Strategy Checklists for Teachers

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As a teacher in training, I am learning multiple strategies to become an effective teacher and have a welcoming, engaging classroom for all my students.  I hope to employ many, if not all, of these strategies, but in order to do so, I need to better organize them so that they can be referenced when I need them.  The following are strategy checklists I have created that focus on three aspects of teaching: implementing culturally responsive teaching, differentiating instruction, and empowering students to take ownership of their learning.  I chose these three aspects because I believe they are integral to effective teaching, and because I feel I need to focus on these three areas in particular.  

Strategies for Implementing Culturally Responsive Teaching for Teachers

  • Pronouncing students’ names correctly

For many immigrant students, school is their first point of contact with a new culture.  Learning how to pronounce students’ names shows that the teacher respects them as individuals and respects their culture.  According to Professor Rita Kohli, when teachers do not take the time to learn students’ names, they invalidate the students, which builds “walls” between the student and the school and can hinder learning (Mitchell, 2016).

  • Visiting students in their homes and communities

By going out into the community in which students live, teachers can see what life is like outside the classroom for their students.  Seeing students in their home environments can open teachers’ eyes to the kids’ economic realities and can quash any stereotypes the teacher consciously or subconsciously has.  Knowing the culture and home life of the students is one of the most effective ways a teacher can prevent themselves from succumbing to the dangers of the “single story” that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns against in her TED Talk (Adichie, 2009).

  • Tapping into funds of knowledge

When teachers get to know their students, their students’ families, and their students’ cultures well, they have access to a wealth of knowledge and human experience that can add multiple perspectives to the learning experience. Dr. Mandy Stewart states that teachers should adopt an “asset mindset” when teaching English language learners (ELLs) in order to learn about the funds of knowledge that ELLs can offer their teacher and classmates.  Not only can culturally diverse students offer new and different realms of knowledge, but also different approaches to learning familiar subjects (Krutka, 2015).  

  • Evaluating textbooks and supplemental material to insure a diversity of perspectives are represented

It is so important for teaching materials to represent a diversity of perspectives for two reasons: to let students know that people like them are important and matter in the worlds of literature, science, history, etc., and to open up new worlds and experiences to students when they encounter other cultures in their learning (Adichie, 2009).  This can be taken a step further by discussing the diversity of perspectives and teaching students about the bias inherent in all sources of information.  In a video titled “Callie,” a fifth-grade teacher effectively discusses how the historical facts in textbooks and spoken by teachers have elements of opinion to them since they are seen from the perspective of another person (P., 2014).

  • Holding affirming views about cultural diversity

Teachers should believe that all students are capable learners and have positive contributions to make to the learning environment.  If teachers respect cultural differences and see these students in an affirming manner, they will hold them to higher expectations.  In turn, these higher expectations will generally translate into a more rigorous learning environment, greater self-confidence, and higher achievement (Villegas & Lucas, 2007).

  • Developing sociocultural consciousness

Most of the time, teachers should look at the student and his family to see past the stereotypes that come from looking at cultural groups as a whole; however, in order to develop sociocultural consciousness, a teacher must step back from the individual and look at the student’s culture on a broader level.  Understanding the social and economic systems of a student’s culture is imperative in understanding the values held by the student and in understanding some of the educational inequities a student may face, since economic and educational equity are so closely connected.  Developing a deep understanding of sociocultural issues can be done through reading and being trained by an experienced facilitator (Villegas & Lucas, 2007).

  • Using analogies and examples that are pertinent to the students’ lives and cultures

Using students’ interests and issues that are important to them can help them understand new material.  Teachers can help students build bridges between what they already know and what they need to learn and can also use these interests to increase engagement, motivating students to learn.  An excellent example of this cultural bridge-building happens in “Callie,” in which Callie ties her lesson on immigration to her students’ current concerns about immigration issues in America that affect themselves and their families (P., 2014).

