Beginning in February 2016 to March 2017, I was a 4th grade teacher at Bret Harte Elementary. While there, I was able to take risks in my teaching, learn some of the best practices in literacy development and be mentored by some of the finest teachers in the district. I am thankful for my time at Bret Harte as a 4th grade teacher. Below is a short list of some of the lessons I learned and concepts I implemented while I was at Harte. I encourage you to take a stroll as I unpack my major three takeaways.
Classroom Management and Student Engagement
My general life philosophy is to treat others they way you want to be treated. That is the major rule of my classroom. Over time, I have come to notice that students need to be explicitly taught repeatedly what that means and how to best showcase that proverb to others. I modeled this concept and taught it through the implementation of once a week town halls. During this time, students would write compliment cards to one another and share them with the class. We would also discuss major classroom conflicts that took place that week and strategize, as a group, on how to best move forward. During this time students slowly started sharing more about themselves and their lives outside of school. Because students were open and honest, they were empathetic to each other. That doesn’t mean every student was empathetic, but it does mean that a few more students were starting to walk in another person’s shoes.
My classroom seating chart was organized by groups of 4 or 6 (depending on the number of students). Each table was a heterogenous table with a high achieving student sitting next to a medium-low student. This allowed for peer to peer coaching when the lesson called for it. With the use of Kagan structures and seating, I noticed a higher increase in student engagement and involvement. Thanks to structures such as Rally Coach, Quiz-Quiz-Trade, Rally Robin, and Inside/Outside Circle, students were getting oxygen to the brain, which means more students were focused during times of direct instruction.
When I left Pepperdine, I had a limited grasp of the concept of differentiation. Most of the teachers I observed/taught under used literacy circles in order to meet the needs of all students. Groups were organized from high achieving to low achieving with one group devoted to ELD or SPED. Please note, I am not saying this is ineffective. In fact, I used that exact structure to differentiation in my 4th grade classroom. It was very helpful and I gained great information on how my students were developing. I will say that my mentor teacher expanded my knowledge on differentiation. I was encouraged to implement “menus” to my class. Each menu had four different assignments. Students were given a menu based on the skill level in the topic. This gave me the opportunity to push my newly identified GATE students and better meet the needs of my lower achieving students. As the semester progressed, I gave an interest survey to my class. The results of the survey indicated their talents. For example, a small group of my students tested well in “people skills.” Others tested high in musicality and artistic ability. With the newly found results from the survey, I designed and created menus and projects for students to complete. This time there were only two different menus, one reaching my grade level and beyond students. The other addressed for student just below grade level. Projects were designed
to be done at their ability level and “show off” their talent. For example, I had two students who were very artistic, but were at different achievement levels. One student chose to storyboard the events of our book City of Ember, while the other wanted to create a board game based on the same book. The result was incredible. Both students met or exceeded grade level standards and turned in some of their best work of the entire year. I was (and still am) very proud of their accomplishment and their work ethic while they were creating the projects. In the coming years, I look forward to researching and learning more effective strategies to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all students.
During my time at Harte, my reputation blossomed into the “tech teacher.” Two reasons for that: Google Classroom and Ozobots -both of which are technological resources I used frequently in my classroom to expand my instruction. Google Classroom provided me an avenue to continue a classroom discussion outside of typical school hours. I was also able frontload a new topic with a video. This included a student discussion in the comment section of the site. Google classroom also provided the opportunity to go paperless with all writing assignments. In my room, drafts were not considered final unless the task was typed up on google classroom and properly turned in digitally. Students outlined and drafted their assignments by hand, but when it was time to complete their final drafts, they were able to independently log in to a computer and type their assignment without much support.
Ozobots are small robots that can read color coordinated codes. Students can either used markers to code or they can use a computer program called ozoblockly to write commands for the ozobot. How does this tie in to 4th grade curriculum? Well, there are a couple of ways. I mostly used the robots to support reading comprehension development. One way was to give students a list of commands associated with a plot point of a story. Students were tasked to correctly sequence the events using markers. I also had students create story maps sequencing events of a narrative they wrote in class. In Social Studies, we created a classroom wide “transcontinental railroad.” Students were tasked to code the ozobot from one side of the room to the opposite side. They had to work together as a teacher to overcome specific obstacles such as crossing a river or weather. Students created 3D models of towns out of paper as well as built bridges to cross from one desk to the other.
Bret Harte was a wonderful place to me. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the site. I look forward to the future as I build upon these ideas and strategies.