I had the opportunity to observe a 6th grade classroom. In the teacher’s classroom, at the front of the room there was the “I can” statements posted for all the students to see. The tables were arranged as followed:
She used multiple manipulatives in her explanations including a poster showing mean, median, mode, and range which was the lesson of the previous day. She uses a coaching technique. That is, if students get the “okay” from the teacher or a confirmation from at least three other students, they then move around the room and help out any of their fellow classmates who seem to struggle. The teacher often poses questions to the tables and allows students then to collaborate and work together. They then are called on and critiqued by the teacher. Throughout the process of questioning the table, the teacher walks around and listens to different tables’ discussions. She emphasizes putting the math language into the students own words. At the end of the lesson she asks “thumbs up and down about how comfortable you are with today and yesterday’s lessons” since the lessons are very close together. She has an interactive math notebook that she has all her students fill out. It serves as a reference. On the right side of the note book is what they learn from the teacher, formulas, and notes from the lesson. The left side of the notebook is used for student thoughts. Anything that students use to help them remember can be written in this section. It kind of mirrors the Cornell style note taking strategy.
When asked, the teacher I observed said ideally, mathematics is like conducting an experiment. There is a process that students follow to figure out a problem. She also stated that ideally, a mathematics learner is like an explorer. A learner needs to solve problems and sometimes figure these problems out on their own. Students need to explore a solution to a problem. Since the solution is already there, they are not inventing a new way to solve it, instead just figuring out what exactly that solution is. Finally she said ideally, a mathematics teacher is like a coach. She has incorporated an approach in which students act as “coaches” to other students who struggle. She even stated this during the lesson before she was asked this specific question. A mathematics teacher needs to guide students who struggle, but not be too much help where you just walking them through step-by-step.
I feel that the coaching session in which students help out others who are struggling could be an effective strategy when used appropriately. Sometimes a teacher cannot be helping out multiple students around the room at one time. It is nice for students who understand the topic help out addressing misconceptions others may have. Another strategy that was used that I have already incorporated in my lessons is writing the “I can” statements for the day where every student can see it, and acknowledge it. Students need to know what they are going to be learning for the day. It addresses the learning goals for the day. At the end of the lesson, students can determine if they have understood what they were supposed to. I really enjoy how she set up her room. Collaboration and problem solving in groups. There are tables with at least three students per table. It is nice to bounce ideas off one another and work out difficult problems with multiple points of view. I have incorporated a lot of collaborative learning in my lessons, so it was nice to see this used so much in another teacher’s lessons. The interactive math notebook I could see being effective. Many schools are transitioning to the Cornell style notes. If any school wants to transition to these types of notes, this could already be used. It is nice to when students record their thinking during a mathematical process. I can see this being very effective since it gives students something to look back on and make sense of the information that was presented to them.
One thing that I did not enjoy while observing was the fact of a lecture based classroom. Pretty much everything done in class is presented by the teacher, students write down notes, then do their homework out of the book. There was some questions posed to tables and they worked out problems together. However, most of the class period was the teacher talking, and students became restless. I observed many students zone-out and become disengaged. A good lecture is better than a poor collaborative learning activity, however it is tough to keep middle school students in their seats and engaged throughout a long lecture.
I have learned about some nice aspects and strategies that I could use in my teaching practice during my observation. The two big strategies I really enjoyed learning about and seeing them put into action was the use of students as coaches and the interactive notebook. There are strategies that you can pick and choose what you want to incorporate based on your own teaching style. Collaboration with other teachers is an great way to improve and become more effective teachers.