Monday, October 31, 2011

The Unavoidability of Celebrating Everyone's Success

On Friday of last week, in the after school program, I led an art project. The art project was to make egg carton spiders. An egg carton spider has the bottom of a single egg compartment and has 4 pipe cleaners that are cut in half to form its 8 legs. They can be glued or taped to cut out egg compartment. This is an example of what it looks like:

I'm trying to recognize interesting ideas that the students come up with. I'm trying to do that so that I can support them. However, in some cases, I am particularly surprised with an idea that a student has. For example, one of the students that I was making the egg carton spider with made a small hole in the base of the egg compartment, lowered a string into the hole, and tied a knot. Also, she made the legs a quarter the size of the pipe cleaners rather than a half. She made her egg carton spider into a hangable ornament rather than just a stationary desk occupant as I originally intended. Honestly, I liked her idea more than what I originally came up with. I liked her idea so much, that I asked her if I could take a pic of it on my phone.

As soon as I did that, a kindergartener sitting next to me said, "Hey, you're supposed to like all of our work!" Immediately after she said that, I was thinking, "Crap.... busted." So immediately, I look at what she is doing with her egg carton spider. She was using a half sized pipe cleaner to poke a hole into the base of the egg carton spider. She bent the bottom of the pipe cleaner to a 90 degree angle so that it was pressed against the roof under the base and curved the top of the pipe cleaner that was above the base. That way, she could carry it around. So, I gave her genuine praise for that.

This experience has brought me on my guard in a new way. Generally, when I give someone praise, I say something vague like "wow... that's cool." However, I tend to compliment with precision if I'm genuinely surprised with an idea that a student implements. I need to start elevating the precision of my praise for all students rather than for just those that surprise me. The level of precision I communicate my praise with must be the same for all students. That's what I need to do if I want to maintain a positive rapport with all of my students rather than just the few that I speak precisely with.

Otherwise, if I praise certain students with precision, but I don't praise other students with that same level of precision, I would guess that would cause some students to become jealous. I think that jealousy can be expressed in various ways, but none of which are positive. I will consider what I think are the worst case scenarios. One way is that one student will fight with a student that he/she is jealous of. Another way is that the student who is jealous of other students will break down emotionally from not getting the same kind of approval from me that I would give to other students. That is my understanding of why unavoidably, I must make the level of precision in my praise equal for all students.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Personal Lesson in Clarity: Short Vowel Sounds

I call this post a lesson in clarity for me rather than my students. Yesterday, I taught a lesson on short vowel sounds. This lesson was a lesson extension. As such, the lesson had more room for creativity. The 3rd grade class is very familiar with all of the short vowel sounds. Recently, they completed an exercise on proofreading. This exercise required that they exchange a short vowel that results in a word being spelled incorrectly and replace it again with a short vowel that results in that word being spelled correctly.

So, the example I provided was "You'll miss the word that is spelled incorrectly if you don't lasten carefully." So, in "lasten," the short vowel /i/ was swapped for a short vowel /a/. That's how "lasten" was spelled incorrectly. I showed them how I picked a word from "The Legend of Damon and Pythias." I made explicit that the short vowel /i/ in listen was removed and I put in a short vowel /a/. Each of them spent about 5 minutes making their own sentence, which contained any word from Damon and Pythias, and they tried to see whether they could stump someone at their table. I was clear in stating that they would spell a word incorrectly by inserting a different short vowel. Because that's all I said, my instructions were unclear. Here are the ways in which clarity was still lacking in my lesson.

I did not explicitly state that they would remove one short vowel and put in another short vowel. I simply showed them how I only removed one short vowel and replaced it with one short vowel. Some students removed and replaced more than one short vowel from a word that they selected. Some students replaced a consonant with a short vowel. I didn't make explicit that they weren't supposed to do that. Some students removed a short vowel, but they didn't put another short vowel in its place. I'm not sure where my instruction of my lesson was lacking for that to occur. Perhaps, I should have said something like "The word that you will remove a short vowel from should have the same number of letters that it had before you removed that vowel. So, make sure that you give that word a different short vowel back after you take one away."