 

Strategies for Differentiating Instruction for Teachers

  • Providing multiple means of representation

Students learn in a variety of ways, and providing multiple means of input will insure that students are being given an equal opportunity to acquire knowledge (Barrett, 2013).  For example, it can be particularly helpful for English Language Learning (ELL) students to have visuals such as graphic organizers or to participate in hands-on learning activities (Krutka, 2015).

  • Providing multiple means of expression

Means of student output is just as crucial as input when it comes to differentiating instruction.  Students should have a variety of options in which they can demonstrate learning; teachers should not rely on a single means of gauging students’ understanding, especially when some students require modifications or are ELL students (Barrett, 2013).  Some examples of multiple means of expression include allowing students to use verbal as well as written responses and using hands-on demonstrations of knowledge (Ebeling, Deschenes, Sprague, 1994).  

  • Increasing wait time

All students can benefit from greater wait time after being asked a question, but especially ELL students.  Waiting three seconds for an answer may seem like an easy task in theory, but can actually be quite challenging.  There are other techniques for eliciting responses in which additional wait time is built in naturally for students who need it, such as journal writing and small group discussions (Krutka, 2015).

  • Gathering background information on students prior to the school year

Providing students with multiple means of engagement is an important strategy for differentiating learning so that all students are more motivated to learn.  One of the ways to do this is to base lessons and assignments on student interests (Barrett, 2013).  In order to learn more about students interests before the school year starts, teachers can send out a parent letter with questions or a survey about their children’s preferences.

  • Assigning time limits to homework

If students are given a math worksheet for homework, some students might finish in twenty minutes, while others may take significantly longer.  One way to make sure that some students are not getting bogged down by homework that takes them longer to finish is by imposing a limited amount of time that students should be working.  For example, a math teacher assigns a worksheet, and tells her students to either complete it or work on it with an honest effort (maybe having a parent sign off) for twenty minutes, whichever comes first.  Homework time limits are the equivalent to adapting the number of items a student must complete, which is a common modification in inclusive classrooms (Ebeling, Deschenes, Sprague, 1994).

 

Strategies for Empowering Students to Take Ownership of Their Learning for Teachers

  • Allowing them to work independently on projects that follow their interests

In a traditional public school,  it is unrealistic for students to always follow their own interests (like students at A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School), or even design their own learning for a semester like the students in the Independent Project.  The biggest benefit for the students in the Independent Project, is the complete ownership the students have over their learning (Tsai, 2013).  This ownership translates to greater motivation and greater understanding.  Even if independent, student-driven work comes in smaller doses such as Genius Hour, it still increases students’ motivation to learn (Carter, 2014).

  • Collaborating with students at the beginning of the year to formulate classroom guidelines and structure

Creating democratic communities in the classroom can empower learning and engage students who might otherwise just come to class and go through the motions.  The writing of a “class constitution” or a group behavior contract can also make students accountable to each other for their behavior.  Deciding together what the class finds most valuable in the structure of and guidelines of the classroom is a good first step for creating a community of empowered learners (Brodhagen, 1995).

  • Tracking student progress through portfolios

Saving the work of students in an organized portfolio allows them to look back at the end of a unit/semester/year in order to reflect upon and evaluate what they have learned.  Self-evaluation is a necessary step for students to become self-regulated learners.  Portfolios also serve as a tangible demonstration of their learning, so that they can see the results of the effort they have put forth in their learning (Brodhagen, 1995.)

  • Guiding students as they write their own learning goals

If students are to take true ownership of their learning, then they must understand what they are working towards.  Setting their own short and long-term goals will help inform the student of what and why they are learning.  Setting goals will also help in their self-assessment and reflection; as they look back, they can determine how and if their learning goals were reached (Brodhagen, 1995).

  • Offering students choices in their learning

If possible, involve students in making decisions about the curriculum and use their interests to inform what will be learned.  If this is not possible, give students choices in other ways that relate to their learning.  For example, give them choices about how they would like to be assessed at the end of a unit.  When students are given the opportunity to direct their learning, they will be more motivated to learn and more productive (Kohn, 2015).

