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Teaching Reflections
admin | 19 February, 2010 23:59

This blog will reflect my journey through a challenging period of my teaching career.  I'm currently in my 3rd year of teaching Middle School students computer literacy.  I've had over 30 years in education, mostly in elementary, and some in higher education. However, after almost 30 years in education, I find myself in the place where I need to defend my teaching practices.  This blog has been started as a "teacher reflection" during an "improvement plan" due to having an "unsuccessful" evaluation observation of a lesson. 

Part of my districts' purpose for having this process is pushed by the new focus on teacher accountability from the state and local levels.  So I suspect that many teachers will have to go through this process in the coming years as education morphs.  My situation is compounded by having a new principal doing the observation, and being focused mainly on "data".  I can understand, and partially agree with where she's coming from.  And if by going through this process, I can help the school figure out why certain kids are  not learning, then I suppose I'll have found the purpose for e going through this. And the higher ed person in me encourages me to go through with this process, and use my gained knowledge to find that info.

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User Comments
Data and Differentiation [Reply]
Barb | 08 June, 2010 17:51

This rotation has almost completed, as has the school year. My final evaluation was successful, so that big weight was lifted off my shoulders.

The mentor teacher did some additional observations even after the evaluation. The hard part to understand was how the results were still similar to the results gotten at the beginning of the process. Have I not learned anything? Or have the kids not gotten more involved? In a way it's frustrating.

However, on looking at the data more closely, I noticed that the mentor marked some students who had already completed the assignment, and had moved onto the next assignment independently as "not engaged". When in reality, those students were highly engaged, just were not doing what everyone else was doing. I haven't had a chance to talk with her about it, and really have been examining my own guilty feelings about having low scores. Where in reality, this should be utilized as a way to have an open discussion about the actual data gathering process, and what "engaged" really means....

I can understand how she can only watch students for one activity at a time when gathering the data, but then aren't I looking at engagement at every moment of every class? I'm watching student screens, checking the software on my computer to see what applications they are using, and checking my seating chart where I keep track of what assignments they have completed or still owe me. So if I'm being that specific and individually centered on each student during my own observations, can't the data be adapted to show that as well?

Just a thought......

In addition, I know that my experiences with online learning where all students' work is individually centered, have made me more aware of individualizing instruction for students. I get frustrated with the "perfect lesson" scenario that has all students learning everything at every lesson at the same time, or the lesson considered as not successful. Students learn at different speeds, and those learners that finished early would normally be sitting there bored if I hadn't given them the next assignment to move onto. I know that in a way, that makes me a more advanced and mature as a teacher. But how can I put that message through to an educational system that treats learners as if we were in the industrial age with all learners learning at the same time? I know that my methodology cannot be measured as easily (unless I were using online learning tools which are blocked by my district) as time honored ones.

More thoughts on this as I work through this thought this summer...

Discipline [Reply]
Barb | 07 May, 2010 14:00

Yes, the routines developed last rotation are a little better than what I had previously, however, this new group is starting to test already. Considering it's the last month of school, and their minds are already of vacation, that's not surprising. The hard part is that I'll still have to be a perfect teacher in every lesson until I'm observed. If I relax too soon, then the administrator will see end of the year kids, and not my teaching.

The last week has been my "September" with this group, and next week I'll be into October, where I have to put full force into the discipline of the students. And put October together with spring and May/June behavior, it makes for a double whammy with discipline. On top if it all, I still don't know all the kids names yet (particularly 6th graders). So, it's hard to figure out is who in the library, so I can discipline them when they misbehave coming into or out of my room. Once in the room, I can place them with the seating chart.

I guess I'll just have to get better at remembering the names of 800 kids that I only see for 27 hours a year! Should keep me young! :-)

FRUSTRATION [Reply]
Barb | 07 May, 2010 11:10

It's been 3 months now since the "Plan of Action" was requested. And while I love to write, this is getting to be ridiculous that this process drags on so long. Even though in my heart I know I'm a good teacher, that little niggling thought that I might not have a contract renewed next year, or have to go through this grueling process again keeps weighing on my mind.

