Monday, October 31, 2011

Reflection from first day of a week of lessons for 8th Grade

Content Focus: Louis Sacher’s Holes
Topic Focus: Understanding Web Learning Interfaces and Sourcing from the Text
Standard Focus: 7.1.E.4.b Identify and explain information directly stated in the text.
  7.1.E.4.c Draw inferences and/or conclusions and make generalizations.

Essential Question: How can I interact with our digital classroom? How can I use information from a text to justify and support my generalizations and opinions?

Source for Lesson: Sacher, Louis. Holes.  Random House Inc., New York: 1998.

Objective -  Students will gain a familiarity with the technology that will be used in the classroom. Students will be able to use information directly stated in the text to form opinions, make generalizations, and draw conclusions based on the text.

The lesson today did not reach the completion level that I expected.There were several issues involving the computer logins and Google thinking that we were spamming them due to the high volume of accounts that were being made all at the same time. Additionally, the lesson was rather ambitious due to the fact that I am still learning how much to plan per day and am underestimating the amount of time that it takes to complete different tasks as a whole class. However, I think that I learned several things about the way these kind of things will and can confuse students. I think that in many cases, it was difficult for the students to translate the information presented on the projector at the front of the room to their own screen. It was also difficult for students to jump between the lionslanguageartsppcs blog homepage where the instructions were written out and other windows. It is important to incorporate the idea of opening two windows side by side to the students.  

Three aspects that went well:
  • The students were excited when they came in and many wanted to check that we were still using the computers and expressed excitement to know that we were.
  • The students, confused or not, were engaged.
  • I did not feel upset that things went not as well as I had hoped. Mrs. Shaw has really shown me and encouraged me that even if something seems like it will never work, through dedication and repetition of process things will succeed. I think that is an invaluable lesson that I am very fortunate to have been exposed to so early in my internship.
Three aspects to change:
  • Tomorrow, I think that while the students are working independently in their groups, it would be beneficial to call them up one or two at a time to one of the teachers’ computers and walk them through the process of creating an account if they were unable to do it for homework. I believe that vocal mass confusion exacerbated the confusion of the group as a whole.
  • It might have been a better idea to make the Google Accounts for the students ahead of time and then allowed them to change their password, this might have prevented the Google override that made it so we could no longer make more accounts at the time of our class.
  • Because we have so many adults that come to work with this class (between 4and 6 on any given day), next time we are doing an account login of some kind or introduce a new procedure, I think that moving into group tables and having a worksheet outlined for the adult to walk a small group of three to four students through the process would be much more beneficial than having all attention focused on the board and increasing the confusion.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lesson Plan Formats: UGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

After my university supervisor came and observed me I realized I had one major thing that I really needed to work on at this point.


I am an English Major. I am a Writer. I have to write everything out in a narrative and paragraph style. That does not work for other people. And that is not a clear way to concisely explain to others what I am intending to do in a lesson. I really wanted something to still write things out in a narrative, but it was suggested that I use a format that is more visual and has bullet points of important information. In classes I have been given chart type lesson plans and that is what my co-teacher uses, however that is a format that I look at and I get confused and frustrated with so I know that I am not a chart person.

So what do I do?! Duh. I went to my favorite trusty place - Google Document Template Database. I found a huge amount of different styles of lesson plan templates and a huge database of teacher designed materials that is easily searchable. I went through about thirty different ones, opened them all up in mini-windows on my desktop and eliminated them one by one. The one that I now use has bullets, distinct visual section breaks, and still allows for my narrative style to be used. Additionally, it has a specific section for teacher reflection which I really like because it ensures that I really think about how every lesson went and make notes for the next time that I use the material.

Aren't we fortunate to live in the digital age when we have these type of resources.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Reason to not Break

Last night I went to sleep crying. This morning I woke up and started crying. Then I made it halfway to school before I started crying. And I was crying because I was trying to think of every possible way to get out of this, to not have to go to this school ever again, because there is some ingrained complex I have that if you can escape it, it has to be better on the other side. The other side is what or of what or where, I do not know. And I was crying because I do not disappoint people, I do not do things wrong, or I have not been in the position in a long time where I could be doing something wrong, because there hasn't been anyone to tell me that I am doing something wrong.

