Becoming a [Reflective] Teacher

When we were all lucky enough to have a full two weeks back at our placements, I realized exactly how hard it’s going to be to be a blogging teacher. It isn’t really a matter of time–when something means something to you, you make time for it. What’s really tough is having the BRAIN POWER it takes to reflect deeply and in meaningful ways because by the time I get home after a fully mentally, emotionally, intellectually involved day, I most want to get home to a big glass of OJ, not necessarily more mentally, emotionally, intellectually involved work. But I did it. I blogged through the pain, forced my brain power to its limits and I can honestly say, I am feeling more and more like a reflective teacher who blogs.

Over the course of the quarter, I’ve made more of an effort to do the things I talked about in my first blog of the quarter, “New Year, New Blogs.” I’ve been trying to approach our cohort’s blogging endeavor as something social, instead of solitary beings behind computer screens writing words that may or may not be read by others. Instead, I attempted to pay more attention to what my peers were saying and if I could, push back on their ideas, ask them questions to elaborate, or even just share what I thought about the same topic. I’ve tried to learn more about teaching from my peers and their practices and experiences while also contributing to their learning, like when I asked one blogger a question in order to better understand why he thought something happened in his classroom. He responded with a careful, clearly thought-out response that helped me think about my future classroom, and how I would want to support my students’ in reviewing prior knowledge and not assuming they know what I think they should already know.

Most importantly this quarter, I have grown as a teacher who reflects on what her students have learned. Although I’m certainly no where near the ability of an experienced teacher (like my CT) in analyzing students’ work and assessing it accurately and for further instruction, I’ve been careful to think about my focus students, their contexts, and the growth I have seen in them since the first day of school. Here is my very favorite piece of evidence from one of my focus students:

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Here’s a sample of his writing from November, which says, “I like going to Costco and getting a basketball hoop.” The picture is a clearer representation of his “story,” while he is still in the stage of an emergent writing, figuring out consonant sounds to show his words. The clearest word, “like,” is so clear because it was a sight word and he’d had lots of experience seeing and using it.

The next piece of evidence is his writing from this month in his very first “How to” book, which the students have recently started working on in Writer’s Workshop. His “How to Plant a Seed” guide shows measurable growth. He’s using vowels! He’s using word chunks like “ake” in “take” and “ing” in “growing”!! He’s very clearly using the sounds he hears in words to figure out which letters to use!!!

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Blogging isn’t hard work, but it is an act that requires reflection and full participation. Although the end of the quarter has come and I will no longer be required to blog, I’m excited to take this on fully as an educator, and not as a student doing it for a grade.

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Getting Comfortable with Math

A few months ago, if you’d asked me what I was excited to teach, math or literacy, I would have said literacy without a beat. But it’s different now, with the life-changing math experience I’ve had in Allison’s class with Math Talk and focusing on developing conceptual understanding instead of teaching the standard algorithms and taking the “wonder and joy” out of math. I’ve written and said this before, but math held no “wonder and joy” for me, because I didn’t get it. But I was really good at plugging in those numbers into algorithms and getting the right answer, so no one questioned my understanding.

But now I’m seeing the value in questioning our students’ mathematical understanding. I actually got to do this on Friday, leading my kindergartners in a Math Talk involving ten-frames and the number 13:Image (2 consecutive frames go together)

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In math, we’ve been working on understanding teen numbers as ten and some more. So I thought about it, and thought the ten frames would be really useful in helping the kids understand that concept while also engaging in conversation about their thinking. Overall, it went really well. My objective was that students would be able to think about that “Easy 10,” moving what ever needed number of dots so that they could make a ten, and then add the leftover dots on the next frame.

First, I established that we were going to work on talking about our math because it’s something smart mathematicians do, and it’s important that we listen to others’ ideas and share our own. Then I laid out the first ten frame filled to ten, and we established as a group that there was indeed ten. Then I added the ten frame with three dots and had a couple of students share how many they saw and how they saw it.

When I laid out the second set, the nine and the four, the second student to share (and in retrospect, I should’ve anticipated that he would be quick to do this) hit my objective, telling us that he moved one of the dots from the four to the nine, making ten, and then he knew there were thirteen altogether. Since this was my focus, I asked two other students to repeat what he said. The first student who had shared had originally said fourteen, and so I spent some time trying to help him see how the second student had arrived at thirteen, since most everyone else agreed that there were thirteen.

I recorded the Math Talk, and later in the day watched it with my CT who had been away from the room at the time of the talk. It was interesting to watch and see what I’d missed because I was focused on other things, and I walked away knowing I need to do better at trying to pay attention to what’s happening on the carpet as well as the student who has the mic, so to speak. For example, in the video you can clearly see one of the students using his finger and pointing at the screen, counting all of the dots. I wish I had seen this so I could have acknowledged the students, who I’m sure were many, in the counting all stage.

Overall, I was so impressed by the way my kindergarteners were able to engage in Math Talk, even respectfully and patiently. From this experience, I’m feeling more fearless about teaching math and using Math Talk.

You Know Better

“You know better.” It’s something I often to say to my kindergarteners when they’re doing something they should not be…and know it. Depending on the student, it immediately ends the unwanted behavior (usually something like pushing or not sharing or talking in line) but for others, I’ve realized that even if they know better, they just don’t have the skills to do better. For example…

Liam (changed name) is, sorry, INCREDIBLY ANNOYING. Imagine the most typical toddler you can, and he fits that mold. Almost nil impulse control, has a hard time focusing for more than a few minutes at a time, it takes him 2-3 minutes longer than other students in every task, and he throws a very respectable temper tantrum. Now listen, don’t get me wrong, I adore this kid. He’s intelligent and funny and incredibly sweet when he’s not busy talking out of turn and over other students. He’s on a behavior plan, which entails him earning smiley faces for good behavior. Usually rewards based behavior systems bother me because I think extrinsic motivation only motivates students to work for a prize, not work because it’s the right thing to do, but this system seems to work without the smiley faces leading to some sort of prize or other reward. At the end of each day, my CT fills out a small slip of paper telling his Liam’s parents how many smiley faces he has earned (two other students are on the same behavior plan).

Unfortunately, last week and today have made me question, how can we better help Liam be a good classroom citizen? Control his impulse to be heard when it’s not appropriate for him to be talking? Because the smiley faces haven’t seemed to be working. My CT and I talk about him to great lengths and try to think of other ways to help him control his own behavior. Sometimes it means in a moment we have to ask him to be a good citizen, to be mature, to act like a kindergartener (being a kindergartener is a very big deal to a kindergartener) and remind him that he’s strong and tough and we know he can do it. It’s really hard to know what else to do with such a young child. I mean, what can you really expect from five and six year olds in terms of behavior and recognizing there are other people your behavior affects? Is this a discussion you can have with a kindergartener?

I realize this post is mostly questions, because I’d really like some advice. If you have students like this in your classroom, what do you do?