Thursday, August 11, 2011

Portfolio Synthesis: Personal Statement/Reading & Reflection/Observation/1st Day of School

Respect, Engagement, Knowledge, and Positive
Expectations Promote Intellectual Growth

     Youth instinctively can and even want to learn; it is an inborn trait.  They can overcome great obstacles when young with curiosity and the drive to learn something new, even with a language barrier, as clearly shown in the TED talk by Sugata Mitra on The child-driven education.  But at some point this curiosity and ambition seems to be knocked out of students, especially when it comes to science and math.  The question is why, and what can we do to reverse this process?  How can we facilitate a learning environment that fosters growth; encourages students once again to want to learn and to believe that they can achieve their goals?
     Traditional style teaching is likely a major contributor to the disengagement and reduced ability to learn as students transition to higher grade levels.  How can it be otherwise when the main focus is generally centered on the teacher rather than on the student?  The traditional style teacher is ineffective if she is too authoritarian in nature and if she:  primarily lectures, hands out worksheets, uses the text as her teaching guideline, assigns a lot of reading and note taking, is not consciences of self-assessment, and does not practice pre-assessment or progressive assessment of her students and by her students.  Also inherent to the traditional style is the idea of teaching content knowledge (CK) versus pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) where the latter includes process learning in the form of critical thinking with hands-on activities and inquiry projects.  A more successful model would include both CK and PCK, where CK provides the foundation for inquiry and experimentation with projects that accommodate different types of learners (e.g., visual, kinesthetic, analytical, auditory, etc.).
     A successful teacher would utilize tools that work to the students’ advantage.  For instance, she would understand that learning is a social process that has begun from the time a person is born, as discussed by Vygotsky, Cambourne, and the article How students Learn: History, Math, and Science in the Classroom.  Individuals learn from many people around them throughout their lives, and this process can be taken advantage of in the classroom with group work where students can help one another and learn from each other.  The successful teacher would teach and model by building on existing schema through speaking in a familiar language or a story that is easily understood while introducing new ideas (with an explanation as to why they are learning these, why the ideas are important) to be accommodated or assimilated in the process.  These new ideas or terminology would be repeated several times throughout lessons to help ensure that they will be transformed and seated into long-term memory, which in the end essentially enables them to synthesize relevant information (old with the new).  She would also use hands-on activities and inquiry projects that are fun, engaging and stimulating with no penalty for approximations.  Once students learn that it is okay to make mistakes, and that mistakes are in fact a necessary part of the learning process, they will be more likely to foster a growth versus a fixed mindset, thus continue to increase their intellect.  The following perspectives on learning environment would be beneficial to all teachers and students for learning (How students Learn: History, Math, and Science in the Classroom):     1.  The learner-centered lens encourages attention to preconceptions, and begins instruction                      
           with what students think and know
     2.  The knowledge-centered lens focuses on what is to be taught, why it is taught, and what
          mastery looks like.
     3.  The assessment-centered lens emphasizes the need to provide frequent opportunities to
          make students’ thinking and learning visible as a guide for both the teacher and the student       
          in learning and instruction.
     4.  The community-centered lens encourages a culture of questioning, respect, and risk taking.

     As a new teacher, I would use the above mentioned tools.  I would increase the success of engagement and learning by understanding who my students are.  The observation project allows us to explore the culture of our students.  In observing, we can gain an understanding of what youth from different cultures do, how they interact, what their interests are, and what appears to be important to them.  In attempting to understand these factors, we can better relate to them, find commonalities to share, celebrate differences, and reduce lingual, pedagogical and cultural barriers by incorporating things that are of interest to them into lesson plans that will not only engage them, but offer real world experiences that they can relate to.  Fortunately, all cultures in Grand Rapids and the greater surrounding area share a common interest, which is technology in the form of internet with smart phones, iPads, and computers.  These technological tools can be used as a hook to elicit engagement and motivation in learning while simultaneously tapping into creativity.  Priceless!
     In consideration of my first day of school, it is crucial that I establish a warm, welcoming environment where communication is shown to be a key factor.  I want the students to realize that I have a sincere interest in each and every one of them, and that I believe that each person can learn and grow.  Just as important, I hope to earn their trust and to be able to convince every student to believe in his or her own growth potential.  A Code of Conduct is in the student handbook, therefore, I should not have to go over what is expected of the students regarding their behavior in accordance to school rules.  These students are in high school; they already know the difference between right and wrong and what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior.  I will not insult their intelligence or assumed level of maturity by creating a negative atmosphere with a list of rules. Maybe I will simply have one rule, which may be silly or may be something like, “remember to treat others how you wish to be treated.”  I would then be sending the messages of both respect and positive expectations. The issue, therefore, would be to keep students focused on being productive.  I will attempt to mediate or reduce disruption and irresponsibility by using intervention procedures in the form of reminders or discussion on the Rebel Code of Ethics, but primarily through classroom management as instruction (with interesting, engaging, relevant material as well as the use of Bellwork from the onset).  This will be aided by my continual preparedness and organization of course material and lessons, while at the same time aiding student organization with goals, learning targets, and graphic organizers.  However, consequences will be implemented for those who prove to be problematic, as I will not allow the learning environment to be dysfunctional.  But I think that awareness of what the students are doing at all times followed by eye contact and perhaps some mild body language while saying someone’s name can halt a conversation and get a student back on track with the task at hand.  Alternatively, I could pull a student aside or take him out in the hall before major disruption occurs, as simply talking and being heard may be all that he or she needs.
    It is my hope that we will work together as a team(s) in the classroom with an understanding of the importance and practice of pro-social behavior (respect, kindness, and consideration) using the Rebel Code of Ethics as our model.  Notice I used the word we.  I will model behavior that I expect from them as common sense and previous experiences suggest that one receives what one gives, which has also been my style of parenting—and it works.
     Ultimately, my goal will be to keep students engaged and busy enough with interesting lessons and projects that not only will they want to arrive to class on time and look forward to what will be learned each day, but the thought of acting out or disruption will not even cross their minds.  If I can achieve a well-managed classroom through the methods described above, then learning will naturally occur and I will have achieved my goal of creating a facilitated learning environment in which my philosophy will have been proven and fulfilled:  Respect, engagement, knowledge, and positive expectations promote intellectual growth.

State of MI
African American

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