Archive for April, 2012

During this week, my students and I finished the Civil Rights Unit by talking about social and economic issues facing African Americans and watching a PBS documentary on the movement called “Eyes on the Prize”. The students also spent a day preparing for the test, and then took the summative assessment on Friday. I also covered all of my mentor’s teachers classes on Friday and gave a practice A.P. Test on Saturday.
The Civil Rights movement after it had accomplished its two initial legislative goals of outlawing segregation and protecting voting rights of African Americans attempted to solve the housing and job discrimination that was taking place against African Americans all over the United States. My students and I discussed this issue by looking at particular events and individuals that define this movement towards social and economic equality, an issue that is largely still viable today. My students also reflected on the importance of nonviolent protest and returned reflections that largely communicated this understanding.
We watched this incredible documentary (“Eyes on the Prize”) for the next two days which is constructed from original footage and photographs and modern interviews with the still surviving participants. Many students reacted appropriately to the controversial and aggravating footage of white southerners assaulting peacefully protesting African Americans. At one point, a female student responded to footage of the first Selma March by asking questions about the legality of their actions and eventually coming to the definitive conclusion, “That’s not right.” With these kind of moments, my desire to continue attempting to reach students is solidified and encouraged because it becomes obvious that the students are getting the message inherent in the topics and themes we address in class.
The students prepared in class for the summative assessment on Thursday. They were given a list of thirteen short answer questions to prepare for and time in class to begin writing their responses. I informed the students that they would be turning in their prep work to me before the test, because many of them failed to prepare for the last summative assessment I wrote. This practices was mostly successful and a majority of the students turned in their prep work to me on Friday. Both first and third period prepared for the test this way. So far, I’ve only graded first period tests, so I’m hoping that there will be a noticeable difference in third period, where I implemented a new form of note taking to encourage student information retention. Overall, though, I’ve seen a general increase in scores for this unit relating largely to the subject matter and the stressed importance of the review before the test.
There was one student who is ELL and for which I wrote an assessment that required less English proficiency, though no less proficiency in the content of the unit. Even though I’ve differentiated for him to encourage him to become a part of the learning community, he turned the test in blank (again). I’m not entirely sure how to proceed with this student. I was told that he was a very successful student in his previous school and I’ve talked to him directly and to the ELL expert about how I can best accommodate him. But he’s not even attempting, which is a sign I’m unsure how to interpret.
I also taught my mentor teacher’s full roster of classes and gave a practice A.P. test on Saturday. I felt somewhat unsure about my anecdotal knowledge of the Vietnam War, even though I’m familiar with the general themes and content. I informed my students before the lecture that my understanding of these events is not going to be the same kind of proficiency that might come from someone who lived through the Vietnam War. It was my indirect ploy to help students understand that I’m not yet an expert in all the material that we will cover in class so that they don’t have that expectation of me, which students responded to positively. Besides that, though, I thought the lecture went pretty well for having little external knowledge to discuss while covering the content on the PowerPoint presentations. I then gave a practice A.P. test on Saturday, which about seven students showed up for. They were very appreciative that I gave up my free time to do this for them and I think that it will be helpful for them when they take the A.P. test in a few weeks.

