Tag Archives: Reflective Practice

Readers Read…and so do my middles!

goodreads exampleIt’s Christmas break and I update my latest reading on my Goodreads account, and then it hits me! I’d been lamenting the lack of enthusiasm for reading among my 7th and 8th graders, and I couldn’t seem to motivate reading for fun. My middles were used to reading for points, for prizes, for grades — but not for any of the reasons that last after school gets out. This was last year, my first year back in the classroom as a middle school teacher in 30 years, and my first year back as a classroom teacher in 12 years. So much had changed in terms of popular culture, technology, and standards. Nothing, however, posed more of a frustration to me than this apathy and even antipathy toward reading among my students. And then, as I said, it hit me!

My kids don’t see people reading; they don’t encounter peers who read or adults in their lives who read just for the fun of it. I knew this because early in the semester, when we talked about “active reading,” I asked my students to interview three adults about their reading habits. Questions included: “What and when do you read for your job?” and “What and when do you read for pleasure?” Most students interviewed adults they knew; some interviewed people on the street. All found that many people admitted that they don’t read much for pleasure, but they do read during their work-day — texts, emails, memos, and professional reading, for example.

When I updated my progress that day during Christmas break last year, I thought about all of the books I’d read, and all of the people I’d met through Goodreads, and all of the books I’d tried because of Goodreads recommendations. My yearly thrill is completing my Goodreads Reading Challenge and seeing my stats at the end of the year — okay, so that is kind of like reading for points, I’ll admit. Anyway, I suddenly realized that my middles need two things: time to read and people with whom to share their reading! So I revamped my whole approach when we returned to class after Christmas break.

First, I gave my students 15 to 20 minutes each class period to read. We have 90-minute class sessions, so I just reworked my planning and that time for reading became sacred. Secondly, I created a Goodreads group for our school. I invited all of our school’s staff, administrators, and counselors to join “Legacy Reads” so that my kids could see what their teachers and principal are reading — and that they do read. I did have to keep the group private because I need to ensure my students’ privacy with parents. During that semester, I posted a question each week for students to answer on our group page, and each student kept track of their independent reading on their personal Goodreads page.

During the summer, I scoured thrift stores for books to add to our classroom library, bought throw pillows, a chair, and the softest rug ever to surround our library area. This year, kids could opt to read wherever they felt comfortable — and they did! why people read - 3 We set reading goals for the year, noted books we completed with stars and reviews, and shared opinions on our group discussion page. I could see which books kids loved and talk with kids about what they were reading as they were reading, rather than logging in to a program to check a quiz score. I also encouraged parents to take pictures of their kids reading at home and send the photos to me. I then enlarged the photos, printed them, and posted them on the bulletin boards and on our class web pages. I wanted to immerse my kids in an environment of reading for fun. So satisfying to hear a student say, “You have to read this!” Or to see kids smiling as they read silently. Or see that one student has sent a book recommendation to another. Or have a parent stop me in the hall to express wonder that her active 8th-grade son reads after baseball practice because he wants to and asks her to get more books!

The real joy came, however, two weeks after school got out. I was updated my Goodreads page with my latest reading and saw several updates from my students. I wasn’t checking up on them; they didn’t have to update for class. They just continue to read and give stars and share opinions about books. Readers read…and so do my middles now!

 

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Modeling Leading to Transfer

2543351480044258467fFzOdb_fs   As an academic success counselor, teachers will often approach me about particular students. Sighing heavily, a teacher laments that the student cannot read or the student does not read. Students who are not engaged or appear unable to meet the academic expectations of the course do discourage teachers who are experts in their subject areas and who are eager to share that expertise with their students. J. Guthrie (2001) observed that “student engagement affected teacher involvement as much as teacher involvement influenced student engagement” (Guthrie, 2001). If this is true, then we need to look closely at the inter-relatedness of teacher involvement and student engagement in order to reduce the frustrations of teachers and students related to reading. As a result of reading and researching, I am convinced that we cannot continue to assume that students know how to read by the time they reach our middle and high school classrooms if we desire their engagement and involvement in our classes (Alvermann, Phelps, and Ridgeway, 2007, p. 4). We must actively, explicitly teach our students pre-, during-, and post-reading strategies that will help them read to learn, to make connections, and to more deeply engage with us and our content.

