Below, I have documented three artifacts from my classroom, all videos of me teaching. In each, I am trying to integrate various techniques learned in the instructional strategies classes. The first video, filmed during my first month of teaching, shows me integrating technology into a grammar lesson. The second video, filmed in the late winter of the first year, contains a video focusing on leading a class discussion. The final video shows an attempt I made to dramatically change my instructional techniques for grammar, a lesson that I talk about at length as a critical encounter in my inquiry project.
With these videos, I wanted to show parts of my instruction that occur daily, ones in which I have grown considerably in over the two years. Fundamentally, my class revolved around grammar instruction and class discussion of literature, so here I examine how I grew to best conduct those activities in my classroom. While I tried many of the techniques like fishbowl, gallery walk, popcorn, etc., I used those as tools to supplement the bigger picture when my usual techniques felt stale. With the middle school classroom needing routine to a great extent, frequently I found novel activities to disrupt rhythm, as you can see in the final video.
This first video shows my greenness as an educator. Filmed in the opening weeks of school, it depicts a young teacher who has not yet found a comfort level in the room. One positive here is my integration of technology, allowing each boy to interact physically with the sentences on their iPad. However there is a huge amount of chaos in the room at the start of class, where students are crossing the room to hand homework in and ask questions as they arrive. I am constantly repeating myself and clarifying expectations, showing that my students are not yet into a routine - they are not self-sufficient when they enter the room. At this point, I was focusing heavily on classroom management, leaning on Carol Weinstein's 2015 book as a primary tool. The desk arrangement, pairing students with desks facing towards each other rather than the front stems from her idea that "a number of studies have found that in classrooms where desks are arranged in rows, the teacher interacts mostly with students seated in the front and center of the classroom" (p. 36). I had the structural piece, but I noticed as soon as I got to calling on students, I was still calling on the hands I saw immediately most of the time. The kids speaking were those that were most comfortable hearing their voice. Though my students were attentive and quiet, which was the goal of the first month, I was not engaging everyone as I needed to be. Brookfield & Preskill (2005) write that "what is essential is that everyone finds ways to contribute to others' understanding" during whole-class activities, and here it is clear that the gains of a few do not extend to all. They are not helping each other, so much as they are waiting for my input. One thing I worked hard to cut out after this video was parroting, the act of repeating the words of a student immediately after they say it. I was stealing their ideas, centralizing myself and my words unnecessarily, and thus disincentivizing listening to classmates. While this class was by no means a disaster, I look back and see just how much I have grown in front of the students.
The second video, filmed six months later, shows a new level of confidence. In this class discussion about Chasing Lincoln's Killer, I am working in student voice much more, letting them be the leaders while I act primarily as facilitator. Working with Subject Methods at this point, where we were highlighting classroom discussion leading techniques, I worked hard to command the room less with knowledge and more with direction of thought. Peter Gow (2009) talks about teachers needing "a small battery of prompt questions available to guide discussion or to move student understanding in a desired direction." Here, I do a much better job of questioning, directing their ideas towards my desired end, a discussion of personal responsibility, but I let the students take us there. While my questioning could be clearer, the students are getting where I want them to get. The sheer amount of hands up during this class reinforces how engaged the students are with the text, how eager they are to participate. In particular, they do well with the why questions that I start to introduce four minutes in after going over the quiz. Last winter, I made a conscious effort to have class discussion "incorporate reciprocity and movement, exchange and inquiry, cooperation and collaboration, formality and informality" as Brookfield & Preskill espouse" (2005). This ten-minute conversation cannot be all those things, but I think it is laying the roots for the development of those discussion skills. Their reciprocity and ability to engage with one another's ideas develop alongside my facilitation. As the year went, I was able to lean more on them. However, I still needed to introduce movement and inquiry. Too much of that discussion came from me, and I wish I had fostered more student inquiry with the text. Additionally, the activity dragged too long with stationary students, as they began to shift in desks much more in the final few minutes. In the year since this video, I have been much more intentional during discussions about letting student questions into the space, and have really dug into building a collaborative meaning-making.
As a main takeaway from my inquiry project, I learned how important personal engagement with a text or activity can be. Students learn best when something is emotionally relevant. Leaning on Mary Helen Immordino-Yang & Antonio Damasio's 2011 work on socioemotional learning as a foundational principle of my classroom, I tried to develop activities that use relevant ideas like popular culture to enter nonemotional spaces like grammar. (See my inquiry analysis for more on this idea.) During this third lesson, filmed a year after the second video, I tried integrating student creation into grammar. Tomlinson & McTighe (2006) write that "a good coach has players do sideline drills—but inevitably in service of playing the game. Few athletes would endlessly block a sled, practice corner kicks, or rehearse fast breaks if they didn’t see the connection with the game they will play on Saturday" (Tomlinson & McTighe, p. 85). I saw decontextualized sentences as sideline drills, but if students could not apply that to their writing, or to developing habits of mind, their Saturday games, then those drills would not create deeper learning. My "hook," a Tomlinson & McTighe idea about getting students invested into an activity that ties directly to socioemotional research, here was quotes. In nearly every beloved quote or lyric, there exists direct objects. In this video, you can see how happy the students are - there is an infectious energy that was not in my previous two videos. However, I ceded too much control, and in retrospect, releasing the students to the entirety of the internet did not provide nearly enough structure. While I considered this lesson a failure initially, my inquiry group mates upon seeing this video pointed out the collaborative learning that occurred at the end. They encouraged me to press on, noting the obvious camaraderie and excitement here even amidst the chaos. Here finally, I was easing off structural classroom management techniques so that I could reach deeper learning through more collaborative ideas. There was movement, inquiry, and while the activity became a bit too informal at times, not helped by my untucked shirt, there was a new level of excitement for grammar that continued into the next lessons.
Within each of the videos, you can see successes and failures. However, there is clear linear growth, as I am incorporating more student voice and building towards deeper learning. The students are much happier in each successive video to be learning with me, and in that, along with the level the discussions reach, I see growth. It is hugely empowering to look back on these videos and see the big picture.
This grammar lesson is from my first month in the classroom. Here I integrated technology into the lesson.
September 20, 2017
This class discussion of Chasing Lincoln's Killer comes from the second semester.
February 9, 2018.
This grammar exercise about direct objects comes from the second year.
January 19, 2019.
Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching: tools and techniques for democratic classrooms. 2nd ed. Jossey-Bass.
Gow, P. (2009). The intentional teacher. Gilsum: Avocus.
Tomlinson, C. A., & McTighe, J. (2006). Integrating differentiated instruction & understanding by design: connecting content and kids. 1st ed. Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Weinstein, C. S. (2006). Middle and secondary classroom management: lessons from research and Practice. 3rd ed. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.