If we as teachers truly want to help ALL of our students learn, then it is pretty clear that it is a teacher’s responsibility to seek the means for accomplishing such an objective. It is so easy for teachers to hide behind a front of excuses that supposedly inhibit them from taking extra measures to ensure all of their students are having an equal opportunity to succeed. It is easy to implement a content-based classroom and maintain an annual routine of regurgitating the same material and lesson plans. What is not easy is going above and beyond for our students, taking the extra time to come up with new lesson plans that encourages a student-based classroom, taking the extra time to come up with innovative assessments and differing assignments, taking the extra time to grade for student effort and progress rather than simply completion and content. What is not easy is stepping out of our comfort zone and inserting ourselves in a role in which we try to take the time to study our students and attempt to understand the underlying causes for their behavior or undesirable habits in a classroom. Not to be cliché but it is pretty simple, yet complex. Teachers simply need to constantly be evolving, changing their methods, and finding new means to engaging their students. We need to be able to accommodate them and encourage true learning as opposed to simply giving them a grade. An article written by Christina Samuels discusses how teachers are trying to help students with ADHD succeed in their classrooms, and some methods for accomplishing this are actually giving students Individualized Education Plans or 504 plans. Other means, even though evidence illustrates that this support applies for only about 25 percent of all high school students, are taking the extra time to help students with learning strategies and study-skills.
In order to better the experience of our ELL students and accommodate all their needs, practical methods need to be considered. In an article, it is revealed that the Jefferson Parish public school system spent 5.6 million dollars specifically for improving the learning experience of ELL students. While simply throwing money at a problem is obviously not the solution, effectively using that money to provide ELL students with proper materials so they can be integrated into a normal classroom setting is a practical method that can help accommodate all ELL students. However, if school budgets cannot allocate sources towards providing ELL with more resources there are other practical measures. Another method schools can undertake is attempting to hire teachers that are bilingual or have some proficiency in a secondary language in order to better connect with ELL students. Other methods can be simply implemented in everyday instruction. Teachers can use graphic organizers to help their ELL students by making note-taking exceptionally easier and giving them a device to remember the big themes of a lesson, as opposed to suffering from sensory-overload by attempting to take unregulated notes on all the content that is covered in a given lesson. Another method for everyday classroom instruction is purposively using imagery in lessons. The use of lessons allows ELL students to form a tangible understanding of a concept by associating an image with a word or phrase. Depending on the class, the use of kinetic movement can also be effective for accommodating ELL students. For example, during my freshman year of high school my Pre-AP World History Teacher would have us as a class reenact or ‘play’ certain events in world history to understand concepts such as ritual sacrifice in the Inca Empire, or the baby selection process in Sparta. Engaging in physical movement is a means that, again, allows ELL students to create a tangible understanding of a concept by associating that activity with a word or phrase.
Cooperative learning, as talked about in Chapter 3, is a means of maintaining a flexible classroom, which is necessary for student success. Cooperative learning forces students to work on their group skills and social skills in order to be able to learn together. It also encourages a ‘sink or swim’ mentality through positive interdependence and individual accountability, in which if one student doesn’t embrace their role in a group or has failed to make meaning of the acquired material then it can bring down the rest of the group. Keeping to small groups forces each student to play a role and continuously interact with one another. It also helps students to keep one another motivated and compel one another to continue learning the material and bringing “something to the table” each and every class. Keeping an open classroom that challenges their students not only keeps students more engaged but it keeps the students together and allows them to contribute to each other’s success.
In her article titled, “To Improve Assessment, Invest in the Classroom,” Heidi Andrade believes that better assessment will come from classroom assessment and a shift away from standardized testing. Day-to-day assessment in the classroom yields positive results that not only give direction to the students’ and teachers’ learning experience but it allows for more “A-ha moments” — Andrade says that is when the ‘true learning’ happens. This relates nicely to our assigned readings and helps to give meaning to the relationship between instruction and assessment. Ultimately, Tomlinson’s article illuminates assessment as an explicitly positive tool that can be used to not only determine the comprehension of our students and give feedback to the progress in their learning but also is a tool that can be used to give meaning to a teacher’s instruction. The point of assessment is not to rank a student and just assign them grades through meaningless tests that simply induce anxiety and force students into feeling they need to achieve some expectation of curricular cognizance. Assessment should be used as a means to learn about your student: “Who are they as learners? What are their strengths and weaknesses in learning? What is their learning style? How can they best communicate to me their understanding of the content or what assessment works best for a particular student?” Assessments can be used as an instrument to help your students further learn during a unit, instead of waiting to assess them at the end of a unit. By providing students a mean to excel and communicate their understanding (as opposed to waiting to the end and making them just ‘earn a grade’ through a large test) it can keep them motivated and show more of an enthusiasm for the content, as well as helping them to become better learners as they are retaining the content throughout a unit and repeatedly recalling the information. Also, allowing students to be active in the feedback process and giving them opportunity to review each others’ work, without letting them grade it, will help them to become better learners as well as they are able to recognize strengths and weaknesses in other students’ assessments and then be able to improve upon their own work.