April Nauman, Ph. D. (2007) observes that “high school students must read, comprehend, and remember information in a variety of high-level content area textbooks, which are packed with new concepts and vocabulary…these expectations occur at a time when students’ motivation to read tends to decline” (p. 31). As I have worked with students struggling to read sections in their history text, I have observed that teaching them to use specific strategies aids not only their comprehension, but also increases their motivation to read. The history text presents two columns of text, at least one chart, and an inset box per page. My students tend to gloss over the pages, skimming for what might be on the quiz that their teachers will inevitably give the day after the pages are to be read for homework. A difficulty that I face as a Learning Specialist is that I cannot choose the assignments and the means of assessments that my students encounter in their classes; I can, however, use those assessments as literacy teaching tools. For example, when a student points out difficulties he faced in responding to questions based on history text reading, I can use that experience to show the student how to actively read the text to learn. Vacca (2002) points out that “continued literacy development is of critical importance because it helps to shape the core strategies by which adolescents learn to negotiate meaning and think critically about the texts in their lives, whether in the context of school or the world outside of school” (p. 186). Students need to see this type of thinking modeled, as it is not an intuitive skill that they activate simply because the learning task demands it.

I have learned that this modeling and guided practice means that I am actively thinking out loud as I read with my students, and that I offer my students a variety of strategies. For example, I can show my students how to use strategies such as KWL charts or SQ3R to set a purpose for reading. I particularly like the SQ3R strategy for use with my students’ history textbook because the students learn to look over the chapter, change section headings into questions, and can at the same time, set up Cornell Notes (two-column notes) or a 5-W Chart (who, what, when, where, why) to use as they read to answer the questions. The most important step in this strategy for my students is the question phase because they tend to not even notice titles and subheadings. Yet, each title, when rephrased as a question, becomes the guide for determining the main ideas in that section of the reading. For some of my students, reading has always been a passive activity, either due to family background (lack of education, lack of involvement, lack of emphasis relative to other activities) or perhaps due to educational experiences (poor instruction, behavioral issues that masked reading difficulties left unaddressed, moving from one school to another preventing engagement promoting reading). For these students, learning how to take notes, summarize, and draw inferences are new skills requiring much guided practice which I can give them during our meetings.

Although, I realize my students may not see their history reading as fun, I have learned that “teachers can affect student motivation to read through explicit reading strategy and reading comprehension strategy instruction and practice” and do so when they “show how, practice, tell why, and tell when” (Mccrudden, Perkins & Putney, 2005). My students need to learn for instance, that “note taking is not simply a way to record facts; it also leads to deeper student engagement and reflection” (Fisher, Frey, & Williams, 2002, p. 72). Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is the goal of during-reading strategies and therefore, teachers must make a conscious effort to “teach comprehension strategies that empower students to internalize the strategies and to develop a conceptual framework for understanding content area topics” (NASSP, 2008). With this goal in mind, and understanding the difficulties that my students have reading their history textbook, I use active reading strategies that guide their reading. For example, the RAP strategy teaches students to read one paragraph, ask what it says, and put it into their own words before reading the next paragraph. The emphasis in this approach is helping the student recognize that reading the history text book involves new skills which he is in the process of learning and that he actually understands more of the text than he believed he could. My students benefit from looking at the reading assignment in chunks, rather than pages, with each section read to answer a question seen as a chunk of text to be understood and summarized. The notes taken affirm to my students that they have understood what they read; so often they have lamented reading the “whole chapter” but not remembering or understanding anything they had read.

