Thursday, 15 September 2016

Adding More Purpose to Learning

The following reflection is based on:
Assaf, L. C. & Johnson, J. (2014). A call for action: Engaging in purposeful, real-world writing. Voices from the Middle, 21(3), 24-33. 

Recovery of Meaning
Assaf and Johnson discussed the importance of not only teaching students how to write, but also why they should write. The article describes a unit which was created by Johnson, aimed to teach students how to write petition letters and create multimedia products used to publish their message. Over the course of ten days, Johnson used "complex mentor texts", inquiry-based instruction, and a variety of writing activities in order to engage students. Through the use of complex mentor texts, the students were inspired by other students who had actually made a difference. Once the students' chose their topics, they were successful in "illustrating their personal commitment and passion toward their topics. I created a deeper meaning from this article. Not only is it important to allow students the freedom to write what they choose, but I believe it is important to give students that same freedom no matter which subject they are learning. Allowing students to engage in real-life and relatable topics, they will automatically become more engaged. 

Reconstruction of Meaning
This article simply reinforced the opinions I already had towards assigning writing tasks to students. I remember when I was an elementary/secondary student and I had to write about a topic which was chosen by the teacher. These assignments were usually pretty boring and as a result were fairly difficult to complete. Similar as to what was mentioned in the article, I'm sure my classmates and I all produced similar work, due to the very clear instructions and examples which were given by the teacher. With this in mind, I will be sure to give my students as much creative freedom as I can, regardless of what the assignment/lesson is. 

Reflection of Meaning
As I mentioned earlier, the true nature of this article relates to the importance of allowing students to engage in topics which they can relate to. Similar to when teaching drama, the teacher's role should be to provide guidelines and expectations, but then to let the student's take it from there. In addition, units such as the one created by Johnson allow for many cross-curricular activities to take place. I truly believe that we need to change our approach for teaching students. I believe that classes should be split into subject only for learning fundamentals, but when it comes to assignments or more engaging lessons, this should be entirely cross-curricular. If we are teaching students about persuasive writing, there is no reason as to why there couldn't be aspects from drama, visual arts, media - and the depending on the topic - math or science as well. I think this article outlines the approach all teachers should be taking when teaching any class. 


Monday, 12 September 2016

Mini-Teaching Lesson

Last week I was asked to prepare a 2 minute lesson on a topic of my choice.. We were filmed and then asked to reflect on our lesson...........

            To begin, I can honestly say that I was very disappointed with my mini-teaching lesson. I chose to teach the class how to pass a rugby ball because this is a skill I am very familiar with, and have taught many people this skill in the past. Despite my disappointment, I am pleased to see that I have a lot of room for improvement. Before I harp on myself for all of the things I felt I did poorly, I will point out a few things I thought I did well.
            First, I feel as though the volume of my voice was perfect, which is something I have always felt confident with. Second, I made sure to make eye contact across the entire class, rather than just staring at the wall or at one student. Third, I feel like I had the attention of the class – now, this could be because of the way I was speaking, or perhaps (and more likely), it was because they are my classmates and they know me personally. Overall, my intentions when teaching this lesson were to reflect how I feel about teaching and learning in general. I truly feel as though the best way to learn, especially a skill such as passing a rugby ball, is by doing. As I said during my lesson, I could have stood at the front of the class and explained the science behind the pass, but in order to actually learn how to pass one must practice this skill.  
            Now, for the bad stuff. First of all, this lesson felt like more of a presentation because of the way I delivered my words. I spoke as if I had a rehearsed set of lines in mind, rather than just speaking freely about a subject I am quite knowledgeable in. With that in mind, we were told we could teach our lesson to any age group we wanted – in my case, I chose to present to my fellow teacher candidates rather than a class of elementary school students. If I had chosen to pretend my fellow teacher candidates were a group of 11-year-olds, I would have acted and spoke differently.
            With word choice in mind, there were some big mistakes on my part which I noticed. My use of the words “Um”, “So”, and “OK?”, were used way too much to the point where I continuously sounded like I didn’t know what I was supposed to be saying next. Saying “OK?” (or something similar) to confirm that students are following what you are saying is not a terrible thing to do, however I did not allow enough time for students to respond in case they were in fact getting confused with what I was saying.
            Time was also an issue. I felt a little bit rushed when teaching my lesson, but this is my own fault considering I was well aware of the time restriction well ahead of my lesson day. With this in mind, my entire lesson came across rushed, and many of my “students” may not have been able to answer the three questions that were asked of them. My intention was for students to be learning a new skill, in order for them to be comfortable with trying or exposing themselves to new things – however, this message may have been lost in my rushed demonstration. Additionally, I wanted the class to learn by doing, and to confirm that they had learned the skill by physically proving to themselves that they could do it. Again, these intentions were lost in the rush.  

            Overall, I was disappointed with my lesson because I know I can do much better. With this in mind, I was very thankful for the opportunity to watch myself teach because from this I was able to easily point out areas I can improve on. From this exercise, I have become aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and as a result I am feeling much more confident as my first teaching block quickly approaches. I look forward to seeing how I progress, as well as critiquing myself further. I will be sure to reflect on my strengths and weaknesses again after my first true in-class teaching experience. 


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

If ya can't beat 'em, join 'em!

