Chapter 2: Teaching What You Believe

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This week we will be reading Chapter 2. Respond as you did last week and reply to a participant’s reflection directly on their blog. Leave your link above so that I can join in your discussions as well! Remember you can answer one or all the questions. The format is not important, but our interactions with each other make it more meaningful. Happy Learning!

  1. The authors suggest that few teachers enter the profession with fully developed philosophies of teaching. How have you seen your philosophy of teaching change over time? If you are an experienced teacher, what is a central belief about your work that was less clear to you when you began to teach? If you are a new teacher, what is a central belief about teaching that guides your work now?
  2. I have definitely seen my teaching philosophy evolve in the past 5 years, but not too far from my early days at as a teacher. In fact, I have deepened by Constructivist beliefs and recognize that my students need me to bring the knowledge to them but it is up to them to explore and make it theirs. I believe that learning is a social activity and growth over time helps us all achieve. I liked how the authors categorized two principals regarding the educational mind set that we develop when we are young. Fortunately, I developed a growth-minded (Fig. 2.1, pg. 34) attitude and never believed that my struggles in my schooling would prevent me from being a successful individual. Furthermore, I never doubted that I would get a college degree and excel in my career.

  3. This chapter proposes six key beliefs that are core to the philosophy of differentiation. Ask six individuals or small groups to present one of the beliefs for discussion. Have the whole group consider some of the questions each belief prompts educators to answer.
  4. The 2nd question asks us to delineate individually the beliefs that are at the core of D.I. so I’ll discuss, Belief #5: Each student should have equity of access to excellent learning opportunities.

    The belief assumes two points, first, that every student must focus on what is essential and second, the curriculum offered must be relevant so that the students can experience both learning and transferring of that knowledge (Tomlinson & Imbeau, 2012, p. 34) . In an ideal world, learning would be that easily achieved, sadly, many students still don’t see the value of learning algebra when they are not going to be using it later on as adults. So how do we change that mentality? I have found that when I connect what I am teaching to a scenario that may have (or not) happened in my life. For example, if I’m teaching a particular math skill, for instance, area and perimeter, I’ll interject a little story of how I accidentally miscalculated and didn’t buy enough tiles for my bathroom. Although I have to be careful not to go off on a tangent, this usually helps the students connect why it is important to learn the formula: A= l x w.

  5. Consider the list of traits on page 41 that are evident in students who were “wounded by school.” How do they reflect a mismatch between student needs and teacher responses that the authors discuss in this chapter? Then consider the traits of teachers who heal wounds (pages 41–42). How do these traits reflect a match between student needs and teacher responses? What does all of this have to do with a philosophy of differentiation?
  6. Interestingly enough, I was one of those “wounded students” in my schooling years. I remember being in the 4th grade, having a with my math teacher, Mr. Felder (not his real name), about my grades that I’ve never forgotten. I don’t know if his intention was to scare me, or wake me up, or to permanently keep me from trying, but he said, “Cecile, face it! You can’t do math.” What an idiot! To this day it resonates in my mind and I doubt myself when I teach complex math lessons. In spite of graduating with 5 math courses with nothing less than a B, I still think I can’t do math. So what led to this? What were the reasons that I felt this way and kept myself from any God-given potential to excel in mathematics? Certainly a belief that I didn’t have what it took to learn it and shame for this lack of ability that naturally produced anxiety.

    It was nearly 20 years before a teacher came along to heal those wounds and helped me realize that I was intelligent and I was capable to learn math. Her name is Professor Quesada, aka, Didi (her real name!) I met her back in 2000 when I decided to finish my college degree. I was determined to take all the pre-requisite courses first and would begin with my nightmare, MATH. That first day in class was awful! I was early and waited in my car until I saw other students walking around. After locating the room (with help from the young college kids) and sitting in the first row, we waited for the professor to arrive. A few minutes passed and no teacher, a few minutes more and in walks a frazzled, loud and overly enthusiastic teacher apologizing for being late, but she had left her materials in her office and would return in a few minutes. GREAT! I decide to take my first math class and I end up with a nutty professor!!! “Oh! Boy! This will be interesting,” I thought.

    As it turned out Prof. Quesada was the best math teacher I ever had. She had such a simple way of explaining things that I slowly became less fearful and actually enjoyed learning again. Even when she wasn’t teaching the course I was enrolled in, I could always stop by her office and ask a question or two. As part of my final project, for my final math course (I took 5!) I had to write about a famous mathematician and I chose to write about Jaime Escalante (magnificently portrayed by Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver in 1988, Warner Bros.) I did this so that I could refer to Didi and how she was my “Jaime Escalante.” Like him, she helped me understand math and even more importantly; she encouraged me to believe in my abilities to learn it well.