  • Asking students to take part in the parent-teacher conference

It seems counterintuitive to leave the learner out of a conversation about his/her own learning.  If students are to have true ownership of their learning, then they should also be involved in the evaluation of their learning and should be able to reflect upon it (Krutka & Milton, 2015).  Student-led conferences also shift power in the conversation of the student’s learning, thereby giving the student more control over what is said about the their own learning (Brodhagen, 1995).  

 

References

Adichie, C. N. (2009, July). The danger of a single story. Retrieved May 01, 2017, from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

Barrett, L. (2013). Seamless teaching: Navigating the inclusion spectrum. Teaching Tolerance, 52(43), 53-55.

Brodhagen, B. (1995). The situation made us special. In M. Apple & J. Beane (Eds.), Democratic schools (pp. 83−100). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Carter, N. (2014, August 04). Genius Hour and the 6 Essentials of Personalized Education. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/genius-hour-essentials-personalized-education-nichole-carter

Ebeling, D.G. Deschenes, C., & Sprague, J. (1994). Adapting curriculum and instruction

Kohn, A. (2015, June 22). Progressive Education (#). Retrieved May 02, 2017, from http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/progressive-education/

Krutka, D. (2015, September 10). Approaches to Bilingual Education. Retrieved May 01, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyoUy1yW2NQ

Krutka, D., & Milton, M. (n.d.). Episode 43: Student-led Conferences With Cathy Whitehead. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from https://soundcloud.com/visionsofed/episode-43-student-led-conferences-with-cathy-whitehead

Mitchell, C. (2016, May 10). Mispronouncing students’ names: a slight that can cut deep. Retrieved May 01, 2017, from http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25919841&bcid=25919841&rssid=25919831&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Few%2F%3Fuuid%3D73BA86AA-13AA-11E6-9D11-71C9B3743667&cmp=SOC-SHR-FB

P. (2014, February 05). Callie. Retrieved May 01, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JNq0gu-eb4

Tsai, C. (2013, February 13). If students designed their own schools… Retrieved May 02, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RElUmGI5gLc

Villegas, A. M., & Lucas, T. (2007). The culturally responsive teacher.Educational Leadership, 64(6), 28-33.

 

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Reflection on Teaching

I didn’t always want to become a teacher. After graduating with a B.A. in history, my passion for social justice led me to my first career as a librarian.  I believe that everyone should have equal access to information and educational resources, and I truly enjoyed providing information and education to people of all ages in my community.  I worked as a librarian for nine years, mostly in children’s services where I became an advocate for early literacy and family literacy.   This advocacy led me to work in close proximity with school librarians during the summer months. We worked tirelessly collecting and delivering new and used books to children who visited our city’s free summer meal sites.  Our motivation was in assuring that all school-age children would have access to books to support their literacy and would know the joy of book ownership.  Partnering with school librarians and witnessing the children’s enthusiasm for reading truly opened my eyes to the impact that public schools, literacy, and education in general can have on the community as a whole.   This realization spoke to my passion for social justice, and I now feel a calling to take on a greater role in providing a quality education for the children in my community.   

As the children’s librarian, I advocated for family literacy and encouraged book ownership and the importance of daily reading in the home, particularly during the summer months for school-age children.  This experience made me realize some of the disparities among students in regards to home life, economic level, and physical and intellectual limitations.   Observing these disparities motivates me to serve those students who face the greatest challenges.  Since the ability to read is one of the most important keys to opportunity, I would like to eventually become either a reading intervention specialist and/or a Reading Recovery teacher in a suburban, Title I, public elementary school.  I look forward to providing a patient, welcoming, non-judgmental space where I can help students develop the most important skill they can have in order to become lifelong learners: literacy. In order to be professionally and personally prepared to become a reading specialist, I will assess my areas of strength to build upon and my areas of improvement in the realm of elementary education.  In the following paragraphs, I will determine the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and personal and professional experiences I will need to successfully become a reading intervention specialist or Reading Recovery teacher, and how my areas of strength and improvement relate to these needs.