Anyway, there seem to be areas that I could have been clearer in. At the same time, the lesson wasn't a complete failure, but I just wanted to execute it perfectly (an unrealistic expectation). I would guess that about half the students were able to complete the lesson as I expected. Oh well... Moving right along.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reading Through Play Outside of a Play

On Thursday of last week, the 3rd graders read a play called "The Legend of Damon and Pythias." They seemed relatively excited to read it. They were excited to read it because 12 of 22 students took on a role. I'll tell you the roles that I can remember: Damon, Pythias, King, first robber, second robber, mother, announcer, sound effects, etc.. Also, Mr. Agajan gave a role to the remainder of the class. For example, when the play indicated that the entire crowd would say "Set them free! Set them both free," everyone who does not have a particular role would participate by expressing lines that are meant to be expressed collectively and in the background. Further, everyone was encouraged to act out their roles.

To take this a step further, reading through play doesn't need to be limited to if the story explicitly states the various roles/characters in it. The minimum requirement to read a story in a play-like way is for it to have different characters. That's a pretty easy requirement to satisfy. Since the story will not necessarily state the particular roles as explicit as a play would, you must explicitly state what the different roles are to the students. That way, you can tell the students which roles that they can take on. After that, the students will simply need to be ready for when they must act out the lines of their role, which will require them to keep track of where everyone is in the story. Generally, it is less obvious when one character or another is talking in a story than in a play.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Group Project Tip: Selecting Member Order

This idea is the product of two observations that I had. The first observation was of a science teacher. The second observation was of my correction of her mistake in a different lesson altogether. I need to give you a little background on what her group project was.

For their science project, they were given three different small objects, a simple balancing scale, and various weights with their measurements listed in grams on them. There were about 3 to 4 students to a group. Each student was supposed to take turns trying to balance each of the three objects. To be clear, they balanced the objects by putting the small objects to be measured on one side and some number of weights on the other side. Based on how many weights were on one side, they could arrive at a rough estimate of how much each small object weighed in grams.

Did you notice that I said that they were supposed to take turns using the scale? They had some difficulty with that. Several groups had difficulty with taking turns because they were quarreling over who should go first. I would estimate that some groups spent at least 5 minutes complaining and quarreling about who should go first. This problem occurred because the teacher did not give them a way for deciding the order that they should go in.

I observed another group project. Each group consisted of 4 members. Each member had to take turns applying a single rule in order to guess a mystery number and identify it on a 8.5 X 11 hundreds chart. When I walked around to each group, these were the first questions that I asked: "Who's first? Second? Third? Fourth?" Then, after we agreed on the order, they proceeded as such. Unfortunately, "agreed" on an order was really me just telling them the order that they would go in. Ideally, I'd like them to be able to independently decide their order with little or no fuss. Anyway, the bottom line is that they started out a lot smoother than when they were left alone to bicker about the order.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Aftermath of Too Much Personal Attention

I've learned first hand why you shouldn't give any particular student too much personal attention. I need to give you some background. In general, the 3rd graders that I work with are extremely loving. They always tell me how much they appreciate my help. Some of them show their affection in ways beyond just saying "thank you, Mr. Auto" though.

There's this one particular student that frequently gets out of her seat while my mentor teacher is teaching a lesson. She gets out of her seat to walk over to me and ask me a question. I would guess that she does this about 4 times a day. It annoys me. Then, another student walks up to me from their seat to ask me a question. I put the brakes on as soon as that happened. When this additional student walked up to me, I said, "If you stay in your seat, look at me, and raise your hand, then I will come to you." She walked back to her seat and did as I asked. I had to run through this procedure with two additional students beyond the first.

Further, while the teacher is doing a read aloud of their current novel, sometimes she wants to read her book while sitting beside me. Don't get me wrong. I appreciate that she is so comfortable with me. But, her level of comfort has unintended consequences. Afterward, another student walks up to me and asks me if I can sit beside her group's table. Are you seeing the pattern?

If I show one student too much personal attention (such as in the ways just previously mentioned), then other students want that same attention. I think that I understand their perspective and I think it is logical to some extent. If I can show one particular student individual attention in the way that I do, why can't I show that same attention to other students? That is as far as the logic of that perspective goes. Like everyone else, I have my limits. In other words, it would be unmanageable, and thus impossible to show personal attention to everyone. If you provide personal attention to one student, they will expect you to provide them personal attention as well. So, the longer you spend in providing any one student too much personal attention, the greater likelihood there is that other students will desire and seek that same attention. In order to not provide any of your students misguided expectations, that is why you need to make sure that you do not give any one student too much personal attention.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reply to the Kid That Asked About God

So, on October 5th, one of the students in the class that I'm student teaching in asked me about whether I believe in god. I agreed to give him some sort of answer on October 12th. This is the answer that I gave him: "I went to a mosque when I was little. I don't go to a mosque anymore. That's all I can say." This kid was smart and he didn't make any further assumptions from that. However, other kids were not quite as cautious in making judgments as he was. Another student overheard and said "So, you don't believe in god then." You're putting words in my mouth. I didn't say that. Anyway, their curiosity subsided.

