Chelsea L's Field Experience

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Cooperative Learning Techniques

This week’s reading was about cooperative learning and using groups for critical thinking exercises in the classroom.  We have already learned a lot about cooperative learning in our methods class, but Larson and Kieper really pointed out a lot of logistical concerns I had never thought about.  One of the things that the authors discussed was marginalizing students and keeping race, social status, gender, etc in mind when creating groups.  While teachers might often try to be objective and select groups at random, it actually helps a lot of discussions when there are different perspectives that can be brought in.  This is especially important in social studies because of the nature of discussion.  Therefore, when creating groups it is important to create heterogeneous, diverse groups.

#heterogeneous grouping

Another issue that I never thought about when having the class do group work is students social skills and trust issues.  It is hard when mostly using the grad class for our lesson presentations because we all participate and are confident in our content knowledge.  However, teaching 9th graders in my field study definitely gets me thinking about social issues.  It is easy to predict the issues that would go along with cooperative learning and especially presenting the material in front of the whole class.  I could see how there may be teasing, nervousness, etc.  

I also never thought of forming formal cooperative learning groups that would work together for a unit, semester, year, etc.  I like the idea of that because the students would learn to gain respect for each other and the teacher could even set guidelines at the beginning to make sure students understand what is expected from them in terms of behavior as well as participation.  Another idea would be to have the students conduct some sort of activity to get to know one another at the onset of group formation.  If they learn greater respect and become comfortable with a small group this would give them study partners and potentially a “role” in the group throughout the year.  Overall, I thought this was an awesome idea.

Another suggestion that I felt related to something I could suggest in my field experience was the student teams/achievement divisions (STAD).  Larson and Kieper actually mention using this method for DBQs and my CT and I have been teaching his honors class how to structure their first DBQs and really analyze primary source documents.  I like the idea of competitive teams that would look at DBQs, form theses, etc.  I think competition within cooperative learning could work really well for certain classes and groups of students, such as honors classes.

#DBQs #cooperativelearning

Another suggestion that I really liked was the “group biography planning sheet” on page 184.  I think for formal grouping this would work nicely in order to manage who does what for a certain project or unit.  It also helps students organize and time manage so that they can complete all the tasks that are expected of them.  This may give younger students motivation because they feel a sense of responsibility as well.  

Overall, I feel that cooperative learning is one of the most important strategies for motivation and complex learning.  Gaining different student perspectives on historical and current event issues is very important for young learners as they form their own opinions about the world and social studies as a whole.  


Focus on Teachers

This week, I interviewed my teacher during his planning period and asked him a series of questions pertaining to his teaching philosophy, impact of national/state standards on his teaching, stresses and strains of teaching, and expectations for young teachers.  The part that I thought was most interesting was how much I could have predicted the answers to his questions.  Observing his classroom and the way he interacts with students sort of made his answers obvious to me, which was cool.  

The first question I asked was what my CT’s teaching philosophy was.  He answered that:

“My philosophy on education has taken new twists during my 15 years of teaching. Currently, my
educational philosophy seems to be focused on building a positive relationship with my students
and building their academic confidence as they enter their first year of high school.”

I’ve noticed that he often speaks of student’s confidence and the way their social and academic lives evolve over time.  He sort of approaches students by relating to their interests outside of school as a way for them to gain trust and respect with him in the classroom.  That’s one of the things I really admire and take away from this experience.  

Another topic we discussed was the dreaded state and national standards.  My CT expressed the common problem with timing of the curriculum.  He said he used to focus his units more on what interests students, but has recently stopped that focus because of the increase in the amount of material students are expected to know.  This is one of the common problems we have discussed in class with social studies education.  My CT also mentioned that relating history to the student’s community and home life is often helpful, so he still tries to tie in that aspect, even if it does take more time to develop.

In regard to the stresses/strains of teaching, my CT stated that individual pacing is very important.  He has talked about this with me before in regards to my stressful semester, stating that keeping your individual energy level up is key.  He has told me that in his first years of teaching, he really had to actively ration time for himself to just relax and not think about school.  He said that now he uses that time to spend with his family.  I think these tips will help me a lot as a start my first few years of teaching.

