During the practicum, I felt myself not only learning as a teacher but also as an individual too. I mean this in the sense that before I began the practicum, I was less organised and much less confident but, as a result of this course, I now feel as though I am a lot more gregarious, prepared and generally more ‘together’ than I was before. Having spoken to a number of teachers now, it seems that all teaching practicums are intense and hard work – demonstrating the challenge of the job in full, and I have felt that this practicum has pushed me to my absolute limits. I have been exhausted, irritable and sleepy for the better part of the course but at the same time, I have felt proud and happy with the work I am doing. One of the main things I have learned about teaching is that it is gruelling but it is extremely worth it because it is such a pleasure to know that I have done something that day which could potentially benefit the life of a young child. I think that, perhaps, this is most the case when working with children in the K-3 schooling bracket as their knowledge is only just starting to grow and I feel like I am a bit part of that. It is a heavy responsibility but one I shoulder with relish.
In the past ten years, data has become the driving force in the classroom (Education Northwest) and it is confusing to me, how teachers ever taught without the heavy use of data to guide and steer their teaching. It is vitally important to know how a student has been performing academically before carrying out an assessment because otherwise, there is no benchmark by which to measure their success. It is also important to carefully note all pre and post assessment data. This is largely due to how it will shape the educational approach taken in addressing that student. If in their assessment, they have considerably improved, then it is time to challenge them more in lessons in order to see them improving even more. Initially, I found that the administration of assessments was tricky as often the students cannot be made aware that they are being assessed in order to reduce the level of stress they feel. With older children, it would be easier to tell them about what they need to focus on and how they can get the next grade but with younger children, it is important to both assess them fully and make sure that they do not feel pressured to ‘perform.’ However, as fine a line as it is to walk, I feel that I managed it with aplomb as I was able to garner assessment data from my class whilst still ensuring that they felt happy, content and confident.
Analysing data is not something which I found easy as I do not naturally have a head for numbers. However, recognising how important it is to the job, I set about improving my skills. Once I had developed my confidence in using data, I found it to be an excellent way to recognise achievement and improvement in my class – allowing me to praise those who succeeded and focus on those who need some extra help. As the chart below demonstrates, some children in this instance improved dramatically, others maintained an average and others did not do as well in this assessment as they did in others. This assessment looked at their spellings and the numbers in the chart are the average number of words each child got correct out of seven. By looking at this chart, I can easily see which children are improving and which ones need more of a push. For example, child number four scored 4.5 in the previous assessment and in this one, they scored around a 4.3 demonstrating to me that there is a weakness there which needs to be focused upon and strengthened in order to get that child’s mark back up again. In practice, I found that data analysis, whilst slightly intimidating at first, was a fine way of developing my working knowledge of my class and their improvement. Equally, it is a neat, quantifiable way of demonstrating learning and improvement to teachers and senior members of the school body.
Teaching a K-3 class is not without its challenges and the biggest of all is the ability to teach the class whilst also holding their attention. This was one of the more challenging aspects of my practicum that I encountered. It is a fine line between teaching them the relevant information whilst doing it in a way that they understand and therefore, maintains their interest. I learnt quickly that if a lesson is pitched too high then the class will switch off entirely (Linan-Thompson & Vaughn, 2004, p1). I found that short, snappy tasks helped to maintain their interest more and so, an example day went like: literacy in the morning – reading for a few minutes each to the teacher or classroom assistant, whilst the others drew a picture of their pet and wrote the pet’s name and a sentence about their pet. Following this, the class would be doing numeracy and looking at addition – in one lesson, each student wrote their age in numerical and written forms on a piece of paper and then placed themselves accurately on a timeline of 1-10 on the board. We did a similar exercise with their height in which each member of the class measured their partner’s height. In the afternoon, the students would be doing arts and crafts – in one instance, we painted pictures of our favourite sport whilst in another, we made simply-weaved little pots for them to take home to their mothers. The idea is that by having the ‘fun’ and creative portion of the day in the afternoon, it means that they are focused and on task for the morning when they are fresher and more prepared to learn (Collins, 2008, p146).
