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Action plan: The new beginning to the RP challenge #RPPLN

Thanks, first of all, to the #RPPLN for seeing me through this process of reflecting both on my class and on myself as a reflective teacher. Without your questions, comments, further questions, responses, honesty and support, I would not have gotten nearly so much out of this challenge.

My work schedule has changed rather dramatically and so I don’t see much time for blogging with all the planning and organizing I need to do, but I will not leave this task unfinished.

As John Pfordresher reminded me, it is time to think SMART (and maybe also help myself with my tightly-scheduled future).

The challenge: 

SMART plans are a critical component to the ELC. It is with our actions plans that we take what we have learned through our reflective process and attempt to apply lessons learned in our next experience. And then the ELC process starts anew!

So, let’s talk SMART. This is an acronym for

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Relevant

Time frame (also could be time bound)

Referring back to my description, interpretation and generalizations,  I want to add a criteria to my action plan: that it is in keeping with my beliefs about teaching and learning.

I also want to say that this takes a lot longer to think about than it looks like just reading it written out in a (very short!) blog post. The following action plan is formed from things I have already tried and new ideas that have since come to me.

The next time I see Josh (or any student) reluctant to participate, I will check to make sure they understand the aims of the task by asking the whole class directly, so that I can get feedback without singling someone out. If something else is at issue, that is beyond my control, then I can sort out other strategies through further reflective cycles and add them to the repertoire.

Since I have been teaching this class continuously throughout the challenge, I would like to end by reporting that Josh is doing much better these days. One of the things that “worked” was giving him a way to shine in class – through an English-only policy (in reality, English-mostly) which benefits everyone but really challenges students like Josh to show their talents. I actually caught him helping his less-productive classmates today.

RP 5: The Challenge to Generalize

Following is my attempt at the next Reflective Practice Blog Challenge: generalization. 

This challenge was set by Zhenya Polosatova over at John Pfordresher’s blog.

Here are the directions for the challenge: 

Directions for RP Challenge 5: look back at the description and analysis you provided and formulate generalizations about learning, teaching, communication, (personal and professional) awareness, etc. Are you surprised to see the generalizations you wrote? Have you had them for a long time or are they the result of that particular experience you had?

To see how others have approached the challenge, check out Hana’s post on How I see it now and Kate’s post on iamlearningteaching.

 

One thing that I have come to love about reflective practice is exploring my beliefs. When I first started I remember clearly claiming that I didn’t have any beliefs. To me beliefs were things that I couldn’t change my mind about. Sure I had strong feelings on some things, but I didn’t want to be stuck to those in my own mind or anyone else’s. As I’ve been practicing, reflecting and blogging, I’ve started to uncover the beliefs I didn’t think I had, much to my own astonishment. Now I sort of enjoy the process – peering into my practice and saying “Oh, look. This must be a belief!” and then taking a closer look at it to see if stands up to scrutiny. I don’t feel so afraid of being attached to beliefs anymore.

In the interest of uncovering my beliefs, I took the Teaching Perspectives Inventory online. I’ll tell you more about that in another post perhaps. I mention it because my highest score is for Nurturing (this makes sense to me since I think L2 communication requires vulnerability). And this is exactly what I did not do with Josh, which makes me wonder whether what I believe and claim to do is how my students perceive me.

And so with all these things I mind, I begin to generalize from my analysis of my description of the incident in my class.

 

I wrote: He may get a disproportionate amount of attention and that could affect his behaviour as well as how I approach him in class.
It seems I believe: It is necessary to give equal attention to all students in a class.

I wrote: It is possible that they don’t know how to approach the materials and that I’m not giving them enough guidance. It’s possible that determining main ideas is quite a new task for them and I am not patient enough.
It seems I believe: Giving students more guidance when approaching new tasks and materials and understanding that students are not always comfortable doing things they’re not sure they can get right is good practice.

I wrote: It is possible that my instructions were unclear.
It seems I believe: Giving clear instructions and checking understanding of those will make an activity more smooth.

I wrote: It’s likely that Josh didn’t make eye contact because it would be rude to do so in Korean culture when (he thinks) he is in trouble.
It seems I believe: Understanding students’ culture can help avoid misinterpretation of body language.

I wrote (in a comment): The interactive way I teach didn’t register to them as “study” and they thought they’d just been playing around, which is why they weren’t taking it seriously.
It seems I believe: Making objectives of each activity clear to the students can prevent misunderstanding.

