  I think it is important to pick your battles and ultimately allow the students to do whatever is best for their learning.  

Overall, I feel that I am starting to understand how it feels to be the learner a little better and am excited to shadow a student this upcoming week.


Focusing on the classroom and students

Everyday, my teacher comes in and sits and explains what he’s doing for the day to me, usually writing the lesson plan on the board.  From what I can tell, he tends to plan as he goes, with a general outline in mind.  The first 3 classes are fairly similar in ability and makeup of the student body, with a mixture of student athletes, boyfriend-girlfriend couples, the few students who always participate, and the students who have an “alternative” style.  The first period is usually very quiet and the students tend not to participate much, I’m assuming as a result of the time.  The second period comes in a little more energetic, and I notice very clear cliques in this particular class.  There’s a group of 4 that are clearly in couples and feed off of each other’s energy each day.  The front of the room is where a group of the “smart girls” sit, usually very involved in answering questions.  There’s a group of girls who sit in the back of the room and I notice that they roll their eyes at a lot of what my CT says, seeming disinterested in school in general.  There is also a special needs student with an aid and he tends to provide interesting answers, but is very responsive and respectful to my CT.

After 2nd period, there’s a 10 minute break in which there is always a rotation of my CT’s past students stopping by to chat about their days, complain about other teachers (sometimes), report on accomplishments they’ve made, and the like.  My CT is very involved with his past students and usually knows a lot about their home life, interests, and plans after high school.  He goes out of his way to make personal connections and bring in materials that will interest the students.  For example, one of his past students is in the choir and apparently is very interested “soul music”, so my CT has brought her Nora Jones and Adele CDs that he burns from his computer.  It is a very cool dynamic to see.

The third period class usually comes in with snacks and tends to be more rowdy because of the break.  This class seems to be filled with a lot of the “cool kids” and a few troublemakers.  My CT also has a senior who acts as his aid for this class and I can tell that a lot of the 9th graders sort of look up to him and even show off a little.  This class is probably the most responsive during instruction, providing somewhat goofy answers.  However, if they get answers right I can tell that they are genuinely motivated to continue answering.  I notice this across classes as well.  These 3 classes are usually pretty well engaged, but on the day I was completing the observation form my CT was giving a lengthy power point lecture and I noticed a lack of engagement.  One of the students who sits in the back even whispered to me that she was “extremely bored” as I was walking around.  

The next period is my CT’s 5th period class, which tends to be his most troublesome class to work with.  While the school is full inclusion, the majority of students in this particular class have some sort of learning disorder and some have emotional disorders.  However, my CT has pointed out to me that a few of the students in this class are professors students and are at a much higher level.  This is hard because the class moves much slower and doesn’t elicit much response or discussion.  There are a group of 3 boys who sit together and seem sort of uninterested, but get the highest grades on most assessments I have graded.  There is one student who sits in the front and has a very hard staying awake and my CT often has to stop the class to ask if she can keep her head up.  There’s also a student with an aid in this class and he seems to have trouble with his speech and focus in the classroom.  The most interesting observation I made about this class is their interactions with each other.  The differences in social status, learning ability, etc. would lead me to think there may be some tension, but the students are VERY respectful of each other and almost seem to not notice the slower instruction and “hiccups” in instruction.  I think that’s pretty cool to see.

The last class that I observe is 8th period, the honors class.  It is very clear that this class is honors for a few reasons.  One is the immediate raising of hands that occurs almost every time there is an opportunity to ask questions about assignments or directions. My CT gives them a separate board with their lesson plan, which usually includes more writing, discussion, and extra homework.  I actually wasn’t able to sit back and “observe” this class because I conducted a writing workshop with the students this week.  The students brought up their book reviews and I helped them with grammar, structure, and any other concerns they had.  This probably gave me a better insight into the group because I was able to talk with them one on one.  The students ranged greatly in writing ability, and I was thoroughly impressed with most of their work.  In previous classes, I also have experienced their class discussions that often arise out of lecture and it is very cool to see them connect their prior knowledge and experiences to the material.  That’s something I don’t see too much of in other classes.  


Through observation I got an sense for what it’s like to be a social studies student today, and it seems tit means different things to different people.  I experienced many students that clearly were “history kids” and would come up to my CT after class and talk about a TV show he saw about Ancient Egypt or a newspaper article she read about records of early civilizations.  And then there were students who rolled their eyes, had no responses when being called on, etc.  I think students continue to treat social studies as they do any other class and I didn’t notice any sort of declined interest, even with the decline in testing we discussed in class.

