Thursday, September 30, 2010

Observation explanation and Notes

This semester at my university, I am required to take an Observation class. It seemed a bit below me at first, being in my fourth semester of working as a Para-educator through the Co-op, but now entering a classroom where I am not allowed to interact. I've grown to love it, however, because I take notes during the two hours a week I am there. The notes sometimes come from watching the teacher I am observing, but most often from little things I've been thinking about but have not had a chance to write down yet. Previously, I had just been taking notes (about things that are truly important to me, not the class itself per se) during my classes at the university and occasionally when I got home from work, but now I usually save them for writing during my observation time--unless one of my instructors say something incredibly important, then I scribble it in the margin of my paper. I need to organize my notes into categories (Classroom Organization, Instruction, Discipline, etc.), but, as I am still compiling them, I'll leave them as jumbled as when they enter my head.

Also since the beginning of this semester, I've realized the importance of observation. There's something to be said about allowing yourself to merely sit, relax, watch, and reflect. Often, the teacher I am observing makes a small comment or does a small action that normally I wouldn't think twice about, but because I am watching from an outsider's perspective, I have the time to think, "Could this have been handled differently?" In your own classroom, everything happens so fast, you have to think on your feet, and you don't have the liberty to reflect until later--later enough that you most likely have forgotten what it was you were thinking about. Besides, it's always wonderful to watch the teaching of another. Everyone has something to learn, even if it's the incorrect way of doing something. I hope to remain humble enough to observe other classrooms throughout my career.

* On the board of my observation teacher's classroom--"I am responsible!" and bullet points of chores. What a great mantra.
* Observation teacher's alphabet letters (first grade)--"My name is [letter], and I stand for [sound]." "My name is B, and I stand for buh."
* Observation teacher seems to let students sit for a long while. Let students be readers; let them keep a book in their desk for downtime when work is finished. I did as a child, but would it work for all students? Specifically, would it work for younger grades?
* Observation teacher's library is separated by subject--Fantasy, Nonfiction, Pets, Seasons, etc. Might consider organizing my library as such.
* Observation school has an extra recess! Lunch recess plus 15 minutes in the morning or afternoon, depending on when specials are. Is this unheard of in today's schools? Even the Montessori school I volunteered at only got one recess. Could I include a scheduled extra recess even if the rest of the school I teach at doesn't have one?
* What would I do with a playground as big as this one!? Just the same as I would with a smaller one, what I learned from the Montessori school--call the student that needs behavior modification over and talk with them. But I might have to blow a whistle to get their attention.
* Observation teacher to student talking with a classmate: "What was your question?" "Can you tie my shoe?" "What should be added into that question?" "Can you please tie my shoe?" "That's better!"
* Poster in the hallway of Observation school:
Be a STAR Student!
S-afety first!
T-hink before you act
A-ct responsibly
R-espect for everyone
* Observation teacher's assignment: "______ is the best sport. I like to ______." Slightly advanced for first graders because the paper doesn't begin with "I like _______." Although, I might teach my students to write more objectively.
* Bookmarks! Made from colored construction paper, with the students' names written beautifully at the top by the teacher and laminated. They're gorgeous.
* I think I prefer writing the day's schedule on the board every morning as opposed to arranging pre-made schedule cards. And each task should have a place to be checked off upon completion, not a set time. Sure, set times help students keep track of the time, but I just prefer a more fluid time table when it comes to education.
* At the beginning of the year, let students browse all the way through their textbooks, as much as they want! They're going to anyway, and if I don't give them the instruction to do so at the beginning, they'll do it at inopportune times--namely, when I'm in the middle of a lesson.
* Obviously, ask students what they want to learn. Do mini lessons on whatever topic they're interested in. Students learn better in other subjects when they can learn about a topic they're interested in.
* Voice scale used at observation school:
5 - Screaming, Emergency - Red
4 - Recess, Outside Voice - Orange
3 - Classroom voice, talking - Yellow
2 - Soft voice, whisper - Blue
1 - No talking at all, silence - Green
They don't seem to use it much. I, however, want to base a lot of my classroom off a scale similar to this. I want to find a nice decibel reader I can set to whatever decibel I want and the class can self regulate itself to. Third grade teacher at Griffith has a decibel reader shaped like a stop light that beeps when the light is red. I'm not sure how it works, but she doesn't use it often. I would use mine almost constantly.
* Criss-cross applesauce, Indian style, pretzel style--is there anything else I can call this, specifically with older students? Peaceful style? I suppose they'd say they don't need a cute name for it.
* I like observation teacher's classroom because a lot of decorations are close to the floor. It makes it seem more cozy somehow.
* I need to have awesome posters in my room: beautiful pictures from NASA and geographical wonders.
* No matter what grade I teach, I will not put up cutesy traditional school posters of cartoon students.
* No matter what grade I teach, I will not patronize my students. I will treat them with respect and speak using words worthy enough to be added to anyone's vocabulary. I will not dumb down my speech when I talk to my students.
* Remember Teacher Tom's hot glue story. Don't think, "My kids can't do this." Think, "How can I help my kids do this for themselves?"
* Remember K, Montessori teacher, "Is this your most beautiful work?"
* "What you focus on is what you get more of." Not sure where I learned that, but remember to focus on the positive.
* Third grade teacher from Griffith teaches "Social skills," getting along with your peers. I need to look more into this and learn more from him.
* Part of teaching students to be respectful to others is teaching them to speak respectfully. Use "I-statements." (e.g., "I feel angry when you cut in front of me," "I feel ignored when you don't play with me.")
* Respectful speaking should be taught with modeling. Para in observation teacher's room, "You need to be quiet because you are not the teacher." I believe Montessori teacher, K, would have said, "I am speaking now, so please control your voice," or something similar.
* My friend, Jana, told me about a boy that wrote bad words on the bottom of his paper. I loved her conversation with him about it. My first response would have been, "Why did you do this?" and "This is unacceptable." Her first response was, "Were you angry when you did this?" and "You could get into big trouble for this." I need to think more about what I say.
* Idea from another friend, "I was never allowed to use the word 'hate' growing up." I could disallow my students to say "hate." Is this a good idea?
*Lesson plan idea from a long time ago--teach students about future career prospects. Teach them about different occupations and then let them role play or write about what it would be like to have that job.
*First grade teacher from Griffith has a sounds chart her students go over every morning that illustrates different letter blends: "B-R, br" while shivering, "C-R, cr" while crying. It includes sounds that have different spellings, "I-R, E-R, er and ends with "...and A-E-I-O-U are the vowels."
* I watched a student in observation teacher's class lean back in his chair and balance a pencil on his face. Watching him, I realized that the work he had been given really was boring. "What's the point of this worksheet?" I asked myself. It was boring for everyone involved, wasted paper and ink, and didn't even have much for the students to write. Here's a better way: "I just want to see if we know the parts of a book." Discus first--title, illustrator, author, publisher. Then point them out on a book in the classroom. The assignment? Create your own book cover. Worksheet? Who cares.
* Keep in mind what's boring for my students. It may be more than what's boring to me. More discussion, less worksheets.
* Also, use more blank paper. Get creative.