Assessment & Feedback: Reflecting on the Start of My Internship

These past weeks, I was able to gain some firsthand experience in things that I had only learned about in theory in classes and books until now.   Before I arrived, the seventh grade social studies students were studying the slave trade.  They were also learning about author’s purpose as part of the social studies department working with the English language arts department to promote crossover between content areas.  My mentor teacher uses an online program the school district pays for called Actively Learn to assess students.

actively learn 1

Here is a screenshot of the Actively Learn Post-Test.  As you can see in the image, it allows you to tag questions with learning standards so that you can collect data on how students are doing on specific standards.

I was able to give the students a post assessment using this online tool.  All students have laptops at this middle school.  They are able to log in and submit questions as they move through the test.  As the teacher, I can see all student progress and responses, and give feedback in real time.  The students were very engaged, and eager to make any needed revisions based on the feedback I provided.  The teacher dashboard allows you to compare the students pre-test scores to their post-test scores.  This report can be done for individual students or the class as a whole.  This is good for progress monitoring and collecting data to inform instruction.

Another way technology is utilized in the classroom is through an e-learning classroom called Canvas.  Students submit daily classwork and assignments into this learning management system, which I was then able to grade on my laptop and post quickly to the online grade book.  This allowed for a quick turnaround of feedback so that students could learn and make revisions to resubmit for a higher score.

high five.jpg

Teachers and other staff award the tickets for both behavior and academics.

There are two systems that are in place for giving positive reinforcement and feedback on a school-wide level at my school.  One is to give students High Five slips.  These are tickets that are given as a reward and can be redeemed for prizes during lunch.  I had the opportunity to hand these out to students who were working hard in class.  Students were very excited to receive one, and other students were quick to change their off-task behavior after seeing a peer being rewarded.  An additional method that the school uses, which I absolutely love is postcards!  When students do something good, teachers can look up the student’s address and fill out a postcard which the district then sends out in the mail.  The postcard is colorful and features the school mascot.  I had fun writing some postcards for students that were exceeding expectations in class.  The postcards are something I want to do in my future classroom, even if it is not something used school-wide.  I would have been really excited to get a compliment in the mail from a teacher when I was in middle school.

I have officially completed the first three weeks of my student teaching internship.  It has been a positive and informative experience so far.  In this short time, I have already learned a great deal, set personal goals, and made improvements.   I am excited to continue to grow as an educator.

 

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Representation Matters: The Need for Diverse Authors and Characters in English Language Arts Classrooms

 

Rationale

“Exposure to other kinds of stories and storytellers will prepare them for the worlds they have yet to encounter, our children look toward a future in which they will be well versed in dealing across linguistic, cultural, and national boundaries or they will be left behind.” -Christopher Myers

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength” – Maya Angelou

What is missing?

Diversity in all forms is greatly underrepresented in the current English language arts curriculum.  In classrooms of growing diversity, it becomes increasingly important that texts are relevant and that students can identify with and relate to the readings. “The A.P. Recommended Reading list, a compilation of all books that have appeared on A.P. Literature Exams since 1973, is primarily composed of realistic fiction books written by male authors who are white Americans or Western European” (Nakai & Rebitzer, 2015).  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of white students in American public schools has dropped to fifty percent and is expected to continue to decline.  At the same time, the numbers of minority groups have been increasing.   In other words, white students are no longer the majority and the student populations of our schools are only going to become more diverse in the future.  The National Center for Education Statistics expands on this finding; “Trends in immigration and birth rates indicate that soon there will be no majority racial or ethnic group in the United States—no one group that makes up more than fifty percent of the total population. Already almost one in ten U.S. counties has a population that is more than fifty percent minority”.  White students being the majority can no longer be used as a justification for the typical English language arts class reading list.  The NCES also reports that in 2014, the number of English language learners in American public schools was on the rise and comprised 9.3 percent of all students, or 4.5 million.  Additionally, the NCES has found that in the same year, 6.5 million students or thirteen percent of all students in U.S. public schools are receiving special education services.  What is being read in the classroom needs to adjusted to fit the needs of the changing student population.

