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April 24, 2013

To Whom It May Concern: It is with sincere pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation for John Thiel. I have known John for the past semester as his student teaching supervisor and professor. Through these interactions, I have come to know an extremely thoughtful, engaged, conscientious, and skilled teacher. John brings tremendous energy and academic depth to his teaching and I highly recommend that you review his materials and consider him as a teacher in your school district. Throughout the semester, John impressed me as an exceptionally thoughtful teacher who approached teaching both as an art and as a science. Artistically, he is very adept at understanding the needs and inclinations of his learners, and developing ways of integrating these qualities into his lessons and teaching. For example, early on John wondered what effect of a current emphasis on individual work might have on student learning. After considering some of the socio-emotional goals appropriate for fifth grade along with the academic/intellectual expectations of the curriculum, John began working on incorporating small group work into his lesson plans. By helping students learn how to be interdependent and cooperative with one another, John’s altered pedagogy had significant consequences for many learners, particularly those who had previously seemed to use the individual nature of the classroom to gain attention from the teacher. After the inclusion of more group work where these students were able to contribute to the learning of others (and also gain from the knowledge of group members), these students were less likely to be dependent on John’s academic attention. The additional benefits of this change in approach were numerous, and John began to see children helping one another socially, becoming more focused on what they learned rather than their grade or the assessment of the teacher, and establishing a more family-like atmosphere that fostered student growth. These skills were witnessed by all those who saw John teach; John’s own co-operating teacher described him as a “natural.” He consistently used creative, new and innovative ways of addressing the children’s needs and established exceptional rapport with all the children in the classroom. His planning was thoughtful and careful, and he was very open to feedback and critique throughout the semester. John planned two exceptional instructional units during his student teaching that were spiral-designed, and integrated the arts and the appropriate socioemotional goals for the age level. One focused on force and motion and the other on poetry as a form of expression. What impressed me most about these two different plans were the risks John took in pushing students to be clear about their learning and to learn in different ways. One example is a theater-based lesson I watched when students read poetry by Langston Hughes and then, working in small groups, designed human sculptures reflecting the tone and emotive aspects of the poems. Another superior example of the sophistication of John’s lessons is a culminating activity I saw where students in small groups had designed a vehicle that demonstrated central principles of force and motion and explained their thinking to the class in a presentation. In these and other lessons John designed and implemented, the focus is always on sophisticated thinking linked to other subject areas and prior knowledge. Rather than sticking to the central duties of student teaching, John sought out experiences that he knew would be important for his professional development. When his co-operating teacher was out sick for an extended period, John took the lead and the substitute had glowing reports about his professionalism and rapport with the students. His co-operating teacher consistently praised John’s high expectations for himself and his willingness to constantly review his progress for further progress and improvement.