Internship Reflection 4: Learning Environment

In my opinion, one of the most important and most difficult standard of the Internship Program Standards to maintain well in the classroom is number 5, Learning Environment. This standard states “5. Learning Environment – The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being.” While at the outset this standard does not seem difficult because it’s all about relating well to students (which any teacher should be able to and want to do), it’s a difficult standard to maintain consistently throughout the year. As the workload increases and the pressure builds for academic achievement sometimes the simple acts of building relationships and nurturing well-being can fall lower and lower on the list of priorities.

The substandard of this criteria which I have really tried to focus on in order to maintain a consistently positive classroom environment is the first, 5.1: “Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport:Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the age and cultures of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher.” I have found that if I can truly invest time up front in authentically building strong relationships with each and every student, then the maintenance of a positive learning environment almost does the work for me later on. It is so essential for a teacher to build rapport and trust with each student if the student is to trust the teacher enough to take the risks necessary to learn. Building this kind of relationship requires the teacher to really get to know each student as an individual, understand their likes and dislikes, and nurture that which needs nurturing within them, regardless of any personal feelings the teacher may have. An example of the importance of this standard occurred for me in the first couple of weeks of my internship. During the first week I struggled a lot with one student, T. T seemed to constantly be in a bad mood, testing the limits with peers and his teacher, and making inappropriate and disrespectful comments. I had a really hard time liking this student. At the end of the first week, while reflecting on the relationships I was building with my students, T was the only one whom I did not feel good about. I decided to do whatever I could to find something I liked about him as soon as possible – I made it my number one priority. The next week I noticed that he seemed to have an extensive knowledge of animals. With this in mind I went to pick the class up from lunch a few minutes early so that I could sit and talk with T for a bit. During that conversation I asked him about his favorite animals, I joked with him about the animals he was eating at the time (chicken nuggets), and I imagined with him different terrifying animal hybrids. Together we created a new, horrifying animal creature named Father Nightmare. T talked for the entire rest of the afternoon about Father Nightmare, and at the end of the day I asked if he could draw a picture for me. The next morning he was the first to come into the classroom and say hi to me, and proudly presented me with his portrait of Father Nightmare.

Father Nightmare

Father Nightmare, as drawn by T

From that day on T has been one of my most enjoyable students. I love chatting with him and imagining strange and funny scenarios, and generally hearing about the incredibly interesting perspective he has on the world. Without spending the significant effort and investment in building rapport with T, I might not have seen how great he is, and I would have certainly struggled with his behavior and learning for the remainder of the internship.

If I had to choose only one performance standard to abide by as a teacher, I think it would be Learning Environment. After experiencing my own classroom during my internship, I firmly believe that no real learning or growth can occur without a strong foundation of trust and care that comprises a positive environment.

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Internship Reflection 3: Expectations

The first standard in the state-designated teacher preparation standards is about expectations. The standard states “1. Expectations – the teacher communicates high expectations for student learning.” One of the sub-criteria that I have focused a lot on during my internship is standard 1.2: “Communicating with Students – Teacher’s explanation of content is appropriate and connects with students’ knowledge and experience.” For me, this standard involves being really communicative with students about what you are teaching, what they are learning, how they are learning it and why it is important. I firmly believe that the more transparent teachers are with students about the educational process and content, the more ownership and understanding students will have for their own education. We all learn best when we have a specific goal to work towards, and when teachers communicate their expectations to students, they are giving them that goal.

The other important element of this standard is that the teacher “connects with students’ knowledge and experience.” This is so important in order for students to learn new content within a context that is familiar with them. Without connecting learning to students’ prior knowledge, students have difficulty transferring their new knowledge across content areas or time. By activating prior knowledge at the beginning of new lessons, teachers can help build the context that is necessary for students in order for greater learning transfer and retention to occur.

One way that I have consistently communicated my expectations of learning to my students during internship is by establishing a routine of posting and discussing the learning target at the beginning of every lesson.