Responding to Changes in Demographics

Based on the aforementioned statistics, it is clear that the classroom population is not predominantly white males, so it doesn’t make sense that our reading list is.  If teachers are only assigning works by and about white men, they are doing students a great disservice.  Learners are being deprived of other worldviews and perspectives such as those of people of color and women.  Exploring written works that include a variety of views, genres, and voices is an integral part of becoming a knowledgeable participant in society.  The first NCTE standard states that “Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works” (NCTE, 2012).  Furthermore, all students can benefit from reading about people and experiences that differ greatly from their own.    It fosters better understanding of narratives that are often overlooked and neglected in the English language arts classroom.  One of the guiding values of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is to prepare students “to participate fully as informed, productive members of society”.  Educators need to incorporate a variety of texts from the past and present written by and about diverse people into their teaching practice so that students can be well-rounded readers and ultimately informed citizens in a globalized world.

The Psychological Value of Reading Fiction

A social psychology study conducted in 2013 found that students become more empathetic through the reading of literary fiction.  “This psychological awareness carries over into the real world, which is full of complicated individuals whose inner lives are usually difficult to fathom…characters disrupt reader expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes. They support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves” (Chiaet, 2013).  These findings that confirm the social influence fiction can have on readers.  This concept has been used to justify reading programs in prisons and to help autistic children develop better communication and relationship-building skills.  Fiction can be used as a socialization tool in the classroom.

Fiction’s Impact on the Human Brain

A 2014 study conducted by neuroscientists found that when reading fiction, the same parts of the brain are activated as in a real-life experience.  At a neurobiological level, the reader is living vicariously through the character (Bergland, 2014).  Theory of Mind is the concept of cognitive processes in which individuals are aware of and comprehend the mental state, actions, motivations of themselves and others.  It is essentially a combination of empathy and metacognition.  The hope is that “The reader, hopefully, is drawn into the story and imagines herself in the shoes of the hero, taking on the main character’s gender, ethnicity, values, and quests” (Yokota, 2015).  When students take the time to consider where other individuals are coming from, they are better able to relate to them and have a positive, collaborative relationship with them.  Research on this topic has shown that “exposure to narrative fiction can improve theory of mind and someone’s ability to understand what other people are thinking, feeling, and doing” (Bergland).  This is a life skill that has applications outside of the classroom for students.  Seeking to understand others and embracing differences is part of having a positive culture in the classroom.

Stories as an Educational Tool

Stories are often used as a tool for teaching children values, morals, and manners.  This concept can be applied to secondary students with more groundbreaking concepts.  Educators want to provide an inclusive education to students and provide a safe learning environment in which everyone feels valued.  Books are a means of learning about others.  They also inspire personal reflection and introspection.  Stories have the ability to challenge negative stereotypes and lead readers to develop deeper understanding, awareness and acceptance of differences, diversity, and disabilities (Gilmore & Howard, 2016).  Students in classrooms today will be a part of the future.  They will be expected to collaborate with diverse individuals in larger society as adults.  It is in their best interest to become comfortable with and accepting of diversity in all its forms; racial, ethnic, religious, ability, sexuality, gender identity, and countless others.

Why is Representation Important?

The writers and texts read in class should reflect the diversity of our student population.  Representation is very important, especially to impressionable youth who are in the process of developing their own identities in every sense of the word.  When students are exposed to only one type of book in their public-school education, it is easy for them to believe that these limited selections are representative of literature as a whole.  If readers have no connection with an author or character, they are less likely to enjoy reading or to identify themselves as readers.  In contrast, if students are introduced to a wide variety of stories, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated.  Researcher David Denby studied English classrooms in several public high schools and found that those reading literature of diverse authors with diverse characters experience great gains in student achievement as well as positive learning outcomes.  “Students became passionately involved through creative assignments and fiery classroom debates. Books, one of our oldest technologies, helped connect them to different experiences, cultures and ideas with greater depth” (America, 2016).  This best practice is part of culturally responsive teaching (Griner & Stewart, 2012).  Providing diverse reading selections and choices in the classroom will promote greater student interest and involvement.   “Our interest in diverse forms of storytelling and content can be thought of as an essential component of creating a sense of global citizenship” (Yokota).  Exploration of diverse narratives in the classroom will promote a sense of community and interconnectivity.  The classroom can be a safe place to discuss cultural pluralism and issues concerning social justice.

