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Katie Richards

Student Teaching

January 2017

Contextual Factors Analysis

Over the course of the next few months, I will continue pursuing my degree in

Elementary Education. I fortunately have been given the assignment of being a student teacher in

a 3rd grade classroom in Ocean Avenue Elementary School. I requested to complete my student

teaching semester in Portland due to my interest in working with more of a diverse student

population. In previous semesters, I fulfilled my practicum semesters in Farmington and

Skowhegan, both wonderful experiences but both have similar characteristics and student

demographics. I felt it was necessary to continue my teaching education by working with

students who come from a variety of backgrounds and languages in order to encourage myself to

become a better educator.

Ocean Avenue Elementary is located just outside the heart of Portland, Maine, found in a

quiet, residential neighborhood near other busy schools. Portland is a continuously growing

smaller city that is home to just over 65,000 people, yet reaches over half a million people in the

greater metropolitan area (4). Portland is located in Cumberland County on the Southern Maine

coast right along the Atlantic Ocean. Portland is home to seventeen other public schools, all

spread out throughout the city parameters. The eleven elementary schools located in Portland

are: Cliff Island School, East End Community School, Hall Elementary School, Longfellow

Elementary School, Lyseth Elementary School, Ocean Avenue Elementary School, Peaks Island

Elementary School, Presumpscot Elementary School, Reiche Elementary School, Riverton


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Elementary School, and Bayside Learning Community. The three middle schools in Portland are:

King Middle School, Lincoln Middle School, and Lyman Moore Middle School. The three high

schools located in Portland are: Deering High School, Casco Bay High School, and Portland

High School. Portland is made up of a variety of races, with more and more races other than

Caucasian living in the city with each passing year. Portland is primarily made up of 85%

Caucasians, 7% African Americans, 3% Native American, 1% Asian, and 4% other ethnicities.

Portland has a flux of immigrants coming from Somalia, Syria and other lesser-developed

Eastern hemisphere countries (4).

Ocean Avenue Elementary School is a newer school that was just opened in 2011 and has

approximately 440 students. These students are dispersed throughout 23 classrooms, making the

classroom size averaging to about nineteen students per class. Ocean Ave consists of students

that range from Kindergarten to the 5th grade (5). There are two special education rooms found

within the school that offer students a variety of additional services and assistances to make

every students education as strong as possible. Ocean Avenues school mission statement is,

Empowering every learner to make a difference in the world (5). Ocean Avenue Elementary

implements the Positive Behavior Intervention System, which is known as PBIS. The PBIS

system is a commonly used and effective system for students, where positive reinforcements are

encouraged among teachers to use with students to help students grow to become kind, patient

and well rounded people. Teachers are instructed to use positive language and positive phrasing,

and to instruct without use of negative language. Signs are located throughout the school, with

both pictures and words, encouraging students to remember how to act and behave properly and

positively (3). The school-wide rules associated with PBIS are, We are Responsible. We are

Safe. We are Respectful. Each classroom has these rules posted near the entry door of the room
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and has student signatures on the sides, showing that students have discussed the school wide

expectations and guidelines. PBIS strategies aim to help minimize classroom disruptions,

increase instruction time, and work to improve social skills among all students (3). Additionally,

Ocean Avenue works to update their technology and provide students and their classrooms with

state of the art resources. Each classroom is equipped with a Smart board, projector, document

cameras, and a shared laptop cart. The laptops are dated MacBook Pros, but they are well

working to fit the caliber of students needs. On the laptops, students learn how to write their

own blogs, learn typing skills, play educational games, and often times complete their own

research projects. All teachers are given

Students' English their own laptop so they become well


Pro2iciency versed with technology and Apple

products/programs. Ocean Avenue also


English as 1st
language works to integrate art education for all
English as 2nd
grades in the school. Ocean Avenue
language

works with SidexSide. SidexSide is an

art integration program that was chosen

as a grant fund in association with the University of Southern Maine (5). Two local Portland

artists, Laurie and Gretchen, work with this program and come to the school every day during the

wintertime to help each grade create an art sculpture/mural and a play that depicts the current

unit being learned within that grade. This grant is evident that the arts are very valuable

components to have within public school education systems, as it helps connect new art

techniques to the students own unique learning opportunities. Of the entire student population at