I integrate the use of the RAP strategy with another strategy, Questioning the Author, moving students beyond facts to thinking about why those facts are important. My students have written many reports during their years in school, all of which asked for facts. Now, in high school, it is not enough to know the facts and just the facts. Students have to analyze the facts, relate those facts to prior knowledge, consider how those facts might relate to the future, and develop an understanding of the significance of those facts to their own lives. According to its creators, “Questioning the Author begins by taking stock of what we want students to learn from a text and noticing what might interfere with that understanding,” then “prompts student response to text through such queries as, ‘What is the author trying to say?’, or ‘What did the author say to make you think that?'” (Beck, & McKeown, 2002). To implement these strategies together, as they seem a natural pairing, I first preview the text, noting sections that may pose interruptions in comprehension and preparing questions that will help students over the bumps. As we read the text together, I ask the students questions to engage them in interacting with the text and to monitor comprehension. I may begin with an active comprehension question such as ‘What would you like to know about this chapter’ after reading the title and the first paragraph; then after reading further, I may pose a questioning the author query such as ‘What distinction is the author making here’ at a point where the students may not infer what is needed for full comprehension. This active reading encourages students to “respond to queries by contributing ideas that other students and the teacher may build on, refine, or challenge” (Beck, & McKeown, 2002). In addition, students not only think about the text as I am asking questions such as ‘What do you think the author meant by saying that…,’ but they also observe when I choose to ask the question. I want my students to understand the text, but I also want to model how to think while reading. Ideally, students learn to ask questions themselves while reading. This approach leads my students to an understanding of how to apply the strategies on their own; “modeling, coaching, and fading” provides my at-risk readers “with the scaffolding necessary to incorporate the procedural and conditional knowledge they were learning into their own repertoire of reading strategies” (Dole, Brown, & Trathen, 1996, p. 73). Research emphasizes that the key to effectiveness is to model and guide students through the process; showing students just once and then expecting them to apply any strategy is idealistic, if not simply unfair. Fisher (2001) points to “significant improvement in student quiz scores after graphic organizers had been implemented with teacher guidance” (p. 116). This guidance is on-going and repeated; Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock (2001) caution, “simply directing students what to do, however, is not the same as showing them how to do it” (p. 32). Dole, Brown, and Trathen (1996) further remind us that “with its emphasis on making abstract cognitive thought processes explicit, strategy instruction can be difficult for students to understand, especially if the instruction is not sequenced clearly and systematically” (p. 67). This instruction, meaning modeling and thinking-aloud to show students the process is worth the effort and the time; “long-term instruction of sophisticated comprehension strategies clearly improves student understanding and memory of texts that are read” (Pressley, 2002, p. 291).

Finally, as students learn to preview the text, read for a purpose, asking questions as they read, they are moving toward deeper comprehension that will be demonstrated through the use of post-reading strategies. Our history teachers use an acronym “GRAPES” (geography, religion, achievements, politics, economy, and society) to indicate what students should know about each people-group studied, and this could easily be applied with the Compare and Contrast matrix. The basic idea is that “readers compare and contrast the target concepts listed across the top of the matrix according to attributes, properties, or characteristics listed along the left side” (Vacca, & Vacca, 2005, p. 402). By completing the chart, students focus on the items their teachers are highlighting, and in addition, they create for themselves a study guide for use when preparing for tests or essay assignments. Another post-reading skill that I want my students to develop is the ability to summarize notes and what was read. I, again, use a modeling approach with the whole class first, asking students to contribute sentences, as we summarize a text together. I take an active role and encourage active learning.

Galda and Liang (2003) note that “educators who want to capitalize on the potentially rich experience that seems to motivate students to read…need to carefully orchestrate the questions, tasks, and tests” (p. 270). I take an active role in “planning instruction; establishing the structure necessary for successful implementation; observing, assisting, and guiding students and groups as they work; and assessing and adjusting the process” (Ruddell, 2004, p. 107). As freshmen in high school, my students are no longer learning to read, but as noted earlier, reading to learn, “a matter of meaning-making, problem-solving, and understanding” (Jacobs, 2002, p. 59). Because I work with what content area teachers assign my students, I do not get to choose the students’ textbooks; my explicit teaching of reading strategies, showing and not telling, though, may help my students navigate texts with greater success and confidence.

References:

Alvermann, D. E., Phelps, S. F., & Ridgeway, V. G. (2007). Content area reading and literacy: Succeeding in today’s diverse classrooms (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (2002, November). Questioning the author: Making sense of social studies [Electronic version]. Educational Leadership, 60(3).

Dole, J.A., Brown, K.J., & Trathen, W. (1996). The effects of strategy instruction on the comprehension performance of at-risk students. Reading Research Quarterly, 31(1), 62–88. Retrieved February 11, 2008, from http://www.reading.org/Library/Retrieve.cfm?D=10.1598/RRQ.31.1.4&F=RRQ-31-1-Dole.pdf.

Fisher, A., (2001). Implementing graphic organizer notebooks: the art and science of teaching content. [Electronic version]. The Reading Teacher, 55, 116.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Williams, D. (2002, November). Seven literacy strategies that work. Educational Leadership, 60(3), 70–73.

Galda, L., & Liang, L. (2003). Literature as experience or looking for facts: Stance in the classroom. Reading Research Quarterly, 38(2), 268–275.  Retrieved February 8, 2008, from http://www.reading.org/Library/Retrieve.cfm?D=10.1598/RRQ.38.2.6&F=RRQ-38-2-Galda.pdf.

Guthrie, J.T. (2001, March). Contexts for engagement and motivation in reading. Reading Online, 4(8). Retrieved 01/04/08 from  http://www.readingonline.org/articles/art_index.asp?HREF=/articles/handbook/guthrie/index.html.

