With my supervisor unwell I took on a greater leadership role in the classroom this week. Engaging students and managing behaviour became a focus for me, and we created short lessons to keep their attention going. My supervisor made sure that the lessons had students moving around the classroom to maintain interest, for example, for autonomous learning student sat at their tables and when listening to teachers instruction students sat on the floor changing the position of the teacher to ensure an attentive class. To engage students and cater for the needs of diverse learners I used a range of teaching strategies. Incorporating, verbal, visual, multimedia and analytical stimuli to my lesson. I felt most successful when reading a story book out loud to the class. Here I really focused on my tone and rhythm; lowering my voice and slowing the pace of the reading built interest, and restless students quietened as the became intrigued, many students leaning forward or sat up on their knees engaged and eager to listen.
What was unsuccessful however was keeping control of the class during independent learning. I saw that the arrangement of students should have been changed to avoid chatting and distraction. Any students placed at the back of the class near the door were less focused on their work. In future, I would rearrange the furniture to remove that difficult learning area. Also, the tables are filled with containers of pencils and rubbers. While they are useful and needed, the can also become toys and distractions for students. Often I found I had to stop myself from taking the objects straight out of their hands, instead, I directed them to make the right decision which didn’t go quite as planned and next time I would like to be more firm.
This week instead of my usual Year 2 class who were away on an excursion, I worked with Kindergarten. This was a very interesting change as I could identify a large shift in the learning and teaching strategies implemented by my supervisor in comparison to the older students. The younger students required more organisation and constant behavioural conditioning with more immediate consequences. For example, when I saw a group of boys fighting in the playground I immediately stepped in and told them to pick up papers for two minutes. My supervisor and I watched them begin to pick up papers as I had instructed, then the consequence quickly disintegrated and the students began playing again. My supervisor laughed and said “they barely know where they are or what day it is let alone how long 2 minutes is” and we agreed that because the consequence of their behaviour was immediate and they initially began performing the punishment as requested that any further punishment would be misunderstood.
The school seems to have a fairly relaxed ‘no touching’ policy, however, I wanted to make sure that I was not breaching any code of conduct. This became particularly difficult with kindergarten as they often grabbed at my clothing, searched for your hand to hold, asked for hugs or hugged you and asked for help blowing their nose etc. My supervisor talked about sensory learning, identifying one student that had been abandoned by their family and often changes foster homes, suggesting that at such a young age some people believe that this could be a way to build relationships with students and teachers.
Throughout the day we also switched between multiple classes of students in the same year group, repeating the same lesson with each. This allowed me to see the differences in successful learning and identify the issues that may be contributing to these differences. Often, classes with students that presented a higher rate of behavioural disorders seemed to affect the ability of the entire class, and had less success in acheiving learner outcomes.
Keeping the students focused and engaged was often difficult, with group work being hard to acheive. Discussing this issue with other staff members they agreed that autonomous learning creates a feeling of personal success, allowing studentd to make their own decisions.
Today in class I discussed with my supervisor about how she assesses success and learning in the classroom. In her practice, she lists the criteria that needs to be met in each lesson, however, every student has individual learning strengths and weaknesses and we discussed the difficulty of making sure everyone was learning and developing at a similar pace.
In todays art activity, I took small groups of students outside throughout the day to create unique marbled paintings that we would later cut into round shapes. The activity was simple with only 5 colours being used. Here, the biggest challenge was organisation and coordination; making sure students didn’t mix the brushes with different colours to avoid spoiling the activity for groups after, and of course, keeping paint off everyone’s clothes. Meeting these criteria became quite difficult for a student diagnosed with Autism. The student was aided by a student support officer, who mostly controlled behaviour and assisted in the student’s activities. Immediately I could see that this student had greater difficulty following instruction, matching the brushes with the correct colour and had a slower reaction time.
Seeing the learning differences between students made me question how I would assess my own class and ensure that every student would be getting equal value from a lesson.
The contrasts between students learning abilities became particularly evident this week as we focused on reading and comprehension skills. Firstly, I began the class assisting with reading groups. I noticed here that the books were categorized into levels of difficulty and my supervisor explained how the books reflected the reading level of the students. I was surprised to see that we had some students at a kindergarten reading levels, while others had advanced to a Year 3 reading level. In every reading group that I assisted, it was clear that there were students that were further ahead than others. For these students, having to wait while their classmates caught up often caused impatience and defiance. The brightest students were becoming the most disruptive. The reading groups were supposed to encourage peer support, however, students who struggled with certain words were often given the answers by those who were eager to move onwards. I could see that this task was unsuccessful in engaging all students, and I was concerned that I didn’t accurately measure learning with students who were already behind unknowingly falling further backward.