I am still lacking in much knowledge and many of the skills it takes to be a reading intervention specialist.  I need to pass both the Pedagogy and Professional Responsibility TExES and Reading Specialist TExES tests.  In addition to the completion of my basic coursework for my M.A. in Teaching, I will also need to take extensive coursework in reading instruction.  These courses will provide guidance in the areas of early literacy instruction, intervention strategies, and assessment. If I have the opportunity to teach Reading Recovery, that will require an additional year of graduate-level courses and mandatory, ongoing professional development.  Learning new things and being open to change are strengths of mine that I will embrace in becoming a reading specialist.  Even if I don’t take the Reading Recovery route, I plan to keep abreast of new techniques and research in early literacy intervention and assessment.  Continuous improvement is essential no matter what field of education I choose, and I’m open to improving and changing my instruction to more effectively teach my students at all stages of my career.  Being a reading intervention teacher means tracking the assessment of multiple students in multiple classrooms, and with much student turnover within an academic year for short-term intervention program such as Reading Recovery.   Planning for and assessing students across multiple classrooms takes a high level of organizational skill, which is an area of improvement for me.  In order to become more organized, I plan to consult colleagues about their organizational practices and consult my various professional learning networks until I find systems that will organize student data and paperwork most effectively and efficiently.

There are certain attitudes and dispositions necessary to being a general education teacher, and most of these are also needed for being a reading intervention specialist. Since I will be working solely with students who are struggling with reading, I will need to be especially mindful in practicing patience.  Rushing a student who struggles to read might only add to their reading anxiety.  Practicing patience is an area of improvement for me, but it may actually be easier as a reading specialist since much of the instruction will be tailored to the individual students’ needs, and I will feel less inclined to rush through material for the sake of the other students.  As an instructor coming into other teachers’ classrooms and pulling students out of their classrooms, there will be a need to cooperate and collaborate with classroom teachers.  Collaborating with colleagues in a professional setting is one of my greatest strengths, and working together to help students succeed will be a motivator to build upon my abilities to collaborate with my coworkers.  I do need to improve upon one aspect of teamwork: co-teaching or instructing a student in the presence of another teacher.  I become nervous and distracted when performing my duties in front of other professionals, which then interferes with the quality of work I’m trying to accomplish.  During my internship and in my initial years of teaching, I plan to take advantage of as many co-teaching opportunities as possible to build my confidence in performing while in the presence of other professionals.  

There are many professional and personal experiences I need to have before I can become an effective reading intervention specialist.  The most important is teaching reading in a general or special education classroom.  This experience will inform me about knowing when a student may be a good candidate for an intervention assessment.  It will also be valuable to know the issues students have in other subjects if they are below-level in reading.  I think it is important for a specialist that will be pulling students out of class or entering another teacher’s classroom to intervene to have the experience of being the classroom teacher, so that they can relate to what both the classroom teacher and the student might be experiencing.  Being a general or special education teacher will also be valuable because it may give me the opportunity to work alongside a reading intervention specialist, so that I might have a chance to observe what they do and how they work with students.  Before I start my internship, setting up observations with and speaking with reading specialists will be the best way for me to see how they instruct their students and what deficiencies I need to address to become an effective specialist.

These skills, attitudes, and experiences will all contribute in preparing me to be a reading intervention specialist, but will only be completely effective if I commit to continuous improvement once I become a specialist.  After I complete my M.A. in Teaching, pass my PPR and Reading Specialist exams, teach in the classroom for at least three years, and complete additional coursework in reading instruction and assessment I will be prepared to start my career as a reading intervention specialist.  It will be a long, time-consuming, and expensive educational path, but worth it if I can help the children in my community become literate, lifelong learners.

  

 

How Do Teachers Grow in Their Craft?