Jacobs, V. (2002, November). Reading, writing, and understanding [Electronic version]. Educational Leadership, 60(3).

Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Mccrudden, M, Perkins, P, & Putney, L Self-efficacy and interest in the use of reading strategies. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 20, Retrieved 1/12/08, from http://www.questia.com/read/5014088133.

NASSP, (2008). During-reading strategies. Retrieved January 30, 2008, from National Association of Secondary School Principals Web site: http://www.principals.org/s_nassp/sec.asp?CID=887&DID=52915.

Nauman, Ph.D, A. (2007). Reader’s Handbook, Grades 9-12, Research Base. Retrieved January 4, 2008, from Great Source Web site: http://www.greatsource.com/rehand/9-12/pdfs/9_12NaumanArticle.pdf

Neufeld, P. (2005, December). Comprehension instruction in content area classes. The Reading Teacher, 59(4), 302–312. Retrieved February 13, 2008, from http://www.reading.org/.

Pressley, M. (2002). Metacognition and self-regulated comprehension. In A.E. Farstrup, & S. Samuels (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (pp. 291-309). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Ruddell, M. R. (2004). Engaging students’ interest and willing participation in subject area learning. In D. Lapp, J. Flood, & N.Farnan (Eds.), Content area reading and learning: Instructional strategies. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Singer, H., & Donlon, D., (1989). Reading and learning from text. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Vacca, R.T. (2002). Making a difference in adolescents’ school lives: Visible and invisible aspects of content area reading. In A.E. Farstrup, & S. Samuels (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (pp. 184-204). Retrieved 1/12/08 from http://www.reading.org/Library/Retrieve.cfm?D=10.1598/0872071774.9&F=bk177-9-Vacca.html .

Vacca, R. T., & Vacca, J. L. (2005). Content area reading: Literacy and learning across the curriculum (8th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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GOOOOAAAALLLL!!!!

goal   In keeping with the sports world’s focus on the World Cup, this week’s post discusses “Goal-setting” and “Perseverance” – two more of Langston’s 6 Success Attributes. When my students look in the “mirror” of self-assessment, the natural next step is to set goals for moving forward. I shared this with a dozen 6th-graders taking my summer school “Study Skills” class. The first day, the kids completed an “Interest Survey” and answered the question “Why are you taking this class?” Kids are honest, and this bunch didn’t lie: “because my mom made me.” Okay, so do I tell them why they need the class? Nope, that’s not going to work. So I gave them a self-assessment sheet and they rated themselves on various academic strategies such as “I write my assignments on a calendar” or “I look up words I don’t know when I am reading.” After they finished their assessments, I wanted them to see their strengths, so I wrote on the board, “Academic Skills for Success.” I then asked them to put a “Star” by each item they had rated as “Almost Always.” I looked around the room to be sure that every student had at least one star, and then I said, “Okay, I’d like each of you to pick one of your starred items and write it on the board under ‘Academic Skills for Success.’” They eagerly raised their hands to volunteer, and after the first student wrote her skill on the board, I suggested, “If you do what’s already listed on the board, go ahead and put a check-mark by it before you write down your own starred item.” In this way, all twelve students recognized their own successful activities and those of their peers. The students were now ready to look at areas for improvement. The next day, I asked the students to review their assessments and choose one of the areas rated as “Almost Never” to focus on for the day’s activity. Using the acronym “SMART”, I explained that goals can help us improve if we make goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, rewarding personally, and timely. The kids shared their understanding of each of those words as each was presented, and I gave examples as needed. Then they wrote one Academic Smart Goal, and we put these goals on the board as our objectives for why we are in the class.

My Academic Success Program students are used to SMART goals, as we start the year in a similar way after they complete their self-assessments. I really like the 5-step process that Langston presents and plan to share it with my students. When they set that goal, we’ll note how they can also become educated on the best way to achieve the goal, then visualize taking the steps necessary to reach it, focusing on the path to getting what is desired), and then taking whatever physical steps are necessary to reach the goal. This process fits with the mini-goal setting we do each week, as well, when students look at upcoming assignments and tests. If, for example, the student has a unit test coming up in a week, we will look at the study guide and set goals for incremental preparation. I show the student how to determine what he feels most confident about and least confident about, and then how to break the guide down into manageable sections to work with over a period of days before the test, setting a goal date on his calendar for completing each section. My students by setting SMART Goals and incremental goals are able to as Langston points out, “distill small goals from a big goal and then educate, reinforce, focus, and act on each smaller goal that’s necessary to reach the big goal.”

