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Jenna Merkel Internship Final Reflection Paper 23 November 2013 Everything In Between This semester I read a piece of children’s

literature that reminded me much of my student teaching experience: “The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between,” from the Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I began my journey on my second first day of Kindergarten; only this first day of Kindergarten was much different than my first. Yet in some ways, my expectations for learning new things were not too different. In both experiences I had so much learning ahead of me and there was no way that I could know exactly the way they would happen. My student teaching experience ended in fourth grade, but the lessons I learned from both placements will carry me into my teaching career. Walking into my internship, I believe I was well prepared by my professors from UAH. There was also a part of me that was so very unsure of what the next few months had in store for me because I knew that there were going to be many moments in the classroom that college could not have prepared me for. I no longer had a syllabus with listed assignments to check off to ensure the learning of my students. I began to feel what it means to take up the responsibility of a student’s learning. This was no longer just to receive an A at the end of the term. There was going to be much more at stake. Keeping that in mind, I was very apprehensive. This would be the true test. Where I stood at the end determined whether or not the previous four years of work were in vain. I knew I was a good student, but could I be an expert teacher? I am happy to say that when put in the middle of the classroom, the tiny spark of a teacher grew into a flame, and I probably exceeded my own expectations in some ways. I could not have made it without facing

uncomfortable challenges, but I also could not be a good teacher without being inspired by the mind of a child. They are the ones who bring my lessons to life. I feed off of their excitement to learn. Student teaching fulfilled its purpose to be a growing experience for me. I was far from an expert at the beginning. I remember my first lesson that was observed by my university supervisor. I wanted to do a color mixing activity in a small group setting. This was probably ambitious considering it was the third week of school for these Kindergarteners, but it was also the first small group lesson I had carried out. I could not exchange, however, the value of a learning experience. Despite the fact that my classroom management was less than handled, I was able to see the excitement of making colors that were not given. These youngsters were able to create something of their own. Being an artist myself, I loved seeing children create a piece of artwork that no one else could have created. It also reflected a teaching philosophy of mine: creating one’s own learning far exceeds a scripted learning experience. I could not create the colors my students created, but I could give them the things they needed to reach that goal. This philosophy was one planted by the Education Department at UAH that came alive for me in student teaching. I can remember several instances of discussion with my fourth graders where I would provide a hint of something new and they would run with it. One of my favorite lessons in fourth grade was an activity of recreating a council. They were learning about the government setup of Native American groups in what is now Alabama. We divided the class accordingly and I presented challenges that these groups were likely to encounter. They were given time to formulate a planned action and then we discussed the consequences of these plans. The goal of this activity was to learn about Native American life by putting ourselves in their shoes, but it accomplished so many other goals. They learned the make-up of a democracy by voting on who

would represent their group. They learned presentation skills by presenting their ideas in ways for others to understand. They learned reasons for war and reasons for negotiation. The list could go on. This lesson required little lecture from me, yet the children were able to create an understanding of Native American life without me simply explaining it. Any chance I have to get the students to “teach” themselves or each other, I take it because I know it is more genuine. My job is setting the foundation of experiences for them. I also realized that not everything can be taught in the same setting. It would not be a truly rich learning environment if that were so. A rich environment requires diversity in delivery. Sometimes, that textbook just needs to be read. However, there are strategies to bring reading to life in any content area (even textbooks). In fourth grade, we practiced a few. We have been practicing close reading with the Wonders curriculum so we often brought that into the realm of social studies and science. We also tried reading “with our hands,” giving gestures to help us comprehend what we were reading. I think this could have been particularly empowering with the students considering that we had a hearing impaired student with a cochlear implant and the students could connect to the idea of communicating in more ways than just our words. These strategies gave purpose to our reading. I never wanted to give an assignment or an activity that lacked purpose. I learned from experience and professional development sessions that setting a purpose at the beginning lends itself to more effective teaching. In Kindergarten, my diverse learning environments often took a slightly different approach. Having simpler content to teach meant that I had the opportunity to present it in as many ways as possible. I learned that Kindergarten is all about giving the students multiple experiences to build on by bringing their world inside the classroom. One example of this was teaching numbers. We created number maps of all the different ways that a single number could