Ten years ago I started my first career as a children’s librarian in a public library.  The first week,  I was to observe a baby storytime, and then be observed the subsequent week.  Before this, my only storytime experience had been with Kindergarten-2nd grade, a very different audience from the one I was transitioning to, so I was looking forward to the initial guidance and feedback I would receive.  Approximately five minutes before the baby storytime was scheduled to start, the librarian that was to train me came into the office in tears, severely distraught over a fight with her husband.  She then left me there to fend for myself. Needless to say I was extremely nervous, and felt bad for the quality of program I presented that day.  My observation the next week never happened and I basically schooled myself on best practices for my early literacy programs (this was not taught to me when I was getting my master’s in library science). I primarily relied on professional learning networks (PLNs) to get schooled in children’s programming, made a ton of mistakes and adjustments, and eventually mastered that area of my field after several years.  Now that I’m entering the field of education,  I have a feeling that my first year of teaching will be very similar to that first hour of baby and preschool storytime, only the consequences for those I’m teaching this time are way more important.  I plan to do an internship instead of student teach, so I feel like my first year will involve me falling flat on my face, many times.   But at least I know I’m going to fall,  so I can attempt to brace myself for it.

As a teacher in training, it’s encouraging to hear about the practices featured in a radio documentary called Training Teachers.   I was excited to learn about teaching residencies modeled after medical residencies in this American Radio Works (ARW) documentary: http://www.americanradioworks.org/documentaries/teaching-teachers/ .  Getting to practice with highly qualified teachers and receive immediate feedback seems so valuable, as does the fact that the teachers in some of these residencies are practicing on adults standing in for actual students. This makes it less nerve-racking for the teacher in training because they don’t have an actual student’s education in their hands while they are still in process of training.  The immediate feedback also makes it easier to pinpoint problems and think of other methods in the moment, but also allows for reflection after the fact.  I’m also very encouraged by the development of the high leverage teaching practices.  One of the educators behind the practices, Deborah Ball, admits how difficult it was to create a comprehensive, yet practical list of the fundamental practices that teachers need to employ in order for their students to learn.  According to Ball, the list is not “the end,” and her and her colleagues request suggestions from educators as to practices that need to be added (Handford & Pekow, n.d.).  For a teacher-in-training like myself, who will not have the advantage of student teaching before being on my own in a classroom, knowing the high leverage practices will be extremely helpful in guiding my teaching.  

This same documentary also features the practice of lesson study in Japanese schools. Lesson study consists of teachers researching new teaching techniques and methods, planning a lesson using them, and having other teachers observe and critique the lesson, so the teachers are learning the newest methods of teaching, and also learning from each other.   I love this idea,  and the fact that the Japanese believe in the concept of continuous improvement,  in which most learning is done on the job and one is always striving to assess, reflect,  and improve upon one’s teaching (Hanford & Pekow, n.d.).  While I think it would be a little bit intimidating at first–having multiple colleagues sitting in on  lessons and making suggestions during the reflection time–I think it is something I would eventually get used to.  Being critiqued in the manner of the lesson study model would be a great way to practice high leverage teaching practice #19: analyzing instruction for the purpose of improving it.  Evaluating and reflecting on how I teach will only make me improve and be open to trying new methods of instruction for my students.

There are some schools in America trying out the practice of lesson study, but will it catch on in more American schools?  I hope so, but doubt it, because as education researcher James Hiebert said in Teaching Teachers, “We are so addicted to quick fixes. If it doesn’t fix things in two years, it’s not worth it” (Hanford & Pekow, n.d.).  Plus, the structure of the American school day would have to altered to accommodate the lesson study model, and additional money would need to spent to hire subs or paraprofessionals to watch classes while teachers attended lesson study.  I believe it would be so beneficial for American schools to adopt some form of lesson study, not only for the teachers being observed and critiqued, but also for the observers.   I have always benefitted tremendously from watching other professionals perform the same duties as me.  Everyone does things differently, and mindful observation can show even the most seasoned professional something new.  

One last thing that I really appreciated about the Japanese point of view on teaching is how they attribute achievement/learning problems to bad teaching instead of bad teachers.  A bad teacher needs to be replaced, but a teacher who is using ineffective methods can be taught new techniques and can develop as a professional.  As professor of education Deborah Ball said in Teaching Teachers, most teachers can not be expected to have a natural talent for teaching, but all teachers deserve to have training that prepares them to teach well, and the students they serve deserve to have well-trained teachers (Hanford & Pekow, n.d.).   As I enter the teaching profession, I need to plan not just how to educate and evaluate my students, but also how to educate and evaluate myself as a professional.  

