During my first unit, I think the students and I learned quite a bit!
In today’s post, I talk a little bit about what I learned!
I taught the same lessons three times each day, so I was able to make small improvements as the day progressed. One thing I learned, though, is that each of the classes is so different from the others that I now understand that much of my student teaching placement will be learning how to adapt my plans to the specific needs of the individual classes and learning how to adjust when things head off in directions I don’t expect.
I think the order of the lessons was appropriate and scaffolded student learning so that they could effectively deepen their understanding of the content as we progressed. The students were very engaged during the introduction of the phenomenon and were excited to ask questions, draw their initial models, and share their thoughts when we developed our original model of what was happening.
I think the thing I struggled with the most during the implementation of this unit was that I designed the lessons around small group and pair work, but the students had no experience with working together in those ways. They worked in pairs just about every class on labs, but when it came to working together on discussing what they read and answering questions about it, they would not speak to each other. Students were not only reluctant to work together, they behaved as though they thought it would be considered inappropriate if they did work together. I tried to offset this mindset by saying, “Please work with your partners on this so that you can both make sure that you understand each piece,” but this was not sufficient to change the behavior.
I think it would have been tough to shift this behavior in four lessons, but Dr. Van Borssum reminded me of the importance of explicitly teaching students how to work together. Although we have discussed at length the importance of modeling behavior and the gradual release of responsibility, I hadn’t translated this to group work. Because of this, there was minimal dialogue between students during any of the non-lab activities. Much of the discussion was led by me with the students raising their hands and offering up what was hopefully a correct response and then waiting for my approval. This was the type of environment I had planned to avoid. This was disappointing, and I think the students really could engage better and learn more in a more dialogic experience. I plan to explicitly model how to work in pairs and small groups when I begin my student teaching later in December so that we can benefit from those formats.
An additional thing I would change is to take more time to introduce and wrap-up activities. I am still working on how much “teaching” to do when I introduce activities. When we did the phenomenon activity in my first lesson, I think the brief introduction I provided was appropriate because I wanted the students to be curious and to ask a lot of questions. However, when I have introduced other labs, I have pretty much said, “We’ve been learning about X so far, now we are going to explore how X is affected by Y” and let them go. My cooperating teacher gives much more information before we begin and points out the concepts that the students should be looking out for. I think I would like to land somewhere in between my current approach and her approach.
One important component of having a less comprehensive introduction, though, is that I will need to make sure that I have enough time for the wrap-up after activities. My plan was to have enough time after each activity to add to the activity table (see below) and identify what parts of those labs contribute to our overall understanding of the phenomenon.
We usually did not have enough time to do this before class ended, and although I discussed what was happening with each group separately while they were working, I think it would have enriched student learning if we could have processed that information afterwards together. To make up for this lack of important discussion, we reviewed the activity table as a class in about 10 minutes on the last day of the unit. We were therefore able to put the pieces all together, but the activity table would have been much more powerful if used correctly by adding to it immediately after each activity. I intend to make filling out the activity table a higher priority in future lessons.
Tomorrow I start my four weeks of student teaching and hope to incorporate some of these things I learned!