Internship Reflection– Week #13

Instructional strategies and their effectiveness have been at the forefront of my mind again this week, as I strive to increase my own reflection on the learning activities we have been doing in class. This was the second full week of our spring novel unit for the eighth graders, and as such, we completed our second assessment of the unit. Each week, students have been working in their smaller novel groups to complete a brainstorming/prewriting activity on our focus learning target. Fridays, all groups complete an assessment drawing on the work they did earlier in the week. This week’s goal was a learning target asking students to examine the specific events in the novel, describe how the main character reacted, and then interpret the effect that the event had on the character’s life or the plot. Students first worked in pairs to analyze a key event in their novel. Below is an example from a student reading The Giver.







We then discussed the events and why they were significant. Most students struggled with finding a lesson that the character had learned, and we talked about how that might be because when we are in the middle of a story or book, often it is not yet apparent what lesson they are learning. At the end of the week, students were asked to describe their key event by writing a summary of the event, explaining how the character reacted, and then interpreting (going beyond what was just found in the text) the effect that the event had on the character. Here is the same student’s writing piece:

While I like the pattern of having students do an ungraded activity during the week to prep them for the graded assessment, I am not quite happy with this assessment itself. It was too easy for students to stay surface-level and not really dig deep into the significance of the event. This student’s writing piece shows she describes a little of the effect that receiving his Assignment would have on Jonas—he would have to experience physical pain he was not ready for, he would have more responsibilities, his friendships would suffer—but she isn’t able to see the ultimate impact this has on his beliefs and morals. Next time, I think I would focus on this learning target once students have finished the novel. That way they can see more of the long-term effects and lessons that a character learns as a result of the event. Those things are not always easy to see in the character’s immediate reaction to the event.

I want to structure the coming week’s lessons so that they include deeper questions and issues raised in the novels. I need to work to bring my lessons to a deeper level, and these novels are rich with big, complex questions to answer. While we have an essential question for our unit, we have not done a good job returning to it. This coming week, I need to include an opportunity for students to reflect on that essential question.

My sixth graders have had lots of practice working in small groups recently, and as a result, I have gained lots of practice in what to do and NOT to do in small groups. The most successful group project was a picture book students did on an ancient civilization of the Americas. Each group worked on a different civilization, and each student had a different aspect of that civilization to research. Students practiced researching, working together to create a final product, and helping each other when they were stuck. Most groups worked very well together, and all groups finished on time. I think this project worked better because each student had a very clearly defined job to do. At the end, all their individual work came together in a final group product. Here are some examples of book pages:








I’m continuing to work on how to help these students work well in groups. Clearly defining individual responsibilities was an important step to take in setting them up for success.

Internship Reflection– Week #12

Dr. Scheuerman spent the majority of the last two years telling us that the best classroom management plan was a compelling curriculum. If students are engaged, issues in the classroom are fewer because students aren’t bored or trying to escape doing the work. I witnessed the power of this first hand this week as we rolled out our end of the year novel study. Thanks to the generosity of the PTA, the eighth grade has brand new class sets of blockbuster young adult novels The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. Both are set in dystopian societies, and both involve groups of teenagers trying to survive difficult (and often violent) situations. Students have the option to read either book or choose The Giver, which we already owned.

When I started my internship, students were in the middle of their first novel study unit. They were supposed to be reading in groups, writing responses, tracking vocabulary, and completing written assignments. What I actually saw them do was sleep, read the same page ten times, talk, “forget” to write their responses, talk, sleep, complain about their books, and not turn in assignments.

However, from the moment we gave students their books to read for this unit, I have seen my students do this: read. And read more. Sure, some of them still talk, and a few students decided they wouldn’t read their novels at first (which was fixed by switching their book choice or providing them the book on tape to follow along with, which hooked them). But most every student spends the majority of their class period reading now, quietly—even those who are usually reluctant to read or participate in classroom activities. I very rarely have to nudge a student awake or remind them to stay on task. I constantly have students coming in to borrow a book to read in another class or at home. More than a few students have already finished their book and one or both of its sequels. Students like their books, plain and simple. And as a result, I have less behavior issues to deal with. It has been wonderful.