Langston observes that “successful people with learning disabilities often possess the ability to learn from mistakes and pursue goals despite difficulties, as well as the flexibility to find alternate pathways to a goal or modify that goal as needed” and I capitalize on that when I meet with my students. When I meet with a student who has been knocked down so many times that he just wants to stay on the ground rather than try again, I can’t just say to him, “toughen up, cupcake” or “rub some dirt on it” – the kid is down. I need to get back to that first attribute of self-awareness. The student who is down is not self-aware of what he needs and what he can do; he is only aware that he has “messed up again.” One of the ways that I help these kids re-see themselves and revise their perceptions is by holding up the “mirror” again and showing them their strengths that we identified when we began meeting together. For example, in a school of gifted students, great significance is placed on grades. For many of my students at the end of each quarter, when grades come out, the need to look in the mirror proves essential to moving on into the next quarter.

I also created a “Strengths Evaluation” that I send to the teachers of each of my students at the end of the first semester. The form asks, for instance, the following:

Meaningfulness: Consider the following areas and check each area in which the above-named student exhibits strength:
Meaningfulness (emotions) Overview: Does the student find the learning interesting and/or meaningful? Does the student care about the content being learned? Does the student find the experience of learning valuable or worth the effort? Is the learning relevant?

  • Relates Content to Personal Interests/Experiences/Skill sets
  • Imaginative Thinking
  • Cares About the Content Being Learned
  • Other strength related to emotions

This is the type of strength that may not be evidenced by the letter grade on a grammar test or on a math quiz. When the first semester grades reflect deficiencies in achievement, I show the student the teachers’ evaluations of his strengths. When a student is aware that others see his strengths, he is reminded of them himself – then he is ready to persevere. At that point, we can discuss setbacks in terms of what can be learned from the experience. For example, when Brett, whom I mentioned in the first post in this series, came to me for help at the end of third quarter, he had many missing assignments in several classes. He could have given up. Instead, he knew from experience with me that when an assignment is missed, rather than reproving the student, I help the student trace back, through questioning, and determine what got in the way and then how to take steps to repair the damage. In Brett’s case, we saw a pattern of postponed assignments during the weeks he was involved in an extra-curricular activity. We could therefore identify the cause as a response to an external situation, rather than a response to an internal lack of knowledge or skills. At that point, Brett could put the problem in perspective and could work on setting goals and taking steps to complete assignments that would still be accepted and get on track with his current work, and persevere. And with that, Brett and those like him,

GOOOOAAAALLLL!!!!

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Relationships are the means and the end…

Teaching high school English and creatively approaching curriculum has always been a passion, and I am a task-oriented person; as I reflect on my position, now, as a Learning Specialist, however, I am seeing that my priority is my relationship with each of my students. When my focus is on achievement, the daily activities spur me on and provide a sense of accomplishment, but in truth, “the desire to achieve and to see ourselves mirrored in achievement” does not fulfill at the end of the day (Tompkins, 1996, p.199). Sonia Nieto (2003) quotes Karen Gelzinis who writes, “the older I get, the less it is about me feeling good about what I do” and then Karen concludes that the students are the most important (p.114). “Mindfulness” is the buzzword of the season, and yes, this must be my focus; “being in, being for, and being with” my students (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 49).
 
My renewed mission for next year, as I reflect this summer, is to develop my understanding of my students, collectively as learners and individually as gifts in my life; to prepare my students for life, showing them how to establish their own values and modeling respect and integrity; and finally and most importantly, to nurture relationships with my students that will grow out of my commitment to them as learners and contributors to my life. My specific goals, as I focus on this mission, will be to provide a safe environment for students; to establish personal relationships with each student; to establish personal relationships with their parents, to the fullest extent possible; to provide additional resources to my school’s students and parents, via web site, email and mailings; to learn more about student-motivation and learning so that I can more effectively affirm students in meeting academic responsibilities and in becoming independent learners.
 
