Reflection on Formal Observation #2

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.

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Summary:

In preparing for that day’s instruction, taking into consideration Standard 3: Understand and Organize Subject Matter for Student Learning in the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP) (Attachment 1), I reflected on the common mistakes and misunderstandings I noted the earlier weekend while grading and scoring quizzes, which assessed students’ knowledge of the three different forms for an equation of a line, as well as their understanding of the parameters associated with each form, how to compute those parameters, how to manipulate one form into another, etcetera.  In doing so, I crafted a lesson plan and warm-up (Attachments 2, 3, and 4) intended to highlight their common mistakes and understandings, as intended by CSTP Standard 4:  Plan Instruction and Design Learning Experiences for All Students and CSTP Standard 5:  Assess students for learning.

In my opinion, my time in front of the class during this observation was fair; I could have been better, but all in all, I am happy with where I am in learning from my Cooperating Teacher (CT) about teaching.  I still struggle with timing, which was my greatest concern with my teaching that day, since I want to be respectful of the day’s lesson plan.  However, there is a tension between honoring the entire lesson plan, and ensuring all students truly understand the material presently under discussion as required by CSTP Standard 1:  Engage and Support All Students in Learning.  Having said that, I am learning that it is nearly impossible for every student to be at the same level of understanding at every moment; hence, I must let go of my uncertainty about where all students might be at that moment, as individuals, and let my sense of where the class as a whole might be in their learning drive my decision-making, especially about moving on to other aspects of a particular lesson plan.

Details:

Discuss a specific fear or uncertainty that emerged for you during the lesson.  What prompted it?  How did it influence your teaching?  What can you learn from it?

The main uncertainty that emerged for me during my time in front of the class handling the day’s warm-up and homework review was my concern about taking too much time with those items, which is common for me, both my concern and actually taking too much time.  My concern that morning was heightened since students had an end-of-marking-period final exam the next day, so we needed to:

  • Ensure they completed their Review Guide (Attachment 5) to take home with them to study, and
  • Address any questions that they might still have about specific problems in the guide.

Contributing to my concern about proper timing / pacing, but to a lesser extent, was my uncertainty about why several students who normally jump right into working the warm-up were not engaged.  This caused me to let more time pass at the outset than I was comfortable doing since I felt compelled to walk around and prompt students to start their work, which intensified my concern about being able to finish in a reasonable amount of time; the announcements, also, complicated what I perceived as a not-so-smooth start to students working on the warm-up.

My increased concern about timing made me focus more on moving along quickly, for coverage, rather than continuing to probe for understanding or introducing alternate methods to solve the problem at hand, other than the one offered up by a particular student.  A case in point relates to the following problem.

Page 5 

There are 175 students in the 5 classes of Ms. Silva.  It takes her 250 minutes to finish grading papers for her classes. How long has she been working if she is 40% done?

  1. 100 minutes             B.  10 minutes
  2. 35 minutes               D. 62.5 minutes

Once I finished writing out this student’s particular approach to the problem on the SMART Board, which incorporated the exact method my CT presented in earlier lessons, and emphasizing a couple of key points related to problem solving, in general, I waffled, taking a bit too long to think whether I should go ahead to another problem or show the class an alternate approach to the problem above, which I had shared with a couple of groups the day before.  I paused since I was concerned that my alternate approach did not adhere to my CT’s prior instruction and since I had not discussed it with her before I introduced it to the entire class, I might upset her; interestingly, I had no similar concern the day before when showing the alternate technique to small groups.  My CT interpreted my pause as the end of my part of the day’s instruction, as any perceptive person would have, and stepped out to emphasize the exact approach I had shared the day before anyways.

I must admit, at the precise instant my CT walked forward and mentioned the alternate solution she heard from a student the day before about this problem, I felt a twinge inside, like I missed the opportunity to show students the same alternate approach, and hence, show both my CT and supervisor that I knew to show alternate solutions to students.

More importantly, my hesitation created a multifold problem for me, my CT and the class:  1) it signaled, to my CT, the end of my session when I was not “complete” per se and 2) it created the potential for me to delay further the start of student class work on the Review Guide.  The former is something I want to be especially mindful of since I do not want to cause any confusion between my CT and myself as we move into a more coordinated form of co-teaching; I want her to feel confident in reading me, and I her, to the extent I develop that skill.  The latter is especially problematic if I had solicited another homework problem to check, or if I took the time to explain my alternate solution, however, in my wish to be clear to students, and as a new student teacher, I might have taken longer to complete the same action as my CT.  Lastly, being driven by my desire to look good in front of my CT and supervisor is the last thing I intend, so I was surprised at myself for feeling that way, however brief it might have been, or however minimally it influenced my actions.

Given the ripeness of my uncertainties and concerns, I learned a great deal from my time in front of the class that day.  During our three-way debrief session after class, I benefited from learning that neither my supervisor nor my CT felt that I rushed through the warm-up or review, which helps me to calibrate my timing / pacing.  Additionally, neither of them shared my concern that students were overly delayed in starting the warm-up.  My supervisor felt that it is nigh impossible for students to start on the warm-up during the announcements, while my CT mentioned that students actually needed to listen in to the announcements since there could be something of interest and value to them; both of which are great points to ponder as I consider how to adjust my teaching a warm-up and homework review during a period where announcements occupy the first five minutes of class.

Fortunately, after reflecting on my concern overnight, my CT shared a thought the following day for a possible cause of students not engaging with the warm-up.  The fact that she shared her reflection with me was powerful and served as a highly likely explanation for any students’ delay starting the warm-up.  The warm-up was depicted in a form they had never seen before; hence, many may not have known what to do.  I agreed with her once I heard her explanation.

Additionally, thanks to my CT’s experience and insight, we modified my intended warm-up content during that day’s planning period (see attachment 4).  However, we did not have the time to change it into a format with which they were familiar.  At the same time, we debated whether that form would have served my purpose of forcing students to study an equation for its form so they could infer the information inherent in the form, specifically, the slope for the equations shown that day, and whether that slope was positive, negative, zero, or indefinite.

All in all, my experience taught me I have much to learn as I progress as a student teacher.  I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a CT who supports my learning.  I look forward to what each day may bring to me, and I to it, as I seek to develop the skills of an effective teacher.

ATTACHMENTS ARE NOT INCLUDED IN THIS POSTING

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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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