Quote to keep in mind

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand” -Chinese prover

This quote is displayed in my mom’s classroom across the front board and serves as a reminder of how she wants to be as a teacher, and I have always loved it.  There’s never been a point during my personal education in which this hasn’t applied to me and I feel that the quote holds true across learning styles and abilities.  Just something to think about…

Planning, Management, Motivation- Week 3



As week three is upon us, it seems appropriate that the focus of chapter 3 of Instructional Strategies for Middle and Secondary Social Studies by Larson and Keiper is titled “Planning, Managing, Motivation”.  My partner and I presented our first lesson plan this week, so I feel that the importance of time management, having a designated way of planning, and motivation for teaching has been on my mind.  I like the way that Larson and Keiper break down planning from a broad, yearlong scope down to the unit and eventually lesson.  They discuss using textbooks to guide yearlong planning, which is a very simple strategy that will make the chronology a little more clear.  I feel like as a new teacher I worry a lot about timing and going too fast/slow with planning and using the textbook is a good starting point.  In my CT’s classroom, he uses the textbook very strongly to guide his lessons, but he personally thinks the textbook leaves out a lot of important info so he scaffolds the info in the text with his own handouts.  I also remember having teachers use textbooks out of order during grade school because of the different organization of textbooks, so that is something to keep in mind.  

#lessonplanning #usingtextbooksintheclassroom

The next point that I think is critical is the discussion of the “four commonplaces in school”, including teacher, students, subject matter, and milieu (environment).  One of the strategies that I have gained from my CT is being flexible with planning, depending on the class period.  Each of his classes has a very different dynamic and he sort of “rolls with the punches” in that he will change the way he presents information, amount of work the students are expected to do in class, etc. depending on his knowledge of student ability and the milieu of each classroom.  For example, the honors class often gets much more into discussion and sometimes even a little off topic, but my teacher will let them explore their ideas for a while because he knows they will get through lectures and remember specific information faster for the assessment.


The idea of unit planning is very appealing to me because I like to chunk information into time periods and think it would be cool to present a “theme” for what the class will be learning.  I also think it would help in adding creativity because I could brainstorm activities that would work cool with each individual unit.  I do see a challenge in actually keeping up with writing specific plans like this, but think it would be helpful, especially in terms of timing.  


Another section that made me feel a little more at ease was on discipline and management of the classroom.  Larson and Keiper even mention how discipline is especially important for new teachers.  I often worry about establishing my presence in the classroom and setting boundaries as a young teacher.  Out of the different models presented, I especially liked Kounin’s because of the different suggestions for engaging students, being aware of what’s happening in the classroom at all times, and providing challenging expectations as a means of behavior management.  I do think that behavior problems and establishing teacher presence is much less of an issue if the students don’t have down time to cause problems.  It will be important to balance the idea of engaging and fast-pace learning without creating a stressful classroom environment.  


This I Believe Statement

School surroundings

The area that my high school is placed in has a lot of different dimensions to it.  Being located in a small town, most of the students have known each other all their lives and often know of each others’ siblings, home life, etc.  The school is located near a major university, so there is a lot of spirit for that school and many of the students live in the area because their parents have jobs with the university.  I have noticed that the students get very into university-related events and feel that they have a sort of privilege to attend events since they are local.  My students also seem to have a lot of spirit for their own high school and wear their school colors almost daily to school, especially on football game days.

The actual physical layout of the town includes mostly middle-class residential areas, a downtown area, a golf course, a country club, a library, hospital/doctors offices and good public transportation.  My students even commented that they heard that this area is rated top in America as a town to raise children in.  The weather is variable and often cold/rainy.  Most people in the area near downtown are college-aged, but the outskirts include people from all ages.  In fact, my CT was discussing the differences in a lot of the student’s backgrounds.  He said that a lot come from upper class families who have investment in the university/research while others live in houses in the mountains with dirt floors, no electricity, etc.  This kind of astonished me because for the most part my students seem to be a homogenous crowd.

Demographically, the students I have noticed are mostly white, middle class, and have somewhat “Southern” characteristics.  My CT told me that this high school actually receive a lot of African-American students from other local high schools because of racial tensions that still exist in the area.  However, looking at the student body I do not notice very much diversity in terms of race.  It is also important to note that the school pulls students from a wide area because of the rural setting.  This could be a cause of the differences in student background that my CT was talking about.

One difference I observed in relation to my own schooling experience is the relaxed nature of school policies.  I went to a high school in which a very strict dress code was enforced, students were penalized for not making it to class on time, and less social interactions were allowed.  The high school I am conducting my field experience in is very lax in these areas, allowing for reasonable socializing during class, open dialogue about student’s personal lives, etc.  My CT is very popular with students and has students walk into his class and chat about their days on an ongoing basis, often during the middle of the class period.  Overall, I get a feeling that the students are well-behaved and respectful to their peers.  This seems to be a result of the friendly nature of the town they live in and comfort with my CT.


On to week 2!

This week, I was very excited to get to work with students one on one.  My CT asked his 8th period Honors class to write their first essay on Tao of Pooh, a novel about the Chinese “taoism”, and relate the book to either the modern or ancient world.  I had each student come up and discuss their papers with me, identifying any issues they are having with writing.  Some students simply had grammar issues and others needed structural help, etc.  It was really rewarding to finally get some instructional time and see more of the students individual personalities.  


In this weeks reading, Larson and Keiper discuss the importance of writing objectives for lesson plans and the differences in short-term and long-term objectives.  I think this is especially important when dealing with students who have little or no exposure to the content you are teaching.  For example, if I’m introducing a unit on Rome, it might be important to create the short-term objective of understanding the beginnings of civilization before learning about Rome in specific.  This would also help in deciding on what to use from the curriculum throughout the year by identifying the importance of certain topics.

