ST Blog – SOLO TEACHING – Weeks 10&11

I did it… I made it through my two week solo teaching period!!!!! WOW 😀

What can I say – solo teaching is hard. I have been exhausted for the last two weeks. When I came home from my last day of the solo, I took a six hour nap… you could say I was tired.

Although I was only required to independently construct one unit, I took on the challenge of doing two, as the seventh and eighth grade curriculum differ.  For the seventh grade, we looked at economics, including economic basics (such as wants, needs, choices, consumers, and barter), economic systems, supply and demand,  entrepreneurship, and trade.  For the eighth grade, we looked at the origins and history of the Industrial Revolution (IR), IR technology, culture of the Gilded Age, and labor unions.

One of my biggest take-aways from my solo was the fact that I made countless changes to both of my units – ultimately I ended on completely different notes than I had originally planned.  This was a great experience, and totally realistic of what a teacher goes through.  It was cool to be able to make adjustments as I saw fit, according to how the students were receiving and reacting to the material.

I think that I was successful in creating engaging learning opportunities for students.  I diversified my instructional and assessment methods in order to attempt to meet the unique needs of individual learners, and of the needs of the different groups as a whole. I believe that I made the expectations clear and made myself and the material accessible for all students.

One area for growth is my classroom management strategies.  My first week, I did not have to use much strict classroom management because the students were still getting used to me being the authority figure.  However, the second week proved a bit more difficult as students grew more comfortable – they were trying to see how far they could push it with me. I admit that there were situations in which I could have been more firm, but often in those moments I found myself trying to concentrate on the rest of the class and not on the individual student causing the problem.  Also, I had never seen my cooperating teacher send students to the office before, so although I knew that was an option I had, I didn’t feel comfortable doing it myself.

Another area for improvement would be my timeliness in giving feedback to students.  I tried to keep up with grading assessments, but I found myself short of time everyday as I planned for the next. Although I reminded students multiple times of their assignments (and also had the responsibilities posted digitally and physically on the board), by the end of my solo there were a handful of students missing a lot of work.  If I had been more proactive after the first week to give that feedback, it likely would have been easier now for students to finish up the remaining work, with a lighter load.

I really enjoyed creating the assignments for students to complete. In almost all of my assignments for both grades, I created original assignments – only a couple times did I borrow lesson materials from online sources.  Although it made it a lot more work, it was a great way for me to not only engage in the content material, but also to make the learning personalized to the group of students who would be working on it.

It was an interesting experience to be the authority figure of the classroom.  For the first time, other faculty members had to speak with me, directly, instead of going to my cooperating teacher (who was hanging out in the library most of the time).  This gave me a more authentic glimpse into the field of colleagueship so critical to teaching.  I got to know some of my team teachers more personally, and supporting educators in my classroom (paras) worked with me to figure out what students needed.

A tough lesson that I learned, that I already knew but never had experienced, is that teaching is hard – there is nothing easy about it.  It’s definitely a profession that requires passion, tough skin, flexibility, and the ability to keep your cool in unpredictable situations.  It’s a job that keeps you up at night thinking about how you could improve, or how your student is doing, or what you’re going to plan for the next week.  It’s a job that you need to love – if you don’t, you probably won’t think it’s worth it. But for those of us who do love it, we will treasure the moment when a student has a break through, the time a shy kid speaks up in class, and the moment when you learn from a student when they are “supposed” to be learning from you.  Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher, and not everyone can just naturally be a great teacher – it takes a lot of work to perfect your craft.  Years of experience, lots of self-reflection, collaborating with other educators, attending professional development sessions, and having the mindset that you can always improve – a lot goes into the profession.  I’m thankful to have had this opportunity in the school that I’m at, and I can’t wait to have my own classroom someday.

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ST Blog – SOLO TEACHING – Weeks 10&11

Content Area Reading #12 – Social Studies Units

Singer, Social Studies for Secondary Schools, Chapter 7: How Do You Plan a Social Studies Unit?

I chose this chapter as we finish creating our own units. I thought it would be interesting to compare my experience to what Singer recommends. For the most part, I think that our unit creation process aligned very closely with that of Singer’s, as our template followed his same pattern and we had to reflect on many of the points and questions that he raised.

In this chapter (as indicated by its title) Singer outlines how social studies educators should create units. He begins by identifying important components of units: scope and time, concepts, essential questions, main ideas/understandings, common core standards, content, materials, and lesson design. He then goes on to describe how to address student differences in social studies units, including differences such as academic level, cultural diversity and gender. To end, he goes into length explaining how document-based units and theme-based units work and how teachers should plan them.

3 things to remember:
• 1. Document-based unit –“The educational principle underlying this type of unit is that, as students examine the documents, they become historians who understand broader concepts, draw connections between events, and formulate explanations (hypotheses). Academic and social skills and social studies content are learned while students examine documents and answer questions.” (114)
• 2. Singer’s recommended length for a social studies unit: 2-3 weeks, 8-15 lessons
• 3. Unit planning can (and probably should be) done in a collaborative setting: “When teachers work together, old-timers benefit from new insights and perspectives and rookies do not have to discover every document for themselves and reinvent every teaching strategy […] new teachers should not be afraid to borrow.” (109)

2 controversial things/disagreements:
• 1. Where to start with unit planning – there is debate about this as there are many different entry points from where teachers could possibly start. Singer acknowledges that many teachers use a textbook to plan their units, “following its organization of the subject and emphasizing its concept, main idea, content, and skill choices” (107). I disagree with this method, as it easily allows teachers to simply teach by the textbook and not really reflect on what students should know and be able to do as a result of their learning. I agree with Singer when he says that teachers should instead start by asking the following questions: “what is important to know about this topic? Why is it important to know? How will I make the concepts and content accessible to the students in my classes?” (107). However, I would urge Singer to not just use the word “topic” here, but instead look at concepts, themes, and issues.
• 2. When discussing accommodations for differing academic levels, Singer outwardly opposes academic tracking. I understand that it can “stigmatize students in the lower tracks, encourages competition for grades rather than learning” (111), but I personally think it does have some benefits. In high school I was able to experience tracking for a singular unit in my English class, and as part of the higher track I got to experience Romeo and Juliet much more in depth that I would have in a heterogenous class. Us students got to choose what track to be in, and I would confidently say that the students in the upper track chose to go there because they wanted to learn more, not just for the grades. I recognize my bias, so I cannot speak on behalf of the students in the lower track, but I do know some of those students did so because they weren’t interested in the topic and believed it had little relevance to their lives. This is based on my personal experience, but I’m sure there is data to back up Singer’s point.

1 question:
• 1. What do you do if you want to plan a thematic unit, but your school traditionally teaches social studies chronologically? At what point are you able to break off from common practice?

Content Area Reading #12 – Social Studies Units