In retrospect, my dad had the right idea. He suggested that I should have been a little more forceful in not giving an answer at all. Instead of saying "I went to a mosque when I was little. I don't go to a mosque anymore.", he thinks that I should have said something more like "That is a topic that I can't talk about and I will say nothing else about it." As far as that being less risky is concerned, I think he's correct in phrasing my answer that way. At the same time though, I assumed that giving that kind of answer would have just made that student even more curious. Why? Because I'm making it seem so secretive, and hence, special. In the end though, he would have had to give up his interest in whether I believe in god. So, perhaps I should have just stayed steadfast in not giving any info with respect to that topic. Oh well... doesn't seem to have caused me any harm.

I think this is all that I have to say on this event.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Homework Incentive: Fruit Roll Up

This incentive is pretty simple. Every morning, Mr. Agajan opens with figuring out who did their homework. He puts one of four symbols immediately to the right of their name. All 22 of their names are listed among two columns on the whiteboard. All of these symbols pertain to whether they completed their homework. These are the symbols: Star sign for completed homework, M for completed and forgotten homework that needs to be brought in next morning for a possible star, A for Absent, or simply a blank circle for incomplete homework. If a student gets five stars for the week, on Friday, they get a fruit roll up. The next week, they start back from no stars and that incentive cycle starts over again.

The 3rd graders actually get pretty excited about that. So far, that excitement has not let down. Actually, they kind of bragged in my face a couple weeks in a row. I remember one day that Mr. Agajan put a star next to my name. Of course, he was kidding. I remember one of the students saying "Mr. Auto.... you can't get a fruit roll up. You only have one star." At the same time though, of course they are probably not doing the homework JUST because of the fruit roll up. I would guess that it definitely serves as a deal sweetener.

I looked up fruit roll ups on Amazon. It seems cost efficient. It's about $33 with free shipping for 140 rolls. That comes out to $6.36 a week that you would spend on giving 22 rolls to your class per week. That's in the best case scenario. That doesn't sound too bad.

Anyway, literally... food for thought.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why the Overhead Projector is Obsolete

I don't think that I made such a controversial claim. Then again, I don't really know how many people still use overhead projectors. In any case, the reason why I say that the overhead projector is obsolete is because there is an alternative that serves its same purpose better in various ways. In particular, I'm referring to what is called a docucam (aka: Document Camera). These are the ways in which the overhead projector is obsolete compared to the docucam.

- I just picked out an overhead projector and docucam that are close to the same price. Here are links from Amazon for each the overhead projector and docucam. Check out the dimensions for the overhead projector and do the same for the docucam. The overhead projector has the following dimensions: 28.2 height x 20.2 depth x 13.2 width in inches. The docucam has the following dimensions: 10.1 height x 8.5 depth x 3.6 width in inches. To top if off, the overhead projector is 17 lbs and the docucam is only 4 ounces!. That's a huge difference in both the space they take up and how much each of them weigh. 

- The docucam is a camera. The overhead projector is just a projector. It only makes images appear smaller or larger. The docucam has color. Also, the docucam does not need to be manually focused as an overhead projector does. Why? Because cameras (including docucams) have auto focus. Further, if need be, docucams also have zoom like a digital camera.  

- My view is that this is the way in which docucams are the most versatile. For overhead projectors, you can only display something if it has been transferred onto a transparency. That is not true for docucams. A docucam can display whatever can be placed under it. You don't need a transparency. From bug to textbook or whatever else it is that you want to display under the docucam. You can display it.

- This is one aspect that I cannot necessarily argue on the side of docucams for. Like an overhead projector, docucams can also make images appear larger. However, an overhead projector already has its own way to project images. A docucam does not. In order for a docucam to present images larger than they appear, you must have a projector for it to be connected to. That is at least another $100 - $200. So, you should expect to pay a little more to fully utilize a docucam. Other than the price, those are all the ways in which the overhead projector is obsolete compared to the docucam.

Finally, below you will find some pics to give you an idea of how a docucam works:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Talking to a Student about Religion

I had an awkward experience in class today. Here's the background. The 3rd graders were working on a poster for Charlotte's Web. All they needed to do was write a quote and accompany it with an illustration. I was just monitoring their tables to make sure that they are staying on task. There seemed to be some minor conflict at one of the tables. So, I hovered on over...