Learning Target and Central Focus

A posted learning target and central focus communicates expectations of learning to students

As the picture indicates, my learning target is always posted on a big bright sign at the front of the learning space, along with the central focus of the overall unit. By asking students to read the target out loud at the beginning of the lesson, I can easily facilitate a discussion of the expectation for learning for that day, and why it is important. Additionally, during this discussion I like to remind students about how the new learning will connect with what they have already learned, and open up a conversation for them to reflect on and predict these connections as well. By making this practice a regular part of my lesson routine, I am easily able to regularly communicate my expectations for learning to my students, as well as help them connect with their own background knowledge.

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Internship Reflection 2: Families and Community

When teaching young students, it is essential that the teacher maintains consistently strong, positive and collaborative communication with the parents or guardians of the student throughout the school year. The seventh program standard from the Internship Performance Criteria (IPC) addresses this need: “7. Families and Community – The teacher communicates and collaborates with students, families and all educational stakeholders in an ethical and professional manner to promote student learning.” To me, the most important piece of this standard is the end – “to promote student learning.” It is essential that the good of the child be at the forefront of a teacher’s mind at all times, and it is nearly impossible to work towards the good of the child without clearly and consistently engaging the child’s most important people, parents and/or guardians.

This element of communication can occur in many different ways. Often teachers use email or phone calls to communicate student progress. Sometimes newsletters are sent home. A few teachers even create and manage classroom blogs online, which serve as a forum for teachers, students and families to view and communicate about learning in the classroom and at home. Often teacher-parent communication does not even need to focus on academic progress of the student, but rather can be solely for the purpose of developing and maintaining positive rapport with each other. If a student sees and feels that their teacher has a strong relationship with their parents, and that all adults truly have the student’s own well-being in mind, then the student is significantly more likely to achieve inside the classroom and out.

During my internship family communication has been one of the most difficult pieces of the framework for me to fulfill. I think this is partly because the nature of the internship doesn’t lend itself well to the kind of interaction expected of a teacher (I don’t have access to parent email addresses), but mostly because the communication style of my mentor teacher is extremely laid back. He tends to communicate with families mostly through texting or social media, which is not my preferred method. As a result it feels difficult for me to come in and develop my own relationships in an entirely different forum. I did, however, send a letter of introduction home in my first week of teaching (Student Teacher Introduction Letter PDF). I received positive responses and welcomes from parents (via their students) after sending the letter. I also communicated heavily with parents and families for the sake of organizing a field trip at one point. Then, during the field trip, I made a point of connecting with each of the parent chaperones who joined us on the trip. I was sure to let them know something positive I saw in each of their students, as well as discuss something about their schoolwork. Those brief engagements really did seem to have positive effects on my relationships with both the parents and the students later on.

When I have my own class of students and families next year I definitely plan to make consistent family communication a high priority. I am already thinking about good systems to establish to ensure that I am connecting with the family of every single student at least 3 times per year. Some of the systems I am considering include keeping a family communication notebook, sending home student-generated newsletters, and holding a couple of afterschool events for families and students. I genuinely enjoy getting to know the families of my students, and I look forward to honing this skill as I gain more classroom experience.

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Internship Reflection 1: Assessment

The sixth standard in the Internship Program Criteria (IPC) measures assessment and the teacher’s use of high quality formative and summative evaluation of student learning. The standard is stated as follows:

6. Assessment – The teacher uses multiple data elements (both formative and summative) to plan, inform and adjust instruction and evaluate student learning.

6.1 Designing Student Assessments around Criteria and Standards
Assessment criteria and standards are clear.

6.2 Designing Student Assessments with an Emphasis on Formative Assessment
Teacher has a well-developed strategy to using formative assessment and has designed particular approaches to be used.

6.3 Designing Student Assessments to Inform Planning
Teacher plans to use assessment results to plan for future instruction for groups of students.

