This week we read Chapter 4.  Respond as you did last week and reply to someone’s reflection on their blog or below as you wish.

  1. What is the likely relationship between management style (dysfunctional, adequate, and orderly) and (a) teacher philosophy, (b) quality of student thinking, and (c) grouping practices?

I have to admit that as I read this chapter I felt proud to be a rather strict teacher with the frequent release of a smile to release tension in the class. In fact, I use this as one of my “tricks” inside my “Teacher Bag of Tricks” that is very effective in keeping my students engaged in the moment. Unfortunately, if I was to rate myself on my management style I would fall somewhere between orderly restrictive and orderly enabling. I wonder if there’s a sub-category? There are days that I know lots of learning took place and my students were busy enjoying an activity of collaborating. Other days, I’m caught up disciplining and ruin the fun in learning because something or someone interrupted the “mojo.”

As far as a relationship among management, teacher philosophy, quality of student thinking and grouping I feel that each compete against each and the outcomes can vary. I’ve had years that the quality of a student’s ability has influenced the classroom both positively and negatively. No one likes a “Show Off” but no one likes a “Class Clown” either. It’s up to me, the teacher, to curve both extremes and meld the situations into an orderly but also enabling classroom where all students feel that they are part of something greater.

2. The chapter offers several suggestions for getting to know students and building trust between teacher and students. Identify the suggestions and discuss how they might work—or already work—in your classroom.

I have always started the year with an activity to get to know my students that seems to work really nicely. Since I have a “Rockstar” theme I give my students a guitar cutout, which they decorate and return to class by the end of the week. This activity is tweaked according to the grade level and/or subject matter that I’m teaching that year. For example, if I’m teaching math, I have them write their names in numbers by making an alpha-numeric representation of their name. I have even used place value for this activity since it’s one of the beginning lessons of the year. Sometimes, I’ve done an “All about Me” theme that they have to incorporate into their designs. Either way, I can always be assured that they will love the activity and I get to see who my creative students are, which students have too much (or too little) parental support, and which students will benefit from extra encouragement.

3. Identify some of the strategies teachers have used to build a sense of community among students. From these examples, how would you assume students function in these classrooms? Why? What are these teachers trying to accomplish through the community-building approaches they use in terms of student outcomes?

Since the first day of school I tell my students that we are a “Rock Band” and that together we will make great music. And just like all bands, the musicians depend on each other doing their part and knowing their instruments really well to get the sound just right. They practice and practice together in order to get better at what they do. Sometimes a band member is out of sync and it takes the bandleader’s expertise to help that musician to get the sound better. That’s my job! Not easily done I admit, but I see myself as the catalyst behind the “groove” we get and it begins on day one. I tell my students that they are safe to be themselves and to learn how they can become better people, not just better students. If a child can leave my classroom knowing something about themselves or about treating others, then they learned an invaluable lesson.

4. The authors present six principles of effective grouping (pages 90–91). Discuss each of the principles in terms of the likely outcome on learning when the principle operates consistently versus when implementation is lacking or sporadic.

  • Flexible Grouping– Requires the teacher bases her grouping according to a specific data. Whether it is based on baseline testing or other assessment, or performance band, the teacher must remember that everyone is an individual and testing alone is not the sole indicator of the outcome in gains within groups.
  • Teach Up: A must in every classroom! I experienced that this year with my 3rd graders and the result were evident in the state’s FCAT test. I incorporated Common Core standards and used vocabulary in dialogue that kept my students intrigued. If someone in the class didn’t know what I was talking about, I stopped, clarified and moved on. I knew that there were more students sitting there wondering, so after clarifying the info, I had also managed to add substance to the lesson.
  • Multiple Ability Tasks: Reaches all learners. I’ve never understood why everyone had to do the same tasks to practice. I allow for some students to do some, not all of the problems.
  • Individual Roles: Team leaders are good, but everyone should feel like they are leaders. I like giving my students jobs in the classroom that make them responsible for the collective group. This year, I’ll focus on adding more roles into my D.I. group gatherings.
  • Accessible Content: As a bilingual teacher, who also has taught students with special needs I recognize the importance of this. Everyone can be exposed to the curriculum! Even if mastery and proficiency is difficult, I cannot deny my students to access what is being taught.
  • Competency Levels: This sort of ties into accessible content and curriculum. It is important for us as educators to recognize that ALL students learn, despite ability or circumstances. Although we are tied into testing results, I keep a part of my evaluation on student performance based on where they started. Many times parents will ask why is it that their child’s grades are not improving even though they’re being tutored or are using extra curricular software to enhance their learning and I always point out that that may be true but have increased their proficiency and competency levels and that’s progress.

5. Consider the suggestions for arranging furniture, using wall space, and organizing materials and supplies. How do these tie back to the goals of differentiation and to teacher beliefs?

In a perfect world and albeit, a perfect class, I would have many areas for my students to gather for both independent and group work. I would add, that these would include an area for me to meet with one or more students as well as an endless and bountiful area where supplies are readily available. The reality is that I usually have too many students (34 this past year) and I co-teach which limits the floor and wall space.
In spite of these challenges, I do keep a Word Wall current all year long for students to use to enhance their vocabulary. In addition, I keep a Focus Wall (for all subjects that I teach) with the strategies and skills being covered for the week. I like displaying anchor charts for my students as we create them and those stay up as the year passes. They make great visuals and I refer to them often. Another habit that I have is to re-arrange the seating in the class at a minimum of once or twice every quarter. I call it musical chairs! I also keep lots of supplies handy so that no one that needs something finds an excuse to not participate.

All these allow for differentiation in the class in many ways. Firstly, you can gather your groups and meet in an area that has been defined by what takes place there. Changing the arrangement of the class keeps things fresh, like the beginning of the year and also allows for the students to collaborate accordingly. Another reason that these things improve literacy in the class is that by default they serve as scaffolding. Whether it’s accommodating a student that gets easily distracted, or gives students hints to do independent work, or simply allows the flow of the classroom to be easy and comfortable. Lastly, I believe that if our classroom is inviting, clean and organized, the students will be able to appreciate being prepared for the learning that takes place daily.

Mrs. P