Planning and Reflection
During my student teaching experiences I kept a journal, which greatly helped me to organize my thoughts and clarify the areas in which I most needed to improve. My mentor also pointed out for me the key areas that need improvement. Therefore, as I look forward to a professional career as a teacher, I will be able to draw on these early experiences. I will remember what works and what doesn't and I already feel far more confident and proficient than I did before I undertook the student teaching challenge. In general a few major themes emerged through reviewing my journal entries and the statements written by my mentors. My strengths are my willingness to use a wide variety of teaching materials and teaching styles. An enthusiastic implementation of multimedia materials keeps students actively engaged, and keeps lessons more interesting. Moreover, my lessons are well-planned and incorporate a number of different activities that also keep the students' interest. I noticed myself that on days when I incorporated multimedia materials and meaningful activities that the students absorbed more of the material and remained focused on the lessons. My mentor also noted that I plan my lessons well, which eliminated lag time during the class and helped impart an atmosphere of professionalism in the classroom. When I am a professional teacher I will be incorporating theses same techniques into my classrooms. I also tend to be attentive to the needs of the students and to the progress they make while performing in-class activities. My appreciation and understanding of boy-specific learning styles also helps my students to learn at their maximum potential.
However, my mentor and I have both noticed some areas of my teaching practice that could use some improvement. During the course of my student teaching experiences, I gradually improved in these areas. By the time the student teaching experience was over, I had improved significantly in these core areas. For instance, when I first started teaching, I had trouble making smooth transitions from subject to subject, simply because I was not used to or prepared for making such transitions. One of the negative consequences of insufficient transitions was a loss of student attention; I noticed the problems with lack of transitions especially in subjects in which the students were already struggling to understand the course material such as in the junior science class. However, toward the end of my student teaching, my transitions flowed far better, and my mentor lauded my performance in this area.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, I improved greatly in my questioning skills. I learned how questioning can be one of the essential aspects of teaching; at first I asked questions that were too vague. As time went on my questioning skills improved greatly. Open-ended questions, which I thought seemed more democratic, actually end up wasting time and diverting students' attention, as well as my own. Honing questions, making them highly relevant to the matter-at-hand and pertinent to the day's lesson, helped keep all of our minds focused. Furthermore, open-ended questions tended to create confusion. The more specific the questions I asked, the more likely students were to learn the material and retain the information. For example, during a lesson on water balance in plants, I asked open-ended questions that led us to irrelevant discussions about such things as the composition of sand and flour and the impact of sunlight on plant life. Not asking the right questions also sabotaged opportunities for review and reinforcement of material, which are important for retention. Similarly, in the unit I taught on tectonic plates, I would ask "How do we measure earthquakes?" when I should have asked "How do we measure earthquakes using the Richter scale?"
I also encountered some problems with formulating my questions when I taught the level eight science unit on gravitational pulls. I asked some questions that were beyond the understanding of many of the students, forgetting that they were only year eight. I also asked questions on material we hadn't gone over thoroughly enough and this caused the students to become confused and lose focus.
The key to my improvement in the area of questioning arose largely from planning. The night before each lesson I would create a list of questions relevant to the topic. I wrote the questions as specific as possible, and also anticipated possible answers...
This helped me to stay focused and maximize classroom time. However, my mentor noted that my lesson planning should be more organized; I failed to follow a logical plan from beginning to end but instead, I tended to be all over the place. This caused many students to lose their attention.
Finally, when I first started teaching, I had no compelling introductions for the day's lessons, failing to initially capture the students' attention. As I realized my weakness in this area, I was able to compensate by introducing subjects with a fun, interesting introduction. What I did at first was to launch immediately into a detailed discussion. For example, I taught a unit on tectonic plates to the year ten science class. When I began I immediately started discussing the technical aspects of tectonic plates and the students become confused. They lost interest quickly and did not understand the material. Part of the problem was that I neglected to introduce the material properly, by showing why tectonic plates were meaningful, by showing them the greater picture, such as illustrating how tectonic plates create earthquakes. However, I also struggled with introductions on my sixth day of teaching, when I taught a year eight science unit that focused on gravity. I had planned an introduction but ended up confusing the students even more because I actually introduced too much extraneous material. I discovered through trial and error that the best introductions are simple but well-planned and highly structured.
When I taught the year twelve biology lesson, I used my most well-developed and most effective introduction. To captivate students' attention I relayed a vivid story about the Ponderosa pine growing in Yosemite at the time that the dinosaurs were still alive. The students were all keenly interested. From there I could launch into a more specific discussion about the details of plant hormones. Without the story, plant hormones might have seemed meaningless to them. Unfortunately, my solid introduction ended up taking me off-course from my lesson plans.
My use of multiple materials and fun activities was certainly my greatest strength in the classroom. For example, in the unit on tectonic plates, I brought in a video entitled Earthquake. I also did a demonstration of tectonics using plain sheets of paper: the visual aids immensely enhanced student interest and understanding of the material. I was pleasantly surprised to find that after incorporating the multimedia materials and presentations, and also after using a wider range of teaching styles to impart the material, most students did very well on their end-of-week test. In his online guide on active reviewing, Greenaway (2004) notes the power of using innovative tools. Even though a slew of pre-existing materials already exist for teachers, creating new tools creates a far more creative and engaging classroom environment. Another instance in which I used novel, innovative tools was during a year eight science unit on fluid pressure. The unit demanded an understanding of measurement techniques, something the students were having some trouble understanding. To illustrate the point, I didn't simply take out a measuring cup or hold out a diagram in the text. Rather, I used a milk carton with strategically-placed holes to offer a hands-on display of pressure measures.
Although impressed with my use of in-class activities and multimedia material, my mentor asked that I incorporate more use of the board to initiate discussions, map out conversations, jot down key concepts, and introduce lessons. My mentor also commented that my attitude remains positive and although I did seem self-conscious that eventually I would improve simply by becoming more self-confident about my teaching abilities. I was surprised to find, however, that my mentor and I were both aware of my skill in behavior management. My attitude as a teacher was balanced: I did not act overly friendly to try to be buddies with the students but at the same time I treated the students with respect, humor, and friendliness. I used some behavior management tricks, such as requesting that the students all form lines before entering the classroom. When they were silent they were allowed to enter. This technique created a theme of behavior that would last throughout the remainder of the class. The line-up also raised the level of expectations for students' behavior from the time before the class even began. Inside the classroom, I used simple but effective behavior management techniques. For instance, when students started to act out, instead of yelling I simply stood authoritatively in front of the class, relying on my non-verbal communication skills. I have found that non-verbal communication is a more effective classroom management tool than…
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