EDU 6989 Observation Reflection

In May 2016, I spent 42 hours observing teachers and students at Endeavour Elementary School in Issaquah, Washington. I primarily observed a first grade classroom. The first grade teacher also arranged opportunities for me to observe in second, third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms. I was very appreciative for the additional observation experiences because I saw how instruction, curriculum, and collaborative learning changed in conjunction with different grades. Anyone who spends time at Endeavour will quickly observe that key values in the school are respect, teamwork, citizenship, and personal growth. These values apply to the students as well as the administrative staff, teachers, and volunteers. Everyone is responsible for helping ensure the school is a safe, welcoming, engaging environment so students are focused on learning and achieving their academic and personal goals. Values are promoted on posters in the hallways, on signs in the classrooms, through classroom expectations, and in how everyone communicates with each other.

Two areas I focused on during my observations were classroom management and assisting students with special needs. Since the observation occurred near the end of the school year, classroom management and organization were already a polished process. Students knew what their teacher expected from them and what management cues their teacher used. One universal cue was a hand gesture students used to indicate they wanted to go to the restroom. In the first grade classroom, the primary focus teaching students to line up quietly to prepare to walk in a silent line to recess, lunch, P.E., art, or music. In second, third, and fourth grade, every student was assigned a classroom duty. These jobs helped the classroom remain a safe, productive learning environment for students while reminding them they are responsible for helping take care of the school. Each teacher had their own system about how to assign tasks to students on a rotating based. It appeared every student took pride in their assigned task and they did not want to leave the room for the day until their job was completed. Designating classroom duties assisted in the organization of the room since jobs included responsibilities such as turning on and off computers every day, handing out papers, collecting assignments, and cleaning the desks.

Most students demonstrated very respectful behavior and self-control. Teachers practiced different age appropriate solutions for student misbehavior. In the first grade class, students were seated on the floor for a lesson when two boys started badgering another boy, B. B asked his classmates to stop bothering him. A fourth boy even tried to tell the instigators they were not following class rules. Once it was obvious this issue was not going to be solved among the students, the teacher stopped mid-lesson to remind everyone of the class rules. The consequence for the two boys who were not following classroom rules was to verbally apologize and to write an “I’m sorry” note to B. The teacher also praised the boy who tried to help, explaining that it is important to help your friends. In the third grade classroom, the teacher privately talked to a few students in the hallway since bullying-type behavior had recently developed and seemed to be escalating. Each student was talked to individually for a few minutes. The teacher taking the time to have one-on-one conversations indicated her respect for students as individuals and provided students the opportunity to engage in a conversation with their teacher. Both teachers demonstrated how a response to misbehavior changes depending on the action and age.

Supporting exceptional learners is a priority for teachers, school administers, and specialists. It is a collaborative effort among the staff to ensure students with behavioral, intellectual, physical, attentive, and/or social issues receive an education that aligns with their needs. Depending on the individual’s need, students might work with a specialist for one-on-one help or spend a portion of their school day in the resource room while also receiving specific academic and verbal instruction from their general education teacher.

I focused on observing how general education teachers differentiated instruction and learning activities for students with special needs. In one class students were working on learning their multiplication facts. First, this activity recognized that all students learn at different rates. Students had to correctly answer a set of multiplication facts before progressing to the next set. The teacher added an extra support to this activity for L, a student with a learning disability. L learned the same material as her classmates, but focused on learning half as many multiplication facts in one set at a time. This differentiated instruction recognized L is capable of learning the multiplication facts. Chunking the information into smaller sets made the activity more attainable for L. I also observed the techniques a second grade teacher used when she assisted two students with special behavior needs. A strategy she used with both students was to create a self-monitoring behavior chart that the students used every day. She tracked their behavior too, but believed that the charts helped them stay focused on positive classroom behavior and interactions. It was enlightening for me to observe how the teachers managed the learning and behavioral needs of students with distinctive needs.

