Being Taught to Teach

Teaching Philosophy
September 7, 2012, 6:22 am
Filed under: My Papers, Reflecting

As we got started this semester, one of our professors asked us to write a short paper on our teaching philosophy.   I believe that while some beliefs should be rooted, like the idea that every child can learn, others will change as a teacher reflects on and refines their practice.  Below is the teaching philosophy I have come up with so far, but that I hope will be revised and edited many times on my path of being a reflective life-long learning teacher.

Being a teacher is like being an expert at puzzles, it is important to see the overall picture and find the pieces that fit together.  I always like to start these statements about my teaching philosophy with the idea that I believe all students can learn.  That being said, I believe that it is my duty as a teacher to help find the best ways in which students can learn, to understand them and their needs as a learner.  Another piece of that puzzle is getting to know the whole child, not just who they are during math or behind a book, but outside the classroom too.  What is the student good at?  What do they like to study?  How have they learned in the past and what has been successful for them?  These are all things that need to be asked of students.  Answers to these questions will be a good boarder to the puzzle, but really helping a student learn is dependent on more.  An authentic, caring relationship needs to be established.

Let’s take a look at my first statement: all students can learn.  Now I believe this to be true, however not all students can learn in the same way.  As Howard Gardner has discovered, there are eight noted intelligences: spacial, intrapersonal, interpersonal, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, logical-mathematical, naturalistic.  By knowing a student well and which of these intelligences they fall under, lesson or projects can be tailored more to fit their style of learning.  I do not think that this sort of tailoring will make learning easier for the student necessarily, but rather it will make it more accessible and I hope allow for better retention of the over arching concepts.

Although tailoring lessons for student’s individual learning styles is ideal, it is not always doable.  In addition to attempting this there are other methods that will help.  For one, allowing students to construct their own knowledge will help them hold onto it.  This construction must also happen over time.  When an idea is introduced to a student as a first grader, that cannot be the first, last and only time they learn about it.  The first time they learn about a subject they will be getting the bare-bones of the concept, but they will need time to leave and come back to this idea to build on it again.  This is the idea of spiral curriculum (I am not really sure how to reference one of Anna Richert’s lectures from last year, but if I could I would).  Educators must communicate with one another across grade levels to help give their students a complete picture of whatever subject they will be tackling.  The younger grades have to lay the foundation, older grades will add to it, yet older grades will look at it in more complex ways, and even further along, students should revisit the “completed” puzzle under a completely different set of lenses.

Finally, with all these ideas about how to teach behind me, how do I actually get them to listen?  I have to create an authentic, caring relationship.  In order to do that I not only have to get to know the child, but I have come from a place of understanding who I am as well.  I have to be willing to acknowledge who I am and that I, as a person, have biases and beliefs that my upbringing has instilled in me.  My beliefs are not always going to match up with my students, but by knowing what they are, I can better assess and address situations; I can be authentic about who I am.

If I had to sum up my teaching philosophy in a few words, I would say that I am a constructivist teacher who is concerned about where my students come from, who they are and where they are going, so that I can help them complete the pictures that they are piecing together.


Teaching Dilemmas Final Project
May 12, 2012, 4:43 am
Filed under: My Papers, Reflecting

The Perfect Bowl of Popcorn

My painting to accompany my paper...make sure to read the whole paper for a full understanding, because remember, I do believe every child can learn!

My painting to accompany my paper…make sure to read the whole paper for a full understanding, because remember, I do believe every child can learn!

We have been looking at dilemmas all year in our Learning to Teach Diverse Learners course.  One thing that I have gotten out of that is that they will keep coming.  I have decided to do my final project in an artistic way because I have been inspired by the last few weeks of our course to infuse art into the curriculum I plan on developing for my students.  I wanted to paint, because it is a passion that I used to have in high school and sporadically throughout college.  Coming up with the subject to paint took some more thinking.  I have dealt with various types of dilemmas during my student teaching including trying to find a balance between caring and authority as well as a balance between rigor and joy.  In addition to these types of dilemmas, I needed to portray something that is multifaceted as my classrooms have been.  Then it hit me, popcorn.  Getting the perfect bowl of popcorn takes a lot of balanced elements and, well, it is nearly impossible.  Every bowl, as every classroom, will hold unpopped kernels even though we strive to get each kernel to pop to perfection.  Sometime we will overdo it in some way that might lead to burnt kernels that will poison and contaminate the whole bag.  Now that last bit of the analogy might be rather harsh, but in reflecting on how some of my takeover days ended, it was those one or two students who I had been careful to keep a closer eye on all day, who inevitably strayed from my learning path and helped diverge the rest of the class off course.