Ocean Avenue Elementary School, there are 108 English Language Learners within the school.
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As seen in the chart to the left, the red fraction of the chart consists of students who were not

taught with English as their first language. The chart shows that 26% of students learned English

as a second language, and the remaining 74% of the student population learned English as their

first language. Thirty-three percent of students at Ocean Avenue Elementary School speak more

than one language. Aside from English, the top ten other most common languages at Ocean

Avenue are: Spanish, Somali, Arabic, French, Portuguese, Kirundi, Vietnamese, Khemer,

Kinyarnanda and Acholi (5). These languages contribute to the very diverse population of

students, and show that students have settled in Portland after personally coming from or their

families coming from parts of Asia, Africa, Europe and South America (1, 4). The diversity of

the school population and the variety of languages that students speak is shown throughout signs

and posters all over the school, which shows that the school not only encourages diversity, but

that the school also seeks to make students comfortable who perhaps dont speak English as their

first language. Another obstacle that students and educators face not only just in Ocean Avenue

Elementary School, but other Portland schools as well is the amount of students who are in

poverty. As seen in the chart below, the blue fraction signifies students who qualify as being

below the declared poverty line. Approximately 21% of students at Ocean Avenue fall below the

poverty line and the remaining 79% of students are at the poverty line or above (5). This data

signifies that almost of the entire school population struggles with money, thus likely
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struggling with food, shelter, safety, at-home care, etc. Within the Portland School districts, the

approximately 91% of parents have obtained their high school diploma, and approximately

45.6% of parents have obtained a Bachelors degree from college. This data is important to look

at because it can give a clear indication of potential jobs and careers that students parents or

caretakers might hold. In addition to examining the degrees that are held by parents, it is

essential to look at median household income. The median household income not only portrays

the type of lifestyle the most students likely experience at home, but it is also a crucial indicator

for which children receive free/reduced lunches. The median household income for families in

Portland, Maine is $45,865, according

to data collected in 2014 (1,4). As Students in Poverty


seen in the chart below, that income is

similar to Maines average income and Qualify as being


below the poverty
line
the United States national average
Qualify as being
income, but it is lower than both. The above the poverty
line

state of Maines average annual

income is $51,516 and the United

States average annual income reaches $56,516 (1,4). This data is not too surprising since Maine

and Portland consists of many immigrants who might not be able to work, but it is surprising to

be over $10,000 less than the countrys national average. Unfortunately, at Ocean Ave, there are

more homeless students than in any other Portland district school. Teachers and other school

faculty must know this because the lack of consistency, safety, and stability could undoubtedly

affect the student in school. As educators, it is essential to examine this data of average

income/students home lifestyle prior to meeting the classroom of students because it can
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contribute to expectations of what


Household Annual
students lives may be like and the
Income
potential supports that they might

need from the teachers, school Portland, Maine


State of Maine
programs, as well as school
United States
administrators.

Currently, our country is facing extreme political and social division after the election of

the new president. Unsurprisingly, the tension and lack of clarity has certainly impacted students

at Ocean Avenue. Students are hearing words that make little sense to them and make their own

conclusions of concepts that they arent mature enough to comprehend. As of lately, Donald

Trump has implemented an Immigration Ban, impacting the lives of thousands of people all

across the United States. A large majority of the students at Ocean Ave are from the countries

that are banned from travel, which has upset and scared numerous students and their families. At

multiple staff meetings, the faculty is at a standstill of how to handle this situation and if teachers

are even authorized to be talking to students about this unique and uncommon subject. In this

type of environment, students are picking sides for which candidate their parents voted for,

wondering if their family members are going to be deported, or questioning their worth based on

their ethnicity, religion or origin. This type of unhealthy climate is very much present among

these children in grades K-5 and the fear of safety that they have in school is truly alarming. At a

faculty meeting I learned that students are seven times more likely to feel unmotivated to learn if

they dont feel safe. For many students, even from my own experience of answering questions

that students have regarding this topic, proves that they dont feel safe being at school or even at

home in Portland. This topic is incredibly difficult to stay unbiased in because it is necessary to
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maintain a professional relationship among students, but its important to also console students

and make them feel as safe as possible. Political division, new laws and regulations dont appear

to slow down any time soon, so teachers all across the United States, even here at Ocean Avenue

Elementary, need to find ways to answer the questions and fears that students when they come

into school. We are all experiencing this immense division, with no thought out answers of what

we can do to better help the students. Based on this data, there are many implications that could

result from this state of unrest. Students will likely be on edge, and not mindful of learning,

students might not feel safe when walking around school, around the town of Portland, or even

their classroom, and it is likely that students feel unwanted and dont have a place to feel

complete comfort. It is up to teachers, administrators, parents, and the community to work

together to find ways to make students feel more safe and secure at a place where they should

learn boundless information.