Since I haven’t had to focus so much on behavior issues for the past week or so (aside from a few incidents with a particular class), I’ve had more time and mental power to devote to thinking about my teaching strategies during this unit. I feel like I finally have my feet underneath me in the classroom: I know the direction this unit is headed, I know my students, I am aware of a dealing with classroom management issues, and I’ve developed an organizational system that works for me. Now, I can turn my attention to what I am actually teaching, and how. And what am I finding when I reflect on these things? Only that I have so much to learn.

My biggest fear right now is that I am not including instructional practices and learning activities in my classes that are good enough. I find myself constantly turning to my books, handouts from my mentors, and websites to find the best strategies to implement in the classroom. And panic is starting to set in because I am simply running out of time. I have eight days left of my internship—eight! Eight days to make sure my teaching has a significant impact on the learning of my students! Here I am, finally to the mental point in my internship where I can think of something other than organization and classroom management, and it is all but over. If there is no other argument for lengthening the teaching internship, this is one—so that we have time to move past simply surviving on our own in the classroom and start actually becoming effective teachers.

With my last few days, I want to focus on including high-quality, effective instructional practices. I’m especially interested to find best practices for teaching novels in the classroom and how to mix instruction with independent reading time. Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle and my texts from my methods classroom are waiting for my on my bookshelf. I want to leave from this internship knowing that I have what it takes to teach all of my students well.

Internship Reflection– Week #11

During my internship, I have been collaborating frequently with two other teachers to plan one of the courses that I teach. I like collaboration; it is helpful for me to have someone to bounce my ideas off of, and since I don’t have the wisdom that comes from years of classroom experience, I appreciate hearing the input of veteran teachers. In general, I think of collaboration as a good thing, and certainly a necessary thing to do as an effective teacher.

However, I’ve struggled with this particular collaboration. Ever since I became involved in the planning of this particular course, I have been frustrated with the way it is taught. The course is largely taught from the outdated textbooks or videos from a single website, relying on note-taking and the creation of charts as the sole instructional strategies. However, the students were never taught how to take notes, so the notes they take are very ineffective. I also have several students in my class who either struggle to sit still and take good notes every day or struggle with reading comprehension, so these activities are not always the best fit for them. These students are being taught the subject in the way that I hated learning it—quickly, skimming the surface, getting their only information from an old textbook that doesn’t give interesting information about anything.

The course is largely taught this way simply because the teachers don’t have any other ideas. They have graciously allowed me the freedom and flexibility to incorporate different activities, including several hands-on and discovery-based activities that let students move around while learning. But I get frustrated when we split up the planning for a week, and they resort to the same note-taking and textbook activities. It is also frustrating when my collaborating teachers plan lessons that don’t effectively teach the material. For example, one teacher planned a lesson around a rather long cartoon she found online. I didn’t watch it before I played it for the kids, because she kept raving about how funny it was and how the kids would love it. Unfortunately, when I played it for the students, I was dismayed by the lack of information it gave and the perpetuation of stereotypes it drew on for its cartoon humor. I know the teacher meant no harm to the students, but it was not an effective learning activity. I ended up finding a shorter video with more accurate information to replace it the next day. I never finished the cartoon.

Collaboration is wonderful, but it does have its downsides. Professional learning communities can be a rich source of information and creativity that lead to rich curriculum and strong community. However, I’m realizing now that it would be a mistake to think that they are all roses and rainbows. Collaboration isn’t always easy. People don’t always see eye-to-eye, or have the same expectations. It is important to have a balance. I have to be willing to work with others, but I also have to take responsibility for my own classroom—which may, sometimes, mean deviating from the group decision when necessary for the good of my students.

I think it is okay to do this—we can all have the same goal and cover the same content, while differentiating activities for the needs of certain classes. We chose to go that route this week. We created a short-answer test for one class and a project-based assessment for another class, both covering the same learning targets. I loved this because I ended up having some students for whom the project-based assessment didn’t work, so I could give them the alternate assessment that the other class was completing.

As I finish my internship over the next few weeks, I will have even more opportunities to work with this PLC as we design a final project for the course that integrates several subject areas. I hope that we can use our collaboration to develop options that meet the needs of many different kinds of students. Working with other teachers can be challenging, but as frustrating as it can be sometimes, I still gain valuable information each time we meet. I’ve also learned through this experience to be an advocate for my students in my classroom, and do what I need to do to help them learn and be successful—even if I have to change “the plan” a bit.