Caring and authority is a dilemma that I have had a lot of trouble with.  It is easy for me to try to befriend my students and as a student teacher it works most of the time, at least up until I am left alone in the classroom and something goes wrong.  Because my authorative voice is not as frequented as my caring voice, students seem surprised by it and also do not know how to respond.  Those who this voice is often directed at can respond by complying or are wary of it and test it.  I have not had much defiance in my first grade class, however I feel like I still have not struck a balance.  I need to find that balance so that my students feel that I am in control and they are safe while they learn under my care.  I have been trying to figure out how this will work into my own classroom.  I believe that this is one of the difficult stages of working in someone else’s classroom.  As I have reflected in journals and has been discussed in class, we are not able to fully be our own teacher in our student teacher setting because we have to work within the culture and confines of a preexisting classroom.  That is not to say that I will have complete freedom in how caring and authority look at the school that hires me, I will still have to operate within the larger school culture, however I will be in a classroom that is mine and my status as leader will be less questionable.

It was easier for me to be out going with my fourth and fifth grade class last semester, partially because the students were older and we could talk about more of their interests.  With my first graders I have slowly learned that I need to show more of my authoritative side in the classroom because it allows me to carry forth our lessons and progress their learning which is something that I deeply care about.  During recess however is when I show a lot of fun caring and play time.  My students have begun to have outside of school conversations with me, started playing basketball or catch and this is a safe place for me to do this without taking away from my authority role as teacher.

Within the class I have tested the waters of how to show my authority voice.  I want my students to understand that their learning is important to me and that I want those little kernels of knowledge to pop for them.  I want them to see this caring and yet also see that I have the power to steer them back on course when needed.  During many of my takeovers I have employed the strategies that my CT uses to get the students back on track, such as beginning to read a poem we are working on (in the blue pocket chart) so they all chime in to bring them back together, singing a familiar song, doing the bump-bata-bump-bump..bum-bum to get their attention, etc.  However, during my last takeover I started using strategies that I had not seen her use and they seemed more useful to me.  Maybe it was because they are more my own style (making them feel more authentic to myself and my students) or maybe it is because of the novelty, but using them put me more at ease.

Through Anna’s class we talked about the idea of authenticity and need to be authentic for our students.  I feel that this comes out heavily in caring and authority.  If we are not authentic in the words we use and way we say it, it is almost as though there is no weight behind what we say.  That is one of the many dilemmas that pile on me as I try to strike a balance between caring and authority. Saying something and meaning it when a student is acting out.  After my first observation with Tim we talked about my tone with students and how they can so easily pick up on subtleties of changes in my tone.  For instance if they ask to go to the bathroom and I say no, with a hint of a maybe in my voice they will keep asking.  I have learned this, but it is not yet ingrained in my voice.  I feel that I can look at my response to my students asking to use the bathroom and you can really see my struggle between caring and authority.  If a student asks me to use the restroom and we are in the middle of a lesson I ask them if it is an emergency.  I care for them in multiple ways, I do not want them to be forced to wait if they really have to go, but I also do not want them to miss out on the concepts we are learning or to learn that the bathroom is a way to get out of work.  Because there is a hint of resistance to my automatic no students often push and question, making me feel like my authority is somewhat lost.  I have realized that this might cause a big problem for my takeover week, so I implemented a new piece of management.  I created a stoplight that always stays on our whiteboard.  When the arrow is on red the students know it is not a time for us to get up from the carpet because we are learning together as a group.  Yellow means that in case of emergencies it is ok to get Kleenex, water or go to the bathroom and green is go, but you always need to ask a teacher first.  So far this is working well and I am hoping that this smoothes out the issue before my takeover.

