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Inquiry of Context
Samantha Harkinson 7 December 2012
Transcript of Inquiry of Context
I chose five very important ideas to investigate. I chose places, people, objects, feelings, and time periods to research. I felt that these factors affect my students the most. I also was easily able to ask myself many questions about these topics. I questioned why my teacher did not have a classroom library or how the students had centers if I saw no centers set up. My next question was why students did not seem distracted by all the people walking in and out of the classroom? One question I always ask myself when I enter a classroom is where is the technology? When I took a look around the room I noticed my teacher had all these cabinets and closets. What was in them?
Walking into this classroom I felt extremely welcomed. Students and the general education teacher were very excited to have a West Virginia University student in their classroom. I wondered if it would have been different if I was a third grade student entering the room instead.
The next thing I wanted to investigate was time period. From the first day I was at East Park the students knew what time they had to be at every special, what time math started and ended, etc. Was this because of the teacher or because of students' personalities?
The final thing I wanted to investigate was home and family lives. From previous experience in Kindergarten and second grade at East Park I had mixed emotions about family lives. My Kindergarten class at East Park showed very limited family involvement and in second grade I saw an improvement of family involvement. What was my students' family lives like? - Student Interviews
I conducted student interviews to see what students had to say about these five topics. I wanted multiple perspectives and since it is the students' learning I am worried about I thought that it would be a great idea to interview them.
- Teacher Interviews
Since the teacher is the head of the class I wanted to interview her. She is also the person who designed, rearranged, and organized her room. Asking her questions would benefit me, so I know the logic behind her thinking.
I wanted to conduct many observations as an outsider looking in. I believe observing before asking questions was beneficial because I had wonderings I wanted to be answered. I was able to gain a lot of information from interviews, but I wanted to think of myself as a prospective parent looking at the classroom.
I chose to take pictures of the context of my classroom. This gives people a visual and an image of what my classroom looks like. Also, pictures are a great way to show proof. The Inquiry of Context gave me insight into effective teaching. I was able to find out why my teacher was doing all the things to her classroom. She was constantly changing things in her room when I saw nothing wrong with the way it was before. I noticed she painted the walls and added a color scheme. She was always looking to motivate students. All these things made her a respected, organized, and loved teacher.
As a student studying to be a teacher, I have learned many different things. Professors always said to have students grouped in tables, not rows, and that effective teachers are happy teachers. Another common thing I have heard throughout my college career is that organization is key. This project gave me insight into why these things are important.
My teacher always has her students' desks so students can collaborate. She finds that group work helps students to excel in school. My teacher's constant motivation ideas make students feel important in this classroom. My teacher often give jobs to her students, so they can feel like they are a part of this classroom. My teacher explained to me that she moves the students' desks around to benefit everyone in the classroom.
If I had never conducted this project I would not have asked myself the questions I had to for this project. I would have continued to do as my professors said and probably never questions why. As a future educator, when I am asked why I do things certain ways, I will be able to give an appropriate answer. The first time I walked into my classroom at East Park, the students' desks were in four groups of four and two groups of five desks. This is a fairly common set up in classrooms, but two weeks later I walk into the classroom and the desks are in a U shape. I had automatically assumed that students were being too talkative for the grouped desks. Then a few weeks later the desks were all in groups again. Right then I knew that I wanted to look more deeply and ask questions about the seating arrangements.
I sat down with my teacher and asked her about the desk arrangements. She told me that she enjoys changing the desks around so students have the opportunity to work with different people. She did admit that she changes the desks sometimes because her class gets too "chatty." I asked her why she did not chose to implement rows in her classroom. She said that she believes students learn better when they are in groups. She groups her students by who can work well together, who needs help, who needs less help, and on personality. She believes her lower performing students work much better near students who are higher performing. The high performing students often enjoy helping and working with students who are performing lower. Not all students are willing to work with other students, so she makes sure she is not forcing all students to work in groups if they do not want.
Next, I interviews two female girls on the seating arrangements of their classroom. One student told me that she never had a problem sitting next to anyone in her class, but she enjoys sitting in groups. She said she enjoys sitting in groups because whenever she has a question she can ask the person next to her before asking the teacher. The next female student discussed how sitting in grouped desks keeps her on track. I asked her how grouped desks keep her on track, and she began to discuss a behavior management tool my teacher uses with the students. The student said the people in her group work together to keep each other on task and to get projects done before their other classmates.
I believe that teachers need to group students, so they can collaborate. It is important for students to obtain relationships with their peers and to be able to work in a group. Students are also able to learn a lot from one another. Another great thing about grouped desks is that teachers can make teams and use the arrangement as a behavior management tool. Grouping students together is essential to promote learning. The first day I walked into this third grade classroom students were quiet and busy working on classwork. They barely noticed that I had walked into the room. I arrive at the school every Tuesday and Thursday at the same time students are expected to be in their classroom. I found it astonishing that students knew how to come into the classroom, be quiet, start their classwork that was written on the board, and wait for the teacher to start lunch count. This routine made it very easy for me to know what to do when my teacher needed help and if a substitute was in for my teacher. What was more amazing was how students knew exactly when to finish up their work, go onto the next activity etc. Every morning my teacher and the students follow the same routine. At 8:30 you start your class work, take out your homework sheet, put your planner on your desk. Between 8:50 and 9:00 the teacher will start a reading lesson. At 9:30, my teacher conducts a review mathematics lesson and at 10:10, the students retrieve laptops from the cart and begin Reasoning Mind. Reasoning Mind ends at 11:00 and the students go to Art. A schedule that is consistent is very beneficial for students.