Authentic Representation

            It is important to note that it is important to not just simply have the presence of diversity, but to have authentic representation of diversity.  Poorly executed representation can do more harm than good.  Teachers do not want to select texts that perpetuate negative stereotypes.  This is why incorporating the works of diverse authors is so important—who better to tell stories than those of a similar background and experiences.  Students will be able to recognize faithful representation of individuals they relate to.

Fear Not, this is Not a Call to Abandon Beloved Classics

This is not to say that we should remove the beloved classics such as Don Quixote, The Odyssey or Beowulf from the classroom, only that we should also strive to diversify our course readings.  It is true that students are free to seek out books that are representative of their culture and ethnicity in their free time.  That being said, when we exclude certain writers and stories from the curriculum, we are prioritizing select voices over others.  Including diverse authors and stories prevents students from being led to believe that literary works of non-Western writers are insignificant or irrelevant.  If only works from the distant past are read, it implies to students that contemporary works have no value.  Allowing students to read young adult fiction or analyze autobiographical music lyrics makes narratives fresh and relevant to kids.

Armed with This Knowledge, Educators Can Make a Positive Impact on Students

It is clear that reading literary fiction has great power and potential to profoundly impact students.  This necessitates that teachers armed with this knowledge ensure what they read in their classrooms promotes inclusivity, social justice, and a positive learning environment where everyone feels valued and represented.

Implications for Future Lessons and Our Narrative Unit

I propose that in upcoming units, we are more mindful of our population and of representing them in the texts we choose.  As part of my classroom’s narrative unit we will be exploring works of authors and stories of characters who reflect our community.  There will be a list of books that honor the diversity in the classroom that students can choose from.  The unit will conclude with students writing their own personal narratives in their authentic voices.  The goal of the unit is for students to not only understand narratives but to feel empowered and develop empathy and understanding of others.

Bibliography:

Bergland, C. (2014). Can Reading a Fictional Story Make You More Empathetic? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201412/can-reading-fictional-story-make-you-more-empathetic.

Chiaet , J. (2013). Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/.

Gilmore, L., & Howard, G. (2016). Children’s Books that Promote Understanding of Difference, Diversity and Disability. Journal of Psychologists & Counsellors in Schools26(2), 218-251. doi:10.1017/jgc.2016.26

Griner, A. C., & Stewart, M. L. (2013). Addressing the Achievement Gap and Disproportionality Through the Use of Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices. Urban Education48(4), 585-621. doi:10.1177/0042085912456847

Nakai, A., & Rebitzer, E. (2015). To Kill a Love of Reading: English Reading Lists Need More Diversity. Verde Magazine. Retrieved from http://verdemagazine.com/to-kill-a-love-of-reading-english-reading-lists-need-more-diversity

Yokota, J. (2015). WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN?. Reading Today32(6), 18-21.

(2016, September 12). Reading, a Social Good. America. p. 5.

http://www.ncte.org/standards/ncte-ira

Suggested Narratives

Theme for English B  by Langston Hughes

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

March: Book 1 by Andrew Aydin and John Lewis

 

 

 

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” The Power of Teacher Feedback

6.4 Using Assessment to Provide Feedback to Students

Teacher’s feedback to students is timely and of consistently high quality.

“With great power comes great responsibility”  

The sage advice Uncle Ben gave to Peter Parker (Spiderman, if you’re not familiar with Marvel) is highly applicable to teacher feedback.  Teachers have the power to profoundly impact their students either negatively or positively with the feedback they give.  The value of feedback to student learning is my biggest takeaway from this course.

feedback-model

This graphic illustrates the process of giving calculated, purposeful feedback to students.

