December 12, 2014

Clinical Reflection

        For our clinical, my group had the topic of "Teacher Unionism Reborn." Going into the task, I did not think that it would be that difficult to present. After reading over the long and complex chapter, I was much more nervous about the lesson. As a group, we decided to focus more on the different topics that the unions must deal with because we believed that it would be more interesting for the class. I hoped that by choosing the different topics, it would help the class to see that they are not only controversial, but very two sided and therefore difficult for the unions to work with.
        I wanted the class to learn something about teacher unions and to become more informed on a topic that will soon be very relevant and real to students becoming teachers. Personally, I was not at all informed about teachers unions or the immense amount of criticism that they often receive. I think that the idea of a union is very good and also necessary for the public schooling system, but the current unions are not executing the task well. It has become very political and the leaders of unions seem to have the greatest concern for their wallets. In general, I see that the best solution would be to have the leaders of the teacher unions actually be  teachers! For the presentation, I tried to make sure that our group showed both sides of unions and to inform the class that it is a very complex topic. I was worried that we weren't going into depth about the reality of unions in schools and cities today, but I realized that if we had, there would not be enough time in the class period!
        I was disappointed that it seemed like we did a lot of talking and reading over the slides, but because it is not as widely known as some topics, we had to lay the ground work. I wanted the conversation to be more involved with the class, but I also understand that it was the last day of that class and people may not be as awake and interested as they typically would be. I am happy that the comments on the Post Its changed and that they went from mostly negative, with words like "strikes," "riots," and "negative!," to more positive words like "needs reform," "helpful for teachers," and "necessary." While it was not as interesting and engaging as I had hoped, I feel like we did the topic justice and introduced new ways of thinking about teacher unions for the class.
        If I could change anything, I would try to have students be more involved in the conversation all throughout the clinical. I am not sure how exactly we would accomplish that because it is something that we had to spend time to explain, but if I could do it again, I would work on more interactions. Also, I would have tried to move around the room more instead of having the whole group stand in the front the whole time. I am personally happy with my group and the job we need and I think that it went well, but I also know that there can always be room for improvement.

Field Blog Post 8

Beachwood Middle School

        On my last visit to Beachwood for my observation hours, I decided to look at how to keep students involved and in charge of their learning. I also spent some time reflecting on what I have learned through my hours in the school and with the students. I looked over my previous notes from my visits and was able to see that Beachwood Middle School, and Mrs. Karim specifically, work hard to help students feel like they have an impact on their learning. I think this is incredibly important in the classroom because it helps to ensure that the students are always involved and seeking to learn and discover new things.
        For the first class, Mrs. Karim pushed two tables together and had all of the students sitting together and talking about worksheets. They were going over how to look at them, what work could be done, and what the answers were. Mrs. Karim asked each student what they thought about one problem. Every student was a part of the process of at least one question. If student were unsure about how to get to the answer, she would provide guidance and would stay with that student until they were able to understand it. Sometimes I have seen teachers that will ask a different student to answer something if the original student did not have the answer, but I don't think that that is always the best way to go about the learning process. If a student doesn't understand a question or doesn't have an answer, the most effective way to proceed would be to explain the problem fully, making sure that they were able to get to the answer. There is a very good possibility that there would be more than one student who did not comprehend a problem. If you ask a different student for the answer and don't expand enough, those who did not understand will only continue to not understand. So in this case, Mrs. Karim was very thorough and made sure that every student was involved in the worksheet and understood how to do it.
        The second class that came in was in the middle of working on an experiment. They had to test the bounce of bouncy balls and were able to go to the cafeteria to conduct the experiment. I had never experienced a math class that also did experiments, but this reaffirmed my decision to do both math and science because they often go hand-in-hand. The class was working in groups and all of the groups were working together and accomplishing the assignment. This is another way to get students to be active in their learning. Moving to a new setting can be a way to break up the lesson and help the students to stay engaged. When explaining the project, Mrs. Karim was very enthusiastic about the progress of the students. She told me how it would help them to understand what they had just gone over more in depth and prepare them for future lessons. I think that her excitement also helps the kids because they see that learning can be fun and engaging. I believe that a teacher's attitude plays a big role in the attitude that the students get in the classroom. If the teacher is able to be encouraging and helpful for the students, they will have a greater desire to learn and be involved in lessons.
        The last part of the day was their advising period. I like this aspect of the Beachwood setup because it allows the students to refocus their energy and determine what they need to accomplish in their work. They can work on assignments, read a book, meet with a teacher, or quietly socialize with others in the classroom. This gives a nice break for the students before they return home for the day. Mrs. Karim allows students to do re-writes on tests, for which they must answer the question correctly and explain why they got it wrong originally. She keeps the tests in the classroom at all times and is available for the parents and students in their folders. They can view them at any time and she wants them to be able to improve their weaknesses throughout the year. I really liked this idea and believe that students might be more inclined to be active in their grades and try to get a higher grade for an upcoming test.
        Also during the advising period, the teachers, or advisers, must review the students' grades once a week. This is to help them be aware of what they need to work on and how to do so. This is a very effective way to encourage students to keep on track with their work and stay successful in their classes. I appreciated how the students got excited when they were able to show Mrs. Karim how their grades in certain classes have improved. I think that in these ways, both Beachwood and Mrs. Karim try to help student succeed by being aware of where they are in their classes. If they can visually see that they have a low grade in a class, they can be encouraged to work harder and do better in that class.
         Overall, I believe that my time with Mrs. Karim was very valuable. I was able to see a new way to run the classroom and enjoyed seeing how Beachwood worked. I enjoyed seeing how Mrs. Karim tried to keep students involved at all times. I have experienced how difficult that can be during my time in the We The People program. There are days that students do not want to participate or speak in class. Being a teacher is difficult work that involves a lot of time, patience, enthusiasm, and creativity. As I have heard from many teachers and seen in many classrooms, being a teacher is not easy and it is much harder than most people assume, As I teacher, I will strive to always work very hard for my students. I will try to change things up every so often so they can continue to feel interest  in the activities and information we are learning. I am very excited to have a classroom of my own so that I can experience all of the ups and downs of being a teacher!

