No Two Ways About It

March 22, 2010 at 12:33 am (Classroom Observations)

There is not two ways about it: teaching is hard. Student teaching, I suspect, is especially hard.

My biggest hurdle right now is the struggle to make my instruction relevant and interesting. I guess that’s what most teachers struggle with. It’s just that I had a somewhat cavalier attitude about my ability to make my class exciting and engaging, even for those kids who had hated history. My expectations have crashed with the harsh realities and I find myself, sadly, amongst those teachers who find their grandiose dreams hamstrung by limited self-motivation amongst the students, resistance to change and hard work, complaining, and behavioral issues which limit my ability to assign group work or discussion.

I don’t mean to whine. Really, I don’t! Rather, I’m about mid-way through a reflection process. What I mean is, the problem(s) have been identified, and now I’m looking around for solutions. I know the solution is not a reversion to only direct instruction. At the same time, many of the innovative and student centered activities I’ve learned through my studies have failed when I’ve tried them in my specific classes.


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Shock and Awe

February 24, 2010 at 12:25 am (Classroom Observations) ()

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 a funny new phrase entered popular parlance: shock and awe. Much was made, as American and coalition forces massed across an invisible line in the Iraqi-Kuwaiti desert, of America’s intended use of shock and awe as military strategy. Basically, this meant that we were going to bomb the heck out of the Iraqis (remember MOAB? another funny new Iraqi War word) so that when it came time to actually fight, they’d be too rattle to put up much of a resistance.

Well, I think I can relate to those poor Iraqi regulars and Republican Gaurd units, after what I saw over the last week. Hyperbole? Of course. A crass comparison? Likely. Grossly insensitive? Probably. But I was, to be sure, both shocked and awed.

Here’s what happened. It’s a 12th grade US Gov’t class. The activity, selected by the cooperating teacher, involves small groups in the class coming up with 10 bills to present to their classmates for a vote. I sat in the back of the class, observing silently. That’s when I saw it. One student, a girl of 17 or 18, had her laptop open, presumably trolling the internet for ideas or background information to support her bills. What I saw instead was a Google search. In the search box was, and I quote, “10 Bills.”

My breath caught in my throat. My heart palpitated. Could it be this student was really trying to come up with 10 bills by searching “10 Bills” in Google? Look, I love Google. I probably use it 20 times a day, no lie. I ask Google many things, even stupid things. It’s an incredibly useful tool. But it seemed this student was fundamentally missing the nature of this tool. I feared that, given her search, she thought Google was some sort of robot with advanced AI which could understand her teacher’s assignment and spit out 10 mock bills, ready to be submitted to class.

I collected myself. Maybe, I told myself, she was assuming this was a common assignment and that the keywords “10 Bills” would trigger some other kid’s past results. That’s reasonable, right? But I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was really missing something.

My fears were confirmed today. I had forgotten all about the “10 Bills” episode, and today was observing the class as they further researched their bills in order to defend them in a debate. I assumed my position again in the rear of the class, silently watching. My eye caught the Google search of the same girl. She was, apparently, trying to do research to defend a bill she wrote to award more funding to Virginia airport security.

Her search: “defend bill for more money for Virginia airport security.” Again, this could be simply an odd search here or there that is overly specific. But no. A few moments later, this student raised her hand and complained that she couldn’t find any helpful information.

I can’t explain why this offends me so. I guess I’m just disheartened by the gross misunderstanding the Google search reflected. This student was so unable to think critically that she was relying on incredibly specific Google searches that weren’t likely to yield the results she needed.

The question is, what am I prepared to do about it?

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Student Teaching, Week One Impressions

February 10, 2010 at 8:17 pm (Classroom Observations, Thoughts on the Profession) (, )

Some thoughts after my initial week of student teaching.

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Gettin’ My Vlog On- Day One

February 10, 2010 at 8:16 pm (Classroom Observations, Thoughts on the Profession) (, )

My initial impressions from my first day of student teaching.

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The Social Studies Classroom

November 9, 2009 at 1:10 am (Classroom Observations, Thoughts on the Profession) (, , )

After a few months of carefully observing my CT’s methods and style in running a class, listen to this floating head explain two areas where he would do things differently in his own class.

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Mid Term Lesson Reflection

October 28, 2009 at 1:46 am (Classroom Observations) (, )

Overview of the lesson

Our lesson was designed to familiarize students with the techniques of political advertising and to make them little experts in the field of campaign ads. This is both a timely and a critical lesson to learn. Timely, because we are, as Virginians, right at the climax of the political propaganda that accompanies a governor’s race, and less than a year removed from one of the biggest elections in American history. Critical, because, as citizens in a democratic society, how we vote determines who rules, and political advertising has a lot to say about how we vote.

