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Discovering the Art of Teaching

MACT Synthesis Paper

In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts Degree in Curriculum and Teaching Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University

Mark A. Smith PID A37 73 0474 July 12, 2013

Teaching is an art form. This statement had little meaning to me as I began my journey in becoming a teacher, but as I have grown into the world of teaching, this statement only scratches the surface. Being a student for many years I made observations of how teachers teach and how the class understood the material. I never considered the different degrees of understanding the peers around me had or different situations each one of them could be going through on that day. As my journey took me from the student desk to the front of the classroom, I realized that each student is on a different path and has a different history that may be visible or hidden. Each student brings with him or her different goals, emotional stresses, family structures, levels of literacy and much more. Each sits at a desk, waiting to see what the teacher has to offer. The art of teaching includes providing a positive, caring environment where each student can grow and learn strategies to help them not only in school, but in the future. As I am learning more about the art form of teaching, a key component includes looking at the students in the class individually instead of as a group. Acknowledging that students in your class have different goals, emotional stresses and learning techniques is key in crafting this art form and has allowed me to grow to be a stronger teacher. Jones & Jones (2013) made a statement that they had never met a student who didn’t want to learn. As I embarked upon my teaching journey I saw that I had students with the willingness to learn, but they had different goals and outcomes in mind for their future. These goals and outcomes could be influenced by themselves, their family or society. Before my yearlong student teaching, I was fortunate to participate in Michigan State University’s Crosscultural Teaching Abroad in South Africa program where I was able to teach life sciences at a high school outside of Cape Town, South Africa. During my teaching experience, I was able to observe and compare the goals the school systems of South Africa and the United States

(Artifact 1: Goal: 2, Standards: 1 & 3). In observing the school structure of South Africa, I noticed how the schools provided a great emphasis on classes that will serve as life skills instead of content area class. They recognize that most students will not go onto post-secondary education, while in the United States it is nearly an expectation that most students will continue some form of education. Even though there is the assumption in the United States that most students will continue education, every student is on a different path. The U.S. government has set content standards teachers must focus on, but teachers also need to include these life skills in their classroom. These life skills as taught in South Africa are strategies that will help any individual over his or her lifetime. Since all students are on their own journeys, I feel it is important that the curriculum focuses on providing meaningful learning experiences to all students. After teaching chemistry for a year, I observed many students struggling and not making strong connections between the content and science in their everyday life. In TE 807, I designed an action plan for modifying the chemistry curriculum to become more application based and providing activities to give students a real world connection to the content. (Artifact 2: Goal 1 & 3 Standards 2, 4, 5, & 6) I felt by making these modifications students would have experiences that they would remember and use no matter which path they chose to embark upon. After designing this plan during the course, I was able to take it back to my chemistry professional learning community (PLC), and we were able to make adjustments to the curriculum that followed some of the suggestions I developed within the research plan. By making these changes, we added more inquiry-based activities into the curriculum and made use of chemistryrelated articles in the news. The students’ ability to make predictions, and observations, along with explaining their observations, provides a strong basis to expand on to learn the scientific

concept behind the demonstration or experiments. The action research plan served as the first steps that allowed my PLC to hold discussions to make these modifications to our curriculum, and we all observed positive changes within our students’ understanding and enjoyment of the course. By making small changes within our chemistry curriculum, we were able to help our students become more scientifically minded, and build basic science skills that will be essential for all students are they go out into the world. The MATC program has assisted in helping me recognizing that each student is a unique learner and it is important to help students develop skills that will help them in their future endeavors. The art of teaching includes providing students with life skills, basic academic skills and being able to question the world around them. These are essential for every member of society and by incorporating these ideas in our lessons it will give long-term benefits to our students. As an educator, it is important to form your teaching to prepare all students for any future they may embark on after high school and by artistically incorporating your subject matter and life skills together is important as our students’ continue to grow and become young adults. Through my teaching experiences and with the guidance of the MATC program, it has allowed to me start developing this corner of the artwork by seeing the importance of supporting all students in reaching their goals and providing them with skills to be valuable members of society. As a high school teacher, I have observed that teenagers carry with them a wide array of emotional stresses whether it is about friendship, applying for post-secondary education, family life or a bullying situation. An emotional stress that more youth are encountering is “coming out” or being comfortable with their identification of sexuality or gender. In CEP 866, I was able to collaborate with a group of educators in developing an intervention program that would

