Final Reflection

Blogging throughout the last year has taught me a lot about how to share learning experiences with other people in my profession.  This is something that is truly important as we move forward and cultivate professional development and growth in the profession of education.  Looking back over the last year’s (little less) blog evolution, there has been obvious growth and progress.  Beyond the growth of my blogging, the ability to reread old blogs is helpful in reminding me how my thinking has developed and what my justifications were for something in my practice.

As this quarter progressed, I was able to look deeper into my practice a teacher, using specific student examples and experiences from my classroom.  As a blogger in past quarters I didn’t have the opportunity or the context to relate what I was learning in my method course work with real examples.  This quarter has given me more context and more time with real students as I develop my pedagogy.

The biggest takeaway for me this quarter has been my growth as someone who is constantly reflecting.  This is a natural part of who I am anyways – I’m constantly driving my friends and family crazy with, “Why?”, “How does it work?”, “What is it?” – but this quarter I have been able to sharpen that part of myself as it applies to thinking about my students through the many lens of education.  This was an incredibly difficult quarter and time was always in short supply.  Even though my blogging could have been more regular, that didn’t stop me from thinking and reflecting every day, in the classroom and out.  Being able to share those reflections in a blog is contributing to professional growth in education; however, I was able to exercise reflection driving the work I was doing in the classroom.  Even when I found myself running low on time for sitting down and getting my reflections on the computer, knowing how to blog pushed my reflective practices.

Leading Reading Groups – Inferences

I recently had the opportunity to write and teach three sequenced lesson plans around reading for a small group.  The learning objective for these lessons was inferring: that many times an author won’t give us every detail or understanding in plain text.  It is our job as good readers to infer meaning based on cues in the text.

During the lesson when students were being asked to look for inferences or questions that might lead then to an inference, I was finding that each of the students, in turn, would call a stated fact an inference.  As they were looking to infer, they were remembering facts that had be specifically stated, but were forgetting that those same facts had been specifically stated earlier in the text.  For example, when I was leading my students to an inference about the narrators change in priorities, I was asking them “what as changed in regards to the way she feels about participating in the Homecoming parade?  What inferences can we make about these changes in her thinking?”  Students at first responded, “She’s sad now”, or “She’s really sick now”.  Both of these facts are specifically stated in the text in an earlier place.  I directed students to re-scan, or re-read, the passage and see if they could find directly stated evidence that tells us the narrator is sad or sick.  When students were able to find concrete examples, I was able to use that teaching moment to clarify that inferences cannot be found directly in the text.  Students were very thoughtful in annotating and worked hard to find moments in the text were they could question and lead themselves to an inference.  Giving students the tools to look back in the text when they aren’t sure if they are making an inference or just restating specific stated facts will help them to be able to self monitor their ability to make reasonable inferences.

Students were asked to first read the passage of our chapter to themselves silently and while they were doing so, to mark and annotate any words they didn’t know the meaning of as well as any passages or moments that were unclear to them.  I had previewed the chapter previously looking for places I thought students may need clarification.  After giving students time to read, think, and annotate we had a discussion about the questions they had.  If no one underlined a word I thought they might not know well, I asked them to give me the meaning.  For example, I had thought that the word “contaminate” would come up for a least one of the students, but no one asked about it, nor had it underlined.  Therefore I asked them what contaminate meant, and each student was able to give me an accurate working definition or example.  The evidence I collected was formative discussion, as well as formative work in the form of the student’s annotated copies of the text.  After clearing up any questions or misunderstandings about the words in the text and meanings,  we were able to move forward with my modeling of making an inference.  After corrections and feedback to the students about any misconceptions them were having about inferring, students were able to talk me through non-stated inferences in the text.  For example, in the case of the missed inference in the reflection example above, about why the narrator’s feelings about how important the parade was to her, a student was able to make the inference that her priorities had changed, because no one that is that sick, worried for their life, and who won’t be seeing their family for a long time won’t care about a parade.

At the end of the lesson I felt that my students had been successful with the task of knowing what in inference was, how to make one, and how to check your inference.  However, throughout this first lesson, I had lead most, if not all, of the discussion and had modeled heavily for them.  Moving forward to the next lesson I would like to check on their comprehension and release some of the responsibility of this strategy to them.  Thinking about how I would implement the next lesson in the sequence, I had the students work with a partner and discuss the next portion of the reading passage together.  I wouldn’t be involved in the conversations for the first part of the lesson.  I wanted students to ask each other questions and look deeply into the text to discover inferences independently.  Students should be discussion and thinking through their questions together instead of waiting for the teacher to guide them.