Endeavour offers programs to support highly capable students. For students in Kindergarten through second grade, there is a qualification process to participate in the Primary Enrichment Program (PEP). Students in third, fourth, and fifth grade have two options available. Mind Education Right Left Integration (MERLIN) is a program all students in the district can participate in after a nomination and evaluation process. Endeavour is one of the two elementary schools in Issaquah that hosts the MERLIN classrooms. MERLIN classes have high expectations and challenge students through higher level thinking instruction and independent work (Highly Capable Program, 2016). Highly capable third, fourth, and fifth graders may also qualify for Special Approach to Gifted Education (SAGE), which is a program that enhances the learning experience for students placed in the general education classroom (Highly Capable Program, 2016). PEP, MERLIN, and SAGE reflect Issaquah School District’s commitment to providing highly capable students options that appropriately align with their learning needs.

Student’s academic learning and personal growth are very important at Endeavour. Achievement is guided through direct instruction, applied learning experiences, and student’s exploration into individual interests. Student inquiry and questioning is encouraged as a primary method of learning and understanding. Nearly all direct instruction lessons included a review about students’ background knowledge, especially during math and science. Students were often instructed to incorporate critical thinking skills throughout all subjects. This technique was always used after silent reading ended. All the teachers asked for student volunteers to talk about what they had read, if they had any predictions about what was going to happen next, and if they had any lingering questions.

Teachers also emphasized that students should read stories that matched their reading level. The third grade teacher reminded her students of the 5-Finger Rule during reading time. This strategy helps a student determine how challenging the book is based on how many words they understand on a random page. Students begin reading a page in the middle of a new book and for every word they do not know on that page, they put up a finger. A book is “just right” if they have two or three fingers up by the end of the page (Mascott, 2013). I talked with a fourth grade student about he was reading. It was quickly apparent the story was just above his reading comprehension level. I mentioned this interaction with the teacher. She said that he likes to challenge himself, but she would talk with him and recommend he change books.

Student’s safety within the school and at home is critical. If school personnel have any concerns about a child’s well-being, it is recommended to immediately review the district’s regulation manual to ensure the proper action is followed. Pursuant to the regulations, if an employee believes there is a reasonable cause to suspect child neglect or abuse, the situation must be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency as soon as possible and no later than 48 hours after reasonable cause was suspected (Regulations, 2012). The policy also states the report should made in the presence of the school principal when possible (Regulations, 2012). The recommendation to review the policy every time a situation arises is an essential process because students’ safety is an issue that should be handled correctly and efficiently.

Observation was an extremely valuable experience. I witnessed how professionals supported students with diverse needs and personalities, as well as how they collaborated with their colleagues. I was inspired watching how excellent teachers incorporated various instructional methods into the curriculum while maintaining the students inquiry and learning as the priority. I am beyond grateful that the teachers and students at Endeavour welcomed me into their community and look forward to returning to observe preparation for beginning of next school year.

References

Issaquah School District. (2016). Highly capable (gifted) programs overview. Retrieved from: http://www.issaquah.wednet.edu/academics/programs/gifted

Mascot, A. (2013). Help kids to p.i.c.k. the right books. Retrieved from: http://www.scholastic.com/parents/blogs/scholastic-parents-raise-reader/help-kids-to-pick-right-books

Issaquah School District. (2012. Regulations: Child abuse, neglect, and exploitation prevention-3421. Retrieved from: http://www.issaquah.wednet.edu/docs/default-source/district/regulations-manual/3000/3421p-child-abuse-neglect-and-exploitation.pdf?sfvrsn=0

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Inclusion of Students with Special Needs

American federal laws and society values have contributed to an increase in students with special needs working alongside their peers in general education classrooms. When students with special needs are included in the general education classroom, all students learn that everyone has special abilities and some people need more help than others. I think inclusion of students who receive special education services leads to a more accepting school culture and other students strive to assist anyone who needs help. After reading more about this topic, it is evident some people worry about accommodations being fair for everyone and whether or not inclusion is beneficial.

Byrnes (2008) explains that an accommodation is a modification to an activity or setting to remove the barrier preventing the person with a disability from achievement and access. Byrnes analyzes how appropriate adjustments do not make an assignment or lesson easier for students, but rather provides equal access that other students experience in a learning environment (Evans, 2008, p. 319). I thought Byrnes provided thorough support for accommodating students with special needs since the purpose to them when it is needed and does not interfere with what is being tested.