Internship Reflection– Week #10

A student reads her poem at the 8th grade Poetry Showcase

They walked into the cafeteria hesitantly at first, pausing when they saw the black tablecloths that transformed their sterile tables and the glitter that adorned the backdrop behind the microphone. Nervous eyes glanced toward the special tables at the front, designated by construction-paper signs for the “Poets.” The volume rose as class after class jostled their way in; papers rustled as programs printed with lists of names were discovered; anxious laughter rose from huddled clumps of teenagers. I checked off the participants on my clipboard and provided words of encouragement to nervous readers. It took a few minutes, but eventually every eighth grader had found a seat, and my mentor teacher was calling for silence and attentiveness. The audience watched warily as the first teenage poet made their way to the stage. This class-wide poetry showcase was a first for the school; it is never an easy task to convince self-conscious adolescents to share a bit of their inner lives with those who might judge them. But by the time E, a tall, intimidating, extremely popular athlete took the stage and broke down crying as he spoke of the loss of his role model, every single student in that room was silent. Finally, they understood what I’d been telling them all along: poetry has power. It lets you say things you can never find a way to say otherwise.

I am so extremely proud of my students who took a risk and shared their poetry on Friday morning, and of the audience that embraced and encouraged their bravery. When a student, overcome with emotion, was unable to finish her poem, her peers clapped their encouragement as she handed her poem to a teacher to complete. The bell, signaling the end of the class period and assembly, rang in the middle of a student’s poem, and not a single student moved or made a sound as she finished. One student who constantly talks of his future as a Marine and his lack of feelings allowed me to share his eloquent poem about the girl who broke his heart. Students spoke of cancer and accidents, old age and teen pregnancy. They shared stories of heartbreak, triumph, dead goldfish and chocolate chips. One student rapped. Students who normally hid in the back row stood up and were noticed for the first time.

When I first proposed the idea, other teachers were supportive, but a few doubted that I would have enough participants. On the day of the showcase, I had 42 students signed up to read. Almost a quarter of the eighth grade class wanted to share pieces of their stories. I am so completely in awe of the courage, sincerity, and transparency shown by these students. We talk a lot in our classes at SPU about providing authentic audiences; what is a more authentic audience than your peers, the ones with whom you share life everyday? If I had asked students just to turn in their poems for a grade, I doubt I would have received poems as deep, as heartbreaking, and as personal I did. But everyone wants to tell their story. Every student just wants someone to listen to them and understand. The poetry showcase gave students the chance to experience just that. Afterward, I had many students express their regret that they had not read also. They wanted to do it again. S, my future Marine, who “has no feelings,” pointed to his notebook where he was writing another poem and told me, “I guess I like poetry after all. Who knew?”

I think the poetry showcase taught students more about poetry than I could ever have on my own, and it taught them more about each other than they had learned all year. The class is more of a community now. After the showcase, I had students write notes to the poets that had inspired them, and all of them applauded the recipient for taking a risk and sharing their stories.

I spent the weekend after the showcase grading the poems turned in by my eighth graders, including those who chose not to share at the showcase. I read some incredible poems that show a side of my students that they often hide at school. The depth and insight they displayed was powerful, and anyone who needs their faith restored in the youth of tomorrow should read their poetry. I think middle school poets could change the world.


Internship Reflection– Week #9

Last week I spoke of the struggles I was having with assessment. This week I was mired in assessment again, only this time, it was the much-dreaded standardized kind—the MSP (Measurements of Student Progress) has taken over our school. While I have my own opinions on standardized testing, it wasn’t the test itself that was the bane of my existence this week. Instead, it was the massive disruption caused by the test that was a source of extreme difficulty.

To take their MSP, students are given a half-day per test. Three classes test each half-day, since the tests are almost all online and we only have three computer labs. That means only six classes test per day, which stretches MSP testing out to almost three weeks at our school. In addition, most students take two or three tests, meaning that even if they aren’t taking the MSP test for your content area, they are missing from class due to testing for other content areas. As a result, I didn’t have a single day this week where I had all of my students in class. I knew this was a probability in advance, so I designed MSP-prep activities for the week that students could be okay missing or coming in the middle of. While this was irritating, it was manageable.