Field Blog Post 7

Beachwood Middle School

        For my fourth observation, I focused on the topic of time. This visit happened to be their last day before Thanksgiving break so things were more flexible than usual. When I got there, Mrs. Karim had a few minutes left of her lunch time and we were able to talk about why she wanted to become a teacher and why she chose the grade level that she did. During this visit especially I was able to see how big of a component time is as a teacher. Not only the time of a teacher, but also the different types of time that a teacher needs to deal with at the school. The time right before vacation can be difficult for a teacher to work with because students do not have a desire to work and the schedule may be shifted around. This energy can be used to help the teacher-student relationship, though.
        I asked Mrs. Karim why she chose to teach the middle school level. She said that she always thought that she wanted to teach high school, but during observations and time in different classrooms, she learned that she liked the children in the middle school level. She said that they were more fun and lively and she did not feel like they thought they were "too cool" to participate. This is one of my favorite aspects of the middle school ages. I call this "The Disney Effect." I use this because while at Disney World, kids at the middle school level would still be willing to go along with the stories and activities and are not as concerned about what people around them think. They are eager to learn and love to share stories about themselves. While I do appreciate the creativity of the elementary schools and the intellectual conversations and outlooks of high school students, I love that middle school kids still have a bit of both. They are creative and excited to learn but can also have some conversations that are more mature then those of elementary school. The conversation between Mrs. Karim and I on this visit helped me to think about why I want to teach this age of students, so I enjoyed being able to be in the room before the students came in.
        After her lunch break, Mrs. Karim said that she did not have a specific agenda for the day and the first class had a couple of different options for the students during class time. They could finish worksheets, complete any re-writes (to get back points lost from past tests), or play math games for the second half of class. All of the students were able to finish the last of their assignments within the first half of class. Most of the class wanted to play a game and Mrs. Karim joined in. It was fun to see how much the students enjoyed being able to compete against their teacher and to be able to let loose on their day before break. I realized that as a teacher, I need to not only allow time for students to learn and think critically, but give them time to have fun and connect to me as a person. If I include time to be at a friendly level with them, the relationships of the classroom will be more friendly and bonded as opposed to the students seeing me as the person who gives them homework and hands them their report cards.
       I spent some time learning about the science program and the different tracks that students could be in. There was the advanced classes who worked to get the sixth, seventh and eighth grade science classes in sixth and seventh grade. Then they took a ninth grade class in eighth grade to get high school credit. Then the school hopes that they would be able to take upwards of two or three AP classes to get college credit. The honors track took a similar path, but took more time in eighth grade to go back over the previous classes and then look forward to high school classes. Then in high school, they would take honors classes with the hope of taking one or two AP classes. The science teacher said that it was very dependent on the student's understanding of math and their ability to keep up with the math in the science courses. The grade-level track had students take classes that they would take in the grade that they are in. The goal would be that at the end of high school, they might be able to take one AP science class.
        After learning about this outlook of the school, I started to think about the time of students. Is it necessary for a middle-schooler to feel the looming pressure that their actions at age 12 can affect them when they are in college? I don't know if I think that that is very fair to the students. While I understand that it can help benefit them greatly in the end, I wonder if it is too much to ask of such a young student. Time, in this case, is very tricky. Overall, I got to look at the various aspects of time and I spent a lot of this observation reflecting on how much impact time can have in the life of a student and teacher.