Then as I was sitting at the desk in the back of the room before class started, the door opened, and all those loud kids with all their shirts messed up and yelling about their weekend and sheepishly turning in their projects to the back of the room, face down or up and talking about how they don't like how their project looks. And I couldn't help but smile, and remember that this is about the students. And they are fun, and with all of their idiosyncrasies, they make me happy and they make me have a reason to be driven. Their spirit is a reason not to break, even when you feel broken.

And I was crying because it didn't seem worth it, and I'm still waiting for it to be mentally worth it, at least being here. But, at least there is a reason, a reason that is more important than anything else.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Science Leadership Academy Adventure with @TeachPaperless and @ChrisLehmann

Yesterday my cohort group was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Philadelphia to the Science Leadership Academy to visit the school and speak with it's principal Chris Lehmann. It was amazing. I have several things to say about it, but I will save that for a more articulated post. However, I thought it might be interesting to share my notes and observations on the day.

Assignment for the Day: Select several questions you have about the school or the environment that creates/created the school and then record your observations and look-fors related to your questions.

Core Values: inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, reflection

  • What if high school wasn't preparation for the real world what if it was the real world?
  • It's not about the courses it's about the process learned, learning how to adapt and interact with your environment.
  • Wednesday breakdown at 1:00 so two hoirs for the following. Freshmen go to the Franklin Institute to take classes with scientists.  Sophomores and Juniors have ILP individualized learning plans where they are interns in the city. Seniors have year long projects. Teachers have PD.
  • Twice a week students go to their advisor meetings, they have the same advisor for all four years. -purpose seems to be to write an involved college recommendation letter and so that the student has a specific point of contact for the whole time.
  • Try to make it very hard for this to be a place where students want to be. It shoud be the best eight hours of their day because you don't know what they are going back to or sometimes you do know and you want to make them want to be here. Why will SLA be a better place because you came here - is one of the questions they ask students when they apply for their interview. 150 out of 1000 applicants are accepted. In the interview they present a project from their 7th or 8th grade. They ask how why SLA would be better - they are looking for enriching students not the kids with DAF answers.
  • What is the best way to get your thoughts across? Don't make the project around the tool. Focus lessons on understanding by design and project based learning.
  • School is not something that should be done TO students.
  • 94% matriculation rate, 80% four year college rate would have higher if there was scholarship for the kids to go to college.
  • *****is it worth it to go to Syracuse in a premed track and get out with 70$ thousand in debt and then more? Or go to temple which will pay for your education? AYFS??? What is the ultimate success rate if you settle, what are you teaching kids through this whole experience? That in the end they don't have to try their hardest?
  • Ultimate goal for these students is college though which is good.
  • Essential questions for each year: Freshmen - Who am I? Because of the transition to being in an environment of All the Smart Ones, the midlife crisis.
  • Some kids plug into the system, some kids don't, the ones here do, we don't let them drop out, we care about them and they know that. Very community based. Tutoring program of seniors tutoring freshmen and sophomores to build back into the community.

  • How is college as an ultimate goal represented in the classroom and by the teachers?
    • I did not observe anything related to this in the classroom directly.

  • What liberties do the students have and how do the students show their respect for them?
    • Students instantly get quiet regardless of who is speaking to them. Sat in an 11th grade history class tht was led by a 12th grade teacher aide instead of the substitute. This student was respected as the teacher. Class making a presentation using the best way they saw fit as a group many groups used Prezi in the last period. the substitute left the senior in charge of the class as though he was a teacher or an adult.
    • A graduated student came back and told us about how one of the major differences he sees is that he wants to come back that he feels like a person not a number. Students seem to desire very hands on learning.
    • We have so much freedom that there is no reason to act like a jerk.

  • What is different about the teachers here than at other schools?
    • They seem to have the freedom to care.
    • I was only able to actually observe one teacher because the other teachers were not there during our exploration period. However, maybe that was better, or the point - it's not about the teachers here, its about the students and the school community as a whole, no one specific person is the key to success.
    • He wasn't my teacher he was my friend 
    • The teachers have a completely different quote understanding of what educational terms are. For example one teacher told us that this day was a little more direct instruction than he would have hoped for us to see, except the thing that we saw was nothing related to direct instruction.

  • How is tech language used in the schools?
    • Just text her and ask where she is.
    • Did he put it on the moodle?
    • Many groups used a Prezi but there are lots of ways to do this.
    • One group used a google drawing. Here is my phone number it's 321-300-Jeff it's my Google Voice. Call me or text me if you have any questions.