Overall, I really enjoyed interviewing my CT and think I can learn a lot from the way he conducts his time management, especially.  Through observation, I learn a lot through dialogue with my CT and his personal experiences.

Concept Formation Strategies

I thought this picture was cool because it gives different areas of study within social studies and gets me thinking about different examples in each area for concept maps in my future classroom.

“Thinking is how people learn.  Therefore, always be aware of who is doing most of the thinking/learning in your classroom.” 

This week’s reading was on concept formation and different ideas for introducing or reviewing concepts in social studies courses.  The quote above was used in Larson and Kieper and I personally think it’s an excellent idea to think about when reviewing concepts.  The main thing I liked about concept formation and the use of the concept diagram is that it sort of dabbles in areas that all learners would be good at.  Completing a concept diagram, like the ones we discussed on Friday, requires the use of brainstorming techniques, identifying qualities, coming up with examples/nonexamples, and formulating a definition.  Students may have a strength in either recalling information or formulating new info, and this exercise helps the students to use the knowledge they already know or have learned to do both.  


While I really liked the examples of concept diagrams we used in class on Friday, I think the book points out some important tips when creating these exercises as a teacher.  One thing that is helpful is dividing the activity up into the eight steps.  One of the problems with forming concept diagrams is that the teacher knows the content and may assume the students will have the same ease with completing these diagrams.  However, the students may have trouble recalling information or thinking along the lines that we expect them to.  This is why it’s important to complete these steps when creating an activity.  

I also like the suggestions that Larson and Kieper give for assessment of concept formation.  A lot of them had to do with examples, which is interesting.  I also like that they point out the relevance to the content being taught.  For example, they state that using Mesopotamia as an example of civilization for sixth graders would be inappropriate because they have not learned enough about Mesopotamia yet.  This would be a better example in a 9th grade world history classroom.  

It is also important to remember that the students may come up with important and relevant information, but it may not go in the direction that you wanted it to.  A way to fix that would be to scaffold the examples, and provide your own info to enhance what they came up with.  That way, you are not disregarding their independent thinking as the teacher, but also helping them to answer with critical thinking and complex examples.  Overall, I really liked this activity and can definitely see its practical use in any social studies content area.  It was helpful to read some of the tips in Larson and Kieper so that I can keep these in mind when I use this activity in the future.

From Chalkboard to the Web

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” -John Dewey

This week, I observed different uses of technology in the classroom and thought about ways that the content could be mixed with technology to enhance my own lesson plans.  The major use of technology in my CT’s class involves using a platform that operates similar to Scholar called Moodle.  My CT uses Moodle to upload the World History textbook, the audio for the book, notes that students can print before class, all of his power points, etc.  He also creates a calendar that has his lesson plans and homework for at least a week ahead of time.  It is really impressive how organized his site is and is something that I hope to use in the future.  When I went to parent teacher conferences, Moodle was a great backup tool because my CT showed all of the tools to the parents if they had concerns about reading comprehension, their students note taking skills, etc.  


Another helpful use of technology is the setup my CT has with the connection between the computer at the front of the room and the projector screen.  This allows him to access Moodle in front of the class, do lectures/power points, and even interactive activities on the screen.  I plan to use this for my own lesson.  The technology my CT uses is easy to access because of the layout of the class and the individual access for students from home.  

Overall, hearing of my colleagues and the technologies available in their field studies classrooms, it seems that my school does not meet too many SOL technology requirements.  Projection screens and computers are available in every classroom, but my CT has complained about the slow internet access and the unreliable projector screen.  

I think after having the workshop with smart boards, I would be interested in exploring those further and implementing their use in my future classroom.  I think using interactive activities would be cool as well.  My partner and I are planning on using this type of lesson plan for our midterm this week, which is helping me think of new ideas for technology use.

Questioning in the Classroom

I really enjoyed reading the tips for proper and effective questioning in the classroom, especially as I will be conducting my first “lesson” in my field study this week.  Through my field experience, I have already noticed a lot of effective use of questioning and also some areas that I would improve in my own classroom.  One thing that I thought was interesting was the idea that questions are usually used for factual recall rather than higher-level thinking.  In reality, most of the time when students answer questions it is just to help them review the information they have already learned or knew prior to the lesson.  Larson and Kieper also mention that often times lower-level questions are more effective because they help teachers diagnose the student’s level of understanding.  A lot of times my CT will ask students who seem not as engaged in class to answer questions that are fairly simple, just to make sure they are keeping up with the class notes.

