Task Option #1: Fundamentals of Learning
It was very interesting to read Margaret Heritage and others’ work on implementing standards in the classroom. I appreciate how the learning fundamentals were broken down into three categories: what students are likely to do, what teachers are likely to do, and what content is likely to do. I feel that too often we forget about the requirements of rich, rigorous content, and I really appreciated the way this article laid out this information for readers. As a teacher, my focus was specifically on what I do in the classroom.
For the first section, Making Meaning, I feel I am somewhat effective. I always attempt to make connections between new and prior learning and to integrate assessment into instruction. Of course, what exactly that assessment looks like is a whole other story, but I know that I am constantly assessing my students’ understanding of the content throughout class. There have certainly been moments when I had to alter and adapt my plans in response to learners — we all know there’s no point in moving forward if students don’t get it! The biggest challenge for me in this category is balancing teaching approaches. I know that if I don’t plan my lessons carefully they will be too teacher-centered and the students won’t be doing enough of the cognitive work. Additionally, if I don’t plan rigorous, probing questions and have a clear vision of what I want my students to learn and to be able to produce then my teaching can become didactic and lacking in rigor. Finally, I could certainly allocate more classroom time for deep learning, but again this only happens if I plan carefully.
For the next category, Participating and Contributing, I believe I always try to structure my classroom for participation but I am realizing that I could certainly do more to enable all students to participate (not just those who choose to raise their hands). If I plan carefully and group students with complementary strengths, then they will have opportunities to engage in sustained discourse and develop as learners. Again, it comes back to planning.
Finally, I believe I am strong in Managing Learning because I care deeply about my students and always try to honor their individuality and backgrounds while at the same time encouraging them to push themselves and take charge of their own learning. I could be better about assisting students in monitoring their own learning, but I’m not sure about the best way to do this. I generally enjoy working collaboratively with my colleagues and learn a great deal from the different ways my peers approach instruction.
Task Option #2: Leading Deep Conversations in Collaborative Inquiry Groups
I was both excited and scared to try out the “Sample Question Sets” in my collaborative learning group. Although I am not the leader of the group, I was eager to use some of these question sets to see if my colleagues and I could extend our conversation beyond what the article describes as “congenial” conversations to more productive “collegial” conversations. Before we could start using guiding questions, however, I thought it was really important that we all read the Nelson article referenced above so that we would have a shared understanding of our purpose (to improve instruction using specific goals and classroom-based data).
I decided to ease my colleagues into using guiding questions by only focusing on two sample question sets: “Examining Instructional Practices” and “Reflecting on Group Processes”. Our grade team meets every Wednesday afternoon, so I presented these question sets to my colleagues and gave them a week to look them over before we put them to use. Together, we collaboratively planned a lesson on close reading of a historical text. We started off using the “Examining Instructional Practices” to help us plan. We identified our learning goals and had an honest discussion about whether or not they were meaningful. We then had a dialogue in which we thought about all the possible ways the lesson could go. After that, we discussed our desired outcomes and put them into writing so that we could refer back to them the following week.
At first, some of my colleagues weren’t entirely interested in participating in this type of collaborative conversation. I think it took a while for them to realize that these questions weren’t personal, and that they weren’t being attacked or accused of “bad teaching.” This made me realize that these conversations aren’t easy at first but they are so essential for us to improve our instruction and aligning it to the rigors demanded by the new standards.
Task Option #3: Mindsets and Equitable Education
In looking back over my notes and reflections and thinking about my focal student, I think that most of the time she was, unfortunately, not operating under a growth mindset. As an LTEL (long-term English learner), she was used to being frustrated in school and disappointed in the poor grades she received. Ultimately, she didn’t believe in herself and her abilities, which hindered her from growing as a student. Although I knew this already, this article was such a great reminder of the importance of communicating to students that “the brain is a muscle” and that the more they used it (their brain) the smarter they became.
Over the past week I have shared this message with my students, and slowly but surely am beginning to notice a difference. Perhaps it is just the group I have this year but some of the boys have been especially different. I’ve also noticed that it’s really important for all students, especially those who aren’t used to operating under a growth mindset, to experience success early on. This seems to propel them to believe that they are capable and that hard work pays off.
Task Option #4: Assessing Students' Affect Related to Assessment for Learning
It was certainly interesting to ask my students about the way they see school. I teach 7th grade English Language Arts, and about 30% of my students are English learners. Additionally, about 10% are reclassified former English learners. Not surprisingly, over half of my English learners were not clear about what the learning targets are in my classroom, whereas about 70% of my non- English learners had a good understanding of what they are expected to learn in class. This made me realize that I need to be very careful about the language I choose for my objectives and instructions and to make sure that all students understand what they are expected to learn in class.
Of the students I surveyed, my English learners were generally eager to learn, although a few of them claimed that they don’t look forward to learning new things in my class. Most of the reclassified former English learners scored highly in the eagerness to learn category. As far as academic efficacy is concerned, my English learners definitely had the lowest scores. This made me realize how important it is that I implement some (or all) of the strategies suggested in this article. Namely, I think it would be really helpful if I provide my students with sample work and continuous, descriptive feedback that doesn’t evaluate them so much as suggest what they can do next to improve.