I may think I'm a good teacher, but you never know what someone else is thinking. I may have received a positive evaluation from one administrator, and a tentative positive one (waiting 2 weeks now for written proof that it really was an ok lesson), I'm still waiting for the 3rd shoe to stomp on me. That 3rd one is the original one who stated that my lesson was unsuccessful, so I still don't know if my definition of successful matches hers.

If I were a new teacher, I think I'd be considering other options for next year, since my future seems so uncertain. As it is, I'm still keeping my resume active, because I never know.

Results of Modified Unit [Reply]
Barb | 18 April, 2010 22:51

After grading their videos, the results are mixed. Several did a very good job in showing how technology changed their topic, and included the necessary video skills. However, quite a few are either missing one of the criteria, or somehow didn't connect technology to their topic at all. I suspect it's because the thinking skills are not strong in that top range of Bloom's taxonomy. I'm glad I gave them a chance to practice those skills. We will be using tomorrow as a "catch up" day for those who need to redo anything on their videos. Hopefully some of the grades will come up after we have the discussion about which videos really show the relationship between technology and their topic, and they have a chance to fix what was wrong.

This has been a good rotation, as all of the classes have progressed more quickly through the curriculum than the other rotations. So I've had to dust off lesson plans for a couple of units I haven't used since my first year here. I think it's just the combination of kids, as the Art teacher made a comment to the effect that these groups of kids were the easiest ones she had this year so far. And most of the classes have had less problems with discipline.

It will be interesting to see if the routines for discipline that I fine tuned this rotation will still work with the last one.....

After Spring Break [Reply]
Barb | 15 April, 2010 23:01

It seems like it's been a while since I wrote here until I remembered that spring break was during this time. After returning from break it took a couple of days to get the kids back into routines. However, the challenge class talked about above seemed to get back to routines relatively easily. The fact that we were at the point in the project where they were looking for pictures for their topic probably had something to do with their cooperation. Then the next step was the actual creation of their videos. At the present time, most of the students have finished adding text slides including a credit slide and are ready to add music to their videos tomorrow. So in some ways, the rewritten curriculum was a good idea. It also enabled me to fine tune the last unit for the other class as well. The only thing missing for this class is that I did a very shortened version of citing sources. I did not have them use Noodle Bib Express to do a formal citation, but did have them citing the sources for their pictures. I think I may have time for them to do the citation after we do the music, if their interests will continue.

Another challenge is now that we are extending the rotation, I'll have extra days and need to make up more activities for them. I think I'll figure out a web quest using the links from Unit 2 about networks that I skipped with these students. That way they will still get the facts but in an easier format.

Now, if I can just figure an easier way to teach discipline to 6th graders who think they are 7th graders already!

Alternative Lesson cont'd [Reply]
Barb | 31 March, 2010 14:17

The lesson went much better today. Five of them actually showed up for lunch detention, and I cracked down on talking right from the start, reminding them that the next detention is an after school one with a phone call home. I was able to give a full demonstration of the objective for the class. That's the first time in a while I could get through it without an interruption! That's success in itself!

They were then able to work on independently researching a topic of their choice (with guided links), and fill out the worksheet with what they are going to create their video on. Most of them were able to save the worksheet to my folder. This allows me to look at their papers and write a digital comment to each student! Hah... isn't technology nice when the kids cooperate!

Week before Spring Break [Reply]
Barb | 30 March, 2010 22:19

All of the classes have had a little more trouble with noise this week, so I've had to crack down on the talking. My challenge group takes one step forward and 2 steps backward it seems. We had a successful class yesterday with doing the Boolean Search activity. They actually all got the activity done AND saved to the correct folder.

Today, however, we had to stop the computers several times as they couldn't keep quiet for a few minutes to listen to directions. I even had to slam the door to get their attention, and pass out several lunch detentions. But by the time I got their attention, the class was over, and some were still confused about where they are heading with their video.

This up and down classroom climate is with a very watered down curriculum. I've broken down my old curriculum and rewritten it just for them, but they don't appreciate it. In addition, I'm not feeling any more successful with the watered down curriculum. The Boolean search activity that was successful above is one of my regular activities. I'm wondering whether it works because I've taught that lesson so much that I know what I'm doing versus the new watered down curriculum, I'm feeing that I'm not as familiar with and feeling my way. Or is it that it is too watered down, and they are bored with it being too easy?