6.4 Using Assessment to Provide Feedback to Students
Teacher’s feedback to students is timely and of consistently high quality.

The crux of this standard is that the teacher is consistently monitoring, evaluating, and responding to student output and learning in a constructive and meaningful manner. Without a high level of attention to the quality of the learning being produced, then all of the teaching in the world is being wasted. A teacher must give and use assessments with each of the four elements above in consideration in order for the instruction to match what the student truly needs to learn.

In my internship I have instituted a regular exit ticket system in which students demonstrate their understanding of the learning target, apply their learning in a small way, and perhaps most importantly, reflect on their learning to set a goal for subsequent lessons. While I have used a similar exit ticket in math, the one shown here is for our unit on Informational Text Structure.The picture on the right shows an exit ticket completed after our first week on Descriptive text structure,and the one on the left shows a ticket completed after our second week on Compare and Contrast text structure.

Student Sample Reflection Assessment - Both text structures

The student’s learning goal on the right is actually just a prediction, not a goal. When asked by me to think harder on a learning goal, she writes more of a behavior than a skill. After some instruction around skills vs. behaviors, the student is able to state a goal involving a learning skill on the left, editing it to be even more specific after my feedback. 

This kind of formative assessment demonstrates competence in this standard of the IPC because it asks students to state the learning target, which is taken directly from the learning standard (6.1), it directly shows me what students need, and what they feel they need help with for the following lesson (6.2, 6.3), and it provides an arena for me to give quality feedback to students both on their learning and on their own self-reflections (6.4). Additionally, it provides a space for students to give feedback to me, completing a meaningful loop of communication between student and teacher. The implications of this feedback on student learning are significant because it tells me as the teacher exactly what the student feels I can do to help them learn, and it tells the student exactly what I expect of them. I have also noticed that this kind of specific attention to each student makes them feel more validated in both their successes and their challenges.

As the first form indicates, much instruction was needed as to what constitutes a good learning goal involving a learning skill, rather than simply a learning behavior. After reflecting on this observation, I planned a few minilessons to help students understand the difference between the two kinds of goals, and what really helps make a goal more effective. This instruction was done through mini lessons in morning meeting, as well as in the openings and closings of lessons. I am impressed with the improvement that so many students have already made around this kind of reflection and goal setting, and I intend to continue honing these skills further.

 

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EDTC 6433: Digital Citizenship Poster and Reflection

One of the most pressing topics to be teaching students today is digital citizenship. In fact, an entire ISTE teaching standard (standard 4) is dedicated to the promotion of digital citizenship in a global world. However, it is not enough to simply present basic steps for becoming a digital citizen to students. There are nine components of digital citizenship, and students should be knowledgable about each one. For my final project on digital citizenship I decided to focus on one of the most basic tenets – digital communication. After reflecting on some of the issues present in our young students’ use of digital technology it seemed that one of the biggest missteps occurs right at the beginning of their engagement with technology in choosing the digital tool to be accessed. It is critical to educate kids on the appropriate digital medium for the appropriate purpose.

Kids (and adults) are inundated with so many options for communicating digitally that it can be extremely overwhelming to understand each choice and know when and how to use it. For that reason I created an infographic as “A Guide for Choosing the Right Digital Medium”, meant to be used by intermediate elementary students (grades 4-6). The primary focus of the infographic is a “continuum of formality” which outlines the seven most common digital tools for communication that kids might encounter. After talking with fellow educators and doing some research, I placed the seven tools along a continuum, ranging from “very casual” to “very formal”. My hope is that by representing these options for digital communication in such a visually simplistic way, students will be able to quickly consult the guide and adjust their communication styles and preferences to be more appropriate for the intended audience.

digital-communication-infographic-jpeg

I used piktochart.com to create my infographic and I am pleased with the final result! I am even inspired to continue creating them for my future classroom. I love the idea of having an infographic posted in my classroom for each of the nine elements of digital citizenship. I highly recommend Piktochart as a classroom tool, and certainly plan to continue using it.