Feedback comes in many forms — formal, informal, verbal, and written.  High quality feedback is value neutral, focuses on intended learning, and identifies strengths and weaknesses.  When giving feedback, teachers need to be mindful of how much the student can address at one time.  In other words, do not overwhelm them with too many things to fix at once.  You do not want to cause the student to give up.  Timing is key, feedback needs to be given within a reasonable amount of time so that student are given optimal time for learning, reflection, and to make changes/improvements.  Descriptive, effective feedback helps promote a growth mindset in learners.  Feedback can be used to strategically close gaps in student learning and understanding.  When a student receives a grade on an assignment, they need to understand why they received that grade.  This includes knowing what they did well, and what they need to work on.  In other words, excellent feedback encourages students to participate in metacognition and to take accountability and ownership of their learning.  Too often, students receive a grade on an assignment without any explanation.  This is a great disservice to the learner.

feedback-7-things

This graphic shows seven helpful pointers concerning feedback from teachers to students.

In my current position as a paraeducator I don’t have opportunities to give formal written feedback, but I will in my future teaching career.  When giving feedback, teachers need to carefully consider their word choice.  I am guilty of verbally giving vague praise and feedback such as “good job” or “nice”.  While these types of statements may make a student feel good in the moment, it doesn’t give them anything valuable or useful to work with.  Research shows that ineffective feedback can do more harm than good.  Since my knowledge of feedback has expanded, I have been working on giving strong specific feedback.  I will tell a student “I like how hard you’re working” or “I like how you are prepared for class and ready to learn”.  This is more powerful than general approval.

As I get closer to my student teaching, I am thinking about the feedback I will receive.  I want to learn and grow as an educator and for this to happen, I need feedback from my mentors. I will be actively modeling the growth mindset I want to promote in my students.  During my student teaching I will need to be receptive to constructive criticism.  This will come easily to me because I like learning from those who have more knowledge and expertise than I do.  I need to be able to translate the feedback I receive into practice and actions.  Feedback is a necessary part of the learning process for students of any age or ability.  As a lifelong learner and teacher, I will be both giving and receiving feedback in an effort to further my own learning and my students’.

Video on Feedback

Sources:

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007, March). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77, 81-112. doi:10.3102/003465430298487

Seven Things to Remember About Feedback. (2012, August 21). Retrieved from http://inservice.ascd.org/?s=feedback

 

Keeping Students Safe

Academics are obviously a primary focus of teachers.  Scholastics are definitely important, but we must also look at our students as individuals, not just scholars.  Educators seek to help their students to be successful and learn, but we also want them to be physically and emotionally well.  It goes without saying that teachers care about their students and their well-being.   If students do not feel safe, they will not be successful learners.  This falls under the broader topic of creating a safe classroom learning environment for all students. There are many components to accomplishing this.  First, you want students to feel safe taking academic risks and making mistakes.  This means that you as a teacher need to ensure that students adhere to classroom norms of respect and kindness.  Teachers need to take any actions or words that constitute bullying are quickly shut down so that students know those behaviors are not tolerated.  

One of the sad but necessary responsibilities of teachers is to report suspected cases of child abuse, neglect, and violence.  They also must report when they feel a student is mentally ill and in danger of harming themselves or others (see figure 1)

teacher-suicide-prevention

Figure 1: Teacher responsibility regarding student suicide prevention

.  This requires attention to detail and communication (see figure 2).

cycle

Figure 2: This image shows the cycle that teachers need to be aware of

 Teachers spend a great deal of time with their students which gives them insight into changes in their behavior and demeanor that are indicative of a serious problem.  For some kids, school is the only source of stability in their lives.  This is why relationship-building is an important part of a teacher’s job.   Making a student feel valued and heard, especially if they are going through something traumatic, makes a profound difference in their lives.   It is possible that as a trusted adult in a child’s life, they may confide in you.  In these situations, it is vital that the teacher reports their findings and suspicions to their school administrators and counselors.  I discussed this issue with my mentor teacher and she gave me some helpful advice.  She said you can never be too careful, and it is better to be safe than sorry.  She also said it is wise for teachers to make a report in an email even if they communicated the information verbally so they have proof that they did their part.  