I'm going to continue with the new rewritten curriculum, and see where it takes us. I think the challenge with the new curriculum is that the mentor and I gave them too many choices of where to go. Although our purpose was to find sites that were easier to read for them, and giving them a choice, I think too many choices was confusing to them. I'll have to model choosing one of the links in their category, and sticking with that one to create their video.

Try, try again!

Roller Coaster ride [Reply]
Barb | 24 March, 2010 23:36

The last week has been a roller coaster ride with my challenge group. In fairness, a couple of other students in other classes have been acting out, so I've had a few more lunch detentions than usual. I'm not sure if it's because they are tired from testing, or that spring is in the air, and they think learning time is over.

With my challenge group, we finally made progress for about 3 classes, in which they created their databases, added info to other students, and created a report. Not as much progress as the other classes, since they also did a query, but at least they were exposed to the concept I needed them to learn for the test next year.

The mentor and I also brainstormed about how to make the coming two units more compatible with the learning needs of these kids. I had to compromise my feeling of needing to have them understand how a network works (they research and then create a video about it). I decided to have them create the video about the last unit which is "How Technology Has Changed the Way We Live and Work". They usually have a choice project where they can choose their software, but since they haven't created a video yet, they won't know about that option. So we'll have to do the video about that topic. It should be more engaging for them.

I planned a Google Docs spreadsheet, where they could brainstorm together, and had a written step by step direction sheet to go with it. However, they couldn't handle the shared activity because they figured out they could overwrite what someone else had written, and then replaced it with inappropriate words. This was done by several students, but with the nature of the technology, I couldn't tell who was doing the writing. So luckily I had the written directions. I shut down their machines, and had them write a paragraph about what they were supposed to be doing during that activity. They then had to write the answers to the questions on the paper as well. That way, we at least got the brainstorming done, albeit with paper and pencil rather than a computer. Hopefully they also learned what inappropriate behavior online looks like. I've told them that a written contract is forthcoming for doing the video project, and that if they can't follow the contract, they will be doing a written report instead.

I was out for a funeral today, so hopefully we've had a day break from each other, and they'll be ready to focus tomorrow.

Short Lived Success (3 reflections in 1) [Reply]
Barb | 15 March, 2010 23:02

I need to add in here that I have 5 very successful classes going on at the same time as this one challenging class. All the other five are plugging along, completing assignments and projects with very few interruptions and lots of success. So at least most of my day feels successful. But if I were a new teacher, I might be considering running out the door next year, just due to this one class.

For the challenging class, progress is slow or non-existent. For example, after grading the results of the successful working on the worksheet in the last reflection, only a couple of questions got completed. The next day the inappropriate behaviors started again, and we wound up with nothing else done, as I had to turn off their machines for a lecture about appropriate behavior. Then we ran out of class time.

The next day, I met them at the door again, with giving 4 students a reward token for getting work done and telling them to go on with their work as instructed (directions are online for what to do). The rest of the students were told they had 10 minutes to complete the worksheet and get it where it belonged on the server, or they would have their computer turned off and be given a written assignment. I wound up giving out lunch detention to four people, and one written assignment, but the majority of the students at least got the worksheet completed and up where it needed to go.

However, only 2 of the four lunch detentions showed up for detention. And since 9 of the kids were out for a field trip, and 3 more were sent to the office or received another lunch detention, I felt it would be nice to start the few left with creating a database without the preliminary worksheets the other classes had to do. After I gave a few directions, grabbed their machines to demonstrate, gave them back their machines to work, I then still had to point out on every computer of each kid in the room exactly what they had to do. This was frustrating for me, having to say the same thing I had just said 15 more times. And there was a written help sheet laying on their table that I told them to look at as well, but few wanted to read directions!

At the end of the day, I called the parents or emailed four of the lunch time students. So hopefully, when the students who were on the field trip return tomorrow, as well as the miscreants, I can reteach this lesson, and make progress this time, as some of them will have already done the steps and can help others.

Part of my frustration with this class is that I'm doing a heck of a lot of extra work just for this one class. I will see these kids all of about 27 hours for the year, and they'll forget what they learned (either behavior or knowledge wise) by the next time they see me next year. These guys I'll see even less than 27 hours as testing is going on, and a couple classes each of these two weeks are rotated out.