Kauffman, McGee, and Brigham (2008) argue that inclusion often prevents students with disabilities from being properly challenged or enabling the students to rely on the accommodations. Further, there is concern over whether students with special needs are receiving an appropriate education that aligns with their disability (Evans, 2008, p. 329). I think these are valid arguments, but instead of implying all students with special needs should not be included, it is better to remind teachers to think about individual student’s situations. Making generalizations about how special education inclusion is applied erroneously across the country adds to any negative connotation. It is also ignoring the school’s that have implemented a good approach. People who oppose the inclusion should ask successful schools about their program to learn what is recommended to ensure all students are being properly assessed and accommodated.

I think it is often difficult for people who have not needed an accommodation in life to understand that the purpose is to make the task equitable, not easier. I support the inclusion of students with special needs working in the general education classroom when the resource team makes that recommendation. I think when children work with a diversity of students then it is an opportunity for life lessons that might not occur otherwise. As long as everyone is achieving what they are capable of doing, the inclusion of students with disabilities should not be considered a distraction in the general education classroom. Instead, inclusion should be viewed as an asset because everyone is learning material and lessons they might not have been exposed to in another environment.

Reference

Evans, D. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and education practice. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Higher Education.

Educational Standards

One of the most controversial education debates centers around the issue of standards and curriculum decisions. Should standards be regulated at a local state level or by United States government at a federal level? There are advantages and disadvantages to regulation at both levels, although it seems everyone agrees a decision should be made so the United States can experience proper progress in education reform. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passed in the early 2000s brought the topic to an even greater debate. One of the biggest issues of NCLB is that educational standards each state must meet were decided on at a federal level, but the act authorized states to decide if schools met the required proficiency level.

Support for federal regulation includes the rationale that national standards create a comparable and equitable educational experience for all students, support for the growing need to compete globally, and allow for better collaboration among educators across the country (Evans, 2008, pp. 7-9). These are very valid reasons, especially if states have not demonstrated they are not capable of solving these issues. However, a better approach might be to advise local officials about steps they can take to enact similar policies to work toward common educational goals. Main arguments against national standards is that centralizing educational decisions and authority results in a loss of policy makers understanding needs within the local community and the loss of valuable teachers and administrators (Evans, 2008, pp. 14-16). In a country as large and populated as the United States, how can the federal government properly and efficiently decide on the educational needs for all? While there should be similarities among states, it is not beneficial to students or educators for all decisions to be implemented at a national level.

National versus local regulation is a very complex subject that should involve a longer discussion. I am still undecided on my preference as I reflect on my experiences as a student and my desires as a teacher. In 6th grade I moved from California to Washington. I remember one day in a science class when I realized I had previously learned what my teacher was teaching that day. At first I thought it was great that I did not have to learn something new, but then I wondered what I was going to miss. Did my new class already cover a different topic I should know? This memory leads me to believe national standards will help prevent this from happening. As a teacher, I think about how easy it would be if there were national standards and regulations. It would be easier for me if could easily move around the country and not think about a new state teaching certification or creating a completely new set of lesson plans. But it is more important to me to feel like my professional opinion will make a difference. I also believe that my students’ parents should have easy access to how standards are decided and regulated. I doubt our voices will be heard on a national level. Overall, the foundations of a democratic society area more important to me than the advantages of the federal government making all the decisions.

Evans, D. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and education practice. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Higher Education.

Module 3 – Model Digital Age Work and Learning

ISTE Standard 3 recommends teachers utilize and adapt technology resources to promote effective learning and communication with students, peers, and parents. Educators should routinely evaluate how technology can help create learning opportunities during the school day and assist with interaction outside of regular school hours. This standard expects teachers to use technology tools to exchange ideas, create new content, and become a model digital citizen for students.

