Thursday, January 24, 2013

Creating a Quality Classroom Environment

Chapter 13 Questions to Consider:
How will you create a learning environment that is conducive to learning? 
My main concern about creating my classroom environment is using my time wisely. I want my students to have something to do always. I would prefer not to have any weird middle time in which I could lose control of the class. My mentor teacher in my Ed. 100 class was a GREAT role model for me. She had a routine that the whole class knew and was comfortable with. She had everything planned out during the day, and never lost their attention for more than a few short minutes at a time during individual work times. During her teaching, she kept their attention by giving verbal warnings to those getting fidgety or talking out of turn, and if these behaviors continued, they would have to move on the class behavior chart. 

I think that being organized also ties in closely with time management throughout the day. If you have everything planned out and all your materials ready to go, it will be much easier to get through what you want to during the day without wasting time setting things up or getting organized. 

I also want my classroom to be "hands on, minds on." In other words, I want them to have concrete examples for a lot of what we are learning about rather than handing them a worksheet. I want to plan many interactive lessons (some authentic), beginning with stimulating questions to prime their thinking and followed by a hands on activity. I found this video, which I think embodies what I've just tried to describe:

I also want to have a good relationship with my students. I want them to love me without being their friend - the teacher should always be considered the authority figure. I want to have a respectful environment in which I take the time to get to know every student and what their strengths and weaknesses are. I think having a good relationship with mutual respect throughout the classroom will contribute greatly to learning. 

This is my Elementary Education case study:

You engage your third grade students in cooperative learning activities at least twice a day, changing heterogeneous group members once every four weeks. You have agreed upon routine procedures that your classroom community uses within their small groups, including the roles and responsibilities of group members. Lately you have noticed that one small group always seems to have difficulty grasping material and completing their project in an acceptable manner. You observe this group carefully and find that Lisa seems to be the catalyst for their problems.  She gets angry with others if she does not get the job she wants and refuses to do her part in contributing to the group’s learning. She constantly interrupts others in her group. She does not pay attention when her group prepares for class presentations. 

After reading my CSEL case study, there are a few options of how a teacher could respond. I think the main objective for the teacher would be to take Lisa aside and ask her one-on-one why she is acting the way she is acting. You should ask whether her peers interrupt her and could even give a small demonstration of how it feels to be interrupted (being very careful NOT to be disrespectful or offensive). You should ask why she is not participating as much as everyone else and why she is getting so angry. If she is getting angry for a legitimate reason, you could even bring the group together (circling), and have them kind of hash this out by re-asking similar questions so the group could get to the bottom of their problems and move on to their projects. You should also remind Lisa that there are certain procedures and guidelines in the classroom, which she is not following very well. If the behavior continues, you might be able to give her the choice to either shape up and fly right, or go to see the principal. I think another option, if the group cannot hash out their problems, is to change the groups before the four-week time period. If Lisa's anger is sparked by something specifically, she and the teacher might be able to develop a cue for when she needs a moment to collect her thoughts alone and cool down for a few minutes (self-regulation). Lastly, the teacher should reflect on whether the lesson and group work is really using class time wisely. Having too much time could lead to issues because there is time to socialize rather than doing classwork. 

Overall, a teacher must just make sure that they are creating a classroom environment that is conducive to learning. The teacher should set and enforce limits, while still maintaining the teacher-student relationship by respecting the student. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Becoming a Motivational Teacher

There are so many theories out there about teaching and what is "right" or "wrong," but I, as well as many others, think that we should focus more on what has been shown to be effective with different kinds of students. As we all know, it can be difficult to effectively teach and create a group of motivated learners. In class this week, we talked about a few different theories about motivation and what we might use in our future classrooms. Below are some questions to consider with my thoughts and opinions following. 

How might you enhance motivation and affect in your students using the theories of motivation?

Every teacher wants to increase their students' motivation to become actively engaged learners, and if they don't, they might not be fulfilling their potential as the adult in the classroom. I think it is important to think about motivating each student individually, just like you would schoolwork (i.e. differentiation). What motivates one student might not motivate another; therefore, it is so important to know your students. The ultimate goal is to increase intrinsic motivation - internal drive. I think the first thing teachers should consider is arousal - keeping their students engaged and interested in the topics being covered in class. Obviously, students have preferences regarding their favorite or least favorite subjects, but if you can incorporate a lot of inquiry learning and hands on/minds on work throughout the day, you can increase the level of "fun" while still facilitating learning. When you do differentiate, you can try to tailor that to an interest that the student might have or make it relatable for them. Overall, the teacher should be modeling good behavior and excitement in the classroom to try to make sure the students follow suit. This could also relate to "self-fulfilling prophecy." Students eventually perform based on what the teacher expects. 

I also think guided choice is an important part of the classroom. Simply giving the students a choice between one activity or another can increase motivation because they are "choosing" what they do. I worked with one teacher who had allotted about 45 minutes every day for "centers," essentially. She created 5 different activities, which were placed in each child's center folder. Every day during that time, the students would work on one of the activities of their choosing. They just had to get all 5 activities completed by the end of the week. During this time, each student worked fairly quietly and there were rarely any behavioral problems. To be clear, though, structure should still be kept in place. 

I don't think external reinforcers (giving a sticker, etc.) should be used unless it is a class-wide goal that they work towards together. Overuse can reduce intrinsic motivation and self-determination. I have seen many teachers successfully use a jar full of marbles or pompoms to drive better behavior. Whenever they make it as a class to the bathroom quietly and everyone washes their hands, they receive a marble, etc. Then, when the jar is full they all receive a "prize." I have seen teachers do a class party, bring brownies, allow the students a pajama day, etc. I don't personally see any harm in this. As for teacher praise, I think it is very  important to provide a positive, encouraging environment without going too far overboard. You should also be careful about the way in which you praise your students. You should say something like, "I can see that you have been working really hard on your project!" You should try to stay away from generic phrases like, "Good job!" Students are able to develop a greater intrinsic motivation through specific and individualized praise rather than generic praise. 

Which theories of motivation are most helpful and instructive for you?

I think intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation is extremely helpful to consider (see above). I also think that Maslow's theory about the hierarchy of needs is very interesting. While you may not take it 100% literally, I think the concepts are important ideas to consider. Before a child can be a successful, active learner, they first need the basics of food, water, and sleep. Then, they need to feel that they are in a safe environment, which is up to the school and their teacher to provide. After those two needs are met, they can begin to form bonds and friendships, gain more confidence and achievement, and finally become creative and inquisitive. These are all strong considerations for a teacher. 

Image courtesy of's_hierarchy_of_needs.png

In class, we watched a couple of videos regarding different school environments. One was about the MindUP Program, created by the Hawn Foundation. The other was about a school, here in Knoxville. Both were taking into consideration the needs of the children in order to help them rise to their full potential. I think it should be an example for all teachers to try to provide the best environment they can for their students.

This is the video on the MindUP homepage.

We also watched this video, which I found interesting, posted for your enjoyment and viewing pleasure.