Another dilemma for me has been finding the balance between rigor and joy.  One of my dilemmas with the balance of rigor and joy is trying to define what joy is.  As I have discussed in a few of my journals to Tim, what my students define as joy and what I define as joy maybe entirely different.  I often define joy as helping my students connect what we are doing in school to their own lives, getting them to put things together, getting them to realize they can do things on their own, etc.  My version of joy is helping my students to see that they are all individuals and can add butter, caramel, ketchup, hot sauce, whatever they want to their popcorn.  I feel that if I were to ask my students about joy, their response would consist of choice time activities, recess and art (granted not all of them would say this).  Of course I think these things are important, but I also thing my students can find joy in every subject, or at least that is my goal for them.  My dilemma is how to help them find that joy can be found in rigorous activities and that the joy of learning is a goal I want them all to have for themselves.  I do not want my students to think of rigor and joy as entirely separate.  I believe that rigor and discipline can help my students achieve the joy of truly understanding something or practicing to be good.  Like when I was young and I played soccer, I hated when we had to run drills in soccer practice, but I didn’t realize that it helped lead me to a place of having so much fun during the games.  I want to have a classroom balanced enough between these two that my students can find the correlations.

Teaching will always hold many dilemmas.  Teachers have to make so many choices everyday that dilemmas are doing to be there, it is just fact.  What is important it reflecting and understanding that each situation, each classroom is going to require its own sets of balance.  Just as a perfect bowl of popcorn does not truly exist, neither does a perfect classroom.  However, I believe it is my responsibility to get as close as possible, get my timing right and pop as many of the kernels as I can, without burning any.

A Partial Analysis of a Student’s Mathematical Understanding
March 29, 2012, 4:38 am
Filed under: My Papers, Student Teaching

My students have been working on developing their strength at counting and thinking in terms of 10s.  The students’ ability as a whole on adding one more or one less to another is extremely strong.  They have more recently begun adding 10 more and 10 less to a number.   This is important for my students to know because a strong understanding of our base tens system in necessary to move on in our math system.  After having a strong understanding of adding or subtracting one, adding or subtracting ten is the next logical step for my students to take.

In addition to this task we have also been working on fact families in fact family houses so students can get faster at recognizing things like missing addends and figuring out subtraction sentences that work for the complete addition sentences in front of them and vice versa.  We are hoping that through fact families our students will begin to see how addition can help with subtraction and vice versa to make them faster at figuring their math facts.

Sharron has recently discovered her voice in mathematics and enjoys verbally sharing about the math that she does.  She has become vocal about how she does her math in class and during our reflections for the class she is often eager to share.  I have been observing Sharron during math time to witness this.   A few weeks ago the students had to take a benchmark assessment for the district.  This was still fairly soon after we had started the idea of our fact families.  In reviewing Sharron’s benchmark she has correct almost every question referring to missing addends, however she has erased some of these “correct” answers and bubbled in a different one.  Unfortunately my students are not yet used to showing their work on tests like this.  I cannot tell why Sharron erased these answers and put other ones.  Because of this I decided to interview Sharron and find out more about her thinking.

Sharron and I went into the hall with some of her familiar math materials.  We had her 10s and 1s blocks, 100s chart, 10s and 1s chart and a whiteboard/marker.  We started off with a familiar activity the students have been doing with my CT, I wrote a number on the whiteboard and asked her to show me the number with her blocks.  The first number was 63.  I asked her to show me 10 more and tell me what it is.  She added a 10s block to those already existing, counted and told me there were now 73.  When I asked her how she knew she explained that you have to add one more, I asked for clarification and she said that you have to add one more 10s.  We tried again with another number, 27.  She showed me the correct combination of blocks and when I asked why she pointed to the 2 in 27 and said that she had to have 2 tens blocks.  I asked her to find 10 less.  She took one 10s block away, counted and told me there were 16.  When I asked her to check she counted in her head again and told me there were 18.  I asked her to count out loud for me and she was able to give me the number 17.  For the next number I asked Sharron to take out her 100s chart.  I asked her to find the number 81.  She pointed to it, but when I asked her to find 10 more she immediately when back to her blocks, made 81 and then made 91.  Although she was unable to do this task on the 100s chart, she immediately gave me the number 91 without counting her blocks.

