Classroom Connection

Brief report on what happened this day in class. This was during the first semester of my student teaching placement. I was only doing one observation per week. Which was not nearly enough. I feel like I needed to be there everyday for me to become comfortable in a classroom setting. I came to teaching later in life, 38, and it showed that I hadn’t been in a room with students for over twenty years.

October 30, 2007

Teaching Literature and Media                                                                                                       Classroom Connection 2

Middle School Language Arts Grade 8

Period 1

Classroom Diagrams: (See attachments)

I charted student involvement for two classes, Periods 1 and 3. Period 1 is a regular class and Period 3 is the accelerated class. The diagrams chart when students gave responses to the teacher’s questions and whenever they commented on the other student’s responses. The diagrams do not include student questions. Most questions posed by the students were not discussion or text oriented so they were not included on the charts.

Questions:

During this period I counted 32 questions asked by the instructor, James ——, during the 41 minute class session. This does not include the questions asked by James during his class opening “warm-up” during which he asks how everyone’s weekend went. I will list some of the questions, noted in bold, in the order that I remember hearing them, then try to include responses to these questions. Responses will be italics, silent actions by James and students will be in parenthesis.

1) Will anyone share? (Referring to PSSA writing homework assignment)

2) Any volunteers? (Rachel) I will. (Reads essay)

3) What do we think? How did she do? (Points at someone) I thought it was good. She had a lot of detail. (Recounts essay’s big points, needs more intro and conclusion)

4) Good job, Rachel. Any other volunteers? (Points at Mackenzie, who sits behind Rachel)

(Student reads. “Excellent.” Summarizes what she did right.)

5) Another volunteer? (Points at student, who reads their essay. “Take the ‘I’ and ‘my’ out.”)

6) That finishes the Holes unit. Anything we could have done that would have made it better or worse? (No responses given)

7) Anything else on Holes? (No responses given)

8) What is non-fiction? (Three hands go up) Isn’t it like stuff that isn’t true? (Gives definition of non-fiction – “Not fake”)

9) Tell me types of non-fiction? Biography?

10) What is a biography? A story about someone told by someone else?

11) Who is it written by? That person or is it written about that person by another person? Another person.

12) What is a story written by someone about themselves? (Several hands go up. Chooses on student) Autobiography.

13) Any other types? (Pauses several seconds until someone answers) A poem? No, poems can

be but not always. (Another hand raises, he points at that student) A documentary? No,

I’m only looking for written things here.

14) Anyone seen a memoir? What do you think a memoir is? What word does it look like? (One hand raises. James asks hand person.) Memory. (Right memory.)

15) Who usually sells memoirs? Who are a group of people who usually sells them? (Answer inaudible)

16) I’m thinking of a group of people, usually men, they only work for four or eight years? Presidents? (Yes…)

17) How many like non-fiction? (No verbal response, no hands raised)

18) Who likes non-fiction more than fiction? (No verbal response, no hands raised. James

writes the word ‘know’ on the board)

19) Who can tell me what ‘know’ is, if it is in the title? (Calls on Heather) Does it mean from

one person to another? “No”

20) What is the smaller portion of something? Chapter?

21) No? (No one else volunteers. Has students turn to page 838 in their textbook)

I’ll end my list of questions here. The discussion then moved onto the short memoir piece “Block Party” by Jewell Rhodes. James asks if anyone knows what a block party is, many students respond with stories of block parties they have attended. At this point the discussion was a lot of back-and-forth and hard to follow.

A longer version, I guess the complete version, of the observation from that day.

                                                                                                                                                                                        October 30, 2007

Teaching Literature and Media                                                                                                   Classroom Connection 2

Middle School – Language Arts Grade 8

Period 1

Classroom Diagrams: (See attachments)

I charted student involvement for two classes, Periods 1 and 3. Period 1 is a regular class and Period 3 is the accelerated class. The diagrams chart when students gave responses to the teacher’s questions and whenever they commented on the other student’s responses. The blue “x” marks indicate whenever a student gave a comment or responded to a question. In red the flow of questions and answers is outlined. In period three there was once instance of a student not understanding what another student had said and asked a question about it. I indicated that exchange with a black line. The diagrams do not include student questions. Most questions posed by the students were not discussion or text oriented, with the one exception noted in the third period class, so were not included on the charts.

