Friday, April 25, 2014

V: V is for Vision

Epiphanies are wonderful things.

I can remember the exact moment when I knew what kind of classroom I wanted to be in.  I was way back in the eighth grade, at the same "hub" school I mentioned in Post "O".  The school was new to me, my classmates were new, the building was new to me, as were the teachers.  This school was a three-storey stone structure that was constructed after World War I.  It had separate entrances for boys and for girls and hardwood floors throughout.  It even had a functional air raid siren mounted on the roof during World War II.  All throughout my childhood, our town had a curfew for children at 8:00pm. Officials would turn on the air raid siren promptly at 8:00pm each evening and we good girls and boys would hurry home to safety.  I am not sure what we were being saved from but, at least, our parents knew where we were.

So, into this monolithic building I was thrust for Grade 8; my only year at this school....the year of my epiphany!

We used to have Spelling tests every week.  We would be assigned twenty words each week.  I would take these twenty words and have them commited to memory by the end of class on the day they were assigned.  Come test day, usually on a Friday, we would have our test. I usually scored twenty out of twenty or, on a bad week, nineteen or eighteen out of twenty. Consistently.  Week in and week out.  Our teacher had established the routine of having the students correct each other's work. So, after the words would be dictated, we would hand our papers in, he would re-distribute them throughout the class and we would go through each word, spelling it aloud and then, putting an "x" or a check mark beside the word on the paper we were given to mark.  It was during this marking process that I came to realize that there were classmates of mine who were making errors with words that I thought were super simple and, as well, that were were classmates who, routinely, failed these Spelling tests, week in and week out.  But yet, the tests continued unabated.  I always scored twenty out of twenty, the boy sitting next to me would score five out of twenty.  Week afte week it went on, nevering seeming to change.  After awhile, the whole exercise had become pointless, even to me, who was doing well.  That's when I had my epiphany.

As I sat there, watching nothing ever change as time went by, I resolved that, if I was the teacher, I wouldn't run the class this way.  If I was in charge, my classroom would have activities that would challenge the "top" kids while, at the same time, not overwhelming the kids who were struggling.  I wasn't worried about the kids in the middle because, even then, I could tell that they always ended up finding their place and doing ok, not excellent but, always ok.  So, as I sat the absentmindedly twirling my pencil like a baton, I knew that what I was experiencing was poor, lazy teaching and that I would not be like that if given the chance to be in charge of others.

I maintained that philosphy all the way throug my Teacher's College training. As I entered the work force, I may not have known much about running a classroom but, At least, I had a vision of what I wanted things to be like.  This helped immensely because, as I gained experience and consistency in my practise, I did so already knowing the direction I wished to travel.  As time went on, I developed many activities that brought my ideas to fruition.  Here are a sampling of how this all works in the real world of my classroom today.

Reading:
               While it is my job to instruct all students in the basic skills and concepts involved in being a successful reader, I do NOT do this by teaching all students from the same book.  I can easily teach my "top" students to read by using books with a richer vocabulary, longer storylines, more creative and complex plots somthat they are being challenged and their skills honed as a consequence of their regular rading assignments.  For the kids who are struggling, I would use books with simpler, more repetitive text, easier vocabulary and simplified storylines.  In this way, they are experiencing success at becoming good readers, just like their peers but, they are not overwhelmed and the top kids aren't bored.  An additonal element of my job then becomes knowing what books best match the skill levels of each student.  I learn this by listening to each individual child read. They can read to me or they can record themselves reading on my iPad and then, I can check later for the level of accuracy and fluency. I can, also, note the exact nature of any errors they make ( are they phonetic in nature, semantic, what exactly?).  By doing this, I can direct my individual instruction for that child and target any weaknesses accordingly.

Student Read Aloud Time:
                                            Each day, I read aloud to the class. But, as well, each day, one of the students gets the opportunity to read aloud to the class, too.  Do I expect each student to read from the same book or the same type of book or level of complexity of text.....No!  What I do expect is that they will read a book at their skill level that they have practised and are prepared to share with the class. I, also, expect them to use the skills of public speaking that they have been taught, such as facing the audience, speaking clearly and loudly enough to be heard, showing the illustrations in the book as they read.  Any child can be successful at this task simply by being prepared; for that, as much as the actual act of reading, is why I allot time, each and every day, for this to happen.  It is in-class homework.  It is giving students a small taste of responsibility, on their terms, in ways that they can manage and be successful at.  So, I students read aloud from chapter books and I have students read aloud from basic readers with repetitive, one sentence per page, text.  Everyone is a reader and a public speaker and a story teller.  Everyone grows.  It is all good.

Differentiated instruction:

                                          As a general organizational philosophy, I do not always do our class work in the same way.  We may always have Math and Phys. ed. and Language time, etc., but, do not always do paper/pencil tasks within these instructional periods.  There have been numerous studies that show that not all people learn successfully in the same manner.  Some people learn by thinking and internalizing information. Some folks learn visually. Some learn best through active engagement with their hands.  Whatever works best for each student is fine with me because it reflects the essence of their individuality.  The goal of any learning task should be to have the student reinforce existing skills and/or develop new skills to add to their inventory of pre-existing skills.  Since people learn best in different ways, it is important to present learning tasks in different ways as well.  Therefore, sometimes we work quietly at our desks, while sometimes we work in groups with manipulative blocks. Sometimes we read from books, sometimes we read from music lyrics to popular songs playing on our computer Smartboard.  But, whatever the case, the important thing is that programming in scheduled in a variety of ways to enable all students to participate to the very best of their own, unique abilities.

There are many factors that contribute to the success achieved each day by the individual students in any classroom. Hopefully, by offering opportunities, borne from a lifetime of personal experience, each student should find a way to contribute, fully and completely, in our classroom affairs.  If not, at least it won't be because they were bored or overwhelmed.  :)

If you have any comments or questions about anything that you have read in this post, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the box below.  Thanks for taking the time to read my words.  I appreciate your time.