In Zemelman, Daniels and Hyde book of Best practices, they suggest seven basic best practices are used in the constructivist student centered classroom. As I was reading about each area, I was able to often times connect with things I do in my classroom to emulate the functions of this idea. Other times, I noted that I need to change or modify my teaching to incorporate more of these simple yet powerful ways to engage my students in authentic learning. Here are each of the seven areas of best practices and what I learned from each and/or would like to change.
SMALL GROUP ACTIVITIES: I use this practice most often in my classroom and with good modeling and ample time for practice; students perform well and enjoy this type of learning. This article has increased my awareness as to how I conduct my learning centers. Typically I provide the actual “have to’s” students need to complete before exploring. I’ve recently toyed with the idea of what learning would take place if I didn’t have requirements and allowed students to explore and create at their center. I tried this idea during my last rotation of the 2012-2013 school year and found that many participated in whole group experiences such as games or puzzles that I strategically put out. A very select few worked continuously on creating their own “have to’s” and in my terms of learning “worked and learned.” Several students used the time to cut paper, color, staple and use tape. They didn’t really explore the learning area to create or use the skills I would have hoped to see them use. Is this me not being a constructivist teacher? I have a hard time in letting things go and really want kids to be accountable for their learning. I understand many skills were taking place with the cutting and taping but I wanted them to explore and show enduring understanding from each of the learning centers in my room. I’m still hesitant about taking have to’s away because I see kids often taking the easy way out and not trying a new game or activity and instead referring back to what they like best whether it’s Legos at the math center or cutting paper.
READING AS THINKING: This was the first year we introduced the language of “connecting, visualizing, questioning, and making inferences” with our students. I loved teaching and modeling to students in this way and more importantly they too were able to use the language and apply it to their reading. One thing I’d like to focus more on is the concept of “monitoring.” I discussed in guided reading about making sure what you are reading makes sense when you get to an unknown word. My highest student was reading in a J-L reading level but when I would monitor him he often skipped lines of text. He just kept reading with no pause in his fluency. I’d also like to look more closely at how I have students synthesize text.
REPRESENTING TO LEARN: I hope to model better the use of mind maps, using drawings as a form or writing, etc. to help students get comfortable with multiple ways of sharing what they are thinking on paper independently. I also want to convey to students better that the journal writing is “theirs” and its purpose is to share their ideas, thoughts and concerns. I’d love to get them picking up their journals during non-journal writing.
CLASSROOM WORKSHOP: I was most intrigued with this idea because I do the least of it. I honestly don’t know now to teach mini-lessons because everything takes me forever to teach, model, practice, and repeat for clarity. As I incorporate more reading/writing workshop next year, I’d like to use the conferencing idea suggested. It was so reassuring to hear that I don’t need to prep and prepare more for this time. I can ask the basic questions 1. What are you working on? 2. How is it going? 3. What do you plan to do next? and go from there. Writing it down and organizing it will be a challenge but also, another goal of mineJ
AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCES: I love the idea of authentic learning but I just don’t know how to do it with pre-determined curriculum. I try to include choice often about and use KWL charts but I never feel like there is time to get off track if they show interest or want to learn/study something in detail. I guess I need to work on this.
REFLECTIVE ASSESSMENT: The article suggests that teachers save time regularly to record and note-take. I’ve enjoyed using new ways to assess using qualitative data and hope to continue this with my new action research topic. Using observation, student surveys and performance pieces will be key for me in my next data collection plan.
INTEGRATIVE UNITS: How can I make students “responsible partners in curriculum development” when I’m given a pre-made, pre-determined curriculum. Maybe the first step I can take is talking with my co-workers and principle about having some flexibility with topics/themes and making sure we connect them with the standards and don’t leave any out. It would take some careful attention to the details but I can see this not only making the kids happy but many of the teachers as well. The whole goal is to have deep enduring understanding and I received honestly a great taste of it during my UBD unit. However, I had to sacrifice other areas on our curriculum in order to fit it in. Maybe this idea would work??