Practices in Pedagogy

"To Teach is to Learn Twice Over"

Archive for the category “SPU Principle O1”

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

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Weekly Reflection 4 (January 30th-February 3rd)

“A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.”

– Thomas Carruthers

 

The above quote was on my heart a great deal this past week. I am now well into my internship, and am still trying to discover my true role in the classroom. My four freshmen classes are fast-paced, organic, and daunting. I never know quite what to expect when the 9th graders file into my classroom—they continually, blessedly surprise me! And as these little nuggets of bewilderment have kept things fresh in the classroom throughout each and every period, they also force me to slide into an authoritative figure much more than I would like. I completely realize this is just part of the learning experience, and that this is all part of my being “baptized by fire,” as my mentor teacher so eloquently puts it. But I still cannot shake the concern that as I continue to grow into a frame of discipline, I am falling farther and farther from being a supportive, loving mentor. As a young, often overwhelmed student teacher, what should be my role in the classroom? Authoritarian? Coach? Is there such a thing as a happy, productive balance between discipline and facilitation? Or is such a thought more fantasy than reality? Carruthers, an extraordinary educational theorist from the early twentieth century, explains the role of the teacher simply: to provide the opportunities for students to learn how to learn, thereby making himself/herself unnecessary. Clearly, he points to the fact that teaching is a progressive experience. Teachers must start with control and authority, but then must steer their classes in such a way as to provide students with an increasingly aggressive role in the classroom. As students discover their own affection for learning, as well as acquire the tools that promote learning on their own, the teacher steps back. It is at this point in the process when true, organic education begins. And when such an experience takes shape, discipline—at least direct regulation and punishment—is extraneous. Therefore, ideally, the more I can plant seeds of interest in the hearts and minds of my students, the more I can hand them the “reins” of the classroom, the less I will have to worry about being a figure or pure discipline. After reflecting on these thoughts and participating in countless discussions with my mentor teacher, I decided to experiment this week.

On Wednesday, I planned a lesson for my 12th graders [with the thought that if it worked with Seniors, I would then try it on the 9th graders] that was designed to promote independence and student ownership. Occurring on the very day we began reading the next play [Pseudolus] in our Drama Unit, I created a contextual lesson introducing Roman Comedy. Students were split into heterogeneous groups based on their grade in the class thus far, and tasked to read an article and become “experts” on it. These articles were all short (on page or less), focused on one aspect of Roman Comedy (Author’s biography, Theater structure, musical involvement, Greek influence, etc), and relatively accessible to their literary minds. After becoming experts on their article, the groups were then disbanded and new groups were formed. Each of these groups consisted of one member from each of the earlier groups, thereby allowing each group to possess an “expert” on every article read that day. The students then spent the rest of their time teaching one another, by taking turns sharing their expertise in their respected topics. All the while, I avoided the front of the classroom; instead, I wandered the room eavesdropping, answering questions, and simply observing my students learn from each other. It was truly a wonderful, enriching experience.

The lesson spoken of above was based on two Washington State Reading standards: 2.3 and 3.1, as well as the SPU Principle “O.” Reading standard 2.3 details how students should “read to learn new information” and reading standard 3.1 explains how students “expand comprehension by analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing information and ideas in literary and informational text” (Copied directly from the OSPI Website: www.k12.wa.us/). Students were undoubtedly reading to learn new information, as barely any of them had a remote idea concerning Roman Comedy, let alone detailed contextual information. Simultaneously, by requiring students to become experts in their contextual topics through close reading and group discussion, their comprehension was expanded. My commitment to aligning this lesson came directly from SPU’s principles of HOPE. Specifically, principle “O” was one of the most contributing influences in the development of this experimental lesson. This principle focuses on “Offering an organized and challenging curriculum,” and as I strived to create a lesson plan that not only aligned with state standards, but also challenged students to become experts in new, diverse contextual topics related to our unit, I feels strongly I satisfied this principle’s expectations.

Upon reflecting on this lesson, I am relatively thrilled with its implementation. I thought the students were interested throughout the entire period, they taught one another with respect and enthusiasm, and the general flow of the lesson was actually really healthy. After assessing the students in our next class session, I also discovered an exciting fact: THEY LEARNED SOMETHING!!!! All of these factors lead me to believe Carruthers was onto something when he described how unnecessary the teacher should really be. If students are engaged, challenged, and provided the tools and opportunity to facilitate their own learning, amazing results can occur! My favorite aspect to this whole experience was the fact that I was rarely called upon to act as a disciplinary. Because students were interested in their own learning, my role was simply aiding those who needed it and making sure everyone kept an eye on the clock.

The one reservation I have, upon looking back at this lesson in retrospect, is that students need to be notified of what exactly will be expected of them BEFORE they begin the activity. About halfway through the lesson—just before the first groups were disbanded and the new groups were formed—I had to interrupt the class and tell them exactly what they would be doing in the next round of discussions. This was unfortunate, mostly due to the fact that it interrupted students’ conversations and learning. So if I was to teach a lesson similar to this one in the future [which I believe I will be doing with the Freshmen next week], I would undoubtedly tell them everything they need to know up front.

 

All in all, I am pleased with my experiment. Obviously, everything did not go exactly as planned, but such is the reality of teaching high schoolers. My hope is that I can continue to reflect on Carruthers’ ideas—along with the countless other people I am being constantly mentored by during this lengthy internship—and learn more and more each day. Every mistake, every mishap, and every failed idea are simply lessons for me. And as I continue to work hard, walk humbly, take risks, and push myself, I cannot imagine my teaching not improving.

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