After these first few questions we moved onto fact houses.  The first fact house that I drew included number 5, 3, 2.  I wrote three of the four problems in, omitting an addition problem.  Sharron was able to quickly identify the numbers of the fact family, indicating that 5 was the greatest because it was at the end of the addition problem.  She was then able to create the missing addition fact.  For the second family I omitted both addition facts.  Sharron was able to identify the three numbers as 7, 5, 2, but suggested that 2 was the greatest number because it was at the end of the subtraction problem she saw.  I did one more fact family that was missing all but one addition problem.  Sharron was able to recognize all the numbers in the family (4, 5, 9) and knew 9 was the greatest.  She was able to come up with all three missing facts.  Because of the discrepancy in her finding the greatest number I asked Sharron to take out her 100s chart and put her finger on 14.  Then I asked her to put a different finger on 12.  I asked her which was the greatest number, she said that twelve was greater than 14.  I asked her to tell me why and she said that 12 is littler and 14 is longer so 12 is greater than 14.  We finished up our interview with a few questions about what Sharron likes about math and what she thinks about mistakes.

I believe that for her conceptions of 10s and 1s blocks Sharron is well on her way to a good understanding.  She enjoys using her manipulatives and this is something that she talked about liking a lot in math.  She is not confident in using her 100s chart to find 10 less or 10 more and this would be an important other strategy for her to get a grasp of.  For a next step we could work further with the 100s chart and how the columns can help us with the concepts of 10s.  Another piece that I would like to make sure Sharron starts doing is drawing out her blocks.  I am very happy that she enjoys using the manipulatives for math; however I want her to also be able to see how she can draw these out when they are unavailable.

For Sharron’s ideas of her fact families I am having some fears about how she is thinking about them.  I am afraid that she has found some particular patterns that make this particular task easy to accomplish, but are not helping her overall understanding.  This shone through when I gave Sharron one subtraction problem and what she had seemed to know got thrown askew.   Because of the “mistakes” that were made I am seeing that Sharron does not have a deeper understanding for how knowing one math fact (such as 7-4=3) can help her quickly know additional facts about those numbers.  She is recognizing patterns which is a key aspect of how the fact families were introduced to the class, however now she needs to be moved beyond this to see how knowing just one of these facts can translate to knowing much more math around the three numbers the family is made up of.  I was excited about her reactions to math.  Sharron is very eager to do and share her thoughts in math.  I was also very pleased that as a learner she is understanding that mistakes are ok to make, but I would also like her to understand why mistakes are good and how we can learn from them.

Lesson Writing, Rubrics and Reflection
December 13, 2011, 4:45 am
Filed under: My Papers, Reflecting, Student Teaching

I have been working on creating my own lessons, rubrics and reflecting on them.  Here is one of my first attempts European Diseases Lesson, Rubric and Reflection.  I created a social studies lesson for my 4th and 5th graders on European Diseases that were brought to the Americas during exploration.

Teaching ELLs
December 12, 2011, 5:33 am
Filed under: My Papers, Reflecting

One of my courses asked us to write a keynote speech for our final project.  The speech needed to discuss the ideas we had begun to develop about teaching, and more specifically teaching English Language Learners.  Here is what I had to say:


All of our students are English language learners whether they come to us having spoken English their whole lives or not at all.  Despite this fact how often do you think about language in the lessons you teach in math, science, or social studies?  In reality you need to think about language in every subject, not just during language arts.

That being said, you cannot treat all students the same when it comes to learning English.  It is important to take into account their background and how they have access to English.  As teachers we should be prepared with a toolbox of methods for language learners, as each tool will not work for every child.  We want all of our students to succeed, and in a society built upon inequalities of power and status, giving our students entry to learning about the language of power and how to use it will help them succeed.

The first of these important tools in understanding the language of power that I will talk about is the idea of academic language.  Just as I am speaking to you now in a way that I would not use when talking to a friend or writing a college paper, school has its own set of language and rules.  When you are working with students who are not coming from the dominant culture of power they might be unaware of this.  A key in helping them discover academic language and how to access it is teaching them about language registers.  Even if your students do not use English at home, they will be used to register switching, but not by those terms.  Everyone switches registers, for example my mother can always tell when I answer the phone and it is my grandmother on the other line, my tone, the words I use and my general way of speaking change.  Just as I have learned to change registers, students should learn early on that when they come into school there is a particular way to talk and act.  In order to have access to the culture of power students must learn about it and how to access it.  Teachers must walk a fine line when talking about these issues with their students.  While it is important to ensure that students know the language of power, it is also important to make sure their home languages are given a place of importance and value.  Teachers should encourage students to expand their language and literacy practices to meet the language demands of school, yet retain their existing language abilities.