First period is usually the slowest class of the day because it is still early and the students are generally still sleepy. The teacher, James ——, generally spends a considerable amount of time (roughly ten minutes or so out of the forty-one minute class) warming-up students by asking about their weekends (My normal observation day is Monday. How he does this on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I don’t know. During the one Friday class I observed he asked what plans they had for the weekend.). The students were unusually talkative during this warm-up session and it reflected in their participation during the lecture and discussion.

Looking at the chart there are only thirty-eight instances of students talking during the discussion and only eight of the seventeen students spoke more than once, with one student making roughly one-third of the total comments. I find both the total number of student comments and the variation of those comments to be high for this class. Usually I see four students dominate all talk and no one other than those four speak, even if directed to by James. These four students did talk the most during this class – they sit in seats 1 & 2 of Row 2, seats 1 & 2 of Row 3 and seat 2 of Row 3 – as they do during most classes. However, a number of other students did speak which, as I said, is rare. James does not, as a habit, call on students who do not volunteer, so the discussion is heavily weighted towards these four students.

Period 3 is the accelerated class, and in this class there isn’t enough air time to allow everyone to get all their thoughts and comments in. The total number of comments is only ten more than in Period 1 and only four more students are marked as having spoken (15-11) but this class works at a so much faster pace than the other class that I couldn’t keep up. In this class when James asks a question nearly every hand is raised and students are disappointed when not called upon – like generally really disappointed, you know like “why did you call on her and not me?” type of disappointment. This class did have the one noticeable instance of a student “challenging” another student which I will detail in another section. 

Questions asked by the teacher:

During this period I counted 32 questions asked by the instructor, James, during the 41 minute class session. This does not include the questions asked by James during his class opening “warm-up” during which he asks how everyone’s weekend went. I will list some of the questions, noted in bold, in the order that I remember hearing them, then try to include responses to these questions. Responses will be italics, silent actions by James and students will be in parenthesis.

1) Will anyone share? (Referring to PSSA writing homework assignment)

2) Any volunteers? (Rachel) I will. (Reads essay)

3) What do we think? How did she do? (Points at someone) I thought it was good. She had a lot of detail. (Recounts essay’s big points, needs more intro and conclusion)

4) Good job, Rachel. Any other volunteers? (Points at Mackenzie, who sits behind Rachel)

(Student reads. “Excellent.” Summarizes what she did right.)

5) Another volunteer? (Points at student, who reads their essay. “Take the ‘I’ and ‘my’ out.”)

6) That finishes the Holes unit. Anything we could have done that would have made it better or worse? (No responses given)

7) Anything else on Holes? (No responses given)

8) What is non-fiction? (Three hands go up) Isn’t it like stuff that isn’t true? (Gives definition of non-fiction – “Not fake”)

9) Tell me types of non-fiction? Biography?

10) What is a biography? A story about someone told by someone else?

11) Who is it written by? That person or is it written about that person by another person? Another person.

12) What is a story written by someone about themselves? (Several hands go up. Chooses on student) Autobiography.

13) Any other types? (Pauses several seconds until someone answers) A poem? No, poems can

be but not always. (Another hand raises, he points at that student) A documentary? No,

I’m only looking for written things here.

14) Anyone seen a memoir? What do you think a memoir is? What word does it look like? (One hand raises. James asks hand person.) Memory. (Right memory.)

15) Who usually sells memoirs? Who are a group of people who usually sells them? (Answer inaudible)

16) I’m thinking of a group of people, usually men, they only work for four or eight years? Presidents? (Yes…)

17) How many like non-fiction? (No verbal response, no hands raised)

18) Who likes non-fiction more than fiction? (No verbal response, no hands raised. James

writes the word ‘know’ on the board)

19) Who can tell me what ‘know’ is, if it is in the title? (Calls on Heather) Does it mean from

one person to another? “No”

20) What is the smaller portion of something? Chapter?