 

Most of these statements seem pretty obvious to me. The one that surprises me most is the first one: “It is necessary to give equal attention to all students in a class.” I’m not sure whether I believe or practice this. Not all learners are alike and some are more independent while others if I take my eyes off them for five seconds they might burn the building down.

One thing I didn’t touch on is the role of empathy and whether or how I’m meeting the students’ needs (and my own). This is important to me so I’m surprised by its absence.

Thank you for joining me on this exploration. I look forward to your comments!

RPC 4 – Analysis

It has been a few weeks since my last post in the Reflective Practice Blog Challenge. In the meantime, a lot of things have been going on and a lot has been on my mind to blog, but hasn’t quite it made it onto my blog!

This new challenge comes from Josette LeBlanc as a guest post on Observing the Class. The challenge is to analyse the description from the previous post. 

One thing I am curious about is how the amount of time and space between the original event and the description of it and between the description blog post and the analysis of it affects the process (and my memory). I’m tempted to use a new moment, actually, to sort of start over. But I’m going to give this a chance.

So the challenge is to analyse: “Considering all the facets that you discovered in your description, come up with possible reasons for the actions and reactions. Generate as many possible explanations as you can. Look at the moment from different perspectives. Consider the material, teacher, students, student dynamics, or student-teacher relationship. Recall past teaching, learning, cultural, or life experiences. Refer to the educational, cognitive, and linguistic theories you know. All this will inform your analysis.” 

A second part of the challenge asks us to analyse the experience through the lens of  feelings and needs of all the participants. 

And suddenly describing looks so much easier.

The original description: 

This scenario took place last Wednesday night. It was around 9pm and the final class of the day. The students had already been studying at our academy since 6:30 and the class before mine is a translation class. There are 12 students in this class – five boys and seven girls. One of the girls was absent. The classroom seating is arranged in a circle with all seats facing the board. The students are using Thoughts and Notions – a reading textbook. On the day in question, they were working on a reading about “Umbrellas.” This was their third day with this reading. As homework I had asked them to make umbrellas with main ideas inside and supporting details underneath (an umbrella for each paragraph of the reading).

“Josh,” the subject of this description, had not done this assignment. I selected students to put their umbrellas on the board and we checked them together. Josh did not take this opportunity to complete the homework in his notebook, nor did two others who had not completed the homework. I said, “Anyone who has not completed the homework should write down the main ideas and details in your notebooks. You don’t need to draw umbrellas.” Two other students began writing – one drew umbrellas and the other wrote main ideas and details.

Josh did nothing. He was frowning and looking at his desk. I thought his eyes were kind of glassy. I went over and repeated my instruction. He didn’t even acknowledge that I had spoken. I repeated his name until he looked at me. Then I showed him the umbrellas on the board and pointed to the sentences one by one. I repeated, “You don’t need to draw the umbrellas. Just write the main ideas. That’s all. Then write the details under.” Without verbal acknowledgement he pulled his notebook towards him and started to write. When I checked back later he had completed it and was ready to move on to the worksheet.

Throughout this encounter, I was quite frustrated. My expectations of Josh were higher than he was willing to put forth that day.

Factors I will consider: 

Student’s background:

I’ve only known Josh for around 6 months. During that time his motivation levels seem to vary. Another thing that happened during that time is his little sister was diagnosed with a learning disorder. It is quite possible that the attention to education he once got from his parents has been transferred to his sister.

Josh is a 13 year old boy. He’s at a difficult age going through puberty and just entering middle school where his workload and time in classes (and extra study) has increased dramatically. That’s a lot to manage for someone who just wants to play soccer and definitely doesn’t want to draw pictures. It’s possible as well that anything seen as “babyish” (including legible handwriting) might be anathema to him.

It’s also quite possible that Josh doesn’t learn as well this way (visually?).

Student-teacher(s) relationship:

The teachers discuss Josh as a problem-child quite a bit. My boss, who teaches one of his classes, often asks about him. It could be that because he gets so much attention in his absence, we might hold different expectations of him in the classroom – expect him to cause problems and bear down on him more. Where 80% of the students don’t pay attention, Josh is certain to be singled out. On the other hand, greater efforts are made to motivate and encourage him as well. In any case, he may get a disproportionate amount of attention and that could affect his behaviour as well as how I approach him in class.

Student-student relationships:

Who’s sitting next to Josh affects his focus in class. I’ve been experimenting with seating arrangements and the student next to Josh – normally a motivated learner – inspired a lot of chaos in class time. It could be that Josh has trouble distinguishing between time to focus and time to play, especially when there are playmates nearby. Since I’ve changed the seats, both of them have done a little better but Josh is still last to finish anything.