December 11, 2014

Field Blog Post 6

Beachwood Middle School

        For my third visit to Beachwood Middle School, I wanted to focus on both class sizes and how the teams help or hurt the way that the students learn. Because I am on my way to be a teacher, I like to see how different strategies work in the classroom. I will strive to not ever teach in a banking way, but in order to accomplish that, I am always looking for different ways to teach and styles that best suit teaching math in a problem-posing approach. The textbook and program that Mrs. Karim uses in her class has helped lay out the format for teaching, but I spent this observation time truly evaluating its effectiveness. The eighth grade accelerated algebra class had group tests, so it provided the perfect opportunity to examine the team-based strategy. 
       Students take both team and individual tests. Mrs. Karim talked about how she was worried at first that in having team tests, some students would simply copy off of other students and not actually comprehend the information. She said that to combat this, she grades the tests in different ways. There are times when she will grade the tests by using the tests of each of the students in the group and grading one question from each member and giving an overall score from the combined questions. When I was there, she told the students that she was going to grade the tests individually so every student must have the answers and work on their own tests. This made the students aware that they needed to contribute enough to be able to write down the correct work and answers. Mrs. Karim told me that she did not count the test grades for as much as the individual tests, so no student would be able to cheat their way into a good grade with the group tests. She also said that while it would not be ideal, even if some students simply copied the answers, she noticed that the teams all discuss how they thought through the problem so every member is involved or is able to hear how to get to the solution. Beyond that, each member should always have all of the needed work and answers so even if students were copying answers, she hopes that it is able to help them learn it by acting as another set of notes on that type of problem.
       During the group tests, Mrs. Karim walks around the room, checking up on each group and seeing how each member is doing. She told me that she can get a pretty good sense of how the students are doing while she talks to the groups about how they went through the problems and seeing the work of each member. As I observed, I wanted to see if I could also see the progress of students and get a better look at how well the team format worked. I was honestly surprised at how well the groups worked together, thinking through the question and how to get to the solution. While there were groups that had students that seemed to lead the thinking process, I was able to witness some of the more quiet students being very talkative and contributing in order to get the answer. 
        As I walked around, I was able to hear some of the things that the kids were talking about. While some did not feel like they could get the answers, they were actively working with the other members so get the right answer. One group in particular was working very hard to try to see the answer and after they finally figured it out, one student excitedly stated, "That was one to be thankful for on Thanksgiving!" (It was a week before Thanksgiving break). I felt that the teamwork of the teams helped them to think about the problems creatively and end the test having learned something new. Overall, I felt that the team structure was very effective in the classroom.
        The only negative side to having the team format is that it does not work as well with the smaller classes. Mrs. Karim has one class that has six students. This is not the class that uses the team format and has another textbook, but with this class, the team strategy has a higher possibility to fail. Her larger class of about fifteen students is the perfect size to use the team format. Class sizes are important when looking at the format that you use in your classroom and I was able to see that very clearly during my observation. 