help students that identified as either gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) by providing them problem-solving strategies and coping mechanisms. The program would provide a safe place for students to share experiences, to develop strategies to deal with bullying and help students form a connection with the school (Artifact 3: Goal 3 Standards 1, 5 & 6). As quoted in Artifact 3, according to McWhirter et al. (2007), the 5 C’s are: critical school competencies, concept of self, connectedness, coping ability and control. The 5 C’s are important for all youth, but they are of crucial importance for GLBT youth who are already at a heightened risk level because of their sexual orientation. During my internship year, I assisted with the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Waterford Kettering High School, and when I was hired at West Bloomfield High School, I assisted in starting the GSA. Many of the ideas that were used to support this program we developed have assisted in providing a positive environment for the students in the GSA. The students that participate have found a close connection to one another and a place they can feel safe. Most importantly, it is a connection they have to the school and where they are comfortable sharing experiences with one another. Students that are in our classrooms come from all different backgrounds and family structures; some students may hold the majority of the responsibilities in their family. By being aware of the backgrounds of our students can give teachers greater insights into how we can help these students be successful inside and outside of school. During my study abroad in South Africa, we read and wrote a reflection about 90/90/90 schools (Artifact 4: Goals 1 & 2 Standards 1, 3 & 4). I was able use the article describing a 90/90/90 and compare the practices of those schools to the school I taught at in Cape Town, South Africa. Being aware of the personal and social needs of the students helped raise awareness of the type of environments these students can excel in. An important observation I observed and that was highlighted in the article was

that for students to succeed teachers must hold high standards and positive attitudes towards all students. Even though our students can come from rough backgrounds, be heads of their families or have already started their own family, as educators being their to assist them academically, by demonstration our belief in them and their work, these students can feel a connectedness and can have an impact in their motivation and outcome in school. Being aware of the emotional stresses and needs of my students is important. Trying to provide a positive, safe environment for all students is also important, and fostering a feeling of connectedness to school is essential for these students’ development of self-efficacy. With educators being conscious of the emotional stresses students bring with him or her into the classroom colors in another component of the art of teaching. The MATC program has given me opportunities expand my vision of the students in my classroom, as not only students, but teenagers with their own story and struggles. As an educator it is important to take into consideration that students in our classrooms could be struggling with their identity or experiencing issues at home. Even though these struggles could hinder our students, it is important that we help these students have the confidence in themselves and provide them a positive atmosphere for them to be successful. By creating a classroom culture of positivity and caring for all students, the students will feel more connected to the classroom and their emotional stresses may be temporarily alleviated. The MATC program has helped me discover more of the art of teaching by helping me become more open-minded and aware of students’ emotional stresses and how I can serve as a positive influence in supporting students in my classroom and helping them be successful. Each individual student comes into the class with different levels of motivation for school and for the sciences, and with different learning styles and methods to demonstrate their

knowledge. During my internship year, one of the classroom routines involved taking notes together as a class, and the students were responsible for copying the notes into their notebooks. I came across an issue where students were not taking the notes in class. I noticed a connection where the students who were not taking notes were also not completing homework assignments and were struggling on assessments. In TE 801, I was able to research and implement some strategies to help motivate these students in hopes that I would see an increase in homework completion and assessment scores (Artifact 5: Goal: 1 & 2 Standards: 1, 2, 4 &5). Through this investigation, I began to be more independent from my mentor teacher and start experimenting with different strategies. By using flipbooks and fill-in-the-blank style notes, I was able to engage more students in the lessons, and I was able to see an increase in assessment scores among students that participated. I also implemented a stronger emphasis on effort grades so that by participating, students would be rewarded. By placing a grade on the assignment, it put more of a reward on completing the assignments and an increase in motivation from the students. I continue to use the strategies I learned during my internship year in my classroom today. To motivate students in taking notes, I try to change up the note-taking format by using inquiry activities, diagrams, fill in the blank style and flipbooks to organize notes for the class. By using the fill in the blank style notes, it also helps students that struggle with writing, and it allows the class to focus on discussions being held, explanation of diagrams, and more time for engaging activities. This study helped me find motivational strategies that would help all students be mentally engaged throughout the class period. During my internship year, one of my biology courses was a co-taught class. I was introduced to the special education systems, working with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and how to provide accommodations for the students. The co-taught class proved to have