Working with Guided Assessment

As teachers, assessment is the meat of our practice.  It’s how we know our practice is sound and effective, it drives instruction, and it allows us to improve our pedagogy and develop our profession.  Without assessment we can’t reflect on our process and we can’t know if we are successfully educating students.  Assessment is constant.  Some times formal and specifically documented, sometimes formative and kept in journals or just in our minds.  When these times of formal assessment are needed and appropriate we should look for as much information as we can.  This way our assessment is deep and meaningful.

One-minute fluency is a “common assessment practice [that] narrows fluency to rate and accuracy” (Deeney, pg. 442).  This type of assessment will help the teacher to identify students who cannot read accurately and quickly.  However, there are many more points to consider when we are constructing lessons driven by assessment.  To really focus instruction to the needs of the students in front of us, we need additional information.  Knowing whether a student is dysfluent or not will be evident by one-minute assessments, but we will have no idea why students are having problems.  There are ways around this, even if your district requires one-minute assessments.  My main placement doesn’t have this requirement, but I have seen my CT working around, and adding to required assessments.  Deeney gives us examples for retaining the one-minute assessment while getting more information out of it than prescribed.  Examples included putting a slash in the text at the student’s one-minute mark, but allowing them to read the passage until the end.  This would give you an assessment for endurance at the same time.

Working with my 3rd grade buddy throughout this quarter has provided many growth opportunities around understanding how this type of assessment can drive instruction.  One-minute assessments were required and really felt like no more that a jumping off point.  If I hadn’t been able to ask questions for assessment beyond the timed reading, I never would have had the same depth of understanding about the strengths and weaknesses of my student.  It required having a plan around the timed reading and the ability to think flexibly based on what I observed during that timed reading.  I discovered that assessment beyond the timed reading is supremely important.  This was apparent when I tried to pick vocabulary word work based off missed words in a timed reading.  I thought that the words my student had missed during the minute read were words he couldn’t decode, or didn’t know the meaning of.  However, I was wrong.  The words had been missed because he wasn’t reading for understanding, he was reading for speed during that timed assessment.  This student had conceptualized the goal I was looking for as speed only, and hadn’t bothered to read closely, rather just quickly.  When it was obvious that he thoroughly understood the concept behind the vocabulary words I had picked, I decided to forgo the foursquare activity I had planned around them.  It didn’t seem authentic to do the activity with words he clearly understood.

Carefully selecting literature is a powerful tool that Fain talks about in the context of ELL students.  Connecting literature to issues of language diversity and culture for students will help them engage and connect with the content.  I think this is true for all students, especially around reading and comprehension.  If a student finds something they personally connect with in their reading, they are more likely to engage with the curriculum and content you are teaching.  In addition, having background knowledge about what they are reading will allow them more chances to connect with the text.

Fain also talks a lot about using parents as a support system for students who are ELL.  This too I believe is true for all students.  My main placement is in a 6th grade P.A.C.E. program, where parents are required to volunteer 80 hours a year per student in the program.  The difference between my 6th grade class and the three others at the school is remarkably different.  The time the parents spend in the classroom is a huge part of the picture, but in addition and related, the parents who want to make this commitment in the classroom are also making this same commitment to their student’s education and learning at home and in the community.  The students in my class as a whole, compared with the other 6th grade classes, are more organized, they give more time and effort to their learning, and they score considerable higher in reading levels and test scores.

All of this evidence across my time in my main placement and the time I spend with my other student buddies in content classes as solidified a lot of information around assessment, instruction, and parent involvement for me.  It is very clear that if you don’t use assessment in a multi-faceted way to drive your instruction, you are missing pieces of the puzzle.  Literature choice is a huge part of this.  Choosing books and other readings that the student can relate to, and at the same time be learning, is key.  And without the support of your students’ parents, you can never be as successful as you would with them involved.