I also found the ABCD’s of objective writing helpful.  During planning this week, I was reading for this class and my CT asked what the reading is about.  I mentioned it was for objective writing and he told me that objectives are one of the key things that a lot of schools will require in terms of lesson plans.  He said when he went on job interviews, many principals would tell him that their school requires the objective written on the board and a hard copy of the lesson plan available any time administration walks in the room.  I know at my mom’s school she is required to write and submit lesson plans every day.  Besides being required, I can see the value in setting up expectations for students because it sets the tone for the lesson and lets the student know they will be expected to perform in a specific way.


The last part of the reading that I really connected to my own field experience is performance assessments.  The book discusses these assessments as a good way to determine how much students can use the knowledge from the lesson in the real world and connect the information to what they have already learned.  My teacher has one Honors class and this specific period is very good at creating their own discussions based on what they’ve learned.  Often times I am even surprised by how insightful their thought processes are.  My CT has started requiring them to write and elaborate on the discussions in class for homework as a performance assessment.  It not only allows them to conclude their thoughts, but also assesses the writing skills we’ve been working on in class.  I really like this strategy.  Overall, I am happy with the way that my field experience is going and am glad to really get to know the students a little better.




Reflecting on Week 1


“The mediocre teacher tells.  The good teacher explains.”

As I read chapter 1 of Instructional Strategies for Middle and Secondary Social Studies by Larson and Keiper, I tried to reflect on the material in front of me from a new perspective, on the other side of the desk.  Now that I have been to my classroom and have seen the different dynamics from class to class and the struggles that my CT has in reaching his different levels of students, I am starting to realize that this is a major challenge in teaching.  I felt that the picture of the key is appropriate for my experience this week, because unlocking a complicated door/lock seems to describe the feeling of relief and satisfaction that a teacher gets when he/she finally reaches that student that they couldn’t reach, gets a point across to a classroom, conducts a successful lesson, etc. 

As I read through this chapter, I liked how the authors discussed curriculum as a tool rather than a limiting factor in a classroom.  I think that many teachers feel this pressure from their curriculum to only teach what’s mandated by the state or “teach to the test”, but Larson and Keiper really broke down that barrier and discussed the curriculum as something that teachers can alter and make fit in their classroom.  If anything, the curriculum should help me as a new teacher to act as a guide or handbook so I know what I need to be teaching and what direction/plan I will create for my classroom.  

I also really enjoyed the discussion of cultural literacy vs. multicultural education as it pertains to social studies.  I think that it’s important to teach students to thrive in the society in which they live, but also understand and embrace other cultures.  We discussed this divide in Schooling in American Society, and I really held the position that there doesn’t need to be a divide, especially in the multilingual, multicultural America that we live in today.  Yes, students need to learn about American government and history, but they also will increasingly need to know about world systems, economics and cultures because of the fact that the world is becoming a closer, more tight-knit community. 


The last piece of this chapter that I found especially helpful is the tips for new teachers.  I like that the authors recognized that it is important to seek advice from current teachers, ask questions, create goals, etc.  It is interesting to me because when I was discussing becoming a teacher with my CT he gave me interesting advice which was, “Make sure you find teachers that you can go to for advice, but don’t spend too much time in the teachers lounge.” When I asked why he said that it is important to connect to your students and experience everything for yourself rather than get caught up in negativity that other teachers may express about your students.  I understand what he’s saying and think it is pretty good advice, especially as a young, excited teacher.  Overall, I am really enjoying my CT and hope to continue this kind of dialogue with him.


First impressions

“Love is a better teacher than duty.” -Albert Einstein

As I walked into the classroom today for the first time, I thought about the years that I have spent planning my future classroom in my head and the passion I have for social studies as well as becoming a teacher.  It felt like finally, I was one step closer to my goal.  When I walked in I saw a spacious room with desks sort of scattered around facing different directions I was thinking to myself, “What is the goal behind this disorganization?” I then scanned the walls to see what kind of memorabilia was posted and loved the representations from the different parts of the world, enhancing the feeling of it being a world history classroom.  There were African masks and posters of Bob Marley, a Chinese calendar, a Jimi Hendrix poster, maps of Southeast Asia, world maps drawn to scale, and more.  I felt nervous as I waited for my cooperating teacher (CT) to enter.  He came in put my mind at ease immediately because of his casual nature and reassurance that he was very excited to work with me this semester.  I also smelt the cooking lab next door and the cheesecake they brought to my CT, yummmm. As the day went on, the students reviewed the readings they completed the night before, completed comprehension checks to make sure they understood the material, and went over what they needed to do for homework.  I heard questions from anxious freshmen about when assignments were due, if they were going to have homework, etc. The periods were short and concise and I enjoyed my CT’s teaching style, while I also feel that I would approach the content very differently.  I found out as I went that the purpose of the scattered desks was to receive student input on how they felt the classroom would be best set up to foster their learning and make the two different boards fully visible.  Overall, the visit was a little different than I expected because of the non-linear format of instruction, but I think it will give me a better feel for different teaching styles and I’m excited to work with my CT.

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