Materials: 

The book this class is using, Thoughts and Notions, is challenging for them. It is possible that they don’t know how to approach the materials and that I’m not giving them enough guidance. It’s possible that determining main ideas is quite a new task for them and I am not patient enough. It is also possible that they are bored, having dealt with the material in the book before with a previous teacher. We use the same book in different ways (they translate the readings for her and answer the exercises in the book, but they analyse the text for me and work with vocabulary in other contexts).

Instructions: 

It is possible that my instructions were unclear. I didn’t tell the students beforehand to write the assignments in their notebooks if they hadn’t done their homework. It’s also not an activity I’d done often before. It’s possible that Josh wasn’t writing because he didn’t know he was supposed to. It’s also possible that because I was addressing him and not anyone else in the class, he felt he was being singled out. Since I’ve begun doing this sort of exercise regularly, Josh is more willing to write. Another possibility is that the purpose of the activity was not clear to Josh and he couldn’t see any reason why he should do it (and “because I said so” doesn’t cut it for him).

Culture:

It’s likely that Josh didn’t make eye contact because it would be rude to do so in Korean culture when (he thinks) he is in trouble.

Feelings and needs (me):

I was feeling frustrated and a little sad.

I needed to be heard.

Feelings and needs (student):

I imagine Josh might have been feeling frustrated as well. He may have needed to be heard.

Or he may have felt bored. He may have needed mental stimulation.

He may have felt tired. He may have needed rest and to be alone.

 

I’m sure there’s a whole lot more that can be said and I feel like I’ve barely opened the lid of the analysis. But now I need your help, fellow reflectors. What are some questions that might lead me to find what I’m missing?

RPC 3: Description

RPC 3: Description

Instructions From John’s Original Post:

“Think about a negative interaction you have had in your classroom. Not an entire lesson, but a single interaction that occurred between you and someone else (a student, another teacher, a parent, etc).

Our task today is to take this negative interaction and describe it. It is important that we describe and describe only.

In addition, I would like us to pay particular attention to the feelings of all those involved. How did we feel? How do we think the student(s) felt. For now, let’s not analyze why we think they felt one way or another (that’s for our next challenge).”

 As you might have seen from my comment on John’s original post, I have no intention of including the feelings of any participant other than myself. I am also going to try to state those feelings first and stick to pure description after that.

I invite readers to ask me questions to help clarify the description and to point out where my description might be turning into judgment or analysis (through use of loaded language or whatever), but I’m not looking for analysis, advice or suggestions at this time.

Let’s go!

This scenario took place last Wednesday night. It was around 9pm and the final class of the day. The students had already been studying at our academy since 6:30 and the class before mine is a translation class. There are 12 students in this class – five boys and seven girls. One of the girls was absent. The classroom seating is arranged in a circle with all seats facing the board. The students are using Thoughts and Notions – a reading textbook. On the day in question, they were working on a reading about “Umbrellas.” This was their third day with this reading. As homework I had asked them to make umbrellas with main ideas inside and supporting details underneath (an umbrella for each paragraph of the reading).

“Josh,” the subject of this description, had not done this assignment. I selected students to put their umbrellas on the board and we checked them together. Josh did not take this opportunity to complete the homework in his notebook, nor did two others who had not completed the homework. I said, “Anyone who has not completed the homework should write down the main ideas and details in your notebooks. You don’t need to draw umbrellas.” Two other students began writing – one drew umbrellas and the other wrote main ideas and details.

Josh did nothing. He was frowning and looking at his desk. I thought his eyes were kind of glassy. I went over and repeated my instruction. He didn’t even acknowledge that I had spoken. I repeated his name until he looked at me. Then I showed him the umbrellas on the board and pointed to the sentences one by one. I repeated, “You don’t need to draw the umbrellas. Just write the main ideas. That’s all. Then write the details under.” Without verbal acknowledgement he pulled his notebook towards him and started to write. When I checked back later he had completed it and was ready to move on to the worksheet.

Throughout this encounter, I was quite frustrated. My expectations of Josh were higher than he was willing to put forth that day.

Here ends my description. I hope you can help me with your questions and comments.

 

Edit: I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful comments! 

Here are some more descriptions to read and add your insights to: 

RP3 – The Description Phase on How I see it now by @HanaTicha

RP Challenge 3: ELC Description by David Harbinson (@DavidHarbinson)

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