Aligning edTPA Practice with Classroom Practices

Thinking about and aligning instruction with the edTPA is good practice and great preparation for not only the TPA itself, but also for the new teacher to get in the habit of thinking about assessment and reflection throughout all instruction.  The practice of doing this exercise has prepared me for the work I’ll be doing as I take over more responsibility in the classroom.  Preparing for the edTPA and at the same time taking on more planning responsibility, I will be able to enrich my teaching practice with better-informed lessons, assessment, and reflection.  During the two weeks in my field placement before the end of the quarter I took on the responsibility of mathematics instruction.  I planned the lesson each day, assigned the work, graded the work, and then planned the lesson that would follow based on the assessment of learning I did by grading and reflection on the lesson.  The unit that I had the responsibility of teaching during those weeks was the start of ratios and proportions.  After the first two days of introducing the academic language and basic processes for ratios, I assigned an assessment of skills from the textbook that was written to make sure students had mastered the skills that were prerequisites of ratios.  Upon grading those assessments, I realized that over 50% of my students were not proficient in converting fractions to decimals, and vice versa.  Instead of moving forward with the meat of the ratio unit I decided to take a step back and spend a few days reviewing the strategy they were having trouble with.  This type of work and reflection is exactly what I should be practicing as I prepare for the edTPA as well preparing for a successful career as an effective and proficient educator.

Students Thinking About Science

Science in the classroom has the potential to be the most stimulating part of a student’s day, or the most boring part of the day.  Science in the classroom can also promise to connect with students’ culture and life outside of school, or just be fact memorization that students never deeply connect with.  Interviewing my 6th graders on how they think about science confirmed these ideas for me.  All the students I was able to interview shared ideas and thinking that aligned with my own, for the most part.  Across all interviews, my students expressed the desire to be involved in more hands inquiry based projects.  As 6th graders, they have had opportunities to be exposed to science text information, but wish that they could work more with projects they can manipulate and experience first hand.  We should incorporate this opinion into all of our science curriculum. 

When J (pseudonym) was asked what science should look like in our classrooms he replied, “We should be doing more.  I mean more tests (hands on experiments).  We all know how to do the written part, hypothesizes and stuff, but more hands on stuff will help kids from getting bored.  Of all the science I have done in school, the only things I remember is doing written parts of the scientific process.  That’s really boring, and I didn’t really learn anything”.  When I asked the next student, G (pseudonym) how she likes to learn science, she responded, “Not the textbook kind”.

“Why?”  I prompted.  “Because I don’t like reading facts, it’s not interesting.  I like to go outside, or at least if we have to learn inside I want things to touch.”  So it will be no surprise when I asked D (pseudonym) what he wants from a science lesson he responded, “ Teach something fun.  Usually it’s always done in the same way, ‘here are the problems, now everyone do them’.”

For the most part, my students know what they don’t want out of a science lesson.  What they really know how science curriculum should be taught, just that it should engage them and peak their curiosity.  This is where my job comes in.  Doing an inquire-based, hands-on experiment in class, just because it’s ‘fun’ isn’t enough.  The thought and planning that should go into a science lesson needs to incorporate so much more then ‘fun’.  While fun and engagement is a priority, no level of standards alignment and gradual release will matter if the students won’t engage, standards, critical thinking, differentiated instruction, and gradual release are just as important when thinking about lesson planning in science. 

Student Statistics?

I had the opportunity to sit in on a series of data planning sessions at my main placement in the last month.  All teachers and administration are looking at reading levels across grade levels, writing goals for growth around those reading levels, and thinking about which students will make it to grade level by the end of the year and which will not.  For example, in our 6th grade teaching team there are 46 yellow readers and as a grade level team the teachers believe that 27 of those students will make it to green (at standard) reading levels.  As I watched this discussion between the teachers and an administrator, I noticed a lot of hesitation around committing to how many students will reach that goal.  I leaned over to my CT and asked a quick “teacher timeout” question.  “Why can’t we predict that all students will make this growth?”  “Is it worse to have high expectations that aren’t met, than low expectations you know for sure you can meet?”  The answer was expected, albeit a disappointing one.  It is worse to have high expectations that aren’t met.  Then the teacher has to be on an intervention plan the next year.

It seems to me this is the wrong way to think about education and accountability.  I know that needs to be accountability and that administrators are responsible for answerability to the district and the board of educators, but thinking about students as statistics and predicting that some just won’t make it seems like a mistake, regardless of the reality.    I don’t want to have to ever set a goal that doesn’t include all of my students growing in their academics and other areas of education.

