December 2010 Archives

I don't want it to end!


Today was our last day at middle school. I've really had a great time hanging out with the students. I've probably been equally a help and a distraction! Sometimes I'd find myself talking to the students about topics completely unrelated to what they were supposed to be doing. For example, today I told one student how to make homemade pixie sticks, and soon everyone wanted to know how, and wanted to know more details! Oops!

Would it be unreasonable to make a goal of no worksheets in my future classroom? I know it is, but after being in many practicums, I've grown to really dislike them. No students like to complete them, and I feel like most students take very little away from them. The students who always get their assignments done, get them done, and the ones that usually don't complete their assignments, don't get them done. There is no intrinsic motivation involved, and usually these worksheets don't go in-depth into the material. Using worksheets seems to be the opposite of inquiry-based learning.

Overall, Mrs. K is a great teacher. Some of her activities I think could be modified to be more interesting and engaging, but I can't even describe how much she cares about her students and loves her job. She's an amazing teacher simply for that fact.

Sidenote- teachers get so much free food! Not only here, but also at my student teaching site, people are always bringing in food for each other. Today all of the support staff brought in food for the teachers. The buffet was amazing! Just another example of a great school community!

Boots With The Fur

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Today was yet another entertaining day with 7th graders. I do a lot of great people-watching while I'm at the school, especially in the hallways between classes. I particularly love to observe the boy-girl relationships (our favorite couple is going through a rocky patch right now) and the trends and fads (we saw 22 girls within a 3 minute passing time wearing boots with the fur). I think I love elementary school students because they are sweet and carefree, but I've found that I love middle school students because they are complex and hilarious.

The lesson we observed today was very similar to the lessons of last week. Students practiced identifying a context clue to prepare for their vocabulary test tomorrow, and then the rest of the time was spent working on their short story packets. Now that we've been in the classroom a few times while they've been working on these, I've further developed how I think I would teach the elements of a short story. First, I would chose short stories that are relevant, interesting, and understandable. Some of the stories in their anthology are a little boring, and most of them are hard to find personal connections to. I would either have students read the short stories in small groups or with the whole class because sometimes when students are reading individually they read only to finish the story, and they don't pick up on the depth of what they are reading. As we read these few great short stories, I would have a discussion with my students on how these stories progressed. I think during this discussion I could guide the students to see things such as the rising action, climax, and falling action. We would also discuss how the authors developed characters. Then the students would have to write a short story themselves, being sure to include the elements that we had discussed, and we could use these stories to publish our own anthology. I think this is a more authentic way of assessing students' knowledge of short story elements. Furthermore, I think students would be more motivated to complete their own short story than to fill out a worksheet because they will have an audience. Students would be practicing their writing skills within the unit as well.

Also today we saw many more examples of how Mrs. K goes above and beyond as a teacher. She truly cares about her students. She was telling us today that one student lost his planner and had been using a planner he found in the lost and found for hallway passes. When she confronted him about it, he lied and said it was his. When she found out the truth, instead of becoming upset with him, she talked with him about the importance of honesty. Then she went with him to the office to see if it was possible for him to get a new planner. She even asked the office staff if it would be possible to give it to him for free since he came clean about using someone else's planner. I am very impressed by her calm and caring nature. I only hope that this student and all her students don't take advantage of all the effort she puts into them.

The School

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The school that we have been placed at is warm and welcoming. All the teachers and support staff have been extremely friendly and helpful. They always ask us about how school is going, what are future plans are, etc. And we are always surprised at how nice the office staff is to us when we check in as visitors. Sometimes school secretaries are scary!

Not only at this school, but also at my student teaching site, I have noticed the amazing community of teachers that is formed. Teachers not only are co-workers, but they are also friends. During lunch breaks and prep times, they talk about their families and things that are going on in their lives. Some teachers even do things with each other out of school. I love this, and I hope that I teach at a school with a similar atmosphere because it's comforting to work with people you consider friends.

One thing I don't like about their school day is that they eat lunch at 10:20! That's so early! There's no way that most students are hungry for lunch then. If I was a student there, I would probably skip breakfast so that I would be hungry for lunch. But all studies have shown that breakfast is extremely important, especially for students. Furthermore, I can imagine that by the end of the day, the students are starving. It's hard to listen and concentrate on school if you are hungry. I understand that scheduling is difficult, but there has to be some way to have lunch at a more reasonable time.