Classroom Observations
History class - create a timeline using whatever presentation format you feel best.
All students are on their laptops no transition necessary very easy no time wasted. No one needed to tell or teach them how to get online and do the work. Ahead is another Prezi type program.

Student said that the technology I'd integrated in October of their ninth grade year and the fact as ninth graders that they are still using paper and still writing really makes them want to integrate into the technology quickly, the technology is built on over time and the classes are extremely interdisciplinary

National archives, ebscohost, SLA students and tech knowledgebase for resources

There's no teacher in the room and the students are just doing their work.

9th grade engineering classroom
Interacting first and if hadn't wouldn't have formed the friendships that they have now. They don't really talk now that they have the technology unless they have to talk to each other. They are an extension of ourselves.

Presentation by Principal Chris Lehman

The students are extrememly outgoing and motivated very confident.
We have unbelirbabley impowered kids thewprst part is that we have unbelievably impowered kids. It is our best ideas that so deceives of our destruction. Then you have 500 kids that feel like it is their job to challenge everything. So I asked the teachers to bring me two weeks worth of their work, it was a huge amount bound all up together. It was only two weeks , sometimes their well be weeks where the students do not think that your ideas and work match up the importance of the ideas. Y u are asking a lot of the students. Be gentle and kind when you set incrediblyhighexpectwtions for kids, be gentle and kind when they stumble trying to reach those incredibly high expectations

First rule, don't break the children.

With luck you will be in schools that understand the difference between coligality and collaboration.

Something you should ask when you go look for jobs, is what is the vision of your school and how do you help facilitate the teachers get there. How do you ramp up to that?

Why are you yelling? The best tools for inquiry is humor.

Every lesson based on how students will interact with those five core values. We use the same language. We all use understanding by design. Sometimes the best tool is the tolls we all decide to use together.

One teacher asked the students to reverse engineer the unit. All the teachers use the same rubric for major projects.
The ninth grade is about teaching process so that by the eleventh grade they can just go, and theycna go do amazing things. Our biggest complaint from students who come back to visit from college is that they feel they are taking a step back.

9th grade - week before school starts of half days low pressure Summer Institute the students have a one one one with an upperclassman who goes on their explorations with them and helps them understand the core values.

Advisors the students seem to create a family that maybe a lot of them do not have at home. At graduation they call up by advisory group not alphabetically.

Guided inquiry to open inquiry. A blank page is a terrifying thing.

Ninth grade is designed to help the students get all of the processes together before they can be released to go figure things out all by themselves. By seniors the project is to go do something interesting. Most schools don't have a theory of action where by their senior year students can do things independently they can stand up and say this is who I am and this is what I can do.

How did you prepare your first group of teachers to be in this environment?

The kids we need and the kids who need us. They have you all wrong downtown, you didn't build a schoolf or the the smart kids, you buit a school for the weird kids. Well every kid is a weird kid if you let them be a weird kid.

If you assign a project and then you get back thirty of the same things then you gave a recipe, if that is what you want then that is what you should assign them. How do you apt each students to ask good questions?

There is one question that you never know the answer to, that question is what do you think?

What do you teach? English, wrong. I teach kids, students should never be the implied subject of their education.

My goal that in a few years where we have a deep enough alumni base, every student can Have an email in their ninth grade inbox where someone says they graduated in 2006 and I'll be here on the other end of this email for the next four years.

This is their home, and that doesn't change when they leave.

Steve- different schools made and tailored to different types of students.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Visual Self-Reflection on Recording of First Lesson

For my first lesson I did a review of the chapters of The Giver that we had read so far as a class. The review was structured around the fact that I had noticed that the students had a disconnect between the text and questions they were asked. It seemed that the students did not really understand that when a question is asked it is often directly stated in the text especially when it is a content related question. Or the students simply did not want to look to the text. Regardless I designed a review activity to deal with both issues.

The review activity was that students had a set of questions that were on slips of paper in a bag in the middle of a group of four. The students also had a chart that had question numbers and then corresponding page numbers on which the answer would be found in each box on the chart.  The students had too choose a question and then find it's number on the chart and then turn to the corresponding page in the book to quote the answer from the text. As the students worked, I traveled around the room to assist in their small groups. 