My first goal is to provide a safe environment for students to come during their hectic day, to study, get homework help, and to work with peers. My classroom is actually designated the “Academic Success Center”. The Academic Success Center provides students with a place to study individually and with peers, in an informal environment. Students use the room as a student lounge throughout the day. I strive for comfort in the room set-up; I group tables, offer cushioned swivel chairs, and keep a never-ending supply of Hershey’s Kisses and the makings for hot cocoa available. As the students spend open periods and lunch periods in my room, I hope to develop relationships of trust and respect with them, that they will feel safe and see me as a “teacher who went beyond academics and became a mentor, confidant, and positive model for personal identification” (Vitto, 2003, p.4).  In addition, I want students to build safe relationships with each other as they collaboratively study or meet with peer tutors. I plan to set up a board for sharing “Secrets to Success” on which students can write study strategies that they have found helpful and that they want to share with their peers. If students eagerly add their advice, then we have established a non-threatening environment and relationships that encourage learning together. I want all students who enter the Academic Success Center to believe they are successful and can contribute to the success of others.
 
I meet with students individually. As my second goal, I resolve to celebrate students’ successes and to “assist them in coping with failure” (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 41). The Academic Success Program provides academic support to individual students who struggle with executive functioning. Within the program, my role of Learning Specialist includes providing individual instruction, encouragement, and accountability over the period of a full semester to a year, depending on the individual student’s needs. As I meet with a student, I want to listen more than talk, and ask more than answer. In the same way that I am learning about my teaching through reflection, I want my students to understand how they learn by reflecting on their actions as learners. All students have the capacity for success, given that they exhibit curiosity, demonstrate potential to learn, experiment with new ideas, ask questions, and examine ideas. Not all students succeed, however, due to attention issues, poor or ill-timed questions, lack of organization, inability to complete tasks, inappropriate participation or lack of participation in discussion, lack of discernment as to what information is important. I hope to ask questions that prompt each student to “be aware of the state of one’s own mind and the degree of one’s own understanding. The good student may be one who often says that he does not understand, simply because he keeps a constant check on his understanding” (Dembo, 2000, p. 23). I talk daily with students who believe they cannot learn, that they are unintelligent. These students have repeatedly struggled in school due to the issues mentioned earlier in this paragraph. My goal is to develop a relationship of trust with each  student so that when I affirm that the student is capable and gifted and will succeed, he or she will know it is true. It has been noted that “some students believe that ability or intelligence is fixed. That is, people are born with a certain amount of ability and there is not much that can be done about it” (Dembo, 2000, p. 7). My mission is to change that misperception and to advocate for, encourage, and celebrate each success. With that in mind, I will have each student compile a “Success Portfolio” to share with their parents at the end of the semester. Each student will share how they have developed their learning skills, and the parents and I will cheer and applaud.
 
Nurturing this team-spirit and including students’ parents is vital and is my third goal. Currently, I email each parent weekly after meeting with their son or daughter. My emails are chatty in nature, sharing the progress of the student and indicating areas we will work on that week. I need parental support, but I’m finding that my weekly encouragement is valued by the parents. When a child struggles with “doing school,” the whole family is affected. Every dinner conversation is punctuated with “why didn’t you do that assignment” or “you forgot that paper at home again” or “how could you not know about the test today.” Students who struggle with school struggle with life; and that is what truly frightens their parents and prompts the angry reactions to the child’s mistakes. A student who struggles in math can get help and will improve in comprehension. A student who struggles to remember to do assignments and then where he put them and when to turn them in lives life like a pinball, batted from one mistake to the next. These are the students with whom I work. Their parents are the ones I understand because I am one also. My goal is to decrease the number of angry or painful conversations at home while I help students develop strategies for handling school. I hope to serve as a facilitator / negotiator during conferences between students and parents. I promise to offer empathy when frustrations build and to “appreciate rather than to evaluate families’ successes and struggles with their children” (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 77).
 
Relationships are the means and the end. Soren Kierkegaard was noted as saying, “The irony of life is that it is lived forward but understood backward” (Loughran, 2002). So reflecting and then looking forward, I set this mission before me to know more about my students collectively and individually, to support students and parents as I model my belief in my students’ ability to succeed and to continually nurture these relationships in my life.

References
Dembo, M (2000). Motivation and learning strategies for college success: A self-management approach . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
 
Frank, P. (1999). Becoming a reflective teacher: Define your teaching goals and continue to reevaluate them. ASCD Catalyst. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/teachexperience/tresk030605.html?mode=print
 
Intrator, S & Scribner, M (Eds.). (2003). Teaching with fire: Poetry that sustains the courage to teach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
 
Kottler, J. A., Zehm, S. J., & Kottler, E. (2005). On being a teacher: The human dimension (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
 
Loughran, J (2002). Effective reflective practice: In search of meaning in learning about teaching. Journal of Teacher Education53, Retrieved from http://www.questia.com/read/5000686594
Nieto, S. (2003). What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press.
Ritchhart, R (2002). Intellectual character: what it is, why it matters, and how to get it . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
 
