Reflection on Formal Observation #1

Reflection on a portion of a class I conducted which was being observed as part of my credentialing process.  Not as interesting of a post as others, however, I am using this site to capture my teacher ed program experience as well, for posterity sake, well, at least until I remove certain postings.  Only pseudonyms are used in my postings.

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Summary:

My plan for the day of my first formal observation was to handle the daily warm-up and homework review as outlined in the attached lesson plan.  It went fairly smoothly with an occasional concern on my part as to whether all students understood the problems under discussion and the occasional anxious moment when students would sit and stare after I asked for volunteers.  I speak to the challenge getting students to volunteer in this reflection and hold off on the challenge of real-time assessment until a later reflection since I am sure that will be a recurrent theme.

All in all, I felt the day was a reasonable representation of my current capabilities, which I plan to improve upon throughout the year with guidance from my supervisor and cooperating teacher.  Specifically, for this lesson, I recognize the value in being consistent at the board by boxing answers each time to make sure students develop that method.  I also learned that after demonstrating one approach to a problem, ideally offered by a student, it is worthwhile to ask students if there are other approaches that could have been taken.

Details:

The most challenging moments for me during my time in front of the class were twofold: 1) getting students to respond to my queries for: a) volunteers and b) homework problems they wanted to check, and 2) determining whether all students truly understood what was discussed and depicted on the board, or not.  The focus in this reflection will be on the former with the latter addressed in a later reflection since I am confident that challenge will recur often.

Going into the lesson, I felt as if I had a decent rapport with my 2nd period students.  I have focused my efforts to date in the class on getting to know students both in the moments before and after class as well as throughout the time we spend together in class.  Most students are reasonably receptive to questions and instructions when I engage with them one on one or in small groups.  I show patience, compassion, and understanding as much as possible through my actions in the class and the students respond by trusting my intentions.  They also know I am committed to helping them learn and overcome challenges they might have learning and succeeding with math.

Having said that, quite often, it is still challenging to get students to respond to requests for volunteers when I am in front of the class; I completely relate to this situation since I occasionally feel similarly when I am a student in someone else’s class, even now.  Fortunately, there are a couple of students in the class who help get the ball rolling by volunteering.  As an example, Anna and Marguerite are two students I know I can call on; Anna often provides answers and suggestions how to try without the need to call on her.  During the observation, I called on both, Anna in response to her raising her hand to volunteer, and Marguerite since my CT signaled to me from the class that Marguerite had completed that homework problem.

It is very important for me to find a way to address the challenge of getting the entire class comfortable volunteering, since my preferred approach to reviewing problems with students is to call on other students to offer their solutions to share with the class.  This is consistent with the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP), specifically, Standard 1: Engaging and Supporting All Students in Learning and Standard 2: Creating and Maintaining Effective Environments for Student Learning.

I strongly believe that students’ voices should occupy a significant part of total talk time.  My reasoning is multifold since having students share: helps build student confidence; makes their thinking, and learning, visible to others; builds a collaborative classroom; increases student participation; focuses attention on common issues most likely shared by others in the class; gives students an active role in the classroom; and ensures students take responsibility for their learning.  While not all students will rise to the occasion immediately, over time I believe most, if not all, will find it contagious if they sense they are being left out of the discussion solely due to their holding themselves back; this requires that they are given multiple attempts to take part over time and are not simply allowed to hide out.

My current solution is to know who the stronger performers in the class are, as well as those that show they are willing to try even if they do not completely understand, mostly to bootstrap the process and give visible examples for how to participate.  While I do not intend to allow students to remain invisible in the long run, by not volunteering, I also do not intend to put them on the spot, which could embarrass them and increase their resistance to volunteering, so I will let them decline sharing if they are not ready or feel uncomfortable for whatever reason.  As an example from the observation, I called on a student, Julio, who is extremely quiet, reserved and never volunteers in class; he has raised his hand, or asked me when nearby, so I could help him one on one with problems.  He rose to the occasion by providing a correct solution for the problem at hand; while it was difficult hearing him since he speaks very quietly, I encouraged him to speak louder, which he did.  I was quite proud of him at that moment.

In the near term, consistent with CSTP Standard 1 and Standard 2, my wish is to continue modeling what participation looks like for all, so that all may soon feel comfortable enough participating, or at least see that they will not be publicly humiliated of they do not know the answer or make mistakes; my plan is to help them understand that making mistakes and having misconceptions is the norm, and by highlighting the mistake or misconception in front of the entire class, most likely will help many learn how not to make those same mistakes or misconceptions over and over.

My approach for the most resistant holdouts is to speak with them one on one to let them know it is OK to come to the front of the class since the class and I will support them while they are up front, then let them know that they do not have the option of declining any longer.  I will phase this change in over time ensuring students understand how the ground rules about responding to volunteer requests have changed as well as giving them ample time to see how open sharing in the class is safe, supportive and helpful.

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About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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