Mark Victor Hansen once said "your belief determines your action and your action determines your results, but first you have to believe". A profound statement in its own right that one reflects on often. I believe that I can be a great teacher by taking action and selecting a pre-service program that thoroughly prepares me to be the best educator that I can be. However, first, I have to believe in the framework that very program is based on and understand its principles. I chose to attend the Price School of Education (PSOE) at Reinhardt University. It is grounded in the principal of constructivism and rooted in the excellence a differentiated education can provide. Its model is truly something that I can aspire towards and deeply believe in. I am glad to know that my role as a teacher is to guide learning not to dictate it and to celebrate differences instead of frown on them.
As a future educator who carries an academic background in Psychology, I was excited to find the framework of my pre-service preparation program based in constructivism. Constructivism is a student centered theory that "describes learning as the active construction of knowledge, recognizes the importance of background knowledge, views learners as innately curious, advocates collaboration, not competition, and suggests ways to engage students so they can be successful" (Tompkins, 2014, p. 7). It also carries the visionary work of several notable Psychological figures that I studied as an undergraduate student. One of those figures is Jean Piaget who was a pioneer within the area of childhood development and education. He was primarily interested in how knowledge grew and brought the idea that knowledge is built on prior knowledge (assimilation) or created as we learn new things (accommodation). The aforementioned concepts are apart of the foundation that the constructivist vantage point is built upon. During my student observations this quarter, I observed children who learned that a certain letter also has a sound that goes with it. This is an example of assimilation. The child not only recognizes that an "a" is the first letter of the alphabet but that it also carries a short sound "ah" or a long sound "a". As a future educator, my role is to ensure that once I introduce new information (accommodation) that I continue to build upon the same concept (assimilation) such that children will be able to relate to the information. I need to make information accessible to children of all learning abilities through the constructivist concept of differentiation. Differentiated instruction can be operationally defined as the "procedures for assisting students in learning, providing options, challenging students, and matching books to students to maximize their learning" (Tompkins, 2014, p. 496).
I believe it is important to differentiate instruction as often as needed within any grade level. Through research, I have learned that differentiation is not as easy as it knowing how to define it. To practice it on a day by day basis without resistance can be a challenge. In his article entitled "Who Wants to Differentiate Instruction? We did", author John A. Fahey (2000) notes that "with instructional models for differentiating, students were able to go beyond the typical classroom setting and materials and explore areas of interest" (p. 72), however, "as with any change, parental concerns quietly lingered" (p.72). Ultimately what happened in this article is a group of dissatisfied parents made a lot of noise to the school superintendent and differentiation was gone before it even had a chance to deeply impact the learning environment. It is sad that resistance of a few can limit the progress of many.
Creating an effective learning environment and safe haven for academic enrichment to take place is of the utmost importance to me. I mentioned this during our classroom discussion when we created a word list about what we felt was most important. If a child does not feel free to learn then learning can never take place. Psychologist Abraham Maslow ingeniously created what is known as the hierarchy of needs. His research supports his model which shows the first and most important need for any person is safety. In her article entitled Learning in an Inclusive Community, educator Mara Sapon-Shevin indicates the importance of fulfilling this need in the classroom above all others in the face of differentiation. She goes on to say "classrooms cannot feel safe to anyone if discussions of difference are avoided; discouraged, or considered inappropriate" (Sapon-Shevin, 2008, p. 50).
The PSOE Differentiated Approaches to Teaching and Assessment (DATA) model points to the importance of the aforementioned concept. It essentially states that "within a nurturing learning environment of care and challenge, the responsive teacher uses the comprehensive knowledge of", and goes on to describe the other areas of the model. The point I am making is that I share the same philosophy of the PSOE in that I believe as they do that everything done and hoped to be accomplished in the classroom is built upon first having a safe environment. I will create a positive classroom environment by letting children know that bullying and laughing at other children’s mistakes will not be tolerated in my classroom. I recognize that in a classroom with a variety of learning abilities, skills and knowledge, that students may have the tendency to lose their patience with those who take longer to process information. Therefore, I will make a list of class rules with the children and hold them responsible for their own behavior if they choose to violate one of the class rules. I will model the behavior that I want the children to show one another. For instance, if a child answers a question incorrectly in my class, I will simply say to that child, that was a great try, let’s see what other options we can come up with, etc. I will let them know that their opinions are valued and teach them that when you give respect, you get respect. When I was in school, often times I would be teased for asking a "dumb" question or just plain asking too many questions. In my classroom I want children to ask as many on topic questions as they would like and let everyone in the class know from day one that there is no such thing as a bad question. My aforementioned philosophy speaks to my ability to fulfill "Doman IV: Professional Responsibilities" in support of differentiated instruction and assessment as "Proficiency 4.0" states that "the teacher candidate displays a professional commitment to the teaching philosophy of differentiated instruction to support students’ diverse learning needs and to maximize learning.