21) No? (No one else volunteers. Has students turn to page 838 in their textbook)

I’ll end my list of questions here. The discussion then moved onto the short memoir piece “Block Party” by Jewell Rhodes. James asks if anyone knows what a block party is, many students respond with stories of block parties they have attended. At this point the discussion was a lot of back-and-forth and hard to follow.

Questions asked by the students:

Most questions asked by the students were of the “I’m answering your question but I’m not sure of your question so I’ll uplift my voice at the end of the question with a kinda verbal question mark” type of questions. Students weren’t sure of their response’s so they asked if their answer was correct. Generally theyweren’t, were told so, and James moved onto another student.

Other types of questions I heard a lot were about the author biographies that get read before each piece is read. One such question was, “Is she (meaning the author) still teaching in Arizona?” I haven’t asked about the practice (which I call an obsession) and the idea I get for why author “facts” are emphasized is because they will show up on a test. James asked this very question to reinforce this: (James) “Why do we learn author facts?” (Student) “Because it will show-up on a test?” (James) “Yes. It will show up on a test.” A rather pointless practice in my opinion. This would be better suited for independent study than valuable class time.

At this point I’d like to talk about the one “authentic” question posed during the two classes. In Period 3 the class had read for homework a memoir written by Laurence Yep about his family’s adventures trying to kill a rat. James likes to get students talking about themselves so he asked about siblings. One student said that she had a younger brother for whom she was always cleaning up after. She didn’t mind doing because she likes a clean house, she is “anal” that way. Another student asked her what she meant by being “anal.” A chance for dialogue between students existed here but James jumped in and answered before the student could. I did not asked why, but I’ll make a couple of assumptions about it. One, he likes to control discussions and keep them moving along. He allows students to speak but only at one of his directives. Two, the word itself is dangerous.

Sometimes students respond to each other but most of the time they are facing forward and speaking to the teacher, not their classmate.

Questions from the session:

I don’t think the questions placed too much demand on the students. Or, I should

say that they never do in any of the classes that I’ve observed. The listed questions are asking either for information out of the text or for facts or single word informational questions. I liked when he asked what everyone thought of the Holes unit. He prefaced it by saying that their responses could effect future units and he would make changes if needed. Most of the responses (not listed) were opinions about the book, “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it,” signaling a lack of real knowledge with this type of question, at least for this class. They either didn’t know how to answer the question or didn’t think their responses would be taken seriously. I would have liked to have seen James give them more time to respond or explain to them what exactly he was looking for. One idea students did have was to watch the movie. That prospect got them excited. James answered that they have already seen the movie and that it would take up too much class time. I get the feeling he either didn’t see the merit of doing a novel/movie comparison, or he is just someone who likes to keep to the schedule. Being that he is a football coach the latter wouldn’t surprise me.

Brief analysis:

My recommendations for both classes is small group discussions. Period one has a few students who answer most of the questions of talk all of the time. Small groups would allow the other students time to talk. Like thirty minutes of the class devoted groups of three or four students discussing gives everyone ample time to talk. This can be moderated by the teacher moving about the room to ensure compliance, or by having students write a report of their groups discussion.

Small group discussions will work for Period 3 because they all want to talk and to be heard. Not enough time in forty-one minutes for this to happen in the IRE format that I observe. A whole class shared inquiry discussion is another good idea for these students. They will talk to each other. They will respond and pick-up on classmate comments. These students will do just about anything.

Period 1 will probably need to do a lot of small group work before shared inquiry will benefit them. Individually many of them need to spend time just hearing them own voice before they will be comfortable in a whole class discussion.

Maybe more students would be “accelerated” if the expectations of the accelerated class were imposed onto every class. 

Though I don’t really like the IRE style that has been used for every discussion in the

classes I’ve observed, I think the instructor handles it well enough. James repeats students answers and allows every student a chance to answer before moving to the next question. He does not put the shy students on-the-spot by calling on them, but this only results in a few students doing most of the talking.

I do wonder how effective it is for even the “better” students, “better students” being the ones who get the higher grades. Test scores show that asking questions about the readings and the discussions that a lot of what is “discussed” is missed by most of the students and test scores are degraded because of it. I recommend more meaningful discussion sessions to remedy this, as well as giving better worded tests. Such as tests that test comprehension and interpretation that memorization.   

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