Sunday, April 25, 2010

Standard 4 Essay

Standard Four

Educational practices that foster learning, development, and achievement in all of

the nation’s children

Educators should use teaching strategies and educational practices that develop children’s capacity to think critically, analytically, and imaginatively, and extend their knowledge and understanding of the world. They should provide multiple ways for children to deepen their grasp of concepts, stretch their thinking, express their understanding, and learn critical skills. They should search for appropriate materials, experiment with new technologies, collaborate with specialists and colleagues, and consult with families and community members to meet the instructional needs of all their students. Educators should establish caring, inclusive, stimulating, and safe learning communities in which all children feel they belong, and in which they can assume responsibility, take intellectual risks, make mistakes, explore alternatives, participate in decision making and work both collaboratively and independently. They should understand principles of effective classroom management as well as human motivation and behavior from the foundational sciences of psychology, anthropology, and sociology. They should understand cognitive processes associated with various kinds of learning and how these processes can be stimulated. They should also understand language development and the role of language in learning. Educators should understand principles and techniques, and advantages and limitations associated with various teaching strategies. They should be able to communicate effectively within many domains (oral and written discourse, mathematical/symbolic representation, non-verbal communication, audiovisual and computer-based technologies), and model effective communication strategies in conveying information and in asking questions.

Having educational practices that foster learning, development, and achievement in all of the nation’s children is extremely important for educators because it forces us to make sure that all of our students succeed. These practices also keep teachers from falling into ruts where they think that just because they’ve taught something one way for years means it will work for all their students. This standard keeps educators constantly looking for better ways to instruct their students, and it helps them realize that collaboration with both their colleagues and their communities will strengthen their teaching.

Educators who live by this standard also realize that developing a safe learning environment in their classrooms is an important baseline for their students learning. Students need to feel comfortable in the classroom to really take in and retain the information that they are learning. Students should be given responsibilities in the classroom so they can make it their own, but they also need to feel safe taking risks and putting out their own ideas in order to really grow and flourish.

Teachers also need to be constantly aware of their students’ developmental needs and levels. Giving students materials that are too challenging, or conversely not intellectually stimulating, hinders their academic growth and motivation. Good educators should be aware of the teaching strategies that work for their students as well as the classroom management techniques that work best for their students. No class is exactly alike, and as a result the approaches that work for one group of learners may not work for the other. Teachers need to constantly adapt to what best fits their students.

Safe environments are established with respect for one another and a good set of classroom rules. Jill Charney (2002) wrote that “a learning community requires rules, and students at all grade levels are more invested in and respectful of rules they help construct” (p. 69). Charney is reminding us that it is important for students to feel like they have been a part in creating the classroom community. When they help to make the rules, they are helping to set up the structure of the room they will spend the next 9 months in. When rules are created as a class, students are more likely to follow and respect them.

During my pre-practicum experience at the Lawrence School in Brookline, MA I was fortunate to be in a classroom full of respect and caring for one another. My supervising practitioner shared Charney’s commitment for fostering a safe environment. She had made the rules with the students, and had allowed them to make the classroom their own in the beginning of the school year. However, in true elementary school fashion, the students were getting restless in the second half of the school year. Name calling and teasing was beginning to happen more frequently, so reminding the students of and reinforcing the rules of the classroom became a large part of my day. For example, before Student Share I would remind the students of what it meant to be a good listener and a kind friend. We talked about looking at the speaker and not talking while they were. We also discussed asking relevant questions and not making fun of what they were sharing. Students were reminded that instead of calling out they needed to raise their hand, and that if another student mentioned something they had wanted to say that they could shake their hands in front of them. This way other people would know they were thinking the same thing. Hand shaking eliminated calling out and being upset that someone else had “stolen” what they were going to say. These rules and expectations were constantly reinforced and the benefits were huge. Students once again began to show each other the respect they deserved and the caring community was reestablished.

During my second practicum I was able to carry the classroom management skills that I had learned at the Lawrence School over to the Joseph Lee. However, I was presented with a unique opportunity to fully test these skills halfway through the semester. My supervising practitioner was absent for an extended period of time, and even though there was a substitute I was really able to take over the classroom with lesson planning, instruction, and making all the everyday decisions. I found that after the first week the students were getting restless and distracted at their seats, so I decided that rather than punishing them and bringing down the classroom morale I would simply change their seats. However, this was not as easy as I thought it would be. I had to think about which students were going to get along well enough so there wouldn’t be teasing or disputes, but also not be best friends because then they would talk throughout the lessons. On top of that, the back three tables in the room are larger than the front three so the taller students had to be in the back of the classroom or they wouldn’t fit at the tables. Artifact 4.5 is a copy of the seating chart that I came up with. It was especially gratifying that after my supervising practitioner returned she only switched three of the students’ seats from where I had placed them.