We wanted the students to be able to identify some of the major aspects of political propaganda and determine what appeals the advertisement is making to what segment of society. To this end, we started by covering the six main propaganda techniques that are used specifically for political campaigns. Students were given a verbal and visual word association chart to aide in remembering this information. Then we watched a campaign ad and I modeled the filling out of an analysis worksheet designed to investigate the mood, method, and target of the ad. The students then, in groups, watched ads of their own and filled out their own analysis sheets. We wrapped up with a class discussion of the information we covered.

Click me for our lesson plan!

This material is covered in the Civics SOL. SOL CE.5 (c) states that “the student will be able to analyze campaigns for elective office, with emphasis on the role of the media.” According to SOL CE.1 (c), students should also be able to develop the Social Studies skills required of responsible citizens such as analyzing political advertisements.

Reaction upon completing the lesson

I was quite pleased with our lesson. A writer once told me there are only two rules to writing: never be muddy, and never be boring. I think this can be applied to teaching, if modified to read something like this: always be about a legitimate lesson; never be boring. The lesson we produced was a good one, and we didn’t stray from it either by falling into superfluity or by focusing too narrowly at the expense of the more important information. And while I wouldn’t say we were “never boring,” I would say that as far as civics lessons go, this one was bearable.

Our objectives going into this lesson were 1) the student will be able to recognize the six propaganda techniques and 2) students will be able to analyze political advertisements in the context of propaganda techniques. By first cover said techniques (with the assistance of a word association chart) and then actively using our new knowledge to analyze ads (with scaffolding provided by the instructors), our objective were pretty clearly met.

While there was some disagreement about the opening video we played, I think our general flow was effective. The segments of the class, headed by three different teachers, meshed well and led into each other. This contributed towards a focused classroom. The discussion I lead towards the end of class helped us, as teachers, assess the capability of the students. The discussion both allowed me to continue to frame the subject and nudge the student’s conceptions towards our objectives, as well as providing me with the opportunity to check their knowledge.

A couple areas of concern include teacher enthusiasm and the posting class questions and NCSS themes for the class. I do believe these things are important for getting the students to come back to the important stuff, so I’ll begin to incorporate it. I will say, however, that I’m of the opinion that such posting of questions is but a tool in a teacher’s arsenal, and that doing that doesn’t guarantee a focused lesson, nor does neglecting it damn the lesson. So, as far as the guiding question and themes go, that seems like an easy fix. A kind of “you live, you learn” type thing. Teacher enthusiasm is similarly easy to identify, but perhaps tougher to fix. I’ll go into this more below.

Reaction upon watching to video of myself

As I re-watched the video of the lesson, I was happy to see that my initial impressions pretty much bear themselves out on film. Generally, I was pleased with what I did. However, I saw a few areas were I could grow. For one, I didn’t sound as enthusiastic as I could have. Now, I don’t think I need to be a circus monkey, but I do think that there’s a lot to be said about teaching as a performance. Also, due to technological restrictions, I was relegated to a place behind the cart for part of my portion. Obviously, this isn’t an ideal way to address to class. The clip below shows both these problems, as well as some of the good parts.

Other parts of the lesson were better. For instance, once free from the restraints of the Elmo machine, I circulated throughout the class and held a discussion with the various groups from the center of the room. As I interacted with them, there was a natural shift in my voice towards a more animated style. This clip below shows some of that.

As I continue to hone my ability to teach effectively, I’ll keep in mind some of the things this video revealed. I really believe in the importance of a teacher’s physical proximity to the kids. Not only does this cut down on behavioral issues, it also encourages them to engage with you. I don’t want to menacingly hover over my students, but I do want to do everything I can to encourage them to be active in their thinking and discussion with me.

Concluding comments

I really liked this mid term because I think it encouraged me in my abilities to both craft and deliver a good lesson as well as gave me some helpful pointers for growth. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the flaws, like posting questions and speaking in a monotone voice, can be easily identified. Correction of these issues can also begin immediately, which is encouraging. I also was happy to see some of our strengths, like our ability to weave a flowing lesson and effectively engage the class.

I firmly believe that I have many of the tools to be good, and that I just need lots of practice with some guidance from experienced teachers and professors. Towards that end, this was a helpful project.

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What About High School?

October 26, 2009 at 7:01 pm (Classroom Observations, Digital Humanities, Thoughts on the Profession) (, , )

A few classmates and I responded to youtube sensation “A Vision of Students Today” with a video of our own. I had a few technical problems because of the different Flip camera models, and some of our signs are kind of faint. We’ll have to work on that for next time. You live, you learn.

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Confidence and Lesson Plans

October 26, 2009 at 2:14 am (Classroom Observations, Thoughts on the Profession) (, )

I wonder if the image I chose this week, below, applies to me?

confidenceI ask this because, a little over half way through my early field experience, I feel like I’m ready for the next step. Confidence is a good thing, I’m convinced, for an aspiring teacher to have. But hubris is not. If my confidence is based on reality and is keenly aware that I still have much to learn, than I’m happy. I hope I’m not like this kitten, who looks in the mirror and sees a lion.