This semester, I have been placed in a 3rd grade classroom on the second floor of Ocean

Avenue Elementary School. The teacher that I am working with is named Mrs. Riley, and she is

a seasoned teacher who is well disciplined within her field. Mrs. Riley was looking forward to

having a student teacher due to her team teacher, Mrs. DiCarlo being due to have her first baby

in February. With the help of Mrs. Riley, a long-term substitute named Miss. Vaznis, and myself,

the students would hopefully not skip a beat and still continue remaining focused and able to

maintain their regular routines. Mrs. Riley and Mrs. DiCarlo do much of their teaching together,

with Mrs. Riley often teaching both classrooms writing, Mrs. DiCarlo teaching reading, and both

individually teaching their own classrooms math.

When I arrived in the classroom, the students appeared to be very comfortable with this

routine and understanding of what their behavior and expectations should be when amongst a
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larger group. Mrs. Rileys classroom is a large, colorful, open space, with lots of room for kids to

walk around and work comfortably. The desks are arranged in four clusters, and students have

open seating, after earning that privilege at the beginning of the school year. All over the

classroom are many different posters and charts that serve as a guideline/reminder of the

different topics that students have learned thus far, and being major decorations of the classroom.

The classroom is filled with lamps, overhead lighting, and large windows, so the classroom is

always comfortably lit for students. The classroom has two large whiteboards placed across from

each other in the room, as well as an easel whiteboard that carries chart paper, and a Smart

board. All of these boards are consistently used, especially the Smart board. The Smart board is

used in connection with a projector and doc camera, to help display students work or display

work from the teacher for classroom lessons. In front of the Smart board is a large rug, where

students are directed to sit during morning meetings and other lesson times of the day. Students

keep their belongings in lockers located directly outside of the classroom, which maintains a

clean and organized learning space. Each week, students receive a new job that they are expected

to complete, such as: water the plants, feed the classroom fish, line leader, attendance monitor,

board eraser, etc. These jobs are in connection with the positive reward system that both Mrs.

Riley and Mrs. DiCarlo have in place for the classrooms. At the end of every week, if students

did their jobs accordingly, they receive twenty-five dollars (this is fake money). They put their

money in their created wallets and keep the money in their mailbox. At the end of each month,

the teachers put on a marketplace at the end of the day. At the marketplace, students are able to

use their saved money and go around to the two teachers and buy things at the marketplace (such

as: puzzles, play-doh, chalk, pencils, etc.). Students are also able to make proposals and create

their own individual stores for other students to buy items. Some of the items that students have
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made are: joke books, paper planes, drawings, necklaces, key-chains, etc. This concept of

students creating their own stores is a fantastic way to teach young children about business and

how it works. Marketplace is also a wonderful incentive for students to do their classroom jobs

and be awarded with something fun at the end of every week and month.

Mrs. Rileys classroom is made up of seventeen students, only consisting of four girls and

thirteen boys. Two students are English Language Learners, one being a young girl who recently

moved from Somalia, and one a young boy who only a week ago moved from Angola. The

student from Somalia is able to speak English, but minimally, and is very quiet so it is often hard

to gauge where she is learning wise. The young boy from Angola speaks little to no English, and

his native language is Portuguese and Spanish. I have learned Spanish for five years in the past,

so I am doing my best to speak with him through that language. This young boy receives trauma

counseling, as he is a refugee and has been housed at several refugee camps in Central America.

There is one student who has an IEP, and receives constant support from a behavioral specialist.

This specialist is in the classroom and with the student at all times, and steps in when the student

needs to be redirected, be taken out of the classroom on a break, or gives gentle reminders of

what the expectations are. Due to trauma early in life, this student struggles with impulse control

and social behaviors. These students were discussed with me before entering the classroom, so I

knew what to expect of them. I think that ELL students are so valuable to have in the classroom

and in Portland community. I truly love diversity and I envy these students who get to grow up in

such shared cultures. Students are learning new languages from ELL students, learning about

their cultures and customs, and most importantly, learning to become tolerant of people of

different races and ethnicities. As educators, we have a unique opportunity to teach young people

about the power of kindness, acceptance, and tolerance.