Based on a study done in 1965, John Dewey found that more than 95% of test questions that were presented to students only required them to recall the information they had learned. There was no analysis of the knowledge; the students didn’t need to apply what they had learned. This method of teaching and evaluating supports the banking system of learning (Paulo Freire, 1970): the teacher gives the students the information and expects them to memorize it. This style of instruction doesn’t allow the students to synthesize the information and make it their own. It also does not provide opportunities for true intellectual growth. I believe that students need to use the information that they are given and have the ability to apply and evaluate it.

When reflecting on this component of the standard I thought back to my practicum experience at the Joseph Lee. Our school was the first elementary school in the Boston Public School system to be chosen to take part in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program. This program was started in high schools, then moved to middle schools, and now they are making the adaptations necessary for elementary school. More than 90% of the graduates of the AVID program have gone on to graduate from a four-year college. Part of this program focuses on the levels of questioning and then splits them into three levels similar to Bloom’s taxonomy (1965). The first level was similar to Bloom’s first level of cognitive domain (knowledge), the second was a combination of the second and third Bloom levels (comprehension and application), and the last level was a combination of Bloom’s analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Throughout my practicum experience we worked on these levels of questioning with the students, especially in the reading classroom with the open-ended questions at the end of their unit tests. Artifact 4.1 is a picture of the chart I created that is hanging up in the classroom reminding the students of the questioning levels and the key words that go along with each. This chart is used in both instruction and as a resource for the students during testing. Students have strategies for each level of questioning and now have a way to attack test questions both in the classroom and during the MCAS.

Types of questions also came up during my pre-practicum. During her observations, my Wheelock supervisor really wanted me to move away from asking the students general, open-ended questions because there would always be a smart aleck in the classroom that would shout “no!” or come up with something that was unrelated to the topic we were discussing. For example, instead of saying something like “does anyone else have something they would like to say?” I should say something more specific like “who else has something to add about this aspect of our digestion system?” These questions stretched student thinking and helped to maintain order in the classroom. Artifact 4.10 is a copy of some of my supervisor’s notes about my lesson. The highlighted sections show the open-ended questions that I asked and needed to rephrase. During our conference after the lesson we would review these questions and then come up with other ways to present them to the class. By the end of my pre-practicum I was much better at figuring out how to ask my students questions about the material without leaving it open for them to bring up information that was not pertinent to the conversation. This skill carried over to my practicum and is still something I think about whenever I teach.

According to Howard Gardner (1983), people possess eight types of intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. While we each have all the different types, people are usually highly developed in a few intelligences, moderate in others, and then the remaining intelligences are underdeveloped. Most schools only teach to the linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, and as a result the teaching styles are usually pretty uniformed. However, these intelligences may not be ones that all students are comfortable with so the teaching styles are not reaching all the students in the classroom.

With this in mind, when teaching my unit on fairy tales I decided that the children should write their own. However, instead of the stories being handwritten in their notebooks and then never looked at again, I wanted them to create a product that could be showed to their parents and displayed. I talked to the computer teacher about having the students come to computer class with their handwritten drafts and then type them on the computer. The students then did their editing and created their final drafts over the next three computer classes. At the end of the process they printed them out and created their own covers that expressed their story and showed what they thought the most important part was. This allowed the students who didn’t work well in their notebooks to have another way of getting their stories down, and it gave the students a new way to edit their work. Students were also able to use art in this project, which is not something they usually have the opportunity to do. Artifact 4.3/4.9 is examples of two students’ drafts of their fairy tales as well as their final copies. These examples display the difference between the beginning and end product and also show how the organization of the tales change as their mediums of work changed. The students created final products that they are proud of and now use the computer skills they developed in other aspects of their schoolwork.

To build my skills as a teacher and improve my work in this standard I plan on taking a course at the graduate level on English language acquisition so I will be able to better work with the English language learners (ELL) in my classroom. Even though I have worked with ELL students in both of my classrooms I still feel that I can improve the skills that I have so I can better serve them as their teacher. On top of taking a course I will also seek out the ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in the school that I work in so that I can collaborate with them and get tips on the best way to reach my students.


Charney, R. S. (2002). Teaching Children to Care. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc.

Dewey, John. (1938). Experience and education. New York, NY: Free Press.

Freire, P. (2008). Philosophical Documents in Education. In T. W. Johnson & R. F. Reed (Eds.), “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (p. 204-217). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York, NY: Basic Books.

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