While learning about ISTE Standards 1 and 2 I researched how to use technology to work with students, so Standard 3 made me wonder what resources are available to communicate with parents. The specific question I asked was: What digital tools do students and parents find most useful that effectively impacts learning and improves communication while being easy to use on a regular basis?  When I started thinking about this question I assumed that many teachers primarily communicate through email, but I do not think email is the best solution. Emails can be quite formal, easily ignored, time-consuming, and challenging to personalize for each student. Instead, I wanted to find a technology platform that allowed easy communication while supporting student learning.

My research indicated there are several communication sources available so parents and teachers can easily contact each other. I was a bit surprised to find out that text-messaging programs are quickly becoming the preferred method of contact between parents and teachers. Text message preference is likely because Smartphone ownership among adults has increased from 35% in 2011 to 64% in 2015 (Gilgore, 2015). More importantly, studies have also found that student academic performance is improved when parents and teachers communicate by frequent text-messaging (Gilgore, 2015). As a teacher, it is encouraging to learn that taking time to send parents messages likely benefits student achievement too. Even if text messages are a preferred source, experts recommend teachers use multiple resources to reach all parents (Gilgore, 2015). This is a very important recommendation because technology is constantly advancing and teachers have to remember that not all parents have access to the new technology. Remind is an example of a multi-approach resource so teachers can communicate with parents and students by email, text messages, and phone calls. Phone numbers are hidden which is a benefit to all users. One user of this program stated he prefers the mixture of communication options because then he feels like he is reaching more parents (Gilgore, 2015).  Image 1 below shows a teacher’s view of Remind on a Smartphone along with a few features of the program. Remind appears to be an option that is age appropriate for all students and user-friendly for parents.

EDTC6433Module3
Image 1 (Retrieved from http://www.edtechroundup.org)

One of my classmates asked a similar question about ISTE Standard 3. He discussed a digital resource called ClassDojo, which his school has already integrated. This program offers a range of options including direct messaging, class announcements, and tracking students’ academic and behavioral progress. The site also indicates that read receipts are available, which I think is a major benefit because then teachers can easily monitor who has seen important information. I like that this platform provides teachers the opportunity to provide both student feedback and message options to parents since no one wants to be using too many digital tools. The visuals and feedback in ClassDojo appear geared toward elementary school students, so I am not sure it would be the best fit for secondary school students and teachers.

Deciding which digital tool to use is often the biggest challenge for educators, especially future teachers who are still in teaching programs. The options can be overwhelming and there are numerous factors to consider. Many preservice teachers have reported a high level of familiarity with technology and using digital tools on a daily basis, but studies indicate preservice teachers are not appropriately prepared to utilize technology resources in their classrooms (Kumar and Vigil, 2011). I think this is likely because the current generation of students in teaching programs did not experience a high degree of digital tool integration in their childhood education. Technology tools have primarily been used for social or personal purposes. While preservice teachers understand the value of technology, they do not have as much experience with using or observing educational digital tools. Kumar and Vigil (2011) recommend teaching programs include technology learning experiences as part of curriculum so preservice teachers can practice evaluating digital tools and creating content. This is a reasonable proposal and I think it will result in a generation of teachers who more seamlessly integrate technology resources with instruction, content, and communication.

The best communication option depends on if parents have the appropriate devices and technology skills to effectively utilize the digital tools. Another consideration is if the school district has already integrated a preferred communication source. Teachers should use the platform the district offers; otherwise it might cause parents to become frustrated if they have more than one child in the district and every teacher is using a different source. The goal is to make communication straightforward and easy for parents. Teachers also have to observe the user response of communication. If parents are not utilizing a certain source, then perhaps it is a better decision to not devote time and resources to that platform. Similar to all aspects of technology, teachers will learn overtime and through experiences which resources are most helpful and what parents prefer.

References:

Gilgore, S. (September 15, 2015). Probing the impact of parent-teacher digital communication. Education Week, 34(4). Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/16/probing-the-impact-of-parent-teacher-digital-communication.html?tkn=PZLFl%2B2EVpiQ9No5OZdvNeDXBP0JZV3HgXt3&print=1

Kumar, S. & Vigil, K. (2011). The net generation as preservice teachers: Transferring familiarity with new technologies to education environments. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 27(3), 144-153. Retrieved from: https://canvas.instructure.com/courses/992608/files/39077536?module_item_id=8641953