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The other fifteen students were up to me to learn more about, so I dove right in once I got

to the classroom and examined their learning and progression in two different ways. Before

looking at assessment data, which Mrs. Riley shared with me, I chose to do a multiple

intelligence survey with the students. After conferring with a peer of mine, I decided on The

Kagans Multiple Intelligences Structure, to look at the eight different areas of learning that

students are most connected to (2). This fairly lengthy survey has twenty-four questions, asking

students a variety of questions that they rate from zero to five, zero meaning they dont like

learning that way, and five


Childrens Preferred Learning Style
(Median) meaning they learn best
that way. This survey took
12
Students' average score

10
a little longer than
8 expected, likely due to the
6
4 language difficulty, but I
2
ended up with fifteen
0
Learning Style
individual surveys from the
Naturalist Mathematical/Logical
students. I decided that this
Verbal/Linguistic Musical/Rhythmic
was far too difficult for the

student who is ELL, so I created my own survey for her. I asked her five questions, consisting of

one/three words (such as: Math? Drawing/Art? Going outside? Etc.), that way I could still learn

about her learning style, without having her try to navigate through English words that she didnt

understand. For the remainder of the students completing the intelligence survey, I followed the

directions for how to add up the sum of the numbers in the according categories. The eight

different learning style categories include: Naturalist, Mathematical/Logical, Verbal/Linguistic,


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Musical/Rhythmic, Visual/Spatial, Bodily/Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal (2). After

completing this procedure for all students, this is the data that I learned. Looking at the graph up

above, I split the data into two different graphs, that way I could focus on the learning styles in a

more visually appealing way for me. After finding each individual childs score for the learning

style, I compiled all the data and found the average total for the class. I chose to do it this way

because while I certainly do think it is important to keep each childs learning preference in

mind, I dont think it is realistic to be able to plan lessons and assessments around sixteen

different opinions. However, looking at this data, I am able to see what the majority prefers and I

can plan
Childrens Preferred Learning Style (Median)
accordingly to that.
Students' average score

When looking at

the first bar graph, I

am unsurprised to

see that the


Learning Style
majority of students
Visual/Spatial Bodily/Kinesthetic
prefer to learn

outdoors and with science/nature concepts. I was impressed that mathematical/logical received a

higher score than I had anticipated, since in my experience students havent been overly

enthused during math times. I expected musical/rhythmic to be higher for the class average, but I

will still consider including song into learning lessons or mind breaks. Looking at the second bar

graph, I was expecting students to score high in visual/spatial, and I was correct. I thought this

category would have a high score because I think students learn best when they can connect

ideas to pictures/images/art, as that is how I learn best, too. I expected bodily/kinesthetic to be


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higher, because it seems that kids love to be moving around constantly, even when learning. The

most interesting score of both bar graphs for me was for interpersonal and intrapersonal. While

scoring very close, I was surprised that intrapersonal scored higher than interpersonal.

Intrapersonal is when students prefer to be by themselves and to work independently. The class

that I am working with is a very social class, so I was surprised to see that more kids prefer

independent work to group work. While I do think this intelligence survey is very accurate data,

mainly because the answers are coming directly from the students, I think there could be some

error to the data because of the language difficulty used or lack of understanding of the question.

However, I think this test is incredibly useful for myself because it means that I can guide my

instructional plans to directly fit with students learning styles, and maybe they will be able to

learn new ways of learning that are equally as impactful.

After examining the student survey data, I wanted to look at the students reading level

scores and the NWEA testing scores. I feel pretty strongly that students knowledge should not

be associated with a test score, because I think there are many factors that go into why a student

tests the way they do and that there are factors behind how they learn that cant be accurately

depicted by a number. However, this is how public schools work, so it is essential for me to still

examine this data. Reading records are a great way to track how far students jump in the fall and

through the mid-year mark. The reading records show that one student went from a reading level

H at the beginning of the year and jumped to a reading level M at the beginning of the year.