Based on the following article: Bitstrips and Storybird: Writing Development in a Blended Literacy Camp

Wertz (2014) describes how a Digital Literacy Camp combined the use of new technologies with traditional literacies and writing techniques. The goal of the camp was to utilize digital literacy tools in order to encourage students to better their literacy skills. When students are using technologies that they are comfortable with, their learning will not seem to be so tedious. If we can find tools in which students are already engaged with outside of the classroom, it only makes sense to utilize these tools within the classroom as well. One of the very first sentences of the article stood out to me a great deal:

I have always agreed with statements such as this. I truly believe that as a new teacher, I can approach the idea of using tools that my students are most comfortable with, without feeling nervous about not being the expert myself. As someone who grew up using cell phones and the Internet, for example, I have grown to appreciate the use of these technologies as tools, as opposed to just entertainment.

Readings such as this one (Wertz, 2014) will be the basis of how I approach any of my classes, not just when teaching Language Arts. I have read countless articles on how students today are having trouble focusing in class due to the large amount of “multi-tasking” they partake in outside of the classroom. Well to me, it seems like a no-brainer to bring their “multi-tasking” lives into the classroom. The level of engagement that was discussed by Wertz (2014) is in no way surprising to me. Students are interested in learning if they are presented with something they can relate to. Despite the topic of the lesson on any given day, there is no reason as to why an educator cannot incorporate some kind of aspect which relates to their students. In today’s classrooms, technology is a perfect way to engage students. A topic that may otherwise appear as boring to students, will be brought to life with the simple incorporation of a device such as an iPad. However, the issue of funding always comes to mind. I may have a wonderful idea for a lesson using a new app that all of the students are raving about, but if I do not have access to proper technology for my lesson, it will not work out. Although bringing the ideas from the Digital Literacy Camp to life in the classroom is an excellent idea, it is something that definitely has a long way to go.

I believe that all teachers should be encouraged to step out of their comfort zone. When it comes to using new technologies in the classroom, I feel as though many teachers feel very nervous because they will not be the expert in the room. Students today have grown up with using new technologies, to the point where I feel like it is nature for children to know that “swiping left” on an iPhone will allow you to scroll through photos. It is clear that using new devices and programs are what students today seem to be very comfortable with. I believe that it is important to identify students’ strengths, and build on them. If students enjoy and are motivated by using technologies, why is this not something we would want to incorporate into the classroom? Based on many articles such as this one, I believe that many educators are beginning to realize the true potential students have when using new technologies, and so I believe we will see a difference in how teachers will instruct their classes. When it comes to cell phones in the classroom or using the Internet, I am a true believer of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. In the future I definitely see PD days based on how to properly incorporate these devices and technologies into the classroom. 

~ Miss Jaskula

Diversity in the Classroom

Some quick thoughts about diversity...

Based on Chapter 2 from:

 Brown, H. (Ed.). (2011). Foundational Methods: Understandings teaching and learning.  Pearson Publishing. ISBN 10 – 1-256-16381-3

Prior to reading Brown’s (2011) second chapter, I had a fairly decent understanding of diversity. However, once I finished the chapter, I had a deeper understanding of diversity in relation to diversity issues within schools. When I first thought of the word diversity, the only dimensions of diversity which came to mind were race, culture, and ethnicity. The following passage from the reading allowed me to realize the many other dimensions of diversity:

“It is not realistic to claim that every student can be treated equally since there are significant individual differences that mandate differential treatment if teachers are to effectively meet the learning needs of all their students”

This passage allowed me to think about the fact that diversity can relate to gender, language, sexual orientation, ability, or disability as well as race, culture, and ethnicity. I next began to think of the “equity versus equality” debate. Many people claim to be “colour-blind”, in that that do not see race and instead see everyone equally. Prior to taking the “Diversity Issues in Education” class two years ago, I used to think that the “colour-blind” method was the most proper and correct way to approach diversity. I used to think that rather than seeing everyone as different, I should see everyone as equal. In a way, it sounds kind of nice, but in the end it is very unrealistic. Not only is it impossible to ignore the realities of our differences, but it is also hurtful to both ourselves and to others to not recognize our differences.

Now that brings me back to the “equity versus equality” debate. If I decide to go with the “colour-blind” approach, how will my students be able to receive everything they need to be successful? If I believe that everyone is truly equal or the same, then I would then assume the same for learning styles or needs. Rather than taking the equality approach, I believe the equity approach is most beneficial for everyone. If I simply ignore the diversity of my classroom, I will be giving too much to some and not enough to others, despite the fact that I may feel as though everyone is receiving the same. Rather than ignoring the race, culture, ethnicity, language, gender, sexual orientation, abilities or disabilities of my students, I choose to make myself and others very clearly aware of them. However, it is one thing to recognize the theory behind being aware of diversity, and it is another to actually put this theory to practice. I look forward to entering the classroom as a teacher, and challenging myself to not only recognizing the diversity within the classroom, but to use this recognition to create equity within the classroom. In addition, it is extremely important for me to realize my own advantages and disadvantages due to my macro-culture and sub-cultures (Brown, 2011). It is impossible to approach a classroom with equity in mind without first recognizing my own race, culture, ethnicity, language, gender, sexual orientation, abilities or disabilities which would contribute to being more self aware of my own prejudices or biases. I owe it to my students to try and understand myself before I try and understand them as well.

~ Miss Jaskula