I would love to teach grades K-2nd as I have a special interest in literacy, more specifically, teaching reading a writing. It is my philosophy that if you can’t read or write then all the other subject matters in school become moot. I believe that many may see reading and writing as a basic, essential thing that everyone must learn to do one day, however, I see it as more than that. I see it as an art form. Sadly, it is almost a lost art as some of the standards are remarkably low for students to ascertain the concept. Differentiation speaks to the ability to enlighten and challenge students to reach new levels of academic enrichment. In teaching reading, I plan to differentiate by using audio books for students who cannot read the words in the books alone. I recognize that some students can have a variety of learning styles, including being a kinesthetic, auditory or visual learner. I will certainly use this method for auditory learners. I also recognize that technology plays a large role in this generation of students, therefore, using a form of technology to promote instruction can also be received more favorably amongst them. Before I allow a student to listen to the audio version of the book, I will first teach them to properly track the words in the book with their fingers as each word is spoken aloud. This will ensure that both the fluid readers and emergent readers are properly exposed to the same material. The PSOE model would say that my actions are ever-present in Domain I: Planning for differentiated instruction and assessment. They clearly show, "Proficiency 1.0: The teacher candidate uses knowledge of curriculum, learner differences, and ongoing assessment data to plan for student access to same essential content." More specifically, subsection 1.7 is also a direct reflection of my future actions. It states that I "consider student differences (readiness, learning styles, intelligences, interest, etc.).
According to the state of Georgia standard: Reading Foundational (RF) ELACCKRF3, kindergartners must "know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words: C. Read common high-frequency words by sight. (e.g., the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does)". Although the standard does not specify how many words, I have been told it is between 75 and 100 by the end of the year from several educators. Last year, as a kindergarten paraprofessional, I saw firsthand what a struggle it was for the little ones to get all of those site words down by the end of the year. Of a class of approximately 20 students, maybe 5 knew every word or close to every word by the end of the school year. I believe that more needed to be done in efforts to help them learn all of the words by the end of the year. When I have the opportunity to educate kindergartners, I will go over high frequency site words with them and point them out every opportunity I have. I also will provide a continuous, daily, informal assessment of these words. I will give each student a list of 15 words at a time and conference with them each day during morning work to check and see if they have mastered all of the words I gave them by pointing to the words as they say them. If they don’t know a word I will have them sound it out and tell them if they unable to get on their own. If they do master them, I will indicate the date they mastered them and give them a new list of 15 more words to study. I will also give them a reward for their hard work and effort as I believe in rewarding hard workers. If they don’t master them, I will circle the words they don’t know and send them back home with them to be homework for the evening until they learn them. I will continuously write notes home to parents regarding the importance of learning the words. I know that being a good teacher requires one to go above and beyond the call of duty so to speak, so if it means I have to assess them daily to get them going then I will do so. According to "Domain III: Impacting student learning, Proficiency 3.0: The teacher candidate uses systematic formal/informal assessment as an ongoing diagnostic activity to measure student growth and to guide, differentiate, and adjust instruction", my method of helping students learn site words does just that. In dealing with all subject matters, I will assess students to determine what their strengths and weaknesses are and do an assessment whenever I see students are not grasping a concept so I can determine how to re-work the material. It is my belief that one must do this so that students can better understand the concept. All assessments will be directly based on the content being practiced in the classroom and on group or individual performance as I believe there is no such thing as one size fits all.
One of the features of the constructivism way of differentiating education is to provide scaffolding to students. This can be accomplished as a teacher guides a student in instruction or a student guides another student in instruction. While doing my observations, I watched as a student from the "high" functioning group assisted a student in the "challenged" group to complete an assignment. I then asked the teacher how she organized her groups. She explained to me that she always differentiates by arranging each table that has a large number of students in the "challenged" group with at least one person from the "high" functioning group. I believe this is a wise strategy as it provides those in the "challenged" group with a person who can model the desired behavior for them and provide additional scaffolding for them when the teacher is unavailable. Modeling is the constructivist way of providing instruction vs. the old behaviorist way of dictating to provide instruction. I will certainly utilize the constructivist strategy in my own classroom one day as it is in line with "PSOE Domain II: Providing differentiated instruction and assessment". It states in "Proficiency 2.0: The teacher candidate utilizes a variety of strategies to differentiate instruction and assessment." Grouping children in aforementioned fashion certainly accomplishes this.
In conclusion, there is more than one way to skin a cat. That’s what grandmother used to say. In providing education to the ever-changing population of students, one understands that each student is their own unique being and may not be susceptible to traditional teaching methods. As an educator, I will use differentiated instruction, a facet of constructivism, to impart various teaching methods and proficiencies as presented in the PSOE models in efforts to impact a diverse group of learners. The mission statement of the PSOE is "to produce reflective, problem-solving teachers who respond to the diversity of student needs through differentiated instruction driven by ongoing assessment and adjustments within a nurturing environment." Well, when all is said and done and I walk into my own classroom for the first time, I hope and pray that I can utilize the materials I am learning about today and that I am a living embodiment of that very mission statement each day.
Fahey, J. A. (2000). Who Wants to Differentiate Instruction? We Did (How To Differentiate Instruction). Educational Leadership, 58(1), 70-72.
Sapon-Shevin, M. (2008). Learning in an Inclusive Community. The Positive Classroom, 66(1), 49-53.
Tompkins, G.E. (2014). Literacy for the 21st Century: A Balanced Approach. New Jersey: Pearson.
Hendersons "Honeybee" Hive