Another important skill we have discussed in methods class is leaving enough time for students to answer questions and think about forming a proper answer as well as giving an encouraging classroom environment to encourage involvement.  One tip I have taken away from this and thought about for my own lesson is to ask what questions students have for you rather than asking “Are there any questions”.  That way, students get the idea that they should have questions and are more likely to formulate them.

One new idea that I learned is convergent vs. divergent questions.  Convergent questions allow for one or few possible responses while divergent allows for a broad number of responses.  This is important because while convergent questions are better for factual information and review, divergent would broaden class discussion and potentially ignite higher level thinking.  I also liked the tips about considering who you are teaching and what the classroom environment is when formulating questions.  It is clear that some of my CT’s students respond better to convergent, direct questions while the Honors class often enjoys answering divergent questions and opening up discussion.

Another important aspect of questioning is teacher response.  Larson and Kieper discuss tone, body language, and emphasis when responding to answers given by participating students.  I remember in my own grade school experience there were certain teachers that definitely made me feel more comfortable with answering questions and others that made me feel like I wasn’t right when I answered or would be judged for the quality of my response.  This will be important for me to remember when I am a teacher.  Even if the level of response is frustrating or my questioning isn’t working as planned, I will need to alter my own attitude and keep the classroom as a judgement-free zone.


A day in the life…

“Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions, never know too much to learn something new.” –Og Mandino 

When deciding on a student to follow, my CT suggested one and I sort of questioned why, since he seemed like a regular student that was a little like me in high school.  My CT told me that this particular student was extremely participatory in his class and he wondered if he was like that in other classes or not.  I started the notice that as well, and became sort of intrigued.  The student I followed, Student X, started the day in my CT’s classroom with world history.  He participated throughout the lecture, which is what my CT was doing that day.  I noticed that he raised his hand often, even offering up answers when people were wrong.  He sat in the back of the classroom and was particularly interested in talking to a girl that is sort of a “problem child” in my CT’s class.  She is very talkative, has an attitude, and her mother attending the parent-teacher conference with some concerns.  Student X laughed at her when she was making smart comments to my CT and was sort of whispering to her throughout class.  It seemed odd that these two would be friends.  Student X was also one of two students wearing a JV football jersey on this day, because they had a game that evening.  He was asked when and where the game was after class and seemed pretty nonchalant in talking about it.  

I should also mention that I did my shadowing on a shortened day, because parent-teacher conferences were that evening.  It was also homecoming week so students were extra involved and off schedule a bit.  This seemed to change the dynamic of the classes I shadowed.  During English class, Student X’s teacher was discussing a Romeo and Juliet community theater play that all the 9th graders attended the day before.  The teacher was very different than my CT, and I could conclude pretty fast that he was also the head of the theater department.  He was very animated and seemed to have personal relationships with all of the students.  Student X sat in the back of the class once again, this time by a fellow football player.  He seemed rather antsy in his seat, moving around a lot, stretching, and raising his hand often.  The class seemed a little more structured, and the teacher clearly stated that “no one talks without raining their hands”.  This seemed to be a struggle for student X, and he was even reprimanded for yelling out the answers at one point, sort of laughing it off.  I also noticed some immaturity among the students when talking about the play, particularly for student X.  Words like raunchy, slut, etc came up when discussing Romeo and Juliet and every time student X would laugh or hit his friends to comment.  Overall, school seemed to be a place of comfort for student X and he seemed very confident in his own opinions, especially for a ninth grader.  His antsy-ness made it seem as if he was a little bored by the level he was in, or maybe it was just the particular day (football game, shortened periods, etc.)

Health and PE was also a little different, because the students did not “dress out” today.  I could tell that there was a mixture of emotions among the students about this depending on whether they thought it was a hassle or not.  Student X didn’t seem to really have an opinion, but he did get antsy when they sat in the gym and completed worksheets on the next unit they would be doing.  He once again set with football players and I noticed that the same girl from my CT’s classroom was sort of flirting with this group of football players, making it more obvious why his attention was on her earlier in the day.  