I did my observations at a middle school in the Kent School District.  The district adheres to the Washington state laws regarding the reporting of child abuse (see figure 3).  If a teacher has reasonable cause to believe there is a case of child abuse, they have 48 hours to their supervisor who will then get the appropriate authorities involved.

ksd-abuse-reporting

Figure 3: This is a relevant excerpt from the KSD Manual

Reporting child abuse is something I hope I never have to do, but I must be prepared to do so.  Unfortunately, it is very likely that I will encounter this problem in my teaching career and when it arises, I will do my part without hesitation to keep my student safe.

References:

Classroom Mental Health. (2015). Classroom Mental Health | A Teacher’s Toolkit. Retrieved from https://www.classroommentalhealth.org/

Kent School District. (2016). Kent School District Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.kent.k12.wa.us/cms/lib/WA01001454/Centricity/Domain/10/Substitute%20Handbook.pdf

Suicide Prevention Resource Center. (n.d.). Role of Teachers in Preventing Suicide. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/Dani/Downloads/Role%20of%20Teachers%20in%20Preventing%20Suicide%20(1).pdf

How do we meet the needs of all our students in a diverse classroom?

A single classroom will likely have a combination of general education, ELL, exceptional, and SE students all together.  This means there are many different learners with diverse needs.  This can be addressed through the use of research-based instructional practices.  In other words, utilizing methods and tools that have proven successful.  The wide range of student abilities necessitates the use of scaffolding and differentiation.  Teachers ultimately want to be as effective as possible.  Meeting this goal requires changing and adapting instruction to best meet the needs of students.  Educators should aim to have classrooms that are learner centered.  Instructors need to make it a priority to create a positive learning community in their classrooms where all students feel safe taking academic risks.  If students are not comfortable making mistakes, they will not learn and grow.  There are many instructional strategies teachers can make use of to meet the needs of all their students.

When introducing new information, teachers need to segment or chunk the content into smaller pieces to make it easier for students to understand.  The teacher should model procedures, expectations, and strategies for their students so they are set up for success.  Students need opportunities for independent practice.  Additionally, teachers need to include frequent reviews throughout their units and the entire school year.

One method teachers can employ is the use of personalized agendas.  Each student is given an agenda, a list of tasks they need to complete within a certain amount of time.  Every student will not have the exact same tasks as they are modified to fit the student.  The student has the freedom to choose what order they will do the work in, and the teacher can monitor and circulate around the room conducting informal assessments along the way.  It is important for teachers to check student understanding on a regular basis.   Assessments are an essential component of effective teaching practices.  Teachers need to make their tests learner-friendly and incorporate a chance for students to revise and improve their thinking.  For example, after grading the test the teacher may allow students to do test corrections for partial credit.  Teachers should use different kinds of assessments, such as written, verbal, projects, and presentations.  Assessments should be used to inform their instruction and lesson planning.  Another method is orbital studies.  In this strategy, the students investigate a topic they select themselves independently.  The topics come from the curriculum.  The teacher provides guidance and coaching.  Tiered activities are another form of differentiation.  Figure one explains the process of creating a tiered activity.  It allows for all students to learn the essential knowledge and skills.  It is a way of helping students who are struggling and students who are excelling simultaneously.  This helps ensure that all students are learning and are getting the right amount of challenge.  In addition to individual learning, cooperative can also be beneficial.  Students will encounter diversity in their adult lives, so working with their peers prepares them for their futures.  They will have to cooperate with their team and come up with solutions as a group.

Tiered Activity

Figure 1

Having a diverse classroom should be viewed as an asset rather than a burden.  With so many different minds in one classroom there is ample opportunity for sharing and learning from each other.