Understanding What You Read

Most of my thinking about literacy this week has been around one “simple” idea: students should be asking questions, and teachers should be showing them how.  Across the readings this week I have gleamed a main idea of questioning for understanding.  Whether it’s asking yourself which definition for a word makes sense in the context or implementing a “rigorous inquiry-based classroom of student generated questions” (Tovani, pg. 81), great readers don’t sit by passively and expect meaning to jump out at them, they instead question the text and infer meaning from inquiry.

Graves, Juels, & Graves talk about three main ways a students will gain understanding around reading, using context clue, using word parts, and using the dictionary (pg. 267).  Reading this, I wondered (Tovani would be proud) if Graves, Juels, & Graves still believe that using the dictionary was one of the three most important ways to gain reading comprehension.  It looks like the last edition of this book was 2011, not that long ago, but it seems that this thinking might be a little out of date.  Don’t misunderstand me, I believe that all literate people should know how to navigate a dictionary, but when was the last time you picked up a dictionary in the search for a word’s spelling or meaning?  No one really does that any more.  I believe the point the authors are making is that students need to know how to research for information that is outside of what they can define by their own knowledge or context clues, but does it have to be a dictionary?  Aren’t newer, and more tech derived, research processes more reflective of how students will really research information in their lives outside of school?  Whichever tool we give our students in the search for meaning and comprehension in reading, we have to make sure that the process is repeatedly modeled and students have strong scaffolding in place.  Tovani says that if an activity fails in her classroom, she knows that she didn’t’ model for her students enough (pg. 82).

To help students develop the skills of questioning text Tovani suggests asking questions after reading with students.  This models for them and “encourage[s] more thinking and deeper analysis of the material” (pg. 86).  Many times an author won’t tell the reader directly what is happening in a book or story.  When this happens the reader won’t know what’s going on, unless he can make inferences based on evidence in the text.  When a reader asks questions about what they already know in relation to the reading, it helps them come to reasonable inferences based on what clues the author is giving us without being explicit.  Readers who ignore these clues, or textual evidence, “tend to rely solely on personal experience” (Tovani, pg. 99).

I thought of my reading buddy many times throughout these readings.  Many students that I am currently, or have worked with in the past, have similar problems with finding deep meaning in text, but this unit on questioning the text really struck a chord in regards to the kind of reading my buddy has been doing.  “G” reads fast.  Many times he loses the meaning and context of the works he is reading because he is only focusing on decoding the works as fast as he can.  And he can decode words very well, but many times he isn’t able to accurately infer based off clues in the text.  After the story about the bird that helps the brothers home, we asked G to tell us why, based on the text, the bird helped the brothers.  G’s answer was straight from his own personal experiences and feelings about birds.  A previously self-proclaimed bird lover, G told us that the bird wanted to help the brothers because he was a nice bird and he really liked to help people.  He went on to answer the question, “What if the boys hadn’t been able to find any worms for the bird?” with something about how the bird would have helped them anyways, he was just a little hungry.  G is relying on his own personal experiences around birds instead of the clues in the text.

We decided to try practicing the process of questioning text to make predictions and inferences with our buddy during the next activity.  We wanted G to read from a book and stop to ask question, and write them on post-its after each page.  We read the chapter through once first, and on the second reading started to stop after every page.  After the first page of reading, we asked G if he had any questions or wonderings about what he had just read.  He didn’t.  We had made the mistake of expecting him to find this activity easy.  While young students are naturally curious, this was a skill that needed to be modeled for him in this context.  We had to back up a bit, and our activity morphed into a mini-lesson.  In response to his lack of questions after the first page, I modeled for him how to do this task.  “Here’s a question I have.  I wonder how the Littles build all their little houses in the Biggs walls?”  As we progressed through the story we would stop after every page and play “I wonder?”  We modeled the question asking heavily on the first few pages and then were able gradually release responsibility to G as he became more comfortable and confident around asking question about the text.

The result of our 20-minute activity/mini-lesson had great results.  The first time we read the chapter through there were clues that both G and the two teachers-in-training missed.  They were discovered and deepened our understanding of the story with the second reading, and through the questions we asked.  This was a powerful message for our student: even teachers need to practice this strategy, reading for meaning and asking questions will give you a better understanding of what you are reading.