Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Teaching Metaphor for Kindergarten

The early morning curfew dissipates and I unlock “the airport” and review the day’s flight plans.  I liken my teaching experience to the experiences of an Air Traffic Control (ATC) officer. The hours are long, and the job is intense at times and fraught with stress amid rewards realized when students are properly geared and prepared for success on their future educational journey.
Each morning brings 22 student “pilots-in-training”, all flying down the school halls, looking to touch down safely in my room. Each of them has come from a different life direction and cultural experience. Most students arrive on time. Some of them have experienced problematic delays and arrive after their scheduled arrival time, and in a battered state. To encourage early morning camaraderie between students, each is encouraged to be welcoming of the other, regardless of where from and how their school mates cruise in.
The ATC officer works with prepared flight patterns and readily deals with blips on radar and conflicts that arise during flight time. I, too, work with a prepared plan for my day. My radar has to encompass being able to read each student emotionally, knowing exactly where they are on the screen academically, and celebrating and integrating each of their cultural backgrounds as they take flight on their educational experience.

 As the ATC officer knows each flight and the specific plan for that flight, my job as a teacher involves engaging all students and providing them group and individual support as they begin and finish each lesson. It is imperative that I understand the uniqueness of each student as I prepare and organize their materials for processing. It is because of their uniqueness that each student equally has something different to bring to the lesson. While recognizing their individualities, I have to model and provide opportunities for positive interactions and experiences during lesson engagement that allow for students with differences to complete tasks together while being respectful of differences. Each student wants to feel that what they have to offer is accepted by others.

As the ATC officer looks for problems before they develop, I work to be aware of which students need priority attention while still having opportunities available for those who need slight re-direction in a precise fashion that will still enable them to be successful in their task completion.

In looking for ways to provide a more interactive and meaningful journey for each of the pilots-in-training in my care, I have taken a pro-active approach to search out varied training opportunities that can be immediately incorporated into the classroom. I participate in many teacher training experiences that are available to me in my district, regardless of curriculum subject. I also attend numerous conferences a year and subscribe to many educational journals. In order to be able to best direct the path my students take in their educational journey, I continuously participate in activities that teach me new ways to provide varied lessons that can intermingle the needs of the diverse student population in my room. Recently, I have taken classes to learn more about Google documents and learned how to build a Google website.

To further engage students in their journey, I venture to learn ways to implement given and new technologies into my daily presentations. This results in varied opportunities and the inclusion of varied learning styles in a way that results in possibilities for all students of all abilities to have access to learning options that can help them succeed academically. In the last few years, it has been documented that technologies used during a school day are more often used for practice drills and non-curricular specific activities. In an effort to maintain 21st century technology integration expectations,I have participated in numerous technology training classes. As I learn more, I have become a mentor to other teachers in the methods that technology can be integrated and used.
While teaching, it is important that I understand which students can take off on their own with little assistance while finding ample air space for those who haven’t perfected their take offs and need more guidance from me. I must provide lessons with practice activities that can be successfully completed by all students with all levels of abilities in my room. In order to do so, each student is evaluated prior to lesson introduction for prior knowledge activation. They are also informally evaluated during lesson progression and formally evaluated upon task completion. In cases where a student may not be meeting a given goal, I reflect upon reason for why that may be. I solicit ideas from mentor teachers and immediately look for opportunities to integrate new ways to meet the needs of that student within the next teaching opportunity.
As the ATC officer deals with factors that my impede a smooth take off, flight, or landing, I face similar obstacles as a teacher. Obstacles for student success can come in the form of other staff members, parents, or even some of the other students.  In my lesson planning, I include educational opportunities for students to learn that differences, whether real or in opinion, are to be observed and accepted.
Another factor that can impede the journey to educational success for students is whether or not the curriculum offered is relevant to my student population. By providing curriculum that students can relate to, academic learning can happen at higher levels because of a deeper interest that results in presenting students with learning experiences that they find interesting and meaningful.
I work to prepare my students to learn to think critically in order that they may work together as they deal with problems that do arise along their educational journey. In teaching the students to learn to work together cooperatively, it is important to combine communication strategies, constructive problem solving techniques, and peace building opportunities.
Using my lesson plans and reflection notes, students in my room are encouraged to suggest and incorporate modifications to lessons based upon their own areas of expertise and interests. This enables them to accomplish their goal in a manner in which they receive personal satisfaction while doing so. As a result of this encouragement, other students may learn many time-saving pieces of information that may benefit their educational experience.

I keep copious anecdotal notes like an ATC log as I observe each student and their abilities (or lack thereof) to take off and complete a task or master a concept. Time is spent by me in daily reflection upon interactions with students and the notes logged during the day’s journey. Input is gathered from many student experiences and incorporated into ways to possibly alter and make the lesson better for future students. The ATC officer assesses each plane on radar through observation and orally through pilot communication. I utilize many types of assessment on a daily, weekly, and quarterly basis.

I informally observe each student through observation and visual cues such as “thumbs-up, thumbs-down” answers. I also have students draw a face at the bottom of their paper that depicts how they felt they did while completing a task. If they were confident, they could draw a happy face. If they weren’t they could draw a sad face. If the student wasn’t sure, he or she could draw a face with a line across at the mouth.

 Each day, I conference with students for a few minutes about how they felt they did in school. We discuss concepts they understood as well as concepts they felt they struggled through.
Formal assessments are done in an interview format. Each student is presented with a mini task that mimics a concept taught. These assessments are formally scored using rubric scores and used to alter instruction to allow for future concept attainment.
Flight manuals have to be concise and clear for a successful flight to take place. Instructions used while I teach are pre-tested to evaluate whether they are written in a way that allows for all students in my room to understand and utilize them. They are also tested for whether or not they are helpful in having all students meet given objectives. While most activity in my room happens in large group format, instructions also include options for individual choices that ultimately benefit our overall group.

Cross-group communication is encouraged between all students in my room, regardless of their background or expertise, as they work together as a team. At times, it is difficult to do so, but it is imperative to learn how to be accepting of others beliefs, opinions, and cultural backgrounds to encourage open and fair interactions between students as well as between students and staff.
For each lesson I teach and each experience I bring to my students, individual and group responsibilities and expectations are reviewed every time. Rewards and consequences for good or poor choices along the educational journey are reviewed as well. Reflection opportunities are provided orally and in written form so that students have the chance to assess not only their work, but also the attitude and behavior they had during the completion of their work. The frequency with which this is done eventually allows students to know that for each learning experience, they will have an opportunity for personal reflection. Any needs for changes are noted and incorporated into future learning journeys.
 All pilots are given training and learning experiences that build upon other learning exercises while learning new ones at the same time. Much attention is given to review as I plan each new learning exercise. As each one is introduced, I model the experience and provide practice opportunities. This is the same for pilots in that they are provided practice take-offs and landings before venturing on the real journey.
As each day ends, my teacher-as-ATC officer duty is to review the day’s events with students and to ensure that they return to their original place of departure safely, both physically, and emotionally. Like pilots-in-training, my students are given practice homework that builds upon each day’s introduced concepts. As I close the “airport” for the day, I personally reflect on the day’s experiences and make necessary adjustments for the return of the incoming crew the next morning. My final checklist to check for task completion is small, but the tasks are all very important.  I  evaluate whether or not I was able to engage and support all students in their learning, understand and organize my subject matter for student learning, assess the actual student learning, create and maintain environments that facilitated student learning, plan instruction and design it so that it included learning experiences for all students, and whether or not I am doing all of this while still finding ways to continue to develop myself professionally.

1 comment:

  1. LOVE this! And you are the best at what you do. You inspire me!


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