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During this week I completed the Teacher Performance Assessment process on my ten day unit plan on Civil Rights. For this process I created all of the materials for the unit, fulfilling one of the expectations of student teaching for SPU. I recorded myself teaching for the week and tried to introduce students to experiential forms of learning, which is largely a departure from their normal routine which mostly consists of lectures and videos. My attempt was to have students engage different personalities and aspects of the Civil Rights Movement in order to help them create their own impression and perspective of the events that transpired. This process was met with mixed reviews from the students.
On the first day, I had the students organized into three juries at three different tables around the room. After the pre-assessment, I had them review the evidence surrounding the trial of the two men accused of the murder of Emmett Till and then work together to come to a verdict that they thought was fair and equitable. After they turned in their verdicts, I informed them of the actually ruling of the Mississippi jury, which, with all the evidence against them, was acquittal for both men of all charges. This activity launched my Civil Rights Unit which consisted of a shortened lecture and a group or individual activity analyzing primary or secondary sources for each day. The lecture format had been altered from a fill in the blank format to a concept list format, which required students to listen to what I was saying to get the information for the lectures. Because of this change in format, the result was that lectures took much longer than expected, leaving less time for the activities then I had planned. Many of these activities were presented in class and ended up as homework. Students were also given an extra credit assignment to supplement their work load and struggling students were given additional materials to help prepare them for the assessment, which will be altered for them during this week.
I got mixed reviews back from students on their self-assessment which included questions about their opinion of the Civil Rights Unit so far. A few complained about the amount of homework, which had partially happened because there hadn’t been as much time in class as planned for the activities. Students also disliked the fact that information was often repeated, which was intentional. Student readings from the night before matched the content of the lectures so that students would be exposed to content twice or more for retention for the assessment. A few students enjoyed projects like the civil rights song that they wrote and when they listened to the entirety of the “I have a dream” speech by Marin Luther King Jr. Many students reported that they enjoyed the new format and that they were confident in the material they had learned for this unit so far. Many also knew what they had to do to prepare for the test at the end of next week. It will be interesting to see what the assessment results are for this format with the intentional additions that I’ve added that focused on helpings students understand and retain unit content.

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This week I learned the value of group projects to cover content and the advantages of empowering students to be successful in the classroom.
This last week, the U.S. History classes spent Monday through Wednesday in the library researching for a project/presentation that they presented on Thursday and Friday. In contrast to heavier handed approaches, I basically gave the students free reign to complete their assignment. I gave specific instructions and let them know the expectations for their assignment, and then let them get to work. At moments this process seemed like organized chaos. I attempted to be as encouraging as possible to specific students to help them be productive. Some students were off task, which I encouraged to be on task instead of directly reprimanding them. Because I let them go accomplish their assignment and because I wasn’t necessarily informed about their progress, I worried what the result would be when they finally presented their presentations.
In contrast to my fears, I was surprisingly pleased with their finished projects. Most of the groups fulfilled all of the requirements and met standard for this assignment. There were very few grades that I gave below a B. The students proved to me that they could be successful when given responsibility for an assignment with specific expectations and deep content. What this project proved to me was that the students and I are building trust. The students are beginning to trust me with their education and with my expectations for them. What I have been trying to communicate to my students by letting them have more freedom with my assignments is that I believe that they can be successful and that what I’m looking for from them is their belief in themselves and their effort towards success.

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During this past week I gave my first test, learned about the difficulties of rushing content, and discovered the joy of someday having my own classroom.
My students have been rushing through a unit on the beginning of the Cold War which we’ve accomplished in a week and a half in order to make time for a research project and a ten day unit on Civil Rights. My Mentor teacher and I discussed this predicament for most of the unit and I came to the conclusion that it was better to squeeze the unit then lose time for more complicated units. I made the mistake of trying to cover all of the content that was given to me by the mentor teacher instead of reducing the material down to main ideas and important concepts. My compensation to my students for this predicament was to create a test with short answer sections that would draw out all of their understanding of specific important topics and events. I gave them the questions that I would use on the test (hidden among nine other possible questions) and encouraged them to prepare for each question and identify specific examples to use on the test. In my mind, I had given my students the best opportunity to perform well on my assessment. The results were somewhat less than satisfactory. In defense of my students, they haven’t had this form of test in this class (though I highly doubt that they haven’t seen this form in other classes). I’m going to give them the opportunity to recapture the points on the test through revision because I want them to know the content. Hopefully they will be a little more prepared for this format of the next test.
On Friday of this last week, my Mentor Teacher was out so I had the great opportunity to experience a full day of teaching. I loved it! It was a wonderful experience and I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with students and leading different classes. The experience made me very excited for when I have my own classroom. A complicating aspect of every student teaching experience is balancing the Mentor Teacher’s established classroom and expectations with the innovation that comes from new educational ideas and a student teacher who is still trying out what he or she likes for instruction and assessment. It was nice to have complete control of the classroom for a day, but it is important to have the mentor teacher’s experience and example to help student teachers establish themselves in the classroom.

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