Observations from 7B Video Recording:
I noticed that I smile a lot when I am talking to the students. I also either kneel or sit in a chair at their group so that I am on the same level as them thus giving a sense of working together rather than instructing. The students enjoyed the competition of searching for the answers and demonstrated this by encouraging each other to work faster. The students would say things like OOOHHH I found it, middle of the page! This was encouraging for me. The students demonstrated their engagement in the material by completing almost the entire chart. I noticed that at the end of the lesson I did some sort of weird voice intonation increase that is very unlike me and I need to not do because I believe it would be highly annoying. 

Observations from 7A Video Recording: 
I noticed that this class was much more against the assignment and showed by dramatic eye rolling and comments such as "But we've already read this." that they were not thrilled about returning to the text. There were several instances in the class where a student called me over to argue a point with them or a wording of a question. I think that my responses to the students were successful because instead of arguing back with them I just asked them more questions and got them to realize the detail they were actually looking for. It was nice when the students saw the "AH HA" moment and realized that they were arguing just to argue. The lower level students required more guidance and I could hear them getting off track until I came around to them on the video tape. This explains why the higher performing groups were able to finish their material and self-focus.  

Observation from 8B Warm-Up Recording:
I had begun using the strategy Cold Call with the students. I noticed that I tend to call on the same students and that I call on students whose names are easier to pronounce. So, I ultimately reverted to just calling on the students who raised their hands. I remember feeling nervous about saying the students' names wrong. This was evidenced in the fact that I would gesture somewhat shyly toward the students who raised their hand or make eye contact with them when I was unsure of how to say there names. I did however intentionally state that "I need a volunteer" rather than requesting one. The Cold Call strategy did work in the fact that I was able to call on students randomly and they responded. I need to improve my confidence in pronouncing the students' names. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wanted to share a link to my published article:

To Have a Digital Soul

Margaret Roth is a secondary school teaching intern in Baltimore City Public Schools. An MAT candidate at Johns Hopkins, Margaret is interested in leadership and all sorts of avenues of education beyond the traditional classroom. This piece came out of her work in my Paperless Classroom course at Hopkins; it's context is Baltimore, but the theme is pretty universal. I thought it would make a good fit in the pages of this blog, and so I offer it to you. To read more of Margaret's writing, check out her blog: teachingdaisies. -- Shelly

Is there a place for 21st Century Technology in Baltimore City Public Schools?

This is a stupid question. Of course, there is place for social media and digital technologies in Baltimore City Public Schools, maybe not that there is a place, but there should be - there has to be, and we, as educators and parents, have to make it.

I have spent the last five weeks of my life in a class titled “The Paperless Classroom.” Day one I was told to make a Twitter, a freaking Twitter. At first I freaked out and I grasped for remnants of my pre-college too-cool-for-Facebook-MySpace-hating-self to justify my life up to this point. I was then forced to answer the question why? And I didn’t have an answer. For the next five weeks, I signed up for more digital media programs than I ever thought for a second existed. I found out that an entire universe of information was living all around me and that there were people who could breathe it, and I was suffocating. And today, maybe, I finally learned how to breathe in this world. I realized why all of this new media is important, what all this has led up to: I have created my digital soul. I have entered the digital age, and I am a more complete individual because of it.

Yet, this digital world is being made inaccessible to our students. 

Why do we send our children to school, if we are not going to let them learn to breathe on the outside? If we send students to school to lock them up in a building, to take away their phones, to restrict them with web filters, to forbid our teachers from forming relationships with them, what are we teaching them?


Nothing but to be afraid of the rest of the world, that the rest of the world and the digital universe are only there to hurt them. We are cultivating ignorance by fueling our students with disconnect and starving them with a lack of resources.

Right now we have the opportunity to give students a global classroom, to connect them with the rest of the world, all of our history, and all of our future. If we don’t make changes and get our students connected to this digital world, we will leave them behind, without a chance of changing. Students in this city have enough problems when they start out, they are already dealing with things that no child deserves to face. How can we knowingly deprive them of the resources to make themselves better?

Our students have the right to extend themselves and we have the responsibility to give them the tools to do so. To extend themselves they need to have an understanding of digital technology, they need to create and have an ownership of their digital soul. 

We need to start acknowledging the fact that what we do and experience digitally defines us just as much as the things that we do in our sensory life; that the comments we leave on a website, or photos we upload, are a digital record of ourselves - they are the ultimate journal, a record of our thoughts, saved universally, something that we can never loose, showing how we grow, and pending disaster, never erase. We need to embrace the fact that there is nothing wrong with this - we need to quit teaching our children to be afraid of this. 