Tompkins, J (1996). A life in school: What the teacher learned . Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
 
Vitto, J (2003). Relationship-driven classroom management: Strategies that promote student motivation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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Focus this year…

“The teacher is probably the single most important factor affecting student achievement — at least the single most important factor that we can do much about” (Marzano, 2003, p. 1). The second half of that statement strikes me as the most crucial to consider. The classroom environment today is affected by so many variables such as the increase in students with diagnosed learning differences, the increasing number of students coming from varying language backgrounds, the increase in the number of students living in or near poverty, the prevalence of social issues/influences toward negative behaviors, and more students, from a younger age, living in families that undergo redefining throughout the child’s school years. All of these changes affect student behavior in one way or another, and therefore, we are wise to prepare for those effects by understanding our own role in the classroom, by preparing our classroom expectations with as much foresight as possible, and by striving to create a culture of caring and learning in the areas within our control.

With this in mind, I recognize a key area in which I would like to improve as I learn to establish a positive classroom environment for my students. I don’t face classroom management issues, per se, because I work with students individually, yet, as I look at my daily interactions, I ask myself if my words and actions are helping students to learn. For me, this means to not only know my students’ grades, but more importantly, to establish relationships with each student so that I understand how to best support their learning. I’m reminded of an illustration depicting a pot cooking over a fire on a tripod like one used when camping. The legs of the tripod are lashed together at the center to form a cradle for the pot, and the legs must work together to avoid collapse and the toppling of the pot. Student’s academic success is the pot and the three legs are the student, the parents, and the school; if we are missing one of those legs, we may lose the pot. As suggested in the earlier quote, I often can’t do much about the other two legs, but I can definitely take responsibility for my own sturdiness in supporting my students’ success. I want to show my students that I see their effort and I respect them…my role in this relationship is “one of engaging students in the hard work of school: the continuous cycle of studying, producing, correcting mistakes, and starting over again” as a coach, listening between the words for feelings of discouragement or doubt or even of accomplishment and always visibly respecting and accepting the student…this is the type of relationship that will “encourage both confidence and high achievement in students.” (Alderman, 2004, p. 14)

A by-product of the relationships established with students will be the influence I can have in helping them more effectively solve their own learning problems and conflicts. I do have the role of liaison between teacher and student, but I would like to do more with role-playing and showing students how to positively interact with their teachers to resolve concerns before I get involved in the situation. In the past, I have found myself engaged in conversations that really the student should have had with the teacher. My students may come to me flaming with indignation at the unfairness of a grade or classroom situation; I want to improve my ability to diffuse the anger and help the student work through the issue. Role-playing with the student will enable the student to vent, and if I play the role of devil’s advocate, the student may be able to better understand the teacher’s motives or reasoning. At that point, the student and I can brainstorm possible ways to handle the situation and practice what the student can say when talking with the teacher so as to avoid a confrontation. Many of my students need social skills training and do not realize that their approaches do put their teachers on the defensive, which rarely leads to positive resolutions. As Jones and Jones (2007) point out, although I cannot necessarily change my student’s attitude toward a teacher or situation, I can show him “more positive and productive methods for responding to corrections from” or differences of opinion with adults (p. 418).

According to Alderman (2004) “four broad conditions…clarity of purpose, fairness, personal support, and success—are integrated into a climate of caring” (p. 204). By continuing to study the social factors and school factors that influence behavior, by working closely with parents when possible, by communicating acceptance to my students, and by serving as a model to my students of conflict-resolution and problem-solving, I hope to more pro-actively meet the needs of my students and create that positive learning environment this year.

References

Alderman, K (2004). Motivation for achievement: Possibilities for teaching and learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Jones, V., & Jones, L. (2007). Comprehensive classroom management: Creating communities of support and solving problems (Laureate Education, Inc., custom 8th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. J. (2003). Classroom management that works: Research-based strategies for every teacher. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Phelps, P. H. (2006). The three Rs of professionalism. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 42(2), 69–71.

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To Teach With Power, Tranquility, and Grace

To Teach With Power, Tranquility, and Grace

Kottler, Zehm, Kottler assert in On Being a Teacher: The Human Dimension  that “teachers who appear in charge of their own lives, who radiate power, tranquility, and grace in their actions, are going to command attention and respect. Their students will follow them anywhere” (Kottler, et. al, 2005, p. 22). This power, tranquility, and grace are the markers of self-efficacy and professionalism, and I strive to develop them through on-going reflective practice, continual renewal both personally and professionally, and in teaching from a deep-seated conviction that all students deserve my best no matter what looms on the political/environmental horizon.

