Who, Why, What, When, Where, How?
Essential question for the week:
What tools might provide me with insight into the learners in my classroom and how might I use this information?
There are many ways one could answer the question above, as there are more tools at the disposal of teachers than there are teachers, or so it would seem. With each year come new tools, gadgets, gizmos, theories, ideas, mandates, and of course, “proven research.” But as one veteran teacher once advised me, begin with the student and build upwards. What this teacher was advising me to do was to get to know my students first, build a relationship with each, and find the appropriate tools to measure their growth throughout the course of the school year. This advice, though simple, is a great first step to building a comfortable learning environment for students.
The greatest tool that I have found in my teaching career up to this point are attached to my body and happen to help me navigate through life: my eyes. Observation of my students on tasks, content, crafts, and the like has provided me with valuable information on the strengths and weaknesses of each student in my class. For instance, observing a student trying to do an activity where she is to complete three patterns, all varying in type, gives insight into the both student understanding and presentation of the work. If the work is presented in a manner that is confusing to the student and this is noted in the observation it can then be altered and reintroduced to enhance the student’s learning. It is through such informal assessments that instruction can be altered on the fly to meet the diverse needs of students within the classroom.
As one might have already guessed, observation isn’t the only tool used in my classroom that provides me with insight into my learners in my classroom. We have tools such as PALS, DIBELS, MAP, Reading Eggs, Touch Math, and many teacher-created assessments to gauge where students are in all academic areas. The beauty of having a plethora of assessments and data is that it can then be shared with students, parents, and fellow staff members. Goals can then be set, a course of action can be taken for each individual student, progress can be monitored and celebrations can begin. The assessments used with students throughout the year serves as tools to enhance their learning and to empower each of them with ownership for his/her learning. Yes, even in kindergarten students can begin to take ownership for their learning and celebrate their progress!
Another well-known fact in teaching is the fact that not all celebrations in the classroom are academic. Some are emotional, some are social, some are behavioral, and some are life celebrations. Educators today are tasked with being more than merely teachers of one subject, content area, or grade level for that matter. They are tasked with being counselors at times, nurses at others, sturdy role models every day, and caring friends to each student. The lives of students have an impact upon their learning as do their social, behavioral, or emotional needs. Teachers use this information as well to plan for instruction that is teetered to meet the unique needs of students, big and small alike.
The tools and knowledge that I have discussed above are only fractions of what is included within the teaching realm. As we strive to strengthen our own teaching we often have to branch out to others to take in advice, guidance, or feedback. It is how we continue to grow in our profession. We collaborate. With that said I have found it rather enjoyable and encouraging seeing the thoughts and reflections of peers as they pertain to education in this course. The blogs for instance have provided me with varied insight into the thoughts and reflections of others that I might not have previously considered. Being a learner does mean being flexible at times and yes, seeing another person’s perspective on a matter.
In my own classroom setting I have tried to emphasize the above mentioned point that differences in thoughts, feelings, and opinions is okay. As a matter of fact, it is something to be valued. As I push my students to become more competent, confident learners I in turn have learned more about what I still need as an educator to continue to better my instruction. This course has challenged my thinking and created a stir within my imagination of the far-reaching impacts technology can have upon a classroom, regardless of age. I now have begun to look more into the idea of creating a class wiki page where I can create blogs, upload images, post calendars, and the like. It is an exciting thought that I am still entertaining and as soon as next year may move on it. As for survey monkey, I am trying to create a kindergarten-appropriate survey that can be given to my students during a choice time. These two ideas are only the first two steps of many that I plan to incorporate into my classroom in the near future. The possibilities, as they say, are endless!