Another piece of the toolbox that teachers can use to ensure that students’ home culture and language is incorporated into the classroom is the idea of bridging and contextualizing.  Bridging is a key at the heart of student centered teaching and because of this it is often referred to as constructivist by nature.  Bridging is a type of scaffolding for students in which the teacher tries to connect classroom lessons to their everyday lives, experiences and interests.  By providing these connections for students they will gain a richer understanding of the material presented to them.  An example of this can be teaching students to brainstorm before starting a creative writing piece.  By giving them that time to tap into the knowledge they might know about a writing prompt before having them start writing, you are allowing them to connect to the prompt in a more personal way which will result in a deeper tie to the project.

Somewhat linked to this is the idea of contextualization.  Contextualization is another type of scaffolding that tries to link classroom work and learning with each student’s ability and way of learning.  Rather than presenting academic language as a mass of decontextualized jargon that our students cannot access, teachers need to use the vibrant details that students are used to reading in everyday language interactions.  Gestures, images, body language, tone of voice these are contexts that students have grown use to interpreting to interact with people in their world.  Academically they need to be given the tools to interpret the language as well, genre, tone, registers of academic voice, these are all contexts that can be read, written or spoken in the academic setting.  These do not need to be foreign concepts to introduce to children.  In the example I talked about earlier of being on the phone with my grandma, that can be broken down into context and many students will be able to understand and connect to why I speak differently with my grandmother.  The trick is then to get them to see how that applies to academia.  If they know their audience, like my grandmother on the phone, then the papers that they write can also be written as though they have a particular audience.

The final tool I will touch on today is modeling for your students.  Modeling can be as simple as teaching students what a topic sentence is by creating one of your own or showing them how to do a task.  Especially if there are English language learners in the classroom, your students may devote a lot of time to trying to understand directions.  However this can be combated by a teacher’s use of modeling.  If a teacher takes the time to be explicit in modeling the directions for routine, English language learners will be able to redirect the time they would normally devote to understanding directions to actually participating in this familiar routine.  An example of this would be modeling a three way interview.  Three way interviews have been brought up in several group discussions as a good way to have students work with text.  If a teacher takes the time to explicitly explain a three way interview on day one, it can easily be implemented throughout the school year with less stress to the children.

As teachers we want all of our students to succeed.  In order to succeed in our society they need access to the language of power.  Although every student has an end of success to get to, each student is going to take a different route on the road leading to it.  In order for teachers to be successful in helping our students, we must carry a toolbox that allows us to mix and match our classroom techniques to fit our learners.  Knowing which tools fit what situations will come as you get to know your students and make their learning about them.  Not every tool will work for every child, but by keeping things like register switching, bridging, contextualization and modeling in mind while we teach all subjects, the chances of reaching our English language learners will grow.

Sneaky Finals
December 6, 2011, 4:52 am
Filed under: My Papers

Finals have snuck up on me!  I can’t believe that the first semester of my credentialing year is coming to an end, although I am looking forward to having some time to write all the blogs I have been thinking about writing, in addition to taking some very much needed me time.  Finals shouldn’t be that bad because they are mostly papers, however this is the way my schedule is going: last class tomorrow, last takeover morning/last observation/evaluation meeting with my supervisor and CT on Wednesday, 2 finals Thursday including a website based off of a teaching inquiry and a keynote speech (in addition to the other final), lesson plan paper and final on Friday, task paper and final on Saturday, in class discussion question final on Monday, and another lesson plan paper final on Tuesday.  Thus I am taking this moment to procrastinate.

I have just finished my paper for Saturday and let me just say I was really excited to do these tasks and clinical interviews with two of my students.  I will probably be sharing my paper late, but here is a little taste.  Our tasks had to be based off of a game the children play and how they think about it.  I chose chess because two of my students have been regularly playing this at recess.  For the task they had to do some scenarios with me individually so I could ask them about their thinking on the game.

Here is an awesome screenshot from the video of Richard (pseudonym).  He is waiting for me to set up the scenario, so he decided to make the chess pieces fight for the camera…of course…

The Bishop won