But yet, I can't give up on them.... there are about 15 kids who are the silent majority who sit there trying to grasp what I'm teaching, but being just as distracted by the 4-6 students who are always acting out. But with my limited time with our rotations, I have very little time to build a rapport with them before they move onto the next rotation.

Aha! - I just realized that of the seven challenging behavior students, 3 of them are new to the school, and thus don't have the rapport with me from last year. Of the 4 that do, two have buckled down with some help, and 2 are more reacting to the 3 new ones. So hopefully, once I get the 3 new folks under control, the others will be workable. Maybe there is light after all, because those new students are the ones whose parents I have contacted.

Well, tomorrow is another day...

Getting a handle on kids [Reply]
Barb | 10 March, 2010 10:55

I spent lots of time trying to create videos to teach the lower students, but was unsuccessful due to computer glitches. I was able to get the videos to play on my computer but not on the students computers, and since they need to be able to stop and start the videos to help themselves, the one on my computer was more confusing to them.

So, I battened down the hatches, and created a simpler worksheet with complete directions to be able to hand to anyone who does not pay attention. I also greeted them at the door, and let them know that anyone who doesn't listen while directions are being given out, would be handed the help sheet and told to read it on their own. Together with that direction and a lunch detention given out for behavior the day before, we actually had a decent class yesterday, and completed a portion of the worksheet.

I won't have them today because of testing, so hopefully they'll be able to remember what we did yesterday to be able to complete the task, then move on and catch up with the other class.

Allelu.... student just showed up for lunch detention, and it's during my planning time, so maybe I can get at least one back on track! :-)

Results from classes [Reply]
barb | 05 March, 2010 23:10

The mentor did some awesome work before and after her observation. She researched each of the students in both classes, and comparing the data on the students to the engagement data she collected during the classes, confirms more than what I suspected. Her data on the classes showed that the afternoon class is packed with at least 12 students who either have an IEP or are consistent low performers on tests. The morning class has only 4 student with such challenges. This explains why they have trouble catching on to lessons geared to average students. In addition, her data during class should students in the morning class attending anywhere from 100 % to about 80%, while the afternoon class was engaged anywhere from 29% at one time up to about 80%. So we discussed ways to try to make direction more "visual" for them. I came up with the idea of creating mini videos that they can play on their machine. I created several last night, but had technical challenges showing them on their computers. Therefore, I had to show it from my machine, but that somehow confused them more. So went back to giving directions the old way until I can figure out the technical piece.

I also plan on looking more closely at the data they submitted in the "Perceptions of Tech Skills" survey they filled out (https://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?hl=en&formkey=dHd1bmxNR1RUelVWWHZqdFJvZy1FVnc6MA ). I want to look at their ideas about how they learn best. More over the weekend.

First Observation with Mentor [Reply]
barb | 03 March, 2010 23:15

The mentor teacher and I met at the beginning of the week and agreed on times to meet, and what she will be looking for in the classroom as she observes. We will be discussing the objectives I have listed on the screen that should show what students are achieving with that particular lesson. When she comes into the room, she will be collecting data on my interactions with the kids, and how engaged the students are with me.

When she came in today during the morning class, things went relatively smoothly. Most of the students met my expectations, and were able at the end of the class to tell me with a thumbs up gesture that they learned the things we focused on in class. However, I had forgotten to put up the objectives screen for that class due to the quickness of changing classes, and having to be in the hallway to get kids into the room. In addition, both classes still had trouble with logins, so the major part of their typing time, I was busy straightening out accounts.

The afternoon class was much more chaotic. There are some challenging students in the class, and it took more than the typing time to get them logged into the system and/or the typing program. During this time, I guided the rest of the students onto the first activity, and then to using the Links to Games so they were engaged while I worked with the challenged students. We finally got to look at the spreadsheet activity, but did not get to do much more than open the worksheet they will need to work on tomorrow, and save it to their own folder.

