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Field Notes 02/12/13

ellenv's picture

Field Notes #3



My task for this morning before morning meeting was to organize graded homework into piles for each individual student. Teacher A had graded more than 250 assignments this weekend (it had been a long weekend for the Lunar New Year) and so this organizing process took around 45 minutes, with help from 2 of the students in the classroom. During the time that I was engaged in organizing, the remainder of the class was copying down their homework and talking before morning meeting. The teacher that usually sits in while Teacher A is at her usual Tuesday morning meeting was absent and so another teacher was watching the class, however, this resembled babysitting. There were several things that I made note of during this process. First, I was surprised by the number of students who use cursive in their writing. I am not used to reading cursive and so sifting through all of the papers ended up taking much longer than I expected. Second, because there was not much space to spread out the piles, a lot of them ended up covering other students’ names. This meant that the two students and I were often turning to each other and asking “have you seen ______’s pile?” Because this was only the third week in this class and it is relatively large class, I wasn’t familiar with all of the names, which resulted in several mispronunciations on my part. The two students I was working with giggled each time this happened and one launched into an anecdote about how subs can never pronounce names “and you know, they really should be able to, I mean it isn’t that hard.” 

The remainder of 1st period was spent working on the on-going research project that the class has been working on. The last two weeks, the students had selected a topic in pairs, developed research questions, and completed research on their topic/questions of choice. This week, the students were being instructed on how to begin writing the paper and started drafting their intro paragraph and first two body paragraphs. During this time, Teacher A had me work with a student who is usually pulled out by the ESL teacher (who was absent today) during the time that I am there. Instead of having this student write out and then type their research project like the other students, Teacher A had this student do an adapted project where they wrote out four sentences for each of their four research questions. These four sentences were supposed to be based off of bullet point notes that the students had taken during the research process. My main observations during working with this student came from considering the similarities/differences of working with this student as opposed to the other students I had been assigned to work with in previous weeks/last semester.

While it is certainly true that this student ran into several difficulties with grammar in writing out their sentences, the ideas being put down were very well formed, complete, and directly answered the questions that had raised.  As I worked with the student, I tried to ask him questions to help him think of more information to add to his sentences (mainly I would keep asking “why?” so this required minimal effort on my part). Given that, with a little push, this student was able to produce sentences on a similar level as many of the other students, I wondered why the teacher was having this student complete an adapted version of the project. This student was also able to go on at length from memory about the different points/ideas that they had read during the research phase of the project. As far as I can tell, leading up to this point, the student had been completing the same exact work as the other students in the class. So, why the adaption at the production point of the project?

During 2nd period with the other 6th grade class, teacher A had me work one-on-one with another student who was struggling to write their intro paragraph. This student, whose native language was English, engaged in a stream of consciousness style of writing. That is, they wrote one long sentence that took up an entire page, front and back. What was interesting was that as they wrote, they would put a period after finishing a thought, I would ask them about other research that they had done and then they would erase the period, add an “and” and continue the sentence. While this student was also having difficulty with the assignment, Teacher A had not decided to have this student complete an adapted version of the assignment. After working with both students, I was left wondering what type of “struggle” with academic work merited an adapted assignment in this class (above and beyond extra help). While the students produced sentences that had raised different concerns, one was being asked to do something completely different than their peers and the other was not.


jccohen's picture

adapting work


What an interesting point of comparison/contrast your two one-on-one sessions with students turned out to be!  I hope you have an opportunity to check in with the teacher about this question of when/why/with whom to adapt the work.  Perhaps there's an assumption having to do with ELLs that's about giving appropriate scaffolding, but for whatever reason the teacher hasn't tracked the growing competence of this particular student.  By contast, the second student as a native speaker may not be recognized as a candidate for adapted work, even though it sounds like there's a real gap there between thinking and writing (and I assume this is why you were asked to work with this student).

Your notes really explore the particular question of how each student handled both the assigment and the scaffolding of the assignment.  I wonder about enlarging that frame somewhat to give a fuller sense of the students in relation to their work, the classroom context, and you as their teacher; for example, what were the students' physical/gestural characteristics in relation to the work?  to you?