The Students

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Middle school students are hilarious and insightful. I have really enjoyed being around them these past few days. I love to hear about their drama and see them "flirt" and interact with each other. And they are just as interested in our lives as we are in theirs. In one class, many students kept asking us about college, in particular college parties. They wanted to know if we had ever been to parties, if we had played Beer Pong, etc. I told one student that as soon as he finished his homework I would tell him all the juicy details and that was quite the motivation. As he walked up to the turn-in bin, he yelled out, "Katrina! Juicy details!" It made us all laugh.

During our teacher's prep time, we went to the computer lab to observe an 8th grade advanced English class. These students were working on a parts of speech project. Each group was in charge of one part of speech that they were going to have to teach to the class. They had to create a PowerPoint, a game, and a quiz. I was very impressed with what they were able to do with technology. Their PowerPoints were beautiful and engaging, and their Smartboard games were great! Seeing all their work made me feel old. A younger generation knows how to use technology better than me! I actually even asked one group to show me how they did something so I could use it in my next PowerPoint. I think this was a lesson to me- as teachers we need to keep up with our students. If this requires extra classes in the summer on technology, it is well worth it. We should at least be on their same level, or even better, be able to show them new things they can do.

The Content

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The past two days we have observed two units: vocabulary and short stories. In vocabulary on Thursday, the students were shown 10 sentences one at a time, and they were called on to come up and underline the context clue. This vocabulary lesson wasn't very engaging, and I don't think the students were doing what they teacher asked (find the context clue) until they were called on by the teacher. Vocabulary is a difficult subject to make interactive, but one idea I had was to make the sentences entertaining for the students, or at least relevant, so that they would want to pay attention. For example, having sentences with the teacher or other teachers from the school as subjects, or sentences about Justin Beiber would surely gain the attention of the students. The next day for the vocabulary quiz, the fill in the blank portion did use sentences that were relevant, which was good. Along with the quiz, on Friday the students had their weekly vocabulary assignment due. In every class, at least 5 students had not completed the assignment so they were allowed to go in the hall and finish while the others went over the answer. The high numbers of incompletions made me wonder what the penalty was for incomplete assignments. I got the feeling it wasn't that harsh since so many students hadn't done it.

For short stories, the students have a list of short stories they can read from their literature anthology books, and they need to complete one page in their packet for each story. Throughout the day I got to read a few different short stories, and the stories were pretty good. A few of them were multicultural, which was great, and one was so complicated that I had to think pretty hard about it to figure it out. As far as the packet, the worksheets were very traditional, list the main characters, explain the conflict, summarize the book, etc. The teacher's objective for this unit was to understand the basic elements of a short story, and I'm sure this lesson aligned with these objectives; although I'm not sure it was meaningful for the students because they were simply going through the actions of completing the worksheet. I'm not sure how I would teach this standard. Maybe combine it with a writing lesson and have students write their own short stories, being sure to include all the important elements.

The Teacher

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Mrs. K is a great teacher. She truly cares about her students, enjoys being around them, and wants what is best for them. All of this is evident in the way she interacts with students and teaches her classes. One of the things I often think about is how I can have fun with my students, because being silly is a big part of my personality, without losing their respect. I'm afraid if I joke around with them, they see me as an authoritative figure. They will think I'm only there to have fun, although I truly am serious about learning as well. Well, I was glad to see it is possible. Mrs. K often jokes around with her students, and they have great respect for her. She has to do very little disciplining in the classroom, and she never raises her voice. As soon as she starts talking or stands in the front of the class, students quiet down and listen to her.

As I mentioned earlier Mrs. K has MS, but her classroom functions just the same as any other classroom. I am curious as to how Mrs. K introduces herself and her disease at the beginning of the year. I am guessing she was very open about what she has and the equipment she uses because her students are extremely comfortable around her. One student even raised his hand and asked what one part of her crutch was used for. And she shared with the class that she thought the inside of her handles would be a great place to store a snack. All of the students take on additional responsibilities in her classroom to help out. For example, students pass out papers and answer the class telephone if it rings. I know it sounds corny, but Mrs. K is really inspirational.

2 days of Middle School

This past Thursday and Friday, I spent all day, 7:30-2:30, in a 7th grade English classroom. The next three entries (the teacher, the content, the students, the school) are based on my observations from these past two days.