Hanford, E. (Executive Producer) & Pekow, S. (Associate Producer). (n.d.). Teaching Teachers [Radio program]. Saint Paul, MN: American Public Media.

School Integration Videoconference

Tonight I participated in a videoconference in which we discussed school integration and segregation, and how teachers can draw on the “funds of knowledge” (the skills, resources, and knowledge of students and their families) that diverse students bring to the classroom.  We talked about ways that schools could integrate that would be successful.  I mention redistricting school zones for economic diversity, but another participant suggested increasing teacher diversity.  I found this solution to be the most compelling because diverse educators could bring their own funds of knowledge to the classroom if their students were not of the same background, and if their students were of similar background to their teacher, it would be beneficial for the teacher to understand his/her students’ backgrounds and needs.  

We also discussed the conflict between teachers unions and the community control movement in Ocean-Hill Brownsville in the late 1960s.  We determined that the communities wanted more control over the curriculum, so that it would better reflect the particular culture of the community, and they also wanted teachers who came from the communities in which they taught, so that they would better understand the culture of the students and their families.  Our discussion led us to the conclusion that both sides were fighting for what they thought was best for the students, and both sides allowed politics to overshadow the good of the students.  I found it troubling in this case that ideologies took the focus away from the students’ well-being, which Dr. Dan Krutka pointed out happens too much in educational debates even today.  

Finally, we talked about teachers seeking “funds of knowledge” from their students by getting to know the students and their families.   Teacher letters eliciting information about students and home visits were two effective methods of getting to know the students and their community and families.  I appreciated the focus on how beneficial opening lines of communication with parents of English Language Learners (ELLs) and recently immigrated students can be.  These parents may feel particularly intimidated by more traditional means of communication, like parent-teacher conferences, but may be put at ease if they meet the teacher in a less formal setting, like a home visit or at a community event.  We ended by determining that diversity in schools can be beneficial for all students and that teachers could be strong advocates for more diverse schools in their communities.

Educational Philosophies Videoconference

I recently took part in a videoconference concerning different educational philosophies including essentialism, perennialism, progressivism, social reconstruction, and existentialist education.  I came into the discussion with a few questions, but one burning question: How can educators tasked with teaching a state-mandated curriculum subvert the traditional, essentialist nature of most public schools using progressive methods while still teaching to state standards?    This question first led us to outline the differences in traditional vs. progressive education, and we identified their main differences: traditional education is teacher-centered, whereas progressive is student-centered. Students primarily learn through passive means such as lectures or books (though sometimes Socratic method) in traditional education, but in progressive education, students are active learners who learn by doing.   In a traditional education, the end product of learning is a predetermined truth or set of objectives, while in progressive education, the end product of learning is not clearly defined, and not the most important part of education.  The process of learning itself is the point of a progressive education.  After delineating these differences, it became clear that even though the students in most public schools today have little to no say in the curriculum, they can still be given power over the methods of learning, the structure of the classroom, and can take part in their own evaluations as well.

Another issue that intrigued me prior to the videoconference was the existentialist philosophy of education.  We touched upon how feasible an existentialist education would be for most students and how some students may abuse and misuse the power they have been given if put in the situation of freely directing their own learning with little or no limitations or structure.  Dr. Dan Krutka made the point that students who have been conditioned to learn in a teacher-driven classroom may have a very difficult time adjusting to the amount of power afforded them by an existentialist learning situation.  It seems that this rare form of education is most effective when started while the students are very young or when used as a component of a more structured learning environment.

I think studying and knowing the different educational philosophies is not only really interesting, but very important.  As educators, we need our own educational philosophies to guide us in what we do, how we do it, and why.  Being familiar with these general philosophies gives us a foundation on which to build our own.