What became really difficult to deal with were the behavior issues resulting from such an abnormal schedule. Even if students weren’t testing that day, they were still less focused, less willing to participate, and more talkative than usual due to the interruption in their routine. This was most evident with my sixth graders. Admittedly, they have experienced a lot of upheaval lately. Their normal teacher went on maternity leave. I took over the class. They had a new sub to get used to. MSP testing happened. The weather got nicer. I think there was a full moon. All of this combined to make a perfect storm of completely unacceptable classroom behavior. It was frustrating to say the least, and I left sixth period on Monday feeling like the worst teacher in the world, even though I knew that all the changes were largely to blame.

As difficult as this was, it gave me the perfect opportunity to practice setting my expectations, wiping the slate clean, and starting over on a new day. Tuesday, I gathered my sixth graders together and reviewed my expectations for their behavior in the classroom. I had them leave the classroom and come in correctly, not shoving each other through the door or yelling insults at each other. I reminded them of what I needed to see during independent work, and that they would not get to participate in much longed-for group work until I saw them following directions on their own. I then let them know that sometimes we have bad days, but that today is a new day and we will start over. Finally, I provided them with a very structured activity to give them some sense of boundaries and normalcy during such a crazy time in the school year. The rest of that period, they were quiet. They got their work done. I didn’t tear my hair out.

This week has taught me two things. First, students need consistency. I have always wanted to be consistent in my classroom, and this week’s experience gave me all the more motivation to make sure that happens. Sure, students want things to be fun and exciting, but they also want to know what to expect. They want to know what is going on, and they want things to feel familiar. Second, it taught me the power of picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and starting over. We had a bad day, but we gathered again the next day, reviewed what we needed to do, and began a new day. It helped. My students were reminded of what they needed to do and understood that I would still have the same expectations, even when their schedules were off—but they also understood that we could always begin again, and that I would always give them one more try to get it right.

Internship Reflection– Week #8

Assessment, I have come to believe after this week, is the most difficult part of this job. Not classroom management issues—but perhaps I am blessed to have few serious behavior issues in my classes—or grading papers or curriculum planning. It’s assessment. In our district, we are given a set of standards that students must be taught. Each student must be assessed on each standard twice, so they are given multiple chances to learn and master that standard. However, our language arts class has something like 66 standards. So, if we are to assess every one of those twice… you’re looking at an awful lot of assessment, and an awful lot of material covered on each assessment.

Throughout the MAT program, I have come to believe in teaching less and deeply. Instead of skimming off the top of every subject, hoping students learn something, I’d like to be in a position to explore something in-depth to ensure real, lasting mastery. This may not mean that we get through every single subject unit in a year, but the learning that students do achieve is knowledge that has depth, substance, and staying power. However, this internship has shown me that a mindset such as this is difficult to reconcile with the realities of school. If I were to spend enough time on each standard to really teach it well, including two assessments, I seriously doubt I could get through all 66. It takes time to administer an assessment. Students waste time and don’t do work outside of class, so more class time has to be spent as dedicated assessment-taking time. If not, I will see about a fifth of my students actually complete and turn in work. Then, I want to give them time to learn from and correct their mistakes, so that can take more class time. Last week’s assessment, which I had blocked out a day and a half for, ended up taking an additional class period, not counting time I gave later for redos.

I struggled this past week to find a way to assess what I needed to assess in the short time that I had. I want to allow my student enough time to process and learn the material, but I also have a limited amount of time in which to complete this unit. I needed to assess my students a second time to monitor their progress toward mastery of my key learning targets. This was a task I really struggled with. How could I do what needed to be done while ensuring my students were set up for success with my instruction and the amount of time they had?