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EDTC 6433: Module 5 Reflection – ISTE5: Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership

Triggering Event Question: What opportunities are available in my immediate context for continual improvement of professional practice, lifelong learning, and leadership development through the use of digital tools and resources?

The fifth and final ISTE Standard for Teachers asks educators to “engage in professional growth and leadership” by “continuously improving their professional practice, modeling lifelong learning, and exhibiting leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources” (ISTE, 2016). This standard is at once the most intimidating and the most exciting for me because of my currently low level of ability and confidence in technology. I have always had a clear intention to seek significant professional development in teaching with technology, and this standard confirms that calling for me.

In my research of the lifelong learning element in the standard, I decided to focus on professional development opportunities that are within my immediate context – in terms of geography and accessibility. I found three different organizations which look promising for a new teacher seeking training in technology use in the classroom. The first is the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE). This group provides year-round professional development for K-20 educators in multiple formats. Their mission is to “lead, engage, and assist educational communities to reach higher levels of student and educator success through the use of 21st century technology” (NCCE, 2016). The greatest resource offered by this group is their annual conference, alternately held in Portland, OR or Seattle, WA. Themes for conferences have included “Explore the Tech-Savvy You” and “Bridging Capability with Opportunity”. Because of its close proximity, this conference seems like a great opportunity for professional growth and networking in the field of classroom technology. Other nearby professional development opportunities include EdCamps and Microsoft Education programs. EdCamps are “unconferences” held at Seattle Pacific University for educators, by educators. (edcampseattle.org) Meant to be informal, audience-driven forums for discussion and learning in the field of education, EdCamps seem like an excellent way for me to seek training around a specific area that I am interested in, as well as connect to the SPU education community. The following video briefly introduces the EdCamp philosophy:

Finally, Microsoft Education, a branch of the Microsoft organization, seeks to provide continuous teacher education in evolving technologies available for improving student learning. Teachers can choose from attending teacher academies in person (learning sessions based around a single topic – Creative Coding through Games & Apps, for example), participating in Microsoft in the Classroom seminars held at specific schools and geared toward a specific teaching staff, or going to Educator Events at local Microsoft stores. In addition to these many opportunities, Microsoft Education offers multiple resources, webcasts and trainings online for teachers to access at any time. (Microsoft, 2016)

When considering the professional practice piece of the standard, I looked into the TPACK framework for integrating technology into teaching practice. TPACK, or Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge, asks teachers to consider three different domains of teaching – technological knowledge, content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge – and the myriad ways that all three interact with each other.

tpack-framework-diagram

I predict that the TPACK framework will help me to continuously improve my professional practice by encouraging me to constantly change and adjust my teaching based on the most appropriate and innovative technologies available. Koehler and Mishra (2009) remind us that “Teachers need to reject functional fixedness and develop skills to look beyond most common uses for technologies, reconfiguring them for customized pedagogical purposes. […] Teaching successfully with technology requires continually creating, maintaining, and re-establishing a dynamic equilibrium among all components” (p 66-7).

One idea that I found for beginning to integrate the TPACK model, as well as exhibit leadership as the ISTE Standard 5 asks me to was suggested by a classmate, Megan Leonard. Megan introduced me to the concept of Personalized Learning Networks, or PLNs. A PLN consists of many educators, scattered anywhere in the world, sharing resources and collaborating through a digital network. (Whitby, 2013) I love the idea of finding a PLN because I have constantly heard that finding allies and mentors is one of the best ways to avoid teacher burnout, and connecting to other educators online could be the easiest way to find such people. Creating a PLN could also be a good way for me to begin leading in the field of teaching with technology, once I feel more confident in my own skills.

Overall I am eager to continue learning about all of the ways that I can use technology to improve student learning, inform my teaching practice and make my life in the classroom all the more interesting and dynamic. I now feel prepared to begin the work of best educating myself thoroughly, so that in turn, I can best educate my future students.