Reflective practice may occur on the first day of school, after the first activity, when I pause and look out on the class and muse, “Yes, this is what it’s all about” or wonder “How can I involve more of the students” or the on the first day of summer break when I ask myself “what worked and what didn’t work this year and what do I want to create, develop, learn during this summer to improve next year?” Reflective practice takes place continuously within and beyond the classroom, as I reflect on what is being taught, why it is being taught, and most importantly, who is being taught. In fact, when I reflect on these questions, the focus becomes what do I “believe children should receive as a result of their educational experiences” and in turn, what do I want to give to enrich my students’ educational experiences (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 13). When I focus on what my students need, I reflect on what I am giving in terms of content-area skills, in terms of life skills and experiences, and in terms of my students’ confidence in their own abilities and potential. Reflection leads to the development of expertise in my subject area, and leads to self-efficacy – the belief that I can contribute to changing lives. One may teach for many years, and may indeed be considered a competent teacher, but truly experience alone proves  “hollow without reflection” (Nieto, 2003, p. 9). I think of musicians. When I listen to Yo Yo Ma play the cello, I am drawn into not only the music, but also the passion of the musician himself. This differs greatly from listening to the amateur who practices the cello, mastering the technique of bow and finger-placement, but who does not feel the music flowing through every part of him as he plays. When an artist with passion plays, every movement from head to toe exudes life; I not only desire to develop pedagogical techniques, but also passion for those I teach – then I will exude life – power, tranquility, and grace.

Reflective practice naturally leads to continual renewal of my personal and professional self. With regard to my personal identity, reflective practice motivates me to examine my own experiences when seeking vital connections with students. If my job is “not only to teach children, but first to interest them in learning” then I must be an interesting person with interesting experiences to share (Kottler, et al, 2005, p.17). Kottler, Zehm, and Kottler note that Parker Palmer state “We teach who we are” (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 19); I must develop my own identity in order to have anything worth giving to my students that will help them form their own identities. When I read for pleasure, attend cultural or sporting events, or spend time with friends on the weekend, I want to bring those joys into the classroom on Monday morning; then I will enliven whatever content is to be explored that day for I am clearly alive to the students.

Professionally, as I engage in ongoing reflective practice, I need to then seek out professional development opportunities both formally and informally. The reflective teacher sees student achievement and his/her methods as inter-related. The professional practitioner will hone his/her pedagogical skills; consequently, when I see areas of need in my students, I need to develop my own understanding of possible approaches by reading professional journals and attending conferences such as those provided by the California Association of Teachers of English or the Association of Supervision of Curriculum Development. In addition, I want to improve in taking the initiative in sharing observations with colleagues, problem-solving and creating with the informal group of colleagues with whom I teach. Phelps writes of this collegiality as a key aspect of professionalism when he notes “Conversations that are focused on improving situations and concerned with helping students are respectful and caring. Professionalism is thus mirrored in teacher talk that seeks solutions” (Phelps, 2006) Reflective practitioners motivate reflection in both their students and their colleagues, leading to continual growth both personally and professionally, and thus evoking respect from both groups, as well. This is my goal.

Finally, during the process of reflection and renewal, I reaffirm why I teach. The current political arena in which educators find themselves can seem much like a bull-fighting ring. I, goaded by policies and red-tape, may charge again and again, only to be struck repeatedly to the point of exhaustion. I will not only survive this fight, but I will stay on my feet; I will be resilient. I, as Bell Hooks encourages will be the one who is able “to teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students” providing “the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin” (Nieto, 2003, p. 37). This means that even if I do not have much influence on the number or types of state, district, and school-mandated assessments to be given, I can create an atmosphere of “team-spirit” among my students as we anticipate and prepare for these assessments. Curriculum may be determined by others, but I will present that curriculum in a way that specifically considers the learning needs, academic abilities, and personal interests of my students; and likewise, I will know clearly my own teaching style, personality strengths, and interests that will enable me to connect the curriculum with the students.

To teach with power, tranquility, and grace – to know myself so intimately that I can freely share with all, both students and colleagues – that is true professionalism – that is my desire.

References

Kottler, J. A., Zehm, S. J., & Kottler, E. (2005). On being a teacher: The human dimension (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Nieto, S. (2003). What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press.

Phelps, P. H. (2006). The three Rs of professionalismKappa Delta Pi Record, 42(2), 69–71.

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