Another student went from a reading level M to a reading level P. Other than those two scores,

students didnt jump more than one letter grade. I was surprised to see that there wasnt stronger

progressions, but the data also shows that there are seven students who read at a high level of Q,

so at their age it isnt too likely to increase much more beyond that point, except for outliers.
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Looking at the NWEA scores, for each student they receive mathematics and reading score

during the fall, Winter and Spring. According to Mrs. Riley, the winter score doesnt matter as

much as the fall and spring do, because those two seasons truly show where the students started

when they entered the third grade and when they are leaving the third grade. The aim of Ocean

Ave is to show progression of learning for each individual student, regardless of the score. I

notice for the five students who receive extra help in math and reading, their scores show

significant improvements from fall to winter. For example, one student who receives extra help

scored a 187 in the fall, and a 198 in the winter for math. While this student didnt necessarily

meet the third grade goal, he showed significant improvement. This pattern is very common for

the lower students, to start out lower and show significant gains. However, for the higher

students who work more independently and at higher levels, they score higher, but dont show as

much growth. For example, one student scored a 201 on math in the fall, and a 206 on math in

the winter. It appears like she shows little growth in her math knowledge, but that is difficult

because she already started much higher than her peers. This pattern is also common for the

higher students, to start high in their scores and not score much more than 6 points during the

next testing session. All of this data is valuable from an administrative perspective because this

shows what teachers are doing their jobs effectively and that the schools students are properly

learning. However, there are so many factors that go into why a child tested the way they did

during that day and it is hard to label their intellect based on a single test score. Students could

have been having a bad day, been tired, or misunderstood questions, so it is tricky that a teacher

is the first one to be assessed for his/her teaching style, rather than looking at the students in a

more holistic manner.


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All of this data, both through the intelligence test, reading scores, and NWEA testing

scores are very important to consider when creating instructional plans and assessments. As a

teacher, it is of the utmost importance to do whatever possible to make sure the students learn. I

am more interested, as a pre-service, in looking at students learning preferences and learning

styles, opposed to standardized test scores. While this data is crucial for the Department of

Education and for the schools funding and distribution of resources, I dont see myself teaching

to these tests or getting the students worked up about the scores of these tests. Standardized tests

certainly show the progression that students make throughout the year, but I am more concerned

on the daily assessments and day-to-day learning happening within the classrooms. The

standardized tests are certainly powerful in the sense that they can help refer a student to get the

added help or services they need, so I certainly understand the value and impact that they

maintain. I really care about the types of learning that students want to do and how they prefer

learning. I believe that my chosen career is centered on the child/student, and it is up to me to

help guide their learning, rather then only use ways that I learn best. I believe that I need to cater

my teaching style to directly and positively impact the student in the best way possible. The

graphs that I created can help me plan my lessons and provide me with guidelines for creating

interesting and captivating lessons that the students are likely to learn best from. When creating

lessons, I will create them so that students can work in groups and independently, move around,

have visual pictures, or allow students to create visuals, and use as many manipulative as

possible to help them learn. I will use the reading test scores to know which students to pair to

work together and which students might need further assistance from me or other teachers. I

think it is important to learn all of this information right away when working in the classroom

because students are more than just a test score. Students are a product of their school,
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communities, families, and interests. I think teachers must look at the whole picture when

working with students so that they can get at the deep-rooted cause at why they learn the way

they do or why they behave the way they do. Teachers have a wonderful opportunity to step into

a childs life and to take introduce ways for them to learn and grow as students. I feel very

fortunate to be placed in such a diverse school, experiencing a divided nation, and helping

students navigate their learning. This is truly a wonderful career and opportunity for me to

experience, and I am so fortunate to learn from the mentor teacher and students in the classroom

at Ocean Ave Elementary School.

Citations

1. Maine Department of Education. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2017, from

http://www.maine.gov/doe/

2. Multiple Intelligence Resources. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2017 from

http://www.lauracandler.com/strategies/multipleintelligences.php
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3. OSEP Technical Assistance Center .(n.d.). PBIS in the Classroom. Retrieved February 03,

2017, from https://www.pbis.org/school/pbis-in-the-classroom

4. Portland, Maine. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2017, from http://www.city-

data.com/city/Portland-Maine.html

5. SchoolMessanger Presence (Ed.). (.n.d.). Ocean Avenue School. Retrieved February 01, 2017,

from http://oceanavenue.portlandschools.org/