be represented, from a drawing, to the word spelled out, to a ten-frame representation. I was astonished how well they grasped this idea. With our colors and letters, we sang songs, found realia that represented the letter or color, read aloud books, and traced letters in the air. For our colors, I read poems and brought candles to even let them smell the color that we discussed. I believe that assessment was one area that my teaching rationale took a new turn in my internship. I think through building my belief system about assessment from outside the classroom, I was quick to see injustices of assessment with standardized testing. Whenever the word assessment came up, I had an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. I wanted it to be genuine and I could hardly see that being true with a multiple-choice format. I think it was hard to see how assessment in the classroom is so vital to instruction. I knew in my head that it was necessary, but probably only after a convincing. In both of my placements, I saw that I was actually seeking out assessment without just being required to. Instruction that is effective begs for assessment. This does not always have to be the straight-forward, closed answer test, but that is truly necessary sometimes. I think that the pre-assessment data gathered for my unit opened my eyes to this. In both placements, I did not have a single child that could answer all four to six questions correctly and fully. Most of them knew less than half if any at all. I was astonished that the majority of the class passed these same questions by the end of the unit. It was necessary for me to see student learning, not only to know that something was going right, but for my ease of mind. Instruction was effective. Knowledge was gained. That is beyond value to me. I went from an assessment protester to an assessment advocator. Now, that is not to say that there are not still injustices in the standardized testing area or that the tests I give do not need much thought put into them. I’d like to think that those unit tests can be balanced with assessment that genuinely reflects student learning in the form of projects and portfolios. After this experience, though, I

can say that my view of assessment has been more wholly rounded. I intend for this view to be more and more balanced the more that I teach. Reflecting upon my experience, I believe that two strengths were content knowledge and critical thinking. These areas lend themselves well to creativity, which drives my teaching style. With content knowledge, I seek out what I need to know and then I take it a step further by thinking of the ways I can present it best for students, considering how they will grasp it best. Examples of this can be found in both of my units. In Kindergarten, I taught my unit in trees. I was given the standards to cover and it was up to my research and teacher brain to come up with effective ways to present it. We needed to learn that trees are used as a resource, so I thought of paper, considering that that is not an obvious way we use trees to Kindergarteners and I knew they would be intrigued. Still, this idea could not come to life unless we actually saw the process and were involved with it. I had no clue how to make paper, really, so that is where the research came in and that is exactly what we did, with an additional video for more context. In the end, I found that I could take content that I needed to teach and make it exciting for students by making it exciting for myself. A similar process happened in fourth grade. The next science topic in line was force and motion. Part of me was a little disappointed at this news, seeing that the space unit was being finished and I never took a physics class in my life. Yet, I knew that to teach it well, I had to be excited about it myself. I found some videos online, as well as an online children’s textbook that gave me some more context to work with. I also took a day to sit down and watch Bill Nye the Science Guy’s views on the subject. I was soon able to find that so much of our world is explained by forces and motion, including some of my passions like rollercoasters. If I fast-forward to my instruction before the students, you would have thought this is something I was born knowing. It’s wonderful to see the fruit of new knowledge still shaping us today.

My other strength in my opinion is critical thinking. My favorite teachers and professors in my education probably largely formed this. Anything to take thinking a little step farther made learning so deep and meaningful for me. The ways that I do this in the classroom is to challenge common notions that we have just because someone told us it was that way. That sort of learning is shallow and easily forgotten. I also like students to think of the how and why. If I am not the one asking how and why questions, I am encouraging them to come up with the how and why questions. I think this is vital to this generation because it will move them to make a difference rather than be apathetic about the world around them. Teaching just to pass on knowledge is one thing, but I want to be the teacher that inspires children to make a difference. In young grades where it is hard to bring up controversial subjects that are hard to understand in themselves, I need to be teaching the skill of questioning in areas in life that are easier to understand at their age. In Kindergarten, it means simply teaching that things that we have in our hands now had a beginning. It means the beginnings of cause and effect. I think that is one reason that I liked the standards called for by the tree unit. By learning their seasons, they learn pattern and that our world is constantly changing. That can be so easily translated to fourth graders who are learning about causes and outcomes of war in our history and that we no longer live the way people did hundreds of years ago. How would they begin to understand that without first understanding changes in trees in the year? I think that was a big lesson for me. In those grades like Kindergarten, understanding the season of spring is just as important as understanding the Holocaust in sixth grade. With every strength must come an understanding of weakness. The areas that called for the most growth in my internship were in classroom management and diversity. Like almost every novice teacher that ever lived, my classroom got out of control more than once. It was not