Slowly, the realization set in that I needed to consider alternate forms of assessment. My mentor teachers have largely relied on written paragraphs to assess their learning targets. My first assessment on this unit was similar; I asked students to complete a graphic organizer on the topic and then write a paragraph. It took days for students to complete this assessment, and some students, who I could tell understood the bones of the concept, struggled with putting their ideas into paragraph form. So for my second assessment, I decided to do away with the baggage added by the dreaded paragraph. This second assessment, on the same learning targets, was composed of short-answer questions and a set of multiple-choice questions. While short answer and multiple-choice are not my favorite forms of assessment, it allowed the students to show their knowledge without worrying about how to put their thoughts into an organized paragraph. Sometimes students need to be assessed on their ability to write a paragraph, but not always. In the MAT program, we’ve talked a lot about authentic assessments that are actually assessing the learning targets. Requiring students to always put their learning into a paragraph or essay format adds an extra layer of skill students need to have mastered in order to even begin to answer the assessment prompt. If I’m not explicitly teaching how to write paragraphs or essays, there is no reason to always assign that form of response as an assessment. There is a reason driver’s ed teaches you the rules of the road before putting you in a car—being tested on the rules of the road while in the car learning how to drive would not be an accurate depiction of your understanding of the rules!

My new assessment was completed in a shorter period of time, which was my goal, and I was also able to modify it with different texts and slightly different questions to meet the learning needs of my ELL and special education students. I don’t pretend to have found the ideal way to teach deeply while covering all the required content, but this week I did manage to break out of my assessment box a little bit. In fact, I’m beginning to think that the only real way to meet all the demands for this job is to not be afraid to continuously think outside the box. My hope for the remainder of my internship is that I can expand my thinking so that I am not limited by “the box” in finding effective, authentic learning activities and assessments. I already have a few unconventional ideas in mind for our next unit…

Internship Reflection– Week #7

“The bend in the road is not the end of the road

unless you refuse to take the turn”


I was oh so tempted not to take the turn in the road this week.

We were already behind schedule; I wasn’t sure how we were going to fit in all the assessments we needed to as it was. Then, one of my classes was shorted more class time due to school events, and I was faced with a decision: continue with my schedule, hoping the students understood the work well enough to complete it outside of class time, or push the schedule back another day for at least those students and give them a proper opportunity to do the assignment. Initially, I found myself wanting to stick to “the plan”. Despite the fact that my road now had an obvious bend in it, I wanted to blow right through that corner and keep plowing straight ahead. I was frustrated that so much class time had been taken for other activities and I didn’t want that to “screw up” my carefully considered plan. However, I quickly realized that my decision to blow through the corner didn’t sit well with me. I know my students; I knew they would have questions about the assignment and needed support to complete it. I also knew the low percentage of homework that is turned in. I realized that I couldn’t drag these kids along with me on my endeavor to stick to the plan. If I did, I would end up simply running them over.

I ultimately decided to push the unit back a day to allow for more time to answer questions and assist struggling students. While I still, days later, do not have every student’s completed assignment, I know that I have far more than I would have had if I hadn’t followed that bend in the road and adapted to the situation. I also know that those students who completed the assignment are meeting standards and that they have the basic knowledge they need to continue with the unit.

I know that I have the tendency to want to stick to my plan initially, especially when so much (assessments, schedules, the looming MSP) affects the plan. Plans are comforting. They are organized. I sleep better when my plans are going the way I want them to. However, “the plan” is not always the best for my students. As an effective teacher, I have to be able to adapt at a moment’s notice. Last week, I actually changed a lesson on the spot to adapt to time constraints and student needs. I’m much better at rearranging short-term plans than long-term ones. This week, I learned a valuable lesson about changing even bigger “plans.” While we are now two days “behind” where I initially thought we would be, I’ve worked with my mentor teachers to reconfigure our assessments. As a result, I think the unit is better than it was initially because it responds better to student needs.

The rest of this week, while busy, went fairly well. It is hard to believe that I am already halfway through my internship. I am fully teaching three out of my five classes now, and while that has been enjoyable, it has also been a challenge to take on initial planning duties. Organization has become key, especially as I find time to complete my TPA.  I taught my last TPA lesson on Wednesday! On the whole, I am happy with how the learning segment went. I especially liked my simile and metaphor activity—I wanted to address some common misconceptions, so I had students categorize examples as similes, metaphors, or neither.

Students sort examples and non-examples during an 8th grade language arts class.

The activity seemed to accomplish my goal of clearing up some confusion (for example, not every sentence using “like” or “as” is a simile!). It was also a good opportunity for students to work cooperatively and allowed me to involve every student in the activity and resulting discussion. I enjoy having the students do group activities, but my mentor teachers aren’t such fans. Hopefully in the future I can plan more activities that can be done cooperatively but can also be adapted for whole-class or paired instruction that would better fit other classes my mentor teachers have.