One of the students was complaining, "Mr. Auto. He doesn't believe in god." My reply was "So what? Let him believe what he wants to." The student that was accused asks me, "Mr. Auto...? Do you believe in god?" I was extremely hesitant in answering that question. To be clear, I never gave him an answer. I just told him that I can't answer that question. Unfortunately, that made him even more curious. Now, he was begging me to tell him. "Please, Mr. Auto? Tell me. Why can't you tell me?" In the end, I told him that I would give him an answer about whether I can tell him whether I believe in god. Seriously. He sees that I take notes of my observations in class, so he even insisted several times that I write a personal reminder since the next time that I will see him is on Wednesday. He watched me write it. Here is what it reads: "On Wednesday, Oct. 12 2011, I will tell [undisclosed student name] whether I will answer his question about whether I believe in god." He was giggling after every other word that I wrote. I found that interesting. Oh well... The joke's on him because I'm just going to tell him that I won't give him an answer :-P.

Going back to how I hesitated in answering his question, I wasn't hesitating because I didn't know what my answer was. My position is clear and firm. I classify myself as an apathetic agnostic (i.e. I don't know whether a god exists and I don't care). I hesitated because I have no idea what his parents think. I don't know how they desire to raise him. If I told him that I didn't know whether a god exists and I don't care, the worst case scenario is that out of his admiration for me, he starts copying my lack of religious beliefs. Further, let's say his parents do believe in god. Now, they'll be pissed that I instilled this spirit of godlessness into their child. In the end, I basically hesitated for the sake of practicality. I don't want his parents coming after me in case we are in disagreement.

Also, especially with children, word travels fast. Even if I wouldn't be in disagreement with his parents, he could tell other students who would tell their parents. And, it could so happen that THOSE parents ARE believers in god. So now, they might think I'm putting THEIR children at risk. So yea... while teaching, all in the name of practicality, I keep information pertaining to religion to myself.

I gotta be honest. If I was only visiting this school for one day and he approached me with that question, I would totally tell him what my view was. I would tell him in order to give him a different perspective to consider and because I prefer to be honest, which includes stating what my views actually are.

Anyway, what do you think? Under any circumstances at all, would you express your religious beliefs to a 3rd grade student who asked you whether you believe in god?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Potential Efficacy of a Child's Assistance

On Monday, I made Jack-O-Lantern masks. This project is listed here. Basically, these were the steps of the project:

#1: Draw a circle on the back of a paper plate

#2: Draw the eyes such that they line up with the wearer's eyes and such that the wearer can see through them when the eyes of the mask are cut out.

#3: Draw the nose

#4: Draw the mouth.

#5 Decorate the pumpkin as desired.

#6 Give to Mr. Auto (aka: Yours truly) to hole punch sides that hold string. The string is tied together around the wearer's head in order for the mask to be worn. And, I also cut out the eyes.

This will give you an idea of the end result:

This is the project that I and the interested students worked on in the first hour of the after school program. I wasn't quite sure what to expect in terms of interest in the project. There is one thing that indicated that the project would fill up faster than usual. I put on my mask and I put my glasses over the mask, all of the kids were giggling, and then I had a bunch of kids that came up to me. "Can I do one?" was the constant question that a bunch of them were asking me. I probably elicit responses like those about half the time. So, I was very pleased with that result.

I only expected to do this project with about 9 students. That was my common maximum number of participants until Monday of this week. This week... I broke that record... I rounded up 19 students with this project. That... was... awesome... Unfortunately, I felt swamped. A lot of the students finished one after the other. And, they were waiting on me. I told them to come back after I cut out the eyes and put the string in the side holes. But, as you might be aware, some children don't listen very well. "Are you done yet?" is also a question that many students repeated over and over again. Or, some students play with the materials that I need to use in order to complete the project (e.g. one student was braiding the string I needed to put in the holes of the mask... :-( ). All of that is extremely distracting. I wanted to finish fast so that they could take their masks on that very day. I couldn't keep up with the rate at which they were finishing all of their masks and the rate at which they kept returning to distract me.

Of the 19 students, there were at least two students who seemed particularly intelligent for their age. There was a 5th and a 2nd grader. The 5th grader came into the project kind of late. So, step by step, I clearly explained the project to her. She was basically my proxy at another table. And for that, I was extremely thankful. She saved me the trouble of switching back and forth from one table to another. At the final stage of the project, I punched out holes in the sides of each mask and I poked a hole in the eyes of each mask. Then, I had the 2nd grader cut them all out for me. For that, I was also very thankful because she definitely saved me some time in completing the project. I expressed my gratitude directly to both of them for that. They were very pleased with my gratitude. So, we all came out feeling like winners.