always fun to learn at the moment, but I can truly say that any success in management was a very sweet and satisfying moment for me. By the end of my Kindergarten placement, I felt this was the area that I came the farthest, which is telling of where it began. I am the type that will so easily allow a blurt here and there if it is a thoughtful response. I learned quickly though, that you are not only teaching content in school. You are teaching habits that will continue throughout school. This is so important to establish in a group of Kindergarteners if you want to see that group succeed as they move through sixth grade and beyond. Consequences for blurting while someone else is talking can go a long way in the character of that child later in life. When I understood that, I saw how those reminders were so important in Kindergarten. I wanted to do this in a positive way, though of course. They had to understand not only consequences for wrong choices, but also consequences for the wise choices. I implemented a system of marking even the smallest behaviors that I liked with talley marks. When they made decisions that I know they could do better, I marked those as well. If the positive marks outnumbered the negative ones, they would be rewarded. My students adored this practice. I also loved implementing quick teacher-student responses to keep attention active. I had to rethink this in fourth grade because I know that every group is different and I wanted experience with as many different strategies as I could. In fourth grade, I saw the very ineffectiveness of raising my voice—which led to my frustration and then their frustration—countered by the effectiveness of positive behavioral strategies. This came in the form of “Gotcha” cards. I kept small cards around my neck and could quickly hand them to the students who were on task. The effect was immediate. It soon leaked itself over to rewarding thoughtful answers and evidence of following directions. Students always need encouragement for that. I think that management came quicker for Kindergarten than in fourth grade for me. I still struggle with students failing to follow directions and

interrupting others and reacting poorly when they are given a consequence. I saw that fourth graders lacked confidence in themselves and yearned for someone to hold their hand throughout the process. I could not allow that thinking considering it contradicts with the critical thinking that I enforce. This is something that I think takes time and I do not know that seven weeks was enough time to bring that in completion, considering that I sometimes need to resort to learning by trial. Experience proves to be my best teacher and I have plenty of experience left to be gained. I am reassured that even though management is not yet second nature to me, I have seen it improved. My other area that I want to continue to grow is in diversity. A novice teacher first seems to concern herself with the overarching understanding of the classroom as a whole, which can lead to children left behind. I got opportunities to work with small groups in both placements, but I will always have the feeling that I could have done more if I had more time and energy. This will come with experience because I trust that some of the simpler things become less exhausting, which will lend itself to a closer eye to the individual. I had an EL in my Kindergarten class that I wish I could have spent more individual time with. I learned a few Spanish words, but the more I could have taken time with him, the more I could have helped him. There was the hearing impaired student in my fourth grade class that inspired me to want to learn sign language soon. I will always wish I could have had more time with these boys. What I can realistically do is to set the bar at a reasonable goal to help an individual while taking care of the needs of the rest of my class. As more experience is gained, that bar can be set higher. With every student I meet, the more opportunity I have to understand. As for now, I have the opportunity to tutor a student in my fourth grade class and with that I will learn more strategies to add to my repertoire. The challenge with diversity is not meeting one child’s needs, but

meeting that child’s needs along with 24 others. It is still a daunting task to me, but I have seen enough successes to motivate me to continue. In conclusion, student teaching proved to enrich my handle on becoming a teacher. By no means would I say that I have reached “it,” but I have come a long way. In the end, it is not about the end, but the “in between.” In between August and November, Kindergarten and fourth grade, I have passed on knowledge and an excitement to gain more knowledge. I have participated in that process of learning that will be the foundation for a lifetime of teaching and such an experience cannot be replaced or forgotten. C.S. Lewis once said it very well: “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” I very much have learned indeed, and will most definitely continue to do so as I believe that with every learned piece of knowledge provides me with something that I can teach. It is true that it is impossible to stop learning as we are still breathing, so therefore, I am happy to say that I will never know a day without teaching.