As student X moved to earth science class, I noticed that he talked to his friends and then went and sat at the front of the room.  It seemed very clear that this teacher had a seating chart, because a lot of students I noticed that were friends from my CT’s classes were scattered throughout the room.  The earth science teacher announced that they would be taking notes and doing a lecture today because “they have to have note days so that they can spend most days working in labs”.  Student X immediately commented that all my CT’s class does is takes notes and they’re really boring.  However, it seems that the students were much more engaged in this class, being handed packets with the notes, filling in answers, and raising their hands.  Once again, my student often shouted the answers and kept moving his head up and down off the desk.  The teacher brought up sports and the Colorado Rockies when discussing air/wind pressure and the students immediately were interested.

Overall, student X seemed to be very atypical for ninth grade in some ways and not so much in others.  He was very hyper, seemed popular with the other students, and was not particularly shy.  However, the amount of participation and interest in each subject matter gave me the impression that school was a comfortable place for the student and he felt a sense of responsibility for his schooling.  It seemed that he gave most subjects equal importance, but did have opinions on different teaching styles.  His relationships with other teachers seemed fairly positive, and my CT liked him in particular.  Other students seemed to like him as well.  Overall, this student seemed to be embracing high school and it would have been interesting to see him throughout the years.

Lecturing and Direct Instruction– Good or Bad?


In chapter 5 of Larson and Keiper, the authors discuss lecture strategies and the purpose of direct instruction in teaching.  While there are many pros of lecturing and it is a commonly used tool for teaching middle/high schoolers, there are also many downfalls such as information overload (pictured above), tuning out the teacher, causing rote learning, and forgetting information.  The teacher is in charge of presenting the material, but they also do not require students to interact with the material in most cases.  This causes potential for disinterest or disengagement.  


My CT uses lectures frequently in his classroom and I notice some good and bad things about his lectures, most of which are mentioned in the reading.  Larson and Keiper point out that lecturing is hard for students with learning disabilities, listening deficits, and writing disabilities.  I’ve noticed that in my CT’s classroom, he struggles with getting his special needs students to take notes during lectures and often has to print off notes and give them to the students as a scaffold for their note-taking.  Even then, some students struggle with following along with the printed notes and don’t understand the concept of highlighting, writing in the margins, etc.  Another issue that I see is the environment of lecturing.  On days when my CT lectures with a powerpoint, he usually turns the lights off and stands at the front of the classroom.  I notice that the students at the back of the class will often fall asleep or slowly put their heads down.  Since the teacher is not in closer proximity, it is hard to catch this and keep the students on task.  A solution to this problem may be to walk around the room and even call on students in the back to interact with or provide feedback to the lecture.


Another point I struggled with when reading this section is the idea of direct instruction.  My understanding is that this is the most effective way to teach the whole classroom because of the clear expectations for what the students need to know.  However, most of my education classes have sort of frowned upon the idea of using direct instruction for the majority of the class time.  I feel that being in the classroom, I have realized that most teachers use direct instruction way more than I thought because of time restraints.  The school I am observing in has 40-50 minute periods and no block scheduling, so creating interactive lessons is a big challenge.  Most of the time the students come in, are immediately engaged in the lecture, and leave immediately after, not even providing time for feedback or assessment.  I have thought about how I would maximize time in my own future classroom if I were given these short periods, since I do think that interactive learning is much more resonant than constant lecturing.

Another thing I noticed about my CT’s classroom is the logistical setup.  He has all of the desks facing front where the projector and board is, and the desks are lined up in straight rows and columns.  He explained that this was helpful because the students can see anything he is using at the front and keeps them on task.  However, if he were to want to do interactive learning exercises, the setup would be challenging.  It is interesting because in high school I always enjoyed a similar setup as my CT’s because I was a very focused student and would feel a bit distracted sitting in groups or circular setups.  Therefore, I almost like the idea of flexibility and moving the desks around depending on your planned lesson.  We sort of use that in our methods class and I think it’s a cool idea if you have it planned out well enough.


Overall, I felt that this chapter resonates a lot with my field observation and I think it will be interesting to see how direct instruction is used throughout my own student teaching.

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