Practices in Pedagogy

"To Teach is to Learn Twice Over"

Archive for the category “SPU Principle E1”

Differentiated Lessons

As part of the requirements of my EDU 4250 course, I was asked to write two lesson plans that were purposefully, thoughtfully differentiated. “Differentiation” refers to Tomlinson’s model of DI (Differentiated Instruction), a model focusing on adapting a lesson’s content, process, and product in order to better adhere to the growing diversity in classrooms around the United States. The three main components of DI are flexible grouping, continuous assessment, and student readiness– all elements I intentionally reflected upon and implemented into my lesson plan. My two differentiated lesson plans were created for 12th grade World Literature students, but their targets and strengths are undoubtedly different. The first lesson, centering on exploring symbolism in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, emphasizes thoughtful engagement, kinesthetic activities, collaborative learning experiences, and linguistic reflection in order to address the individual needs of my students. The second lesson also draws attention to the significance of student engagement in the learning process, but focuses more on real-life application of the lesson’s content, the educational power of communal reading, and ongoing, self assessment.

To put it simply, differentiation is time-consuming, arduous, and incredibly complicated. It took me hours to revise my lesson plans in such a way as to meet the individual, specific needs of my students. It took me countless attempts to create and establish classroom modes that would appropriately assess student readiness, as well as provide adequate opportunity to modify my lesson–in the midst of teaching– so that it would adhere to the varying levels of readiness. On top of all this, the process of differentiation also forced me to think, rethink, and rethink several more times the purpose and value of each and every one of my lesson’s learning experiences. I painstakingly examined and altered every detail I could think of so as to effectively reach my respected students. Yet, I enjoyed every minute of it! I loved the fact that differentiation puts students before teachers, before curriculum, and before everything else. Differentiation, at least in my minimal experience, is the truest form of student-based teaching. Every thought and decision made in the preparation of lessons is intentionally, systematically executed in the light of the students the lesson will teach. And with the growing diversity–whether religious, economic, cultural, or sexual– of the modern day classroom, differentiation is a necessity! We as teachers must be aware of the individual needs of each and every one of our students, and appropriately construct our curriculum in such a way as to fulfill those needs. We must treat every student with the amount of respect, appreciation, and love they deserve. Only when we do this will we be able to confidently call ourselves successful teachers.

As you will be able to discover when reading the rationales at the bottom of both lesson plans, I have spent a great deal of time and effort reflecting on several standards. However, I will select one in particular for the purposes of this rationale. This artifact demonstrates my competency of Principle H1, which states, “Teacher-candidates plan and/or adapt learner-centered curricula that engage students in a variety of culturally responsive, developmentally, and age appropriate strategies.” This is because the process of differentiation, at least the process of DI I went through with these lesson plans, is the clearest form of “learner-centered curricula” that one may achieve. Differentiation takes into account EVERY student’s specific needs, levels of readiness, and capacity for academic achievement so as to produce the most effective teaching practices possible. The revisions I completed on my lesson plans were all part of my ongoing attempt to engage students in “culturally responsive, developmentally, and age appropriate strategies” for learning.


Differentiated Lesson 1- Symbolism

Differentiated Lesson 2- Friendly Competition

Weekly Reflection 2 (January 16th-20th)

We are now in the second week of my internship, and what an interesting week it’s been! First and foremost, we had a total of one day in the classroom this week. Due to the fact that Monday was an unpaid furlough day for teachers—and Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were cancelled due to a snowstorm—there was barely any time spent in the classroom. Yet, I cannot say I did not learn anything this week. In fact, I learned a great deal about teaching.