The digital soul -- the record of ourselves and the redefinition of our personal space -- may be the most important advantage of social media and digital technology.

But due to the culturally created fear and the resistance of our current school policies to change, we have limited not only our own lives but the opportunities for the success of our students. Unless we enable them to move into the 21st century classroom, we are locking them out of success in our rapidly changing world, we are leaving them on the wrong side of a rapidly rising wall - a wall that they can not even see.  

Baltimore City students see enough walls. We have to give them the tools to build a place in the digital universe where their digital souls can be just as real as the ones we see dreaming inside of them.

Permanence - the state of being of remaining unchanged forever

Why are students afraid to write?
What has made students afraid to write?

I was searching around for good educational blogs to use as a model and of course stumbled across the Edublog awards. This one won for most Influential Blog Post and reminded me of something I had been fighting with last week.

"The Stirrings" - A comment on maturity

My co-teacher and I seem to have a particularly, how do you say this, young in their maturity, group of seventh graders. If you read this title and knew immediately what "The Stirrings" are, then you knew that we are reading Lois Lowry's The Giver. If you didn't know this, I will briefly explain.

The Giver is a story about a boy who lives in an allegedly utopian society. In this society that are tons and tons of rules and strange regulations that the people follow. The people in this society also have a "cure" or prevention medication for virtually everything, including what they call "the stirrings" - what we know as the first throws of puberty and simply being attracted to others. In the novel the main character has his first stirrings in the form of a dream. In the book the character has to describe his dream in detail to his family as part of a morning ritual. He describes his desires and feelings for a friend of his, a young girl, to take off her clothes and get into a bathtub so that he can bathe her. She laughingly refuses.

This description caused an uproar of discomfort and horror in some of the students, let me change that to nearly all of the students. Mind you, these students are between the ages of 11 to 13, you would think they would know about these things, or try to act cool like they know about these things, or just do something other than cringe and say how "messed up" and "disgusting" it is. This rose a question - Is this saying something about their group morality or their group mentality?

Personally, I have concluded it is the latter. These students are in a unique situation. They attend an elementary/middle school where the majority of the students have attended the same school since it open when they were in the second grade. If you have known your classmates for the last six years, I feel that the sexual interest in the community would be rather low, and from what I have noticed there is not much discussion of crushes, boyfriends, and girlfriends.

I think that due to the fact that these students have not had the forced maturity increase that is caused by moving to a new school environment for middle school, or the experience of having new students, and therefore new opinions and expectations, brought into their learning environment, they have never had to change very much. Their maturity is only affected by each other and the teachers they see. This likely has an impact on why they dislike it when a teacher has higher or just different expectations of them than from the previous year. They have not had to change or mature very often.

It would be interesting to find out if this is true in other schools, I highly doubt it is just this one. I believe that maturity is a function of new interactions and change. When your youth is limited in these types of influences, it is hard to mature yourself, I think it is good to remember this when someday I am expecting a great difference from my students than their other teachers may have expected in their past.

That is the point right there isn't it - THEIR PAST. This is what influences and changes a student's learning style, what they can handle, what they will listen to, what they won't freak out about. I hope that we are able to move through "the stirrings" and they begin to understand why this is so controversial.

One other thing - it was impossible to make it through a paragraph where the word naked was used without fits of giggles or horror. It was hysterical. I am really glad that it happened to be my turn in my reading group when we got to that part. I think to hear a teacher say it made it even more crazy for the students. The students are just so funny.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Response to a Class Discussion

There were several ideas discussed in today's class that I were particularly drawn to and it is interesting the ways in which they melded together in seemingly unintentional ways. We first took a personality type style “teaching philosophy” test. This test was designed to calculate our teaching style. The part that was particularly interesting was the way in which we were able to first negatively react to our results and then have the opportunity to analyze three different teachers execute and perform their teaching style in their own way as they taught us throughout the class. I also thought that it was interesting how again we discussed the idea of “start with the end in mind.” This brought us to a discussion of our portfolios that we will have to make by the end of the year. The point of the end of the year is what actually struck me. Is that really “the end” we should have in mind? This led me to realize that by saying that the end of the year is my goal, the inherent value of a course is lessened. It should not be about reaching a time point but rather a state of mind. It is the same with our students, the end is summer break. Wrong. The end should be college, grad school, the workforce, what you want to do with your life. We as students and teachers do not know what the end is, what it is supposed to be, what it is personally. We need to be able to identify that, so that the goal is not “next fall” but something bigger. Brandon seemed to wrap this up in a shell for us at the end. He left us with a stunning point, of course he was talking about how long until the Common Core will show positive results and really start working, but a stunning point none the less – that we have to wait for enduring understandings, that we have to be in this for the long haul.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Notes on Graphic Organizers and RTI