The Teacher’s Toolkit

EDU 6526 Survey of Instructional Strategies – Course Meta-Reflection

It is important for educators to be equipped with a variety of tools to most effectively teach.  These tools can take many forms including strategies, instructional models, and techniques.  Teachers have many methods at their disposal from many different resources such as their teacher preparation program content, their coworkers, and the vast amount of literature that exists on teaching.  Following a teaching model may seem limiting, but exemplary educators are able to make them their own while still maintaining the essence of what makes the model effective.  They are also able to enlist an assortment of approaches so that both the teacher and their students stay active and engaged.  We know there is no one-size-fits-all in education, and within any model an instructor uses there will be accommodations and modifications when appropriate.

Student-centered approaches are a particularly potent device in the teacher’s arsenal.  This tactic takes into account the diverse needs of students.  Essentially the teacher personalizes and tailors instruction to accommodate student needs, level of ability and skills, and areas of interest. In today’s classrooms that include ELL, SE, SA and students with IEPs alongside general education students, this is especially relevant This approach involves scaffolding and differentiation content and support so that all students are learning and growing.  This method is characterized by equity, students all get what they need to achieve learning outcomes.  Teachers empower their students to take ownership of their learning and advocate for themselves.  An illustration showing this method can be found in figure one.

Framework-for-Student-Centered-Education-091214

Figure 1

A fundamental question teachers must frequently ask themselves is “are students learning?”.  If the answer is not clearly affirmative, then the teacher should use this opportunity to delve into their tool box and try something different.   Sometimes learning is happening but not at the level we were hoping to achieve.  In this situation it is important to consider Bloom’s taxonomy of learning.  We as teachers need to evaluate where students fall so that we can help facilitate deeper, lasting learning.  It can also be helpful with older students to ask them to self-evaluate where they are.  A visual representation of Bloom’s ideology can be found in figure two.

blooms_cognitive_domain

Figure 2

Teachers should not waste their own time or their students time.  This means that educators should give meaningful assignments and then provide detailed feedback.  There is no point in giving students “busy work” which will not assist any learning.  By the same token, if you are not willing to provide responses to student work, then the student will not know what they did well and what they need to work on.  Ultimately, a grade with no explanation is not helpful to learners.  This means more work for teachers, but also student growth and progress.

In a similar fashion, any type of assessment should be strategic.  The students should be able to look at their score on a test and see what they did well on and what they need to work on.  Teachers should look at their students test scores as a whole as their own form of self-evaluation.  If a lot of students missed the same question, then that is a sign that the teacher needs to re-teach that specific piece of content.   Perhaps this means the teacher will also decide to change their approach since their initial attempt was not effective.  Some strategies we looked at over the course of this quarter included asking students questions, making a distinction between concepts and facts, and using advance organizers.  All of these can be incorporated into a unit of study.

Teachers understand  the value of educating the whole student, in other words not only meeting their academic needs but also their emotional needs.  Teachers must help students develop good citizenship and the ability to work effectively with others.  We want our students to be equipped with important life skills for their futures.  Good teachers recognize and take into consideration the different personalities, intelligences and abilities that coexist within their classrooms.  They foster a sense of community and make their rooms a safe and inclusive place of learning for everyone.

This course caused me to reflect upon my experiences as a student, both good and bad.  I thought about teachers I have had that I want to be like and some others that serve as examples of what I do not want to be.   This class has given me yet another lens to examine effective educators.

Sources:

Dean, C. B., Pitler, H., Stone, B., & Hubbell, E. R. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, Dean, Ceri B.; Hubbell, Elizabeth Ross; Pitler, Howard; Stone, Bj (2012-01-05). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.). McREL.

Joyce, B., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of teaching (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Students at the Center: Teaching and Learning in the Era of the Common Core. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.studentsatthecenter.org/about

Using a Learning Taxonomy to Align Your Course. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ucdenver.edu/faculty_staff/faculty/center-for-faculty-development/Documents/Tutorials/Assessment/module2/index.htm