First, teaching is unpredictable. I had no idea there would be any snow this week, let alone enough to cancel pretty much an entire week of school. Nor did I know that when students in your classroom look out the windows and see snow falling, they abandon any notion of learning and become crazed beings bent on chaos. Nor did I Nor did I know that even if students are allowed to go home due to an impending “Snow storm of the century,” teachers are not nearly as free to escape. Nor did I know that Seattle roads are unfit for any form of snow and ice, and when a 1999 Volkswagen Passat (A car owned by yours truly) attempts to drive home from work it can easily find itself in a ditch somewhere out by the SeaTac Airport. Nor did I know that a teacher’s job is never done, even when not in the classroom. Who could have predicted any of this??? Therefore, I must assess this week as invaluable to my understanding of the teaching profession.

Second, department meetings are… interesting. On Tuesday—before any evidence appeared of the snowstorm—the 9thGrade Language Arts teachers met to discuss their plans for the next unit of the curriculum. After introductions and initial catch-up, we began to read through the unit plan already written up by the district (My high school functions out of District Frameworks/Curriculum). While reading, we talked about the main objectives and goals for our students, focusing on how this unit (Unit 4: Persuasive) looks to utilize three different phases: reading/immersion, drafting, and revision/editing, in order to introduce students to the art of persuasion. We then moved on to easily the most fascinating portion of the meeting: Adult learning. During this experience, the teachers themselves are led through an example mini-lesson from the unit they are about to teach in order to understand what will be expected from their students. We were guided through a persuasive work by the department coach, then we had a long discussion about what persuasive techniques were used, what the purpose of the work was, and what kind of audience for which the work would have been effective—all objectives our students will be required to accomplish in this next unit. It was a difficult, unique, and engaging experience, and I feel strongly that I now have a better grasp as to what I will be teaching my students in the coming weeks. The final portion of the meeting consisted of some cooperative planning. We discussed some ideas for possible mini-lessons and classroom activities that would be particularly effective in this unit. And although many creative, diverse ideas were produced in this time, the harmony of our team was decimated. Teachers fought for the mini-lessons they wanted to teach, argued over which activities should be done and which should not, bickered about specific students, opened up about their opinions of past units, and so much more. It was truly a learning experience for me! This experience reminded me of SPU’s Principle E2, which states, “Exemplify collaboration within the school. Teacher-candidates participate collaboratively and professionally in school activities and using appropriate and respectful verbal and written communication.” As I sat there beside a handful of teachers arguing for at least an hour, I reflected on the fact that even within our arguments–even within our disagreements and disputes–we were undoubtedly working for the benefit of each and every one of our students. Obviously, every meeting cannot be perfectly harmonious because every teacher has his/her own distinct style, but at least we were talking to each other, expanding our understanding of the curriculum, learning from one another… all of this will only lead to the improvement of our instructional abilities. Collaboration, even at its most war-torn state, is STILL collaboration! And when teachers talk and learn from one another, the students are truly the ones who will benefit the most!

The third and final thing I learned this week is the importance of flexibility in education. We were supposed to finish up a unit this week with collecting essays and having the students complete a post-test. Instead, we did not accomplish anything. We are now forced to push all of our plans back an entire week. If my mentor teacher and I are flexible, we can still find success despite this huge setback. If we are not flexible, we are in deep trouble. I’m learning, quite clearly in fact, just how important it is to take everything in stride. The more you let the minor setbacks affect your instruction, the less you will truly be able to impact your students. Therefore, I want to put it upon myself to practice and improve my flexibility in the classroom. If I can do this, I think I can be that much better of an instructor for my students.

Weekly Reflection 1 (January 9th-13th)

Wow! What a week! Late nights eclipse to early mornings; preparation progresses to improvisation; the lofty castle of expectations I falsely built quickly burns down to a hard reality. The chaotic frenzy of joy, stress, smiles, laughs, tears, and everything in between commences. Simply put: student teaching has begun.