 

References
Caulfield, M. (2011) What is an edcamp? YouTube.com. retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQyceeXzuPM&feature=youtu.be
edCamp Puget Sound (2016) About edCamp Puget Sound. retrieved from http://www.edcampseattle.org
ISTE (2016) ISTE Standards: Teachers. International Society for Technology in Education. retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-teachers
Microsoft (2016) Microsoft Education: Training and Events. Microsoft Education. retrieved from https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/education/training-and-events/default.aspx
NCCE (2016) NCCE: Leadership, Innovation, Learning. Northwest Council for Computer Education. retrieved from http://www.ncce.org
Koehler, M.J., Mishra, P. (2009) What is Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.
Whitby, T. (2013) How Do I Get a PLN? Edutopia. retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/how-do-i-get-a-pln-tom-whitby

 

 

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EDU 6942: Course Reflection

This course offered students an opportunity to broadly examine the policies, procedures and routines in place at many public schools in Washington that contribute to a safe and productive learning environment. It focused heavily on the laws and regulations around reporting suspected child abuse and neglect, as well as dealing with situations of violence, drug use or misconduct in school. Overall this course spoke to the fifth element of the Internship Performance criteria: “5. Learning Environment – The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being” (SPU, 2016).

During my observations for this course I had a very interesting experience related to this criteria point. I was observing in a fifth grade classroom and had become very familiar with one boy in particular, J, who received special education support. The boy seemed a bit erratic, coming and going at strange times and was often found outside much before school was to start, or long after school had already started. One day, after J had been out sick for a couple days, the resource teacher came to me and told me that she suspected that J was being left home alone while he was sick.

signs-of-child-abuse-or-neglect-screenshot

Screenshot taken from the Washington State Guide for Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect

As stated in the Washington State Guide for Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse & Neglect (2010), signs of an abused or neglected child include “the child […] lacks adult supervision [and] comes to school or other activities early, stays late, or does not want to go home” (p. 3). The earlier patterns of finding J outside at odd hours, along with an interaction that the teacher had with the parent while J was sick all led her to suspect neglect. Having just been learning about this topic at the time, I explained that if a teacher has any reasonable cause to suspect abuse or neglect, then they must report it. The teacher was worried because she was so unsure, but I restated what the Guide (2010) says:

Reporting should be regarded as a request for an investigation into a suspected incident of abuse or neglect; a report does not necessarily constitute a proven fact […] Anyone who has reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect can, in good faith, report. (p. 6)

Hearing this kind of solid information from a trusted, state document helped the teacher feel more comfortable about the report and convinced her that she was taking action to help keep J safe, not to simply get anyone in trouble.

After the teacher decided to report her suspicion of abuse she followed the Seattle Public School protocol. She told the principal about the suspicion, including all relevant information, within 24 hours. The principal then immediately called Child Protective Services. The following day an agent from CPS came to speak with J, along with his two siblings who attend the same school. After that I never heard any outcomes because the situation was no longer pertinent to our supervision of J. The teacher had taken the necessary steps to protect him, and rest was in others’ hands.

The implications of this incident, and any suspicions or reports of child abuse, in the classroom are to be extra intentional about cultivating the classroom as a safe space. It serves to show that for some students, the teacher relationship and the learning community of the school really do provide more of a home than whatever they have outside of school. Interestingly, knowing about this background gave me a lot more patience for working with J and helping him through challenges. This is a reminder to me that it is critical for teachers to really get to know their students and their background experiences because no real learning can occur at school if their home life is not secure, incorporated and relevant.

References
SPU – Seattle Pacific University. (2016) Internship Performance Criteria (IPC) – Long Form for SPU Teacher Education Students. SPU Sharepoint. retrieved from https://spuonline.sharepoint.com/sites/SOE/TEStudents/SitePages/Internship%20Evaluation.aspx
Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. (2010) Protecting the Abused & Neglected Child: A Guide for Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse & Neglect.

 

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