What is the back story?
Over the past week and a half my teacher assisting partner Tony and I have been working with a group of 8th grade students who have been studying Algebra 1 as an independent study within their regular 8th grade mathematics classroom all year. They have recently fallen a bit behind and we have been working with them on systems of linear equations and inequalities.
What is my focus?
Yesterday we were observed by one of our mathematics education professors during a lesson on inequalities that we co-taught. The day before the lesson, we were asked to complete an action plan that asked what we wanted our professor to keep track of during the lesson and what type of feedback we would like to receive. I chose to have him observe the types of questioning that I was using with the students during the lesson and how engaged the students were with the lesson I was teaching. These are two goals of mine that I set at the beginning of my experience that I am hoping to improve upon throughout the semester.
How did the lesson go?
I thought the lesson went poorly compared to the same lesson that we taught to a different group of students the hour before. By no means do I think that it was a complete flop, however I think that we have had so much more productive lessons with this group in the past.
How do I know?
I know that the lesson did not go as well as planned because we were not getting any responses from the students (excluding one who participates all day everyday). Normally we have a good amount of participation in the class and many of the students are often ready to answer whatever questions we ask or eager to come to the board to complete a problem. Today this was not the case, in fact it was almost the opposite. It was like pulling teeth trying to get anyone to answer even the most basic questions and when we asked students to come to the board, no one wanted to. Many of the students were whispering quietly or passing notes during the lesson and others were watching but extremely zoned out.
Why was this so?
I’m sure that we would never be able to pinpoint every reason that the students were acting to abnormally during their class period yesterday however I have a few ideas about why they were so “checked out”. Due to the schedule, they had not seen math in over four days which opens up the opportunity for lack of motivation when they have to start doing math again. Some of the students may have been bored with the topic because we have been over similar topics before. A few of the students have convinced themselves that they will never understand it so they do not need to try. And lastly, systems of equations and inequalities is not the most rich and exciting math topic that they have covered (even though I really enjoy it!) so they may have just been bored.
How will I grow from this experience?
One important thing that I have realized through my experience with this class yesterday is that we always need to be adaptable and flexible with our lessons as teachers. At the beginning of the lesson it was as if all of the students had forgotten what we had learned in the past week and a half. I think that we probably should have reviewed a bit more at the beginning of class but this is hard to adjust to when you know that you already have a full agenda with all of the new material that needs to be covered. It is important to realize that most lessons are not going to go exactly how they plan them to. Sometimes that is a bad thing, but sometimes that can also be a really good thing. In the future I would like to work on engaging my students more (even when I have to come up with something on the fly) and also implement some questioning strategies that will hold all of my students accountable and require them to be engaged. One strategy that we talked about using during the coaching session was putting a problem on the board and then having the students solve it on their own. This way every student should have an answer no matter who we call on. I think that this is a good way to get all students participating.
How did the coaching session after the lesson help me understand what happened?
The biggest thing that the coaching session with our professor after the lesson helped me understand was why the lesson went the way it did and why many of our students had “checked out”. These are not always circumstances that we can control but in some cases they are. We talked about how creating an alternative lesson plan may have helped steer the lesson in a direction that would have captured the attention of more of our students and how we can become better at thinking on our feet as we are up there teaching. All of these things along with the ideas about questioning and holding everyone accountable will help me to improve my next lesson with my students.
What are my other “take aways”?
What I have realized over the past few weeks is that teaching has so many different layers and so much depth. You can teach for 30 years and still not be “the perfect teacher.” I think that you have to be a teacher to really understand what I mean by this. Teaching is a growing, there will always be ways to improve our practice and our ideas. This is something that will come with time and experience. I am very grateful to have this teacher assisting experience where I can experiment with what works and find out what doesn’t with the help and guidance of those who have been a part of the profession for a long time. I look forward to my continued improvement and I hope to someday do the same for others!