students with a wide range of learning styles. I wanted to utilize the co-teacher in the classroom to teach me strategies to assist all students and also for her to be an active part of the class. During TE 803, I was able to do an active research project to determine the proper role of a coteacher in the classroom and, with the assistance of the co-teacher, develop classroom strategies to increase participation of all students and help improve students’ understanding (Artifact 6: Goal 1, 2 & 3 Standards: 1, 2, 4 & 6.). From this study, I was able to practice different strategies of collaborative learning experiences and learn the importance of using visuals to support learning experiences. With using strategies my co-teacher suggested and including the coteacher into the center of learning, I saw an improvement in participation and achievement of not only the special education students, but also all students in my classroom. These strategies are essential in my lesson planning today. By taking the time to allow students to discuss new topics, analyze diagrams or clarify a topic to either other, I have found an increase in student understanding. As quoted in Artifact 6, Saphier and Gower (1997) suggest that it is most important for students to make new connections in their memory by summarizing concepts in their own words. This helps solidify the material in their memory. I find these small breaks are essential for organizing knowledge and helping make sure all students are on the same page. When transitioning back to a large-scale discussion, I notice there are more students willing to participate and contribute to the conversation after having been able to talk in their small groups. I have also found the importance of using visuals from this research project, especially when discussing topics on the microscopic level. In my classroom I have a Promethean Board where I am able to show pictures and videos to show processes being discussed, video explanations or content-related activities. This helps enhance student learning and proves to be helpful for the visual learners. Understanding the different needs and learning strategies has allowed me to

expand my pedagogical methods and try various strategies to assist all learners. As I have gained more experience in teaching, I have observed how traditional forms of assessments do not necessarily reflect a learner’s true knowledge of the material. In CEP 800, I was able to experiment with a non-traditional form of assessment, an audio interview (Artifact 7: Goal: 2 Standard: 1, 2, & 3). From this project, I was able to interview a student about the theories of evolution, which traditionally was assessed with a quiz. From a two-minute interview with the student, I was able to assess if the student was able to explain key characteristics from Darwin and Larmarck’s theories on evolution and also if she was able to apply their theories to an example. The audio interview gave me key insights into misconceptions she had and where she had a strong understanding of the material. This form of assessment truly questions a student’s understanding and gave me timely feedback on topics where I might need to do a quick re-teach to the class. Even though the audio interview style assessment is very effective, it may not be manageable to incorporate fully into the classroom. In the future, I would like to apply this strategy in a peer-peer interview assessment where students would be able to interview each other with assessment style questions and give feedback on their level of knowledge. With many students experiencing test anxiety, having different reading levels, and lacking test-taking strategies, the traditional test formats can be very difficult. Alternative assessment formats, like audio interviews, may be effective in understanding a student’s true understanding. This project also gave me the opportunity to learn the process in creating a podcast. I was able to master the use of the program Audacity with learning the proper record devices, audio editing, entering transitions and exporting a final product. As I learn more about the art of teaching through experiences in school and the MATC program, acknowledging that students are diverse learners and incorporating different

pedagogical methods is helpful for all students to be successful. With our students coming into our classrooms with different levels of abilities and different learning styles, it is essential educators recognize and accommodate in order to help our students and improve our teaching style. It is important that the educator remains a learner by experimenting with different teaching methods, to help improve student understanding. By being an active member of a learning community to discuss with teachers in your content area, special education teachers, administration and reading current research is all helping in discovering way to assist all types of learners in your classroom. Discovering and implementing different teaching strategies to assist our students is a continuous process that contributes to the art of teaching As I have a grown and continue growing to be an effective teacher, I have found there are many factors that I have to recognize and be aware of about my students in order to provide the best learning experience for them. With students coming from diverse backgrounds, they each have a different perspective of the goal they will reach after high school. Being able to create a classroom that provides content area learning, but also essential skills students will use through their lifetime, is key to their success. Students are coming into our classrooms with a wide range of emotional stresses that can change on an hourly basis. Being aware of these emotional stresses, for example students undergoing sexuality or gender identification, is important in creating an environment where those students feel safe, comfortable and connected. These students may not have a person that understands them or location they feel a sense of connectedness or safe, but by demonstrating that your classroom is a bully-free, with zerotolerance, students who are feeling the effects of bullying or isolated will find your room to be essential location in the building for them. Every day, teachers are working with a diverse set of learners, and being aware of motivational strategies, learning styles and various forms of

assessment strategies will help students develop a deeper understanding of the material being taught and be more engaged learners. Teaching is an art form. There are many factors that contribute to the finished product. There are many angles from which a teacher must look at a student to get a glimpse of how to help that student be successful. Once you think you have the art form figured out, you look at it from a different angle and notice something different you didn't see before, and the journey continues!

Works Cited Jones, V.F. and Jones L.S. (2013). Comprehensive Classroom Management: Creating Communities of Support and Solving Problems (10th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc. McWhirter, J.J., McWhirter, B.T., McWhirter, E.H., McWhirter, R.J. (2007). At Risk Youth: A Comprehensive Response for Counselors, Teachers, Psychologists, and Human Service Professionals. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning. Saphier, J. and Gower, R. (1997). The Skillful Teacher. Acton, MA: Research for Better Schools.