Sunday, January 31, 2010

My day as a Fly on the wall... (Teacher Observation Day)

So the other day I went into a high school to observe a teacher at work. This was a teacher who made things look easy - but I could see that the intense interaction with her students made her tired by the end of the day.

Mrs. C was kind and friendly, and I could see that she was just a little tough. Tougher than me. I fall all over people thinking everyone is as friendly as I am (NOTE TO SELF for substitute teaching later - GET TOUGH, don't assume everyone is nice, or honest). However, she was pleasant and she had won numerous teaching awards. She introduced me to a few other teachers, got me situated with a desk and chair in the back of the room, and started her day.

Her first period was free, so she spent the time coordinating some teaching strategies with other teachers in her department. No matter the academic level of the classes, they all follow the same lessons - but the faster learners go more in depth into each subject in the same period of time. This way everyone has a base of knowledge but the extra information allows the advanced learners more knowledge for extra insights in the future, etc. In addition to talking and planning these strategies, she worked ahead on some lessons for presentation. She uses a power point and a dry-erase board, and every day she uses the power point to dramatize her lesson or to give examples. She also had papers copied for use in class lessons, and it looked like she had photocopied things about 3 months in advance, there were so many stapled copies. But to me this means she was just very prepared. Terrific!

The first 3 classes I sat through were AP classes. These classes had kids who were interested in the subject, despite some of the students wearing things that made me cringe! It was so exciting to see the discussions. I was so happy to hear the insights that these kids brought to the subject. They were obviously well taught, as they mentioned historical examples for things, and they were quick to put ideas together, and give insight into the topics. This is a clear admonishment against judging by looks - just because you aren't used to something doesn't mean you know what to expect.

Mrs. C had a total of 5 classes, a lunch, a study period, and 2 planning periods. The two planning planning periods don't happen every day, but this was my schedule (not in that order). The other 2 classes that I observed were average level classes, and I was sad to hear the level of knowledge that these students possessed. They were also not as neatly dressed as the other students (despite wearing basically the same type of clothing, to my older untrained eye). This clothing observation may mean nothing, but I wonder how it might fit into the area of conscientiousness and responsibility and how they affect one's drive or focus.

The other classes were louder (though not too loud), they were messier, less restrained, and less prepared than the AP classes. Many students did not have their books or other items needed for class. This school has adopted the rule that every student shall have a small point off for being unprepared for class, but this teacher has made it a little easier for the students by having supplies for them as they need them (but no, spoons are NOT taped to the pencils).

The lessons were simple, and verbally the students seemed to stay on topic for the most part. The writing work that was done in these classes, however, was plagued by an inability to focus. Though the teacher clearly told the class that the work would be collected as a test the next day, they failed to take the time to do the work in class. She also had them pair up and had one student do the odds while the other worked on the evens. They even failed to take advantage of this. I wanted to stand up and say, "Hey! Easy A! What are you thinking??"

Classroom management and Learning Focused School techniques were in abundance, though. I loved to watch this teacher draw out the classes - especially the 2 more challenging ones.

In her discussion with me, Mrs. C references what she called, "old style teaching." She had a zippy term for it - "The Sage on the Stage". And the modern teaching style she labeled "The Guide on the Side". As far as I can tell, this references an article and lessons (for teachers) from the nineties. The article was written by Alison King, who is an associate professor of education in the College of Education at California State University in San Marcos. An excerpt can be found here, or if you have access to JSTOR you can access it here. I have JSTOR access and I found this article to be enlightening. In addition, having watched my children go through schools in the nineties and 00's I can see how much impact this article had in their lives because of it's impact upon their teachers. I had just never heard it worded like that.

When the students in each class arrived, Mrs. C had today's LEQ on the board, along with the title of the class. She also had what she called a "Please Do Now", or PDN. This is based on the LEQ of the day. The PDN is usually done in the student's notebook before class even starts, and she takes time to discuss it with the students once the bell rings.

When the bell rang, Mrs. C greeted the students immediately and shut the door (or had someone shut it). She then opened with a discussion about the PDN, which was on topic w/ the lesson. She didn't seem to point out the LEQ to any student, but it was written boldly on the board so that there was no question about the point of the lesson.

Almost like clockwork, but without seeming to reference the clock, Mrs. C ran each class in a similar fashion. After the opening discussion about the PDN (which introduced the lesson) she had hands on work for them to do in class. This lasted about ten minutes. Following this they spent 2-3 minutes discussing what was just worked on and continued with the lesson. After approxiamately a total of 4-5 minutes (varied a little, might be more) she then had them do more reading and writing. She assigned the work as homework if it was not completed in class.

During one or two of the discussion periods I noticed that she used a question to increase attention through suspense, just as our substitute book suggests as a technique. Of course, this teacher's 23 years of experience helped her make this look easy.

At one point in one of the classes the student's volume increased. The teacher gave one warning about giving "points" and after this the teacher had the student's formally pair up to work together, in an attempt to keep the volume down, maybe.

She also used a Frayer Model as their "Ticket Out the Door", which was a summary of the entire LEQ. For some reason she wasn't able to use this in each class, but I think that some of that might have been the issue of having an observer - she certainly might have been a little more tough on them for getting so loud if a stranger wasn't watching. Here is a fun way to run the "Ticket Out the Door" process.

She did warn me, though, that the kids will be more unruly for me than they were for her - but she felt that since they met me, these particular kids might be better for me than for a sub whom they'd never met - since they know that she and I "know" each other.

She mentioned that she is going out of town in April and will need a sub at that time. I asked her to request me, and she agreed. I hope she does! And I hope that I can respond to her students half as well as she does. I don't expect to be right on top of them, after all, I have no experience with students over sixth grade, but I do hope that I can put on a grand facade and win them over with love and TOUGHNESS.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! It sounds like you really got a lot out of this day! I was waiting to read all about it! I was excited to hear you mention some writings about education because that is all that we do in my Ed. Theory class. I think you'd find the readings and also that class really interesting just like I do!