The mentor teacher at one time pulled out a student who must have been misbehaving and talked with him in the hallway. I appreciated her help, but was frustrated with myself for not catching that student myself. He was sitting with one of the challenged students (EL), and must have been taunting him. I need to move that challenged student back to a seat nearer to me. He was originally in a seat near me, but asked to move to the current seat because he couldn't get along with the student next to him. In the new seat, he's easily influenced by the student (mentioned above). In a way I like him (EL) in the seat where he is, because last year when I put him where I could help him (as per my experience with him in 6th grade), he was able to wander the room too easily when my back was turned. So having him in this seat against the wall, makes it harder for him to wander as he has to climb over 3 other students. But not being able to reach him to give individual guidance is also tough. So I think I'll try to move him to a seat near the wall closer to me.

It will be interesting to see the differences in the data that the mentor collected in the morning and afternoon classes. She gave me an article to read that also inferred that student engagement changed in the afternoons versus morning classes. The question is why? Due to high calorie lunches, because the kids are more awake or more tired? I don't know, but it would be interesting to investigate that topic further. Now, if I could only tie that to a technology that could solve the problem, I might have a dissertation topic.... lol...

Why is this reflection necessary? [Reply]
barb | 24 February, 2010 17:52
During her observation she states that the students did not accomplish the "objective". Indeed, since the lesson is usually 2 days long, and the first day(the one observed) usually is an introductory day demonstrating where we are heading (I'm teaching them to cite sources on a website using Noodle Bib Express). The process they are learning is complicated, and the first day is usually a demo day, and we eventually get timed out by Noodle Bib because we have to review terminology such as publisher, copyright, title, etc. as it applies to web pages. Then usually on the second day, they've seen me do the process, and can then do it with much less direction. So I was secretly amazed that 12 students were able to complete the task on the first day. Another 7 completed it on the second day as planned. However, that still left 8 students who didn't get it in those two days. Six of those students consistently had 0's in my gradebook, and 2 more eventually came during homeroom time to finish (taking extra time). If the students did their part and tried during class, I don't mind helping students during homeroom, or even after school, even though that's going beyond the call of duty. However, I resent giving up my personal time to help students who goofed off in class, or were too busy socializing to pay attention to directions. But I do it because I want them to have the skills. Although at the present time, our district and state don't count technology skills toward AYP, there is a test that is given to 7th graders that measure generic tech skills. I suspect those test scores will eventually be added into AYP since NCLB states that all students need to be tech literate by 8th grade. Since the evaluation stated that my lesson implementation, and student engagement were "causing concern", the lesson received an overall "unsuccessful" rating. I have never figured out how the unsuccessful rating is achieved. We have 4 categories that get scored either as "successful" or "causing concern" or "unsuccessful". Of those I had 2 in the successful range, 2 in the causing concern range, and 0 in the unsuccessful range. Yet the overall lesson was rated as "unsuccessful". Supposedly if there is more than one category with a causing concern, that makes it unsuccessful. Sigh...

Ok.. I'm going to vent this once... just to get it out of my system.... then move on to thinking positively about this process... So if you don't want to hear negatives, skip through the next paragraph. The result of my improvement plan is that I have to meet with the teacher mentor on a twice a week basis, and she has to observe my classes twice a week, gathering data on what my students are doing, and what is happening in the classroom. Now, while I think the data will be very useful (I'll create another post telling why), the fact that I have to take so much time away from planning time that is already tight, is frustrating to me. I'm already teaching 150 kids on a daily basis, 300 kids every 7th week because we rotate then and I have to grade final projects from one rotation as I'm getting gradebooks, passwords & logins, etc ready for the second group. The fact that lesson plans are basically done helps as I can use the same lessons the next rotation and tweak them for each group of kids. However, the grading becomes overwhelming. There are always kid who finally realize during that last week that they've got to catch up on projects that were due previously (those 6-8 kids mentioned above times 6 classes). So that adds to the grading load as well, and that means that the homeroom time is usually packed with kids who need one on one help. So taking away 30 minutes twice a week out of my planning time, just adds to the stress of juggling everything. In addition, I'm to keep a "reflective journal" on each lesson. Thus the reason for this post. Since I've been up from midnight until 1AM writing this, that means I'll probably be taking another 2 hours out of my schedule for that part of the process... However, if it finds solutions for me, then it will be worth it. In addition, since I suspect the same kids that don't perform for me, also don't perform for other teachers, then if we can get to the bottom of why they are not learning, it will benefit the whole school as well. I'm going to open another post in this thread to brainstorm ideas of things we need to be looking at.. so stay tuned for more.

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