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Tecahing while Learning by Joanne Skourletos

August 30, 2015

Walking into a fifth grade classroom with nearly 70 students all sitting on the floor it’s a bit intimidating, especially coming from a preschool classroom of 18 students and three teachers. Sitting back on the first day to observe helped to give me a better idea of the functions of the classroom as well as ways in which I could assist.

Students arrived at school around 7:45am, and began their day with an assembly or calisthenics in the courtyard. Their class began at 8:20 and ended at noon. During this time students were sitting in one classroom with little movement around the classroom itself. They had a twenty minute recess in the middle of the day, which helped to relive some of their excess energy. In addition, their teacher Jyoti, built in a few opportunities for movement through “energizers” which songs and chants which were paired with simple movements.

After observing for the first day, I had several ideas on how to assist in the classroom. Along with the two other Teach For America teachers in my classroom and our Teach For India fellow Jyoti, we all sat down to discuss our goals over the next two weeks, which we narrowed our focus down to:

  1. Smoother/quicker transitions
  2. Higher levels of rigor during read alouds
  3. Implementation of literacy centers
  4.  Increasing reading comprehension

The following day we began modeling ways to transition students between activities quickly by giving clear directions, such as “When I say go I want you to first turn to your group and then get out your notebooks. Ready,  set, go.” Giving these clear directions was not only important, but it was also crucial that students understood that the expectation was that they don’t start moving until the teacher gives the signal. We made this expectation clear and practiced several times with students so that transitions became much more quick and clear. In addition, we worked on ways to quickly transition the whole group out of the classroom in a way that keeps students engaged and efficiently moving. To do so, we demonstrated ways in which to engage the whole group through songs, chants, and literacy games and then dismiss by smaller groups. This way, students were still participating in meaningful ways while others were quickly moving out of the classroom.

To increase the rigor during read alouds, we introduced the three read model, using books that we had brought with us. We demonstrated each part of the reading as well as gave detailed notes on the purpose of each read. In addition, we used writing workshop and small group activities to check for comprehension after each read. It became evident that many students could fluently read a text, yet still had difficulty understanding its meaning. This drove us to push students to help them to better understand the texts we were reading.

Because the class size was so large, whole group instruction happened most of the time, but it made it difficult for Jyoti to individualize for the various levels in her classroom. The implementation of literacy centers through small groups made it more possible to make changes to student learning based on individual needs. First, we broke students up into 6 different groups and had students come up with their own group name. This made students identify with their group much more. For literacy centers, we created materials that would rotate between groups so that each group had a chance to work with all materials. For example, one day our centers included 3 different activities (2 sets of each activity). One activity was to create rhyming words using a word wheel. A second activity was to sort word cards into word family groups. The third activity was to using a clothespin that had an –ed suffix on it and attach it to verbs in the present tense. Students would then decide if that was the correct was to make the word past tense or if it was an irregular word that had a different way to become past tense. These were all hands on activities that students worked with their group to complete. It demonstrated a more involved way of learning instead of simply using whole group instruction. In addition, this was an ideal time for Jyoti to walk around the classroom to supplement individual learners during an activity.

Moreover, we demonstrated various techniques in whole group. Some of these techniques include Heggerty and Jolly Phonics, both of which students really enjoyed because it allowed them to participate through singing, chanting, repeating, and doing small movements which helps to retain their attention. We also introduced Suggestopedia as a way to re-inforce vocabulary words and TPRS to increase comprehension as well as tenses. In addition, we demonstrated Shared Writing and Message Time, which were both creative and simple ways to increase students’ writing abilities.

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Students are listening while Jyoti teaches.

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Students working in their literacy centers with their small group.

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