Being Taught to Teach

Spirit Week
February 18, 2011, 6:12 pm
Filed under: Encounters in 5th Grade

Do you remember spirit week at school?  You know the week before a vacation where every day has a different theme for you to dress up like, pajama day, twin day, crazy hair day, etc.  I understand the fun of this for kids, especially if they have to wear uniforms on a regular basis, but man I really didn’t realize the toll it takes on the teachers.

In my fifth grade class it is spirit week.  I was there for pajama day…something mellow, right?  Wrong.  They weren’t even half way through the week and it was impossible to get them to concentrate!  I understand the excitement for getting a break, but what about any sort of excitement for learning?

Before I went in too class on Tuesday I took the U.S. Constitution test since I didn’t take any college courses that counted toward it for getting into a credential program.  I was well prepared for the U.S. Constitution part…not

so much the California history.  I understand that California teachers should know that stuff…but shouldn’t we get some warning for first time test takers?  The ironic part was that in the class that day we read about Jamestown.

There were 3 different small booklets handed out to groups.  I was reading with a group of four girls.  The assignment was to read through 8 pages and answer the question, “What challenges did the colonists face?” in a two column chart of information: interesting/relevant. The kids were also supposed to come up with their own second question and do the same.  Getting my 4 girls to do this was like pulling teeth…maybe more like herding cats.  We made it through six pages eventually.  The first page was all about how the Native Americans spoke several varying language and the settlers spoke English.  I had to ask several times if there was anything on the first page that could be considered a challenge to the settlers…finally one of the girls realized there is a language barrier.

After getting through the first few pages we came to a page on Captain Smith.  One of the girl’s questions had been, “Who is Captain Smith?”  So she set about taking notes…sort of.  She copied the page verbatim into the relevant column.  Even putting, “Captain Smith likes to read.”  in that column.  After much convincing I got her to move that to the interesting column.

After working with this group I noticed some social dynamics that I feel like have a toll on one of the girl’s abilities.  Ty, is not a strong reader.  None of the other 3 girls wanted to sit next to her and tend to make scoffs as she reads through the material (we take turns reading).  I try to encourage her reading and stifle the other girl’s comments.  I’m not sure if this all stems from academic issues or something else, but I don’t really know what to do about it yet…

On a related note I have been having dreams about not being able to discipline.  This has always been where I feel weakest with children.  I like to be the friend and it is hard to become the punisher…it feels phony.  I really hope that my classes or classroom work will help me gain more confidence here, because if my dreams are any indication I really need the help.


February 12, 2011, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I am reading a book on mindsets called, Mindset, the New Psychology of Success. It speaks of the differences between fixed and growth mindsets.  I have learned that I am very much a fixed mindset person and through reading the book I hope to find ways to change that.  I am also very excited to use some of these methods to help my students have a growth mindset, meaning they will want to learn to learn rather then learn to show off how accomplished they are (because this sort of learning fosters quitting when subjects get too hard for a student).

One chapter that I found particularly interesting was the one that spoke to childhood stories.  Do you remember stories of the little engine that could or the tortoise and the hare, etc.  Well, these are good stories with a good moral, aren’t they?  I mean it is meant to teach kids that if you work hard you will win in the end and that’s what we want out of students and people, hard work…the only thing is who really wants to be the slow tortoise or the dilapidated little tugboat?  No one.  These stories set up a scenario in which an already undesirable has to work his butt off to beat the cooler, better models.  What the story really teaches is if you appear better than the other guy you MIGHT be able to find away around doing the real work and win.  Yes, it shows them losing, but there is a chance at winning and so while it is meant to teach that hard work is good it ends up fueling this fixed mindset and feeding into short term gains.

I hope to learn much more from this book and how to apply teaching methods that will keep kids from a fixed mindset…maybe even help myself along the way.

Blowing Hot Air
February 12, 2011, 4:55 pm
Filed under: Encounters in 5th Grade

My fifth grade class has been learning about air pressure lately and during class I was able to go from group to group and help them with their posters.  Each group had a different work like air pressu

re, condensation, etc.  The point of the posters was to re-enforce what they had already learned in science class, as the teacher felt that many of them needed this.

I walked from group to helping where I could.  The first group I helped with was all male and they were working on condensation.  I helped them find the pages in their book that touched on the topic and had them read it.  The poster they were making was supposed to define the word and show any relevant diagrams.  After having read the pages I asked the boys what it meant…their response, “Things that fall from the sky.” … My response, “Birds fall from the sky, is that condensation?” Then they looked at me like I was nuts, “No, like snow, rain or hail.” The only problem with this answer is they were reading it right out of the book without realizing what it meant. “Ok, think about what those three things are and I’ll come back.” I moved on to

help other groups and it was a lot of the same, reading and spitting out exactly what the book said, not rephrasing it or digesting it in their own words, thus not learning it.

As I walked around the room I over heard Mrs. S talking to the group I had just talked to and I realized that I already sounded like a teacher because their conversation went exactly as mine had… “What is condensation?” … “Things that fall from the sky.” … Mrs. S’s response, “Birds fall from the sky, is that condensation?”

I just want to learn how to get kids excited to learn the material or even to read it so that they retain it for more than the time it takes to look at the page.  Kids are supposed to be sponges, right?  How do I get them to soak up the right things?


Chinese New Year
February 5, 2011, 1:05 am
Filed under: First Grade French, Kids Say the Darnedest Things

Yesterday the first grade class learned all about Chinese New Year.  Today when I walked into class one of the boys told me that Chinese classes are giants! I must have looked perplexed because then he pointed to a picture in a book on China at the front of the class and said, “They have seventeen students in the picture and that isn’t even the whole class!” If only he knew the sizes of the public school classes right down the street.

The morning was spent meeting another pet from a student in the class.  PJ is continuing their animal education by having willing parents bring in pets from home.  Last week two dogs came in, today there was another dog and two hamsters.  At first I thought this was just a fun way to get the children interested in animals, but PJ is also using the unit to get the kids to learn to ask different types of questions and answer them correctly.  The class comes up with a list of questions that is good to ask about the specific type of animal and when the animal visits the owner and the parent stand at the front of the room answering the various questions.  Each child gets to ask a question and the student answering must give full and correct responses.  Clever PJ, clever.  Next Tuesday I get to bring in my pet rabbit because no one in the class has one to show.  I have a feeling Reggie will do just fine, although he hasn’t been around too many little ones, he did survive 4 years living in a college house.

The rest of the morning we worked on Chinese lanterns.  The kids loved the outcome and somehow the kids skill levels varied so accurately that 2-3 finished and were ready for help from PJ or myself at a time.  It is great to see that the students didn’t only want to write the easy symbols, but the really complicated ones on their lanterns.  I had a few students ask me which I thought was most difficult (I believe nez(nose) was) symbol so they could make sure to attempt drawing that on their lantern.