    She helped heal my wounds left behind by my failed attempts at mastering math. Jaime Escalante is immortalized by his actions towards his students and he often referred to a word to encourage his students. This word was, “Ganas.” He would say, …that’s all you need. The desire to learn.” Prof. Quesada healed my wounds and helped me believe that I could do math and excel. And I had the GANAS!

Mrs. P

Credits: ASCD

My D.I. Binder

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This is my DI binder for this past school year, even though I noticed it stated: 2012-2012!!!! I never noticed! I will share my templates on Google Docs.

Chapter 1: Understanding Differentiation in Order to Lead

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This week we will read the 1st Chapter of our book study. Use these answers to help you reflect on your perspective:

  1. The chapter presents several common misunderstandings about differentiation. Why do you think such misunderstandings arise? Do you encounter any of these in your own thinking or as you interact with colleagues? Can you identify other ideas about differentiation in your district or school that you believe are misunderstandings?
  2. Discuss your understanding of the terms content, process, and product. What do you think it means to differentiate each of these elements based on student readiness, interest, and learning profile? You might find it helpful to refer to Figure 1.1 on page 18 as a check for your understanding.
  3. In what ways does classroom environment impact instruction? In what ways does instruction impact environment? How do you think assessment can influence environment, curriculum, and instruction? Try to think about the experiences of specific students as you talk about the interrelatedness of these factors.

Copy and Paste into your blog or reply below. Remember there is no specific format required, just share your experiences.

Mrs. P

CREDITS: ASCD Provided Study Guide

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When reading this chapter I kept having flashbacks of my past year. There were many instances in which I was right on target with the author’s perspectives, but not always. As a SPED teacher I feel that I’ve always had to differentiate instruction, so I was not intimidated with the process of differentiating. However, the administration at my new school had a much more formal approach to D.I. than what I had experienced and I was apprehensive about carrying it out this year. Hence, my misunderstandings about D.I. began to arise very early in the year for me.  At the beginning, it was definitely about instructional strategies: how I lectured, re-taught and produced lesson plans considering all learner’s abilities, interests and learning styles. As the weeks passed, I realized that D.I. was much more than the “How To’s” of teaching. It required an awareness of the content I needed to teach and the needs of the students. Needless to say, I gradually developed the D.I. philosophy  as I saw the results and planned for their small groups.

Some colleagues seemed to have it all under control and had developed their bag of tricks to their small group routines. I was jealous! I had to grapple with the daily lessons, limited schedule and daily interruptions during my literacy block. Honestly, it was very hard for me to acclimate myself to a new class routine. I had always thought that I was already doing D.I. through my lesson and tiered assignments, the use of electronic resources and meaningful class and home work practice. I felt that there was no need for additional focused small group instruction besides shared readings or guided reading.

This brings me to the next question regarding content, process and product. I was determined to create my own bag of tricks by gathering materials and activities that I could incorporate into my small groups. Some were great, and some were not and some sessions were a race against the clock. What I did notice many times was that it was the hands-on sessions (requiring more teacher planning)  that engaged students the most and that ditto’s (less teacher planning) promoted distracted students and discipline problems. I quickly learned that not only was the content important, but the process of differentiating was crucial if I wanted to capitalize on the small group sessions. For example, I remember an activity I did about figurative language in which the students had to sort short sentences by type of figurative language.  They had to read it and sort them by category. Nothing fancy, but it was a hit! The students were so excited to read their sentence aloud and place it in the correct category.  Most times they were right but when they weren’t, they corrected each other. In fact, I was thrilled to sit back and witness authentic independent learning happening without the need to intervene to re-direct anyone!

Now, not all the groups went the same way of course. The students with less readiness needed more guidance from me and that’s how the processes developed; I adapted accordingly.  Sometimes the students needed a teacher led mini-lesson, and sometimes they led their own lessons through their interactions. The end result was not only increased scores in assessments, but an increase interest from the students to gather for Differentiated Instruction. My students liked coming to our kidney table and have this intimate time with me and were often disappointed if I didn’t get to meet with their group.

I also wanted to address the last question regarding how the classroom environment impacts instruction and visa-versa. I know that our class environments are more than having a visibly appealing room. It also includes the mood a teacher creates and the exchanges that foster enthusiasm for learning. But I have to say a word or two about how we prepare our classrooms for our students.  It has been my experience that a clutter-free, organized and visually appealing room does have an effect in learning. Students like it when I have a new bulletin board or display their work in a creative manner. I also have seen how rooms with less student appeal seem cold and disconnected from the students and their learning experiences. Now what I mean about a visually appealing room is not that everything needs to be brand new or color coordinated, but rather, the room should promote order and focus. I know that my students can sense my enthusiasm and desire to connect to them by offering them a welcoming learning environment. I want them to see that I take the time to make it a happy place, that they are important to me and that I’m willing to plan and present them with a pleasant place designed for their learning. In the same way, my students can tell by the way our classroom looks and feels that I expect order and focus when learning together.