And now, about lesson plans. This week we were to talk to our teachers about their expereince. Watch this video to see what I’ve been thinking about.

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From Chalkboard to the Web

October 12, 2009 at 12:18 am (Classroom Observations) (, )

My classroom, and school in general, has a surprisingly high amount of technological capabilities. In my classroom we have an lcd projector, smart board, teacher laptop, and about ten or twelve other laptops for student use. Given the budget tightness in the county, this level of in-class technology is happily surprising.


Unfortunately, I was not in the classroom when the students most recently used the laptops for an activity. However, I gathered they shared them amongst themselves (about 2 or 3 students to a computer, I would assume), and used them for internet research. I’d like to ask my teacher exactly what the activity was, or to witness a future activity, to find out exactly how it was used. My teacher also has used the tv and dvd player several times in my presence (to show videos), and two or three times has projected a slideshow using the lcd when lecturing.

All that is good, but one thing that I’ve found interesting is how little these high technology implements have been used compared to more traditional tools. The smartboard itself has never been used in my presence, and similarly, the laptops almost always sit in a locked file cabinet. Even the lcd project is used far less often than the overhead projector, a holdover technology from many decades past.

This strikes me primarily as wasteful, rather than a missed opportunity. What I mean is, I’m not offended the technology isn’t used. I’ve never been one to try to incorporate technology for its own sake. But I don’t like to see expensive technology sit un-used in a time when money is so tight.

What does this mean? Well, for one, it means schools systems should take a realistic look at what goes on. Despite in-services and other training, teachers will be reluctant to change what works for new fangled tools. Therefore, there should be a system that rewards teachers who demonstrate to the desire and know-how with the latest technology, rather than trying to teach old dogs new tricks. Somethings, like teacher laptops, will have almost universal use. Things like tv’s, and even perhaps lcd projectors, and in the same category. But fewer teachers will take advantage of things like smartboards and wireless “easels.” These things, and classroom laptops, should be distributed to teachers who will actually use them, or in some sort of computer lab type format.

I’m encouraged to see the equiptment my teacher has. As a future teacher who plans on usuing laptops and lcd projectors a lot, I hope that I am afforded those same resources. However, I’d like to see the allocation of these tools more wisely considered.

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Student Shadowing

October 5, 2009 at 12:00 am (Classroom Observations) (, )

The more I followed Chris around the school, the more I began to fear for him. He first came to my attention early in the semester, sitting pretty quietly in the front of one of the co-taught classes. Slight of frame and soft of voice, he didn’t seem like much of a problem child. But I quickly noticed that, without much warning, he’d occassionally turn on a classmate, waving his arm and hand wildly at them, trying to hit them, or yelling at them. Generally, he was quick to stop acting up when I or a teacher would intervene. But I noticed that Chris liked being left alone, and the slightest infringement on his space or his things by other students set him off.

As I shadowed Chris throughout several of his other classes, I began to see many of the same behaviors I witnessed in our usual class. He was reserved and quiet, but could easily be set off by other students, whether they mean to tease him (and many did), or whether their intentions were good. His level of engagement changed between classes–some he obviously liked more than others. But even that engagement was with fairly narrow parameters. He wouldn’t really ever raise his hand, but the classes he liked were the classes where he’d start doing the work with out pulling out a book for personal reading or resting his head on the desk.

Even at lunch Chris was fairly isolated. I swung by his table about half way through the lunch period and he was all alone. I breifly spoke with him (about a short story he was writing for English) before I went to the teacher’s longue. One nice spot though: I made a point to stick my head in as I left the longue after lunch. He was sitting with a few kids I didn’t know and seemed to be talking. Perhaps he does have friends, I couldn’t say for sure.

It was very difficult trying to determine what sorts of activites or subjects he really loved, because his level of active participation (raising hand, answering questions, etc.) was nil. But, as I’ve noted, he took more quickly to some individual work faster than other types of individual work.

I found that Chris was also very irritable. I asked a few teachers about it, and they seemed to think he’d progressed away from violent reactions since last year. It’s hard to say if that’s a sign of maturation or just the sensible calculations of a kid who is oversized by almost all his peers.

I said as I began this post that I was scared for Chris. This is because it seems that people who don’t seem to have any sort of solid interpersonal relationships turn out very damaged. I certainly this is a phase, a tough growing experience, or that he’ll find some kindred spirits. But as a formed middle and high school classmate of Seung Cho, I find his lack of meaningful interaction disturbing. I myself try to talk with him every class, but a teacher probably can’t do the trick. It’s a little disheartening to see that Chris’ interactions, or lack thereof, are pretty much the same in all his classes.

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