In conclusion, if you ever feel like you have too much work on your shoulders, the children can truly assist you in carrying that load in a significant way (so long as you know specifically what you want them to help you with). But, remember to show them that you value their assistance. That's all some kids seem to want when they help you.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Introducing a New Student

A couple weeks back, a new student joined the 3rd grade class that I'm student teaching in. She's from Chicago. I noticed that my current mentor, Mr. Agajan, gave her a lot of attention. I don't disagree with that. But, it's still insightful to answer the question of why he does so. Before I think about why he gave her so much attention, I should explain how he gave her attention.

Sample of the First Day Introduction

All of this happened on the single day that she arrived. He put an emphasis on writing her name and having her loudly state how to write it. He made an exercise of the entire class pronouncing her name in chorus. He had her talk about the previous city that she lived in and school that she went to. We looked it up on a world map. He asked her to confirm for the class whether some of what Chabot Elementary and Mr. Agajan does are things that she is familiar with (I can't think of specific examples right now). He put a special emphasis over repeating all of the rules for the new student.

Consequences of the Introduction

Ok. That is what I can provide by way of examples in terms of how he focused attention on the new student. So, what exactly does giving all this attention to the new student do? It probably makes her seem pretty special since everything being talked about is her. As such, it definitely makes her feel more welcomed than alienated.

Also, by talking about the city she lived in, the school that she went to, and how Chabot Elementary and the city she lives in now is similar, it makes her transition to a new city and school feel less foreign. That gives her the idea that she knows how to deal with this seemingly foreign city and school.

The reason for repeating the rules is simple. Everyone else already follows them. If she doesn't follow them, her actions will sometimes conflict with the other students. This will not be conducive to a collaborative or welcoming classroom environment.

Justification for the Focused Attention

There is a good reason for why this new student is being given so much attention. It is easier to teach a student who feels welcomed, doesn't feel like they are in a foreign place, and gets along with the other students than a student who is not all of those things. Why? If she feels more welcomed, then she will be more inclined to both help others and receive help from others (whether that means adults or peers). If the place she lives in and the place she goes to school at doesn't seem foreign, then she will definitely not be distracted by worries of such things while she is in class. Lastly, if she gets along with the other students (due to following the established rules), then they will perceive each other to be on equal terms as far as behavioral expectations go. So, one less thing (a pretty ubiquitous thing throughout the day at that) to bicker about.

Anyway, that is a summary of what I think giving this new student so much attention accomplished and ultimately, why it was done. Feel free to let me know whether I'm missing anything.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Insider's Look: Typical CalState Teach Observation

On Wednesday, September 28th, Peter Krasa came to observe me at Chabot Elementary. He's my supervisor for the program. My description of how this all played out will not necessarily tell you how other supervisors in the program set themselves up, but it will definitely show you some common elements with respect to the observation.

Each term is about 4 months long. Peter observes me once per month. Peter always sets himself up in the very back of the classroom. He's on his laptop and recording his notes on a template. After my observation is complete, he busts out this super slim printer. He prints out his notes that he recorded on a template. This is what all two pages of the template look like:

The organization of the template is pretty simple. The substance of this document is in the 'Applicable TPE(s)' section and the 'Comments' section. TPE stands for Teacher Performance Expectation. The only reason why this is important is to know that you satisfy them. However, to be honest, I don't actually think of these when I teach. But, it would have been nice to have each of these backed up with examples as opposed to just having a single 'X' in a box.

In the 'comments' section, Peter states specifically what he saw in the lesson that he found effective. I notice that Peter always gives me positive feedback. I appreciate this because I want to continue the behaviors that are conducive to good teaching. However, I also like to be criticized. I want to know what I'm not doing well.

Although there is not nominally a section to describe what you are not doing well in, I think that it is implied in the 'Questions' and 'Ideas' section to some extent. Also, the 'Questions' and 'Ideas' section gives the supervisor an opportunity to make suggestions to you.

And then, finally, he provides a summary of his assessment of you at the end of the observation template (i.e. “Site Visitation Form”).

After I complete the implementation of my lesson and he finishes typing and printing his notes, he gives me a chance to read them. Then, we go over the observation form. He elaborates to the extent he feels necessary and gives me an opportunity to ask him about or respond to his comments, questions, and ideas. And, that's about it.