How Assessment Guides Instruction
It quickly became apparent to me how good teaching practice must be guided by assessment which, in turn, must guide instruction (Jamison Rog, 2007, p29). In short, assessment is the basis of education – the student is assessed in something and gains a score, and then the following week, he is assessed again and receives another score. If that score is significantly higher or lower then it demonstrates that the student requires more or less support. For instance, if the student receives a much higher score, it could signify that they are capable of learning independently and don’t require as much ‘hand holding’ as it were, and as a result of a consistently increasing score, I might decide to take a step back and allow that student to manage their own learning for a bit and/or I might add an extra challenge – for example, giving him extra words to learn for a spelling test. Equally, if a student seems to be struggling and their assessment results reflect this (i.e. their scores are getting worse or waiver around a similar mark) then I would take steps towards supporting that student more – I would implement some more ‘one to one’ time to help build the student’s confidence and to ensure that I was happy with the progress he was making. In other words, I would work with the student until I saw that he was fully grasping the concept in hand. Following this, I would closely monitor his assessment scores and see whether he had improved or not. If it was the latter than I would, again, implement strategies that would assist the student in their development – for instance, in the example of a spelling test, I would perhaps assign him fewer words to learn, allowing him to focus his attention more specifically on the words assigned. Assessment must guide instruction in the fullest sense because it is designed to highlight areas of concern with students as well as areas of significant achievement which allows the teacher to understand what the class are/aren’t fully competent in.
Learning Objective: To increase student’s phonemic awareness and phonics.
Starter: Students to read a short piece of text and count how many words are in each sentence.
Introduction: Teacher to introduce the idea of syllables and ask the class to find out how many syllables are in their name. Students should volunteer their answers.
Development: Teacher and students to clap each syllable as the teacher reads out the text from the starter exercise.
Plenary: Students to write three sentences and teacher to provide writing frame as follows:
1. In the text, there are …… number of sentences.
2. In one sentence there are ….. number of words.
3. In that sentence there are …. number of syllables.
Learning Objective: To improve student’s fluency in sight-words.
Starter: Students to work in pairs and to read a selection of words to each other (words should be written on the board prior to the exercise).
Introduction: Teacher to go through the words with students and all read aloud together.
Development: Teacher to give each student a card with a word from the board on it and the teacher should say the word to the student.
Students should then walk around the room and say their word to one of their peers. The two students should then swap cards and repeat the process.
Plenary: Students must then work in pairs to say as many words as they can remember and their partner must keep count of how many they say. Students to then swap and count their peer’s words.
Learning Objective: To improve student’s vocabulary.
Starter: Teacher to choose a theme (can be anything but for this purpose, we’ll use America as the theme) and ask students to raise their hands and share words that they think of when they think of America.
Introduction: Teacher to introduce the idea of different words which mean the same thing and ask students to think of examples of this (e.g. ‘big’ and ‘large’).
Development: Students to use the words on the board from the starter to think of alternative words that mean the same thing. Students can use a thesaurus if they want to – teacher may need to show them how to do this.
Plenary: Students must repeat the starter task but this time, they must raise their hands and suggest the alternative words that they have come up with – teacher to write their suggestions on the board and students to write them down in their books.
Learning Objective: To enhance student’s reading comprehension skills.
Starter: Students to read a piece of text to themselves – preferably part of a story but could also be non-fiction and informative.
Introduction: Teacher to introduce the idea that we must be able to understand what words mean as well as being able to read them. Teacher to read the text aloud to the class and then ask a simple question about it: e.g. what colour t-shirt did Tom wear? (Ensure that the question is relevant to the text).
Development: Students to pick out and write down 5 piece of information about the text similar to the example in the previous task. If they encounter a word that they don’t understand, students should write it down as well for future reference.
Plenary: Students should volunteer their information to the rest of the class to demonstrate their comprehension of the text.
Collins, K. (2008). Reading for Real: teach students to read with power, intention and joy in the K-3 classroom. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers.
Education Northwest. (n.d.). How Data Use is Transforming the Classroom. Retrieved from http://educationnorthwest.org/node/1647
Jamison Rog, L. (2007). Marvellous Mini Lessons for Teaching Beginning Writing, K-3. Washington: International Reading Association.
Linan-Thompson, S & Vaughn, S. (2004). Research-based Methods of Reading Instruction, grades K-3. Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.