Educational Alternatives Connect the Dots #3: Responsiveness to Intervention
Margaret Roth
September 28,2011

Reading Assignment for Connect the Dots #3 includes:
Chapters 4 and 5 from Inclusion: Effective Practices for All Students
What We Need to Know About Responsiveness to Intervention (and Shouldn’t be Afraid to Ask)
Is Response to Intervention Good Policy for Specific Learning Disability?

Assignment: Discuss the two methods of identification of learning disabilities and how a shift to RTI has changed practice in schools. Which characteristics of learning disabilities might present the biggest challenge to you in the classroom; discuss why and which effective teaching strategy you would choose to address the issues.

It seems that the overall reaction to the shift to RTI in regards to the way it is instituted in schools, the success of students with disabilities, and the effect on the teachers and students in the general education classroom has been positive. Even through there are many different challenges that may arise with the inclusion of students with disabilities in the classroom, the overall results are extremely beneficial for all parties involved, including the teacher and the students. With conscientious attention and an open mind for creativity and challenges, RTI and inclusion practices can have great impacts for all aspects of the educational system both inside and outside the classroom.

There are two methods of identifying leaning disabilities - Severe Discrepancy and Response to Intervention. The first has been generally replaced by the second for many reasons. The Severe Discrepancy method is defined as a determination of disability through the “severe discrepancy between the student’s expected achievement level and actual achievement level (Inclusion 82).” In general this method utilizes elements like student performance on class tests and standardized tests in comparison to other students in that grade level to determine if there is a severe difference in a student’s performance. If a severe discrepancy in academic performance is identified, other factors including other disabilities, culture, truancy, language issues, poor quality teachers, or low economic status, can be eliminated as causing the discrepancy then the student can be identified as having a learning disability. The major problem with this method of identifying a learning discrepancy is that a student has to fall severely behind their peers before their learning disability can be identified. An additionally issue is that that this method is not necessarily as quantitative and universally applicable as professionals would like them to be and therefore there is not a generally accepted and systematic way of identifying a learning disability with this method.

The second method of identifying a learning disability is the Response-to-Intervention approach also uses the principle of identifying learning disabilities through unexpected low academic performance. However, in this method prevention is at the forefront of the teacher’s minds from the beginning of their experience with their students. Teachers try to identify students who are struggling at the beginning rather than waiting for the accumulation of test materials. When a teacher identifies such students they attempt to reach the students using more small group instruction, structured teaching, tutoring, and other accommodating methods. If a student is still struggling with these accommodations, they receive “intensive, individualized interventions using highly effective instruction and fr equent monitoring of student progress (Inclusion 84).” If none of these methods work, other causes have likely been eliminated and then the student is reviewed for identification with a learning disability. This approach enables an individualized approach to the identification of learning disabilities and prevents students from falling behind and potentially ruining their educational opportunities.

The shift to RTI has had many impacts on school systems and the general classroom. There are many additionally services provided to students as a result of RTI, many classrooms have more adults in them through the positions of paraprofessionals and special education teachers thus benefiting all students, more students are identified with a learning disability at an earlier age thus receiving a more tailored education, learning experiences are more engaging and are designed to incorporate multiple intelligences, and most importantly it has made teachers and administrators more accountable for the education and inclusion of students with learning disabilities into the schools.

There are many possible issues that could arise with learning disabled students in the general education classroom. The main issues include but are not limited to “oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, and mathematics problem solving (Inclusion 86).” These issues are based in the cognitive deficits of memory problems, attention problems, and metacognitive problems, or in social and motivational problems which students face when they have a learning disability. The characteristic of learning disabilities that will likely pose the greatest challenge to me as an English Language Arts Middle School teacher is the characteristic of problems with reading comprehension. This is due to the fact that reading comprehension, at least the way I see it, is the basis of Language Arts material, as demonstrated by curriculum, standardized tests, the general concepts of literacy and literature in the English language, and most importantly (as having an eye on the end game is) acceptance to college and higher education for all students. Reading comprehension not only enables students to understand specific texts and materials, but it enables students to reach higher into the body of academic and life knowledge. Without being able to successfully comprehend what they read, students will not be able to answer questions and make connections to the world in their readings, let alone excel in their academic pursuits.