The second task involved reflecting and analysing the Ken Done influenced artworks they created last week. Here I created a number of questions which could assess a range of abilities, I worded my question according to the outcomes required in the Year 2 syllabus. This included: What are three words you would use to describe your drawing? What are three main colours you have used? What shapes you have used? What are the special features of your artwork? To aid the student’s responses I stood at the whiteboard and wrote out words that students had difficulty spelling. The board quickly filled up with words. I began to circle the room and quickly realised that many of the students had a hard time answering the questions. Nearing the end of the task I noticed one student with learning difficulties had not written a single word. I read the questions out loud, then reworded them into a more casual question and I noticed he had given me some successful answers verbally. I asked him why he hadn’t written his answer down and he told me he didn’t know how to spell it. I pointed to this word which had been put up on the board, but as soon as I moved away from it, he was unable to filter out the other words around it. For this student, removing other stimulus and focusing his attention on one thing at a time allowed him to accurately recall information. This task made me question how we measure successful learning, that all students have individual learner requirements, and allowed me to understand how easy it was for a student to quietly fall behind.
This week, the Year 2 students had been learning about Sydney. They had previously studied a range of artists from Brett Whitely to Grace Cossington-Smith and my supervisor asked me to conduct an age appropriate art class which recalled their knowledge. To begin, we looked at Ken Done’s renderings of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We noted the shapes and colours and then discussed how students could create their own drawing of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, influenced by the features of Ken Dones artworks. Using crayon and blue wash, this independent task became very creative, but with clear outcomes that needed to be achieved. At first, the class was very talkative about the colours and shapes they had seen, however, as soon as we played music everyone became very quiet and interested in their task. Even those with ADHD and Autism exhibited great focus and patience. The activity gave students a freedom of expression, with many asking if they could include personal touches into their drawing such as fireworks, dolphins, boats and birds. My supervisor asked me to award the top 3 artworks with a sticker, we went around the room looking at the drawings, I found her to be particularly harsh in her judgments, telling them that they had been unsuccessful but not giving them the opportunity or suggestions for how they might improve.
This week we had a mufti day, where the students came dressed in attire which represented their cultural heritage. This was a fantastic visual representation of the multicultural backgrounds that the students come from. Of course, mufti day created a charged energy in the classroom, with lots of dancing and fidgeting with costumes. One boy, who came from the south pacific, spent the day dressed in nothing but a grass skirt, a pair of undies and war paint with bare feet (much to his delight and the teacher’s horror). It was difficult to keep the students settled and my supervisor adjusted her plan for the day to accommodate this unusual animation, focusing on light-hearted activities such as reading and colouring.
After recess, the students began a rotation between classes which offered a range of different cultural experiences. The entire school participated in this activity and it was very interesting to see how teachers coordinated this mass activity. Keeping students in line and time management became a key component in the success of this venture.
This week marked the beginning of my professional experience. Although I intend to work in Secondary Education, I have begun my experience in a Primary setting; specifically Year Two. The school’s motto is ‘every child, every opportunity’, this really translates in the classroom which has a large range of learner differences. From behavioural disorders and learning disabilities to a large contrast in ages between 6 1/2- 8 and a majority of students who speak English as a second language (ESL), the classroom can become pretty chaotic. Or as my supervisor lovingly describes it: “A party!”
Obtaining the focus of every student, giving instruction and having them understand this information proves to be one of the most difficult tasks in the classroom. From the beginning, my supervisor encouraged me to be very hands on in my role, allowing me to navigate the classroom and directing instructions for the second task. However, after I had finished my explanation, I looked at the students to see if they had begun the task, but none of them had moved an inch and each of them looked up at me bewildered. “You might as well have been speaking Spanish!” my supervisor said, instructing me to use more tone in my voice and exaggerate my body language when speaking. This lack of understanding often led to disinterest, restlessness and bad behaviour, which could quickly spiral out of control. Through the use of classical conditioning, with sound or clapping techniques, the teacher is quickly able to regain the attention of the class (and a moment of peace).