With regards to how assessment influences environment, curriculum and instruction, I believe that we are over testing our students. A cartoon on the Internet best described this reality with this line:

“Is this the test, to test us for the test  to see if we are ready for the test?”

No matter what your opinion is regarding data-driven instruction, I think most educators will agree that there’s a testing frenzy that has taken over the purpose for instruction. Are we teaching our students content that will prepare them for higher education or are we teaching our students how to survive higher education without the joys of learning?

This year I adjusted my groups according to the district mandated testing results coupled up with my own professional judgement.  I’m not sure that always worked out since I had students that performed poorly (due to apathy) but were good students, and students that were below grade level, but scored within normal limits. It was critical that I selected students for each group that could collaborate and contribute to each other’s learning and benefit from D.I. Sometimes the grouping worked well and sometimes I re-adjusted the groups to make it a more cohesive experience for the students.

Before WE Begin…

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DI PIC

Before we get started, I wanted to make sure that we all took a few minutes to read the preface of the book. It was written simply with a pen and lots of HEART! If you don’t have your blog up and running, or need help with that, just message me and I’ll help you. If you rather not add the blog effect to your experience, then just post directly below! I hope that this little book study becomes as addictive to you all as it has become for me!

Follow these instructions:

Read the preface written by the author and respond to it as you felt it related to you. You do not need to follow any format at all, just respond to anything written as they apply to you personally as an educator. You may write these thoughts into your blog and share the link or if you would rather, reply directly on my blog. Remember, the most important part of the book study is to share YOUR experiences with each other. We all learn when we can collaborate and indulge ourselves in our reflections.

Happy Learning!

Mrs. P

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I began teaching in 2008 filled with passion and enthusiasm to make a difference in a child’s life. That passion and enthusiasm was quickly watered down after my assignments changed so frequently that I was learning curriculum and moving two or three times a year! I came into the school system during a difficult financial year for the district and a strict hiring freeze. I was unable to secure any permanent contract and had to hope for another temporary assignment as one was ending. I was very fortunate that I worked every month for the first four years, but it was at a great cost. Just like the author, Ms. Tomlinson described her naiveté  regarding her early years, I also endured my first four years. She wrote about specific students and circumstances that helped her sum up how she earned her stripes and I related in a similar way. I remember my first day, in my first class, and a special needs student punching me right on the face, knocking my reading glasses right off. At the time I wasn’t surprised or shocked by what had happened; so willing to educate her and teach her. About six weeks later I found myself on the floor after another physical confrontation vowing never to return to that classroom, even if it meant that I would never get hired again by the district!

After several calls from the district’s support staff offering me a permanent contract if I would return to that assignment, I remained steadfast to my desicion.  Fortunately, I was able to substitute teach for two weeks before my second assignment teaching a general education 4th grade class. It was a short stint, but by December of that year, I was finally on my way. I felt guilt at first, thinking I wasn’t worthy of my degree (I have a B.S. in Exceptional Student Education) but somehow I was slowly learning the skills to plan and manage a classroom. My second assignment started in January of 2009, teaching another Gen-ed class, but this was in the primary grades. I had to re-adjust again! During the fall of 2009, I was blessed with another four month assignment teaching in a Resource Room to 6th, 7th and 8th Grade SPED students. Here it was, my opportunity to develop as a teacher for students with special needs! It started and finished marvelously! It was wonderful to see that I was effective and was making a difference in the classroom. The next few months after that included teaching Middle School Earth Space Science to the Gen-ed and Gifted population at our school, Inclusion Teacher supporting the Gen-ed teachers during their literacy block and substitute teaching, but the opportunity to return to my Resource Room opened up again and I finished 2010 with my class! I did it, I got a permanent contract! I earned it back, so I thought. But the following year, more budget cuts and I was once more a temporary instructor in another Resource Room in the upper elementary grades.

The assignment was another good fit for me. I was given another chance to learn curriculum for varied grade levels and I was adding more experiences to my resume. I was ready for another good half-year and it was as wonderful as I expected.  In January I returned to school after the winter break, but now I would be teaching a 3rd grade Gen-ed class. Here I go again, I thought to myself on that very first day in 2011. Indeed more hours to invest after school in order to learn the new curriculum and the expectations of the results of the infamous FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) that spring. I worked 12 hours a day, I worked on weekends and I was drowning  to keep up! I was getting weary and wondered if it was all worth it. I was jealous of other teachers that had taught the same grade and subject area year after year. Why couldn’t I just learn one and get really good at it? Why couldn’t I land a permanent contract when there were so many unprofessional and unhappy teachers in the system? These are questions that I still have today, five years later!