November 30, 2014

Field Blog Post 5

Beachwood Middle School

        The focus of my second visit to Beachwood Middle School is how Ms. Karim feels about the curriculum and its effect on her teaching as well as testing and how it has changed over time. We have spent a lot of time in class talking about standardized testing and its negative attributes. Personally, I have long thought about how it has contributed to the faults in education. During our discussion, Ms. Karim agreed that it can be a negative, but also introduced the other side of testing that I had neglected to examine. Overall, I still believe that testing has done more harm than good, but I also understand how it can yield some benefits. Beyond that, I cannot come up with an alternative solution, so I can emphasize with those who must consider different options.
        The textbook and program that Ms. Karim is using was developed by teachers who wanted to change how the classroom worked. Overall, she said that it outlines the core curriculum and is therefore effective both for administrators and teachers. She said that while it is not perfect, it gives a number of options for teaching strategies. The book gives the team format and Ms. Karim said that the team aspect has helped the students. With the program, there is both team tests and individual tests. This format works for Ms. Karim and she likes that she has been able to see progress in the students with the program. I asked her if she would prefer being able to develop her own curriculum and guidelines for her lesson plans. She said that while that would be the most effective way to individualize the teaching, the time needed to do so is not realistic for most teachers. She sees the textbook and program for the algebra class to be a good solution because it was developed by teaches who understood the needs and wants of the common teacher. I looked at the textbook itself and at the start of every chapter there was the common core standards that the chapter will cover. Ms. Karim also said that the program has videos for teachers in order to help give the objectives of the chapter and the best way to go about getting the students to comprehend what they need for the tests. 
        Technology has played a big role in testing and how students prepare for them. There are multiple sites that Ms. Karim was able to show me while the students took individual tests. Beachwood is among the schools that decided to take the standardized tests online instead of with paper and pen. As a student, I would not like to have to take it on a laptop because I work better with paper and pencil. I was able to see some examples of questions on the tests and they were not what I recall having at my Catholic grade school. There were the classic multiple choice, "pick all that apply," drag and drop, critical response, drop down, and interactive graph problems. The variety of question formats makes the testing not only difficult to get through the information, but also more work for teachers to prepare students to answer in so many different ways. The testing is incredibly demanding and seems to be a lot of pressure on students that young. It seems to also disrupt the natural order of the classroom because it demands teachers to always have testing in the back of their mind.
        However, Ms. Karim told me about how testing has helped her in some ways. She said that the demand that testing has created has ensured that she cannot get complacent and always has to push her students to learn and work harder. She said that teachers that do not teach their students well can also be identified and give their students the opportunity to have better teaching. While the tests are incredibly demanding on the students, she also sees how the students have embraced the pressure and succeed the expectations that they set for themselves. So in this way, students that perform well can make more progress than they typically would. On the other hand, students that do not do well on the tests only have more criticism to be subject to. Moreover, the teachers of students that naturally do not test well become victims of harsh evaluations. This leads to teachers not wanting those who struggle and genuinely need the help because half of their evaluations depends on the scores of standardized tests. Those students could then possibly lose the attention and help that they need. 
        While I fail to see another way to mandate a national way to evaluate students, I feel that there is no need for a national system. Students are individuals that make up individual classrooms, schools, districts, states, and the nation as a whole. In using such a wide scope to see the "success" of students, those creating the tests fail to see the pieces that make up the national education system. Students should be evaluated, but they should be tested based on the type of student they are. I see that teachers are able to constantly try to improve their students which could be beneficial, but all in all, there are students that become lost in the system. As a teacher, I hope that I will never neglect my individual students in order to better the way that the administrators evaluate me. Ideally, I hope that I teach in a school that also understand the value of each student.