There are many different ways to teach, but that does not mean every method is effective. When considering the question “How do we teach?” Chapter 4 in Essential Questions demonstrates that teaching can revolve around a layered structure. Maintaining the theme of asking essential questions to yield the ‘understanding’ of a topic (chapter 1), this chapter outlines how teachers can implement essential questions in their lesson plans through either four-phase or eight-phase processes. These processes force an environment that will encourage constant emphasis on the main essential question by having the students examine relevant evidence that draws parallels to the E.Q., eliciting responses from the students and then further probing the students to force them into a position to support their argument, and then ultimately assessing them. In her article, How Looking at Student Work Keeps Teachers and Kids on Track, Katrina Schwartz illuminates that assessments are a great tool for providing feedback. Not only does it allow students room for growth by understanding possible errors in their work, but it also provides teachers feedback by showing them whether students are getting the ‘big picture’ themes out of their lessons or not. Our style of teaching should be one that encourages active participation and thinking of the core themes of a lesson. If a student takes a position, then it must also be substantiated. How we teach can determine whether ‘gradual release of teacher responsibility’ is achieved and whether our students develop a sense of autonomy in the classroom — demonstrating a near mastery of deep thinking and independence in the content matter.
In her article ‘Do No Harm’: A Hippocratic Oath for Schools, Courtney Stewart discusses the purpose of a doctor: to treat a patient. Doctors do not accept failure, nor do they treat multiple patients at the same time the same way. When discussing the roles and views of teachers, Stewart asks the questions, “Is it ok to accept any failure? Why do we tend to lump our classes together and teach each student the same thing the same way, instead of treating them individually?” The questions that this article presented, I believe, ties in nicely to our assigned readings. When continuing to consider the question “What do we teach?” and building off of last week’s theme of “big-concept” teaching, this week’s readings covered the theme of asking ‘essential questions’ and teaching concepts that can be transferable. I say that the article ties in nicely with the readings because failure in teaching can derive from teaching our students “to know.” Teaching each student for their specific and individual needs can take more time and energy than a teacher may be willing to take on. Naturally, teaching a class the same thing can be easier and less time-consuming. Already, failure can derive from not identifying that each individual student may have a different way of processing the information. To continue this theme, teaching our students the same basic information and asking questions that yield a right answer can be sufficient for acquiring passing percentages for Standard Learning tests. But does this mean our students can comprehend or even apply the content? We can celebrate some measure of victory when an overwhelming students pass and graduate, but there will be some that fail because they did not know content or understand it. Teaching for understanding requires more time but it will allow students to be able to transfer themes in a subject throughout the course of a year and be able to distinguish similarities in the content. Learning for understanding allows students to apply the big themes when they come across new content. Therefore, when asking ourselves “What do we teach?”, we teach that failure is not an option; misunderstanding, however, is not failure and rather an okay thing. Misunderstanding is feedback from our students that shows us, as teachers, there are better ways of conveying the main concepts to the students through teaching the content.
When exploring the theme of teachers and their functions, it is important to consider the question, “What do we teach?” and its implications. It is apparent that teachers have a curriculum that, through different mediums, is delivered to the students. Simply delivering the curriculum to the students, however, does not induce actual learning or retention of the content matter. It is not only a matter of what it is that teachers teach but also how they teach. In the readings, it is clear that teachers must have a seeming backward mindset when it comes to how they approach the construction of their curriculum. Teachers must ask themselves first what are the big concepts and themes they want their students to grasp. Once there is a foundation, it can be built upon by activities, readings, relevant evidence, and assignments that can be tied to the concepts and also help to reinforce the ‘big picture.’ Due to adolescents entering a phase in their life in which their brain is more adept to making complex connections and being cognitive of relationships, they are able to handle big themes and big ideas that they can then retain and draw upon when exploring new themes in a particular subject. What adolescents are not equipped for is having endless information being thrown at them and being expected to retain all of it. Rather, if teachers organize their curriculum by the concepts and themes they want their students to understand, then the readings and assignments can be used as a means of making a connection to the concept that is trying to be unlocked by the student.