I was able to observe days when my teacher was out of the classroom and a substitute was teaching. The students knew when the substitute was taking too long on a subject, skipping their class work, and did not take the lunch count. My students are extremely familiar with their daily routine and did not like to stray far from it. My students asked the substitute multiple times when math was going to be over or when it was time for lunch. My students had rarely ever stopped to ask these questions, but they were thrown off their routine. I saw what a distraction it was for students, myself, and the substitute when there was not a set schedule. From this observation I found it very beneficial to keep students on a schedule that they are familiar with and if a change was about to happen, to warn students. I believe that keeping students on a schedule will diminish many distractions about time. When I began teaching my own lessons in this third grade classroom I became very distracted by the amount of people walking into the classroom. One of the third grade teachers were sending her students over to sharpen their pencils in the electric pencil sharpener. I was distracted by the students coming in and the loud noise of the sharpener. I realized very fast that I was the only one distracted; my students and teacher were still on task.
Another thing I found very distracting was all the teachers coming into the room to pull students for small group. A speech therapist, Title I teacher, special education teacher, and paraprofessionals were all entering the classroom at different times in the morning. I could not help by stare at the door, and again I was alone; every one was on task.
I asked my teacher how she ignored the amount of people walking into her classroom at all times. She said that it is now a norm in her class and she taught her students how to stay on task. She taught her students that they did not need to know who was coming into the room and that their school work was more important. She said the students and her became used to this type of environment. Then I began to ask her about the people that were entering her room. She explained who everyone was and what they do. From this I began to look more closely at the roles other people play in this third grade classroom.
One misconception I have always had was when multiple teachers enter the classroom was that the general education teacher becomes less respected by his/her students; this is not true. My class respects their general education teacher, Title I teacher, and I with the same respect.
Reasoning Mind is a mathematics program students complete on the computer four days a week. They can move up or down levels according to their ability, achievement, and time it took them to complete an assignment. The Title I teacher and general education teacher work side by side to implement Reasoning Mind. It is an amazing relationship these two teachers have with each other and with the students. Having these two teachers in the classroom allows for more interventions to be done with students who are struggling and for another teacher to keep track of progress. Both teachers log into their computer on Reasoning Mind and find students who are struggling. They chose the students with the lowest grades and immediately pull them one-on-one, and discuss what they are finding confusing. When I am there I will walk around the classroom and answer individual questions students may have. This keeps students from interupting the other teachers. We have been able to complete interventions and keep track of students' note books by having three teachers in the classroom. Students can hardly get into trouble or act silly, so behavior issues are low and time on task is high. East Park Elementary School is a very old school. In fact, they are celebrating their one hundred year anniversary this year. With the school being so old, the classrooms are very tiny. I had always favored classrooms with a classroom library and a comfortable space to read. I had noticed that this third grade classroom did not have a comfortable place for students to read, but the room was filled with books that were easily accessible for students. I had noticed that my teacher always allowed students to have a book to read from her classroom library and encouraged students to independently read. It was not until after I interviewed a students that I realized I was wrong in my assumptions. I was told that the most comfortable spot to read was in the coat closet. Students would sit with the closet doors slightly cracked with a student behind each door; they absolutely loved it. Some students would lay underneath their desks and read with a partner or by themselves. Another popular place to read was behind cabinets, which acted as a get away for students since no one could see them. I was amazed how my teacher and the students developed their own comfortable spots to enjoy reading. The students in my third grade class are always motivated to learn because of the environment my teacher prepares. When you walk into this classroom you can immediately feel the motivation the teacher has to teach and the students have to learn. A simple hundreds chart is used to motivate students. If the whole class behaves when a substitute is in for a day, or the class won the quietest class in the cafeteria, the teacher allows students to pull a bear. This means that one student reach into a bag and pull out a colored bear with a number from one to ten one. The student then places the number on the hundreds chart. The class is working to fill one entire row or column of ten to get a class prize. My teacher does not leave it at that; she then talks about fractions about how many bears are missing from the row and hundreds chart. She uses this motivation tool to motivate students and teach her class about fractions.
Another motivation tool my teacher uses is when students complete twenty five homework assignments they can pick from the prize box. Students are persistent with this and constantly compare how many stickers they have. Students often cheer each other on to get one more homework assignment to get a prize. Students receive stars every morning on their homework sheet to show they did their homework.
With these motivation tools my teacher sets an environment where learning comes natural. Students want to learn, behave, and complete homework knowing there is a positive outcome. Students feel important when a teacher puts emphasis on something they did great for someone else or when they get a hundred on a test. Many students lack parental motivation from home, so have my mentor teacher as their teacher keeps these students willing to learn. During my tutor year at East Park I received mixed signals about the families that made up this community. I was aware that many students received free and reduced lunch, resources were lacking, and that is was a low socioeconomic school. What I did not realize was that East Park did a great job hiding how poor families actually were.
Since being at East Park two days a week I was able to get a sense of my students' families. This year I am able to see how bad some students home lives are. Students were able to become comfortable with me as their teacher this year and I was able to learn a lot about what these children went home too. About half of my students parents are divorced. When the counselor came in to introduce herself and explain her job, she told students if they would like to come in and talk about their divorced parents that they should feel free too. Many students openly said they did not want to talk about it and it was heartbreaking the amount of students that did not have parents that are still together. One of my students told me that her mother's boyfriend was arrested and she had to sleep at her aunt's house. She had to come to school the next day and take a test. She did not seemed worried because "it happens all the time." The list goes on and on, but teachers at East Park are used to seeing situations like this and do an amazing job of helping their student body and their families when they can.
East Park has 71% of their students on free and reduced lunches and is the poorest elementary school in Marion County, but walking into this school you would never be able to tell what these students go home too.