Review of "The Skin I'm In" by Sharon Flake

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I would like to start by saying that this book is good, and I would definitely recommend it to young adult readers. It was an easy read, and the story is meaningful in many ways. That being said, I didn't think it was excellent, and I think there are better books out there with similar themes.

For some reason, I couldn't get into this book like I wanted. I'm not sure if it was the style of writing or the plot, but it wasn't emotionally invested in the story. I think one reason was that I didn't relate to the main character Maleeka. Now you may be thinking of course you can't relate, you are a white, middle-class college kid, and Maleeka is an African-American, underprivileged 7th grader. But in the books that I love and truly enjoy, even if the character is completely different than me, I find some way to relate to the character through their voice in the novel or in the way that the author develops their character. I didn't feel this way about Maleeka. I felt like an outsider reading about her story. Also, the plot was a little too predictable.

As a teacher, I respond to this book more positively. Maleeka could be any youth, black or white, throughout the country that is struggling with their self-image and self-worth. As the short novel progresses, Maleeka becomes more comfortable in her skin, therefore becoming more comfortable with who she is as a person. She begins to stand up for herself to the bullies and accept the attention from a boy. As predictable as it was, it was inspirational nevertheless. I think many young girls would relate to Maleeka's story and it even if the novel can't change how they feel about themselves, at least they will realize that the feelings that they are having are not strange, and that others are experiencing the same thing.

This novel has a great example of a strong, influential teacher Miss Sauders. Miss Sauders, as tough as she acts, is a kind and caring teacher who helps Maleeka to realize she is smart and beautiful. She starts Maleeka on a special writing project that opens up a whole new world to Maleeka. Not only does she discover she likes writing, but she also discovers she is very good at it. Miss Sauders' role in Maleeka's life is exactly what we strive to be as teachers, a positive role model and advocate to encourage success for all students.

Overall, this book was good, but it wasn't my favorite because I never felt emotionally attached to the story. But I will definitely include it in my classroom library and recommend it to students who I feel could relate to Maleeka.

Since starting the foundations program I have seriously considered becoming a middle school language arts teacher for many reasons. First, I have always had a passion for reading, and I want to ignite this passion in young adults. I want students to leave my classroom at the end of the year and think of reading as pleasurable and interesting, not as a task they have to complete for school. Similarly, I want students to see the value in writing. I had one great English teacher in high school that I credit with getting me through college with a good GPA because she taught me how to write well. I want to be this teacher to my students, and I think I am capable of doing it.

Besides loving the content, I also enjoy this age group. I find them hilarious, easy to relate to, and very intelligent. Sometimes I question whether I have the patience to be an elementary general education teacher, and I think the answer to that is to teach middle school. Not only are the students older, but they also switch classes so instead of having a class of thirty students for the entire year, I will have 5 different classes of 30 students throughout the day. This is the variety that I think I need to stay interested and passionate about my job.

After saying all this, I should probably make it clear that I haven't had that much experience in a middle school. One of my practicums was in a 7th and 8th grade classroom, but it was in a school that housed K-8, which is a different atmosphere than a separate middle school. Although I didn't think too highly of the teacher at that practicum, the students were a lot of fun. I loved hearing about their drama-filled lives and offering my "wise" advice. And their sense of humor was always entertaining. But I wasn't really in a position of authority there, and I never had to plan and execute any lessons. I wonder if my love for this age group would be different if I was put in that position.

So...I am excited to begin this middle school practicum and learn as much as I can about middle school and middle schoolers. As crazy as it sounds, this experience has the potential to make me more passionate about teaching middle school, or to change my mind and turn me off of it completely. Because I've had so little experience in a middle school classroom, this experience becomes infinitely more important.

A little about the class that I will be observing, due to scheduling conflicts we were unable to come in this week to observe, but we did meet our teacher and see the school. The school building houses 6th-8th grade and it is in a suburban city. On a tour of the school, I could feel the difference between the middle school atmosphere and the elementary school atmosphere. I felt a little out of place there since I've grown to be very comfortable in elementary school settings.

One thing that I wish I could say was unimportant, but in reality it is, is the fact that our teacher has MS. She uses crutches to get around her classroom, and a scooter to get around the school. She explained that her students are extremely helpful, and while we were there two boys that had stayed after school to help her arrange her desks and clean up the room. I am really looking forward to seeing this generosity and kindness more while we are in the classroom.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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