What went well this week?  Not much. Although I am slowly become increasingly more proficient at knowing what to expect in the classroom on any given day, I still feel out of place quite often. I started the week with feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and fear. And not surprisingly in the least, I am still anxious, insecure, and afraid as I look back at the week in retrospect. Oh how unprepared I feel! No amount of textbook reading, lesson plan writing, classroom management techniques, or public speaking activities can adequately prepare a person for teaching! And even though this fact continually slaps me across the face throughout the week, I feel strong. Strangely, I am at peace amidst this chaos. This is not to say that I have everything figured out, or that I am remotely close to becoming a successful teacher, but rather to suggest that this week has undoubtedly proved to me that teaching is for me. I have been laughed at. I have seen 2 students break down in front of me. I have even misspelled—publicly—the grand and intricate word of “Suppose.” Yet, even with the laughter, tears, and humiliation, I know that I am where I am supposed to be. My constant shortcomings have endeared me to my students, and I passionately feel our rapport has never been stronger. In taking everything in stride, I have consistently proven to them just how committed I am to their education; therefore, I cannot help but count this week as a bona fide success.

What did not go well? Pretty much everything! Being as this was my first full week in the classroom, I definitely have room to grow.  I took attendance and facilitated small class discussions in all four of my freshman classes—both relatively manageable pursuits. Yet, I struggled even to do those successfully! While taking attendance, I butchered name after name. While facilitating discussions, I lectured more than anything else. It seemed like no matter what I attempted to accomplish, I was met with some form of failure. I’ d like to see myself take on more and more responsibility quickly—thereby making this internship a true example of what I will be doing for the rest of my life—but in order to do so I must improve! Hopefully, I will master taking attendance and facilitating discussions, then I can move on from there.


I learned a great deal this week. I learned that writing on an “ELMO” is tough work! An ELMO is a document camera that allows students to see a teacher writing on a piece of paper at the front of the classroom through the use of a projector. Here’s a picture of one:,r:0,s:0)

Above all else, I have learned that teaching is intuitive. When a teacher is continuously confronted by new obstacles, distractions, and interruptions—as all teachers are—he/she must learn how improvise. Teaching “on the fly” is an art form and something that must be mastered in order to find success. Even though my mentor teacher and I had planned out every lesson minute-by-minute, the days never seemed to go according to plan. On Monday, one of our students got into a fight during lunch with a student from a different class. On Tuesday, two students from our senior world literature class—who are recently engaged—broke up. Wednesday was relatively uneventful, apart from the fact that roughly 90% of our students did not do their homework in preparation for the lesson. On Thursday, we had planned on hosting group presentations in front of the class, except that only ONE group (out of the 27 groups we have in total throughout our four freshmen classes). Friday was just Friday—students were ready for the weekend and did not want to work. All of these complications ruined our planned lessons; therefore, we had to improvise. Although I have only been in the classroom full-time for a single week, I can expect this will be a common trend in high school classroom. Stephen Hurley, a writer for Cooperative Catalyst, writes,

“The most powerful stories of teaching that I carry with me are stories of improvisation: times when the lesson plans written the night before were put aside in favor of a learning opportunity that presented itself, quite unexpectedly; times when the emotional climate of the classroom called for a response that wasn’t part of any script; times when the urge to go deeper resulted in us tossing aside the schedule placed on the board at the beginning of the morning” (Teaching as Improvisation; May 11, 2011).

Obviously, teachers must ALWAYS prepare to the best of their ability any time they are in front of students. To do otherwise shows a lack of professionalism, enthusiasm, and respect for the art of teaching. However, I can agree with Mr. Hurley in that some of my favorite experiences in the classroom came from organic learning opportunities—times in which the students’ current wants and needs presented a chance for a teacher to step beyond the lesson plan for the day and truly teach from their experiences. So even though we as teachers must constantly plan, prepare, and structure our lessons as intentionally as possible, we must also be prepare for the unexpected. We must always seek to remember that learning is not about standards, test scores, and GPA’s, but about the students themselves. When students are given the space to grow into their own unique, beautiful, freethinking selves—when students discover their own love of learning—our education system has succeeded.


To read more from Stephen Hurley, follow this link:

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