The following school year brought yet more changes. I would again be an interim teacher, but I would be back in the 4th grade and with the same students from my 3rd grade class from the year before. This would be great! Half the battle is acclimating the students and parents and we had ended on a very positive note, so I was very happy. As it turned out, I was with my students all year as the interim teacher. It was the first time that I did not move classes, or grade levels, or assignments in four years! I had made it! I was a real teacher! At the end of the year, in spite of volunteering for the after school computer lab supervision and working the dismissal duty every day, rain or shine, attending all school meetings and events, I was told that I would not have a job in the fall.

Devastated!

How can I have given so much and not have a job to return to? I would have to start looking for a new school. It was a scary and nerve-wrecking time for me both professionally and personally. In the midst of this job search, my youngest daughter graduates from college and is also looking for a teaching position, my mother becomes gravely ill and I myself begin to feel that I will never find a teaching job again. Needless to say, it was a long and painful summer break. One day, just a week before the opening of the new school year, I  was standing at the check-out line at our local grocery store and a friend tells me of a position opening up in the school where she worked. I was so excited at the hope of working that fall! I went right home and composed an email directly to the principal and attached all my credentials; being proactive, I thought. Two days later, I received a call from the principal and learned that I had left out my resume! ARGH!!! How professional of me! What a way to make an impression, “the absent-minded professor” comes to mind.

Although I had left the resume out, I had included my Website, Twitter, Facebook Page and Blog links and these had been enough to have impressed her. WHEW! I thought I had blown it! When we spoke she seemed gracious and something told me that I was going to like working under her direction very much, but I still didn’t have the job, I would have to wait. The call finally came three days before the 1st day of school. I had two days to set up, write lessons and attend faculty and grade level meetings!

OH! MY!  “Here I go again!”

This was the fall of 2012 and now would be at a new school and a new grade level. In the past five years I had taught,1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades and I never taught any of them more than four months at a time! Here I was assigned to a 2nd grade class, another new curriculum to learn, but it didn’t matter, I had a job! Now- it was a rough start for me. I didn’t get my groove until October of that year for many reasons.  First I became ill, then I was re-assigned and would  be instead teaching reading in a Resource Room to 2nd graders and to a General-ed 3rd grade class. Finally, to make the adjustment worse, I also had to deal along side my husband who was also facing some serious health issues.

In January of 2013, I returned to school re-energized by the winter break and focussed on Student Portfolios and the FCAT. I was on a mission, I had to ensure that my students demonstrated growth and that I proved myself as an effective teacher who merited her position.

FAST-FORWARD: JUNE, 2013

The year ended and my students excelled. I successfully re-integrated to SPED students to an Inclusion setting, all but three of my students passed the FCAT and I received an excellent review. I renewed my certificate and I’m positive that I will have a job in the fall! Looking back at the past five years, I have realized that everything happens for a reason and for a purpose. The bible says:  “There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven.”

Indeed, the realities of the classroom and the challenges I have faced have only allowed for me to hone my craft and to develop as a person of faith. I am convinced that it has been part of the greater plan that the Lord has for me. I cannot say that I wished everything had been different, for I have learned so much! …and yes, I beat the statistics of teacher retention data! I am beginning my 6th year with more enthusiasm and passion that I had on that very first day back in 2008!

Now click here for a musical treat!

Summer Learning Begins!

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What a wonderful year it has been! I was very fortunate to have added another grade level to my repertoire and discovered what “Differentiated Instruction” in a general education setting can do for your students! Thank goodness for last year’s Book Study of the Daily Five and Cafe, I was able to manage 32 students during a chopped up reading block! It was challenging to say the least, but after all the data analyzing and looking at the student’s performance, I am one-happy-camper!

This summer, I’ll be reading:  Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom, by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Marcia B. Imbeau. I have managed to invite three other fellow teachers to learn with me and I’m very excited to share our experiences in the classroom with each other! I will add their blog links here once they have set them up! 

On a personal note, let me share some great news! Last summer I announced that my youngest daughter had graduated from Florida International University with a degree in Early Childhood. I titled the post, “New Beginnings” because it was another milestone for our family. This summer’s first post is titled, “Summer Learning Begins” for another reason besides the book study. This summer my husband and I will be welcoming our first grandchild! We will be learning about our roles as grandparents and relish in all the blessings that are to come! 

Grandparents are a family’s greatest treasure, the founders of a loving legacy, The greatest storytellers, the keepers of traditions that linger on in cherished memory. Grandparents are the family’s strong foundation. Their very special love sets them apart. Through happiness and sorrow, through their special love and caring, grandparents keep a family close at heart. ~author unknown

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Mrs. Pelaez, AKA, Grandma Cessy