The Reflective Teacher

The Reflective Teacher

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In the teaching profession, as in life, you never stop learning. I learn everyday from my students and from the process of teaching. I learn about my students and their families, about the community in which we live, about the content I am teaching, and about my own practice as an educator. It is necessary for teachers to be reflective of their practices, as you will grow from reflection and then can better help your students learn.I recently started a reflective teaching journal that I use to reflect on coursework, lessons and unit planning, to brainstorm ideas for collaboration and cross-curricular integration, to reflect on my dance teaching, and of course, to reflect on my instruction during student teaching.  Although I have taught in schools as a dance teacher for many years, have taught after-school programs, and have worked in education as a teaching artist and a teacher assistant, it wasn’t until recently that I taught my first formal lesson for observation and evaluation in student teaching. These are part of my reflections from the planning, implementation and growth stages.

This is a nerve-racking process; as even veteran teachers will tell you, it is always uncomfortable to teach while your supervisor or administrators are watching your every move. Two weeks ago I encountered this feeling as I taught my lesson on a reading strategy to my second grade students.

[flickr id=”10986443583″ thumbnail=”medium_640″ overlay=”true” size=”medium_640″ group=”” align=”none”]I had everything meticulously planned: standards, objectives and goals, assessments of learning, arts integration, making connections to students’ lives, hooking student engagement, differentiation for varying learning styles and needs, and of course the learning activities. I had a timer to ensure I was staying on-task, visuals and anchor charts, necessary materials including previously selected books, sharpened pencils, post-its for students to track their thinking, my clipboard for notes, and even a script of what to say at certain points in the lesson if I needed it. I like details… clearly.

Guess what, I didn’t need the script. Half of the materials I gathered we didn’t use. And not everything went exactly as planned.  But, what did happen was this: students were engaged; students had amazing inquiry questions; students understood the lesson objectives and content; students helped one another and worked collaboratively; we studied science, social studies, writing and reading all in one lesson, and the students learned. So, my lesson did turn out well and things went okay.

Student work using reading strategies taught

Student work using reading strategies taught

I am pleased with the outcome, but as I said, there are always things that can improve and from which I can grow. When looking back at the lesson, and into my future teaching practice, these are a few things I felt went well and a few I am working on improving:

I felt that guided and independent practice went very well, as most students were engaged in my story with many authentic questions about tornadoes and engaged in their own story they chose with authentic, inquiry questions.  Most students, with appropriate scaffolding when needed, were successful at creating authentic questions, using text features to find answers to those questions, and tracking their thinking–the objectives of the lesson.  During the modeling and guided practice at the rug, I went through the lesson very quickly.  I felt like I was losing a few students’ attention at one point, so I moved on to the next phase of the lesson: the independent practice.  I could have had more planned, including personal connections to make the information more relevant, to expand this time during guided practice and to ensure student understanding before moving on to independent practice.

Another aspect of the lesson I would do differently is to gather all students on the rug during the closure of the lesson.  At the closure of the lesson during my actual lesson implementation, students remained in their small groups with attention on the teacher.  They were very attentive, respectful, and participated, as I asked for examples of student work and student learning from each group.  When reflecting on this lesson, I noticed that during this time, as one group was giving examples some students in another group became off-task and lost interest.  Next time, I will bring all the students together on the rug or back at their seats with attention at the front of the class for the closure of lessons.  Finally, the extension of the lesson the following day went very well.  Students worked collaboratively to create art projects and letters for tornado victims of Washington, Illinois, as a social studies, writing and art extension to learning about tornadoes and their effects from the book we used in our lesson.  These turned out great, and the students felt great about their work and the impact it would have.  Students also continued their inquiry projects on questions from their individually chosen books during independent practice.  The learning never ends, and the lesson, although extended, altered and expanded, always continues.

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The last thing I have learned through this process, which may be the most important, is something about myself and my need for details and structure. Life does not always go exactly as planned, and focusing too much on every little detail will easily make you lose sight of the big picture of your lesson or unit and your purpose for your teaching practice as a whole. I wanted my students to learn a reading strategy of reading with a question in mind and using text features to answer those questions.  Also wanted my students to learn about tornadoes and their effects (since that was the book chosen for the lesson) as well as to create inquiry on other topics students were interested in.  All of those things happened, even if it didn’t follow the guidelines of my perfectly planned, 20 page lesson.  Structure and details are a good thing, and it is important to have thorough plans and be well prepared. But, things happen, and we also need to be open to changes and ready to combat them as we’re teaching. After this positive and challenging (but challenging in a good way) experience, and my preparation at Columbia, I feel confident I will succeed during student teaching this coming semester and as a professional educator for years to come.