Through my personal experience both as a student, a teacher, and a learner, I believe that the best way to help students improve their reading comprehension is by utilizing graphic organizers and concept maps. Through these visual aids students are able to associate not just a picture or image with a text or story but a sense of flow and connection with the material. By creating the graphic organizer the students are able to have a feeling of tangibility of the material, and associate a process with the material. As students use the form or review the graphics over and over again they develop an imprinting of the skills and the process in their minds. For students who excel at writing, they are also able to take an active role in creating their graphic organizer. Most importantly, this method is extremely effective due to the fact that the brain is designed as an organizational system. Therefore, by initiating this organization using a tangible and active methodology, student reading comprehension can be increased and all students will benefit. Personally, I believe that (and have every intention of implementing this belief in my work with my students) using graphic organizers is not just about having a visual to associate with the text, and this is where the strategy can fall short into ineffectiveness. I believe that it is more about figuring out ways to effectively replicate the brain’s organizational pathways and nuances into a physical form so that the two can be aligned in processing and thus aligned to facilitate comprehension. It does a student no good if they are trying to remember material and trying to learn a new way of structuring material at the same time. This is where further discrepancies and confusion can and do occur. Therefore it is essential that graphic organizers are designed with great attention to detail and flow and with the students’ mind and capability levels in mind. Through every step of the process.

Additionally, I believe that a great challenge is reaching the student with ADHD in a constructive way and helping to incorporate them into the learning environment. I think that in many ways students with ADHD are put to the wayside and disciplined unfairly due to the fact that teachers find it easier to ignore them than to try to reach them. I see it as a personal challenge. I think that it is not only essential in order to reach ADHD students by keeping things moving and interesting and physically engaging, but that ultimately the rest of a class of students will be more engaged and excited about learning if these kind of accommodations are made.

Ultimately, I believe that the inclusion of students with learning disabilities ultimately helps the entire learning environment because it forces teachers to mix it up - to change the way they do things - to be innovative and try out things that the students have never seen before. I see it as nothing but beneficial if a teacher is willing to take on the challenge.

That first breeze...

This past Thursday I left school at about 5:30. I had originally started heading out at about 4:25 as my after school group wound down and I walked the students out of the building. As I was signing out at the front office, I noticed that the Assistant Principal's office door was still open and I thought "Well, I may as well stick my head in and say hello."

This turned into a forty-five minute conversation with the Assistant Principal of my school. We discussed my action research project in detail, and my after school program that I want to really develop. Then we got into a long discussion where she shared advice and insight about many of the students that I work with and many gems of knowledge as I start my teaching career. We even got into a discussion about my experiences and beliefs and the things that I have done outside of my teaching work.

As I walked out of her office and out into the street with a chill breeze and the first notes of fall swaying in the trees, I was exhausted. But, I couldn't help letting a smile creep across my face. I realized how extraordinarily lucky I am that I have had the opportunity to start my teaching experience off at a place where not only did I just have a personal conversation with my Assistant Principal, but at a place where my Assistant Principal even knows my name. My first name, not just my teacher name.

This is invaluable. And again, I am blessed to have these experiences.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Visual Self-Reflection on Recording of Warmup

Whole Group Instruction - WarmUp Context Clues

  • What did you notice about your voice?
    • My voice was clear but wavered when I realized I was unsure of an answer to a student question. At one point I tended to focus too closely on the question of one student leaving the other students unable to hear me and therefore not gaining from the instruction.
  • What did you notice about your interaction with the students?
    • I was able to interact with students from all different areas of the room from the front thus instructing the entire class. I made eye contact with the students while they were responding.
  • What did you notice about your movements?
    • I played with my necklace when I was waiting for students to respond to questions. I also tended to click the top of the marker on and off which could have been distracting for the students.
  • What did you notice about the students?
    • I noticed that the students in the back of the room have less input and their body language is much more relaxed than the students at the front of the room. I noticed that the students became slightly more animated in reaction to the change of me functioning as the teacher at the front of the room rather than the assistant. 
  • Other comments: My co-teacher pointed out that I request volunteers instead of demanding a volunteer to answer the questions. I need to take more direct ownership for the instruction and say things like "I need a volunteer." instead of "Can someone volunteer to help me out?