Field Blog Post 4

Beachwood Middle School

        To begin my individual observation hours, I returned to Beachwood Middle School and Ms. Karim's classroom. I enjoyed her classroom when we went as a class, so I felt that spending more time in her room would be very beneficial for me. For my field blog post, I decided to focus on different aspects of being a teacher for each post. The focus of this visit was communication and its uses in this classroom as well as its significance in the field of education. Within communication, I also took a big notice in the team format that Beachwood uses for this math program. The team set up was initiated mostly because of the textbook program that they use, which outlines the teams and the best way to use them to teach the students.
        The teams are made up of four students each and have specific jobs for each of the members. The jobs are Facilitator, Resource Manager, Task Manager, and Recorder/Reporter. While the book takes the jobs very seriously, Ms. Karim said that she is more relaxed and allows anyone in the team to ask questions, while the book would say that only the Resource Manager can ask the teachers questions for the team. It is designed so that students work on the problem and communicate with each other before insisting that the teacher needs to intervene. While this is a great format, Ms. Karim believes that the students do not often call her over because she walks around during team tests, which shows the effectiveness of the team strategy.
        I believe that Ms. Karim does an incredible job with communication in most aspects of the classroom on a daily basis. She speaks in a respectful way to her students, as if they were the age that they are. Sometimes I see teachers falling into the habit of speaking to their eighth grade students as if they were in first grade. This form of communication does nothing for the classroom, and Ms. Karim successfully avoids doing it. She encourages the students and works them hard because she knows she can do so, She works at a fairly quick pace but works to ensure that all of her students are able to keep up. Beachwood is able to have successful students because the students are incredibly involved with their education and take pride in their work. It also seems like the parents of the students work hard to make sure that their children are on task and completing all of the necessary work and doing so successfully. Ms. Karim said that parents are able to come in and look at the student's work at any time and she tries to make sure that the parents are able to be involved in their children's classroom life. Both Ms. Karim and Beachwood work to have good communication with parents, which is a key part of teaching and assisting the student's learning ability. Ms. Karim also works well with the students and is able to have a good communication with them, which helps the overall atmosphere of the room.
        I have also seen Ms. Karim's interaction with her colleagues and it always seems to be lively and friendly. Overall, I feel that she has worked to use the advice of Ayers without knowing it. As I read the comic book To Teach, I believe that it re-inspired me to teach and to work to teach the right way. In the same way, seeing Ms. Karim's classroom and the way that the environment encourages the children's learning has also inspired me to have new ideas on what I can actually accomplish in my own classroom. Ms. Karim always makes time to talk to me, telling me her opinion on what works and what doesn't work for her, and she is able to communicate well even with me as an observer of the classroom. In all, I hope to accomplish the same level of communication and I hope that I will recognize that as a teacher, communication is something that you need to re-commit to on a daily, hourly, and sometimes even per minute throughout the day. While it takes a lot of work, a classroom with good communication will do wonders to the way that the students are able to learn and feel comfortable in the space.

November 11, 2014

Field Blog Post 3

Agnon School
        For our final school visit as a class, we went to Agnon for our elementary level observation. In general, Agnon does thing differently, both in that it accepts students with any level of Jewish faith and in the format of teaching. The teachers and administration are called by their first names, as we were explained, according to the custom greetings in Israel. I went into the second grade class taught by Christine. The classroom had tables that served as stations that the kids rotated to throughout the class time. A student showed us around and explained the stations as the student ambassador of the classroom, an idea that I really liked for my future classroom. The stations, Writing, Reading Group, Reading Response, and Nonfiction were used to cover various aspects of reading and reading comprehension.
        The only station that Christine participated in was the Reading Group, in which the students read a book with the students and they discussed the main points of the chapter. While the questions did help to guide the discussion, the students read the text themselves and were able to summarize and work through the meanings on their own. The students understood how to read the book and picked up on subtle ideas presented in the plot of the novel. Christine was very encouraging to the students and worked to develop the skills of each student. I really enjoyed how she taught because she was firm and had expectations for the students, but when they did something well or when they needed more help, she explained things in a constructive way. While I do not want to teach the elementary level, I felt that I took a lot away from the visit.
        The overall mission and teaching strategy of the school was very interesting to me. I really liked the way that the administration focused the attention on the students and incorporating various teaching methods into every classroom. Each grade level works on a project throughout the year, and I thought that it would be a very interactive and creative way to learn for every single student. They also talked about the way that they evaluate students and use a test that gives more of a map for students. The teacher can see the test and see the strengths and weaknesses of each student and for the class as a whole. I love this approach to assessing the progress of students because it focuses completely on the student and how they are doing rather than comparing them to other students or the understood levels of each grade. In all, I had a great time learning about the Agnon School and I would love to go back and see either a math or science class.