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Field Notes for 2/5/13 (Week 1)

jcb2013's picture

School: Elementary school (Pre-K – 5th grade) in West Philadelphia

Class: Kindergarten

Class size: 23 students

Teacher: Ms. Lowe

Aide: Ms. Monay

**Pseudonyms are used in these notes.


  • I returned to my placement from last semester in Ms. Lowe’s kindergarten class.  I had told the students last semester that I may return, but didn’t clarify for sure because I did not want to confirm something that was not guaranteed.  When I entered the classroom on Tuesday morning I was greeted with 23 students all hugging me at once. 
    • It was a great return. It qualified that fact that I had thought that I had connected well with the students.
    • I prepared the materials that would be used for the next lesson while Ms. Lowe read the students a story about trains.  They were using this story to facilitate an activity to demonstrate their understanding of commands (telling someone to do something; which they had been discussing).  While Ms. Lowe read the students sat in a circle around the front of the classroom.  This is a common set up that Ms. Lowe uses. 
      • It allows for the children to be close to the board, the teacher, and the book that Ms. Lowe is reading from.  It helps to limit distractions, as students are not at their tables with materials.  Also, students are less likely to distract one another because they are close to Ms. Lowe, who can hear their interactions.  Within this set up, Ms. Lowe often asks for student participation, which often yields a lot of volunteers. 
      • After the story, Ms. Lowe assigned 3 assignments to be completed over the next 2 hours.  The students had to complete 4 pages in their workbooks, write two commands on two trains cut outs (following the theme of the story), and had to read a kindergarten basic reading book and copy down sentences from it in their journal.
        • The workbook pages were themed on the letter “H.”  The students had to practice writing H’s on a few of the pages, and identify pictures of things that either did or did not begin with the letter “H.” 
        • The train cut outs were themed following the train story.  The students had to come up with commands to write on the trains. This is continued practice from their lessons on commands.
        • The copying of sentences from their reading books is meant to practice their letters, and sentence formatting (and spacing).
        • Ms. Lowe took 2 students to work with during this activity, while assigning 4 students to the classroom aide Ms. Monay.  I was left with the rest of the students (approximately +/- 16 students).  I started the students off on their 4 workbook pages.  Ms. Lowe had already given them instructions, but for each individual page the students asked for directions.  Many also asked to help finding the page numbers (81, 82, 83, and 84). 
          • Ms. Lowe is very good about giving me the opportunity to teach on my own, and to be responsible for the students.  While it can be overwhelming, I’m learning a lot from the control that she’s given me.
          • Because the students are young (approx. 6 years old), they need to be continually prompted, and supported.  It’s a lot of work managing a large group of kindergartens.  I felt that through out the day there were always at least 6 (if not 15) hands up at a time asking for help.  Today I worked on getting the students, a few specifically, to raise their hand for help instead of following me around the classroom.
          • Many students still struggle with recognizing big numbers (such as numbers in the 80s), and struggle to find these pages within their workbooks. I attempt to not just find it for them, but to teach them to find it on their own by prompting them (“the number 81 has two other digits, numbers, within it. The eight comes first. Can you find any pages that begin with the number 8?”).  While this is something that I try to do with most things, to prompt self-learning, instead of me just giving it away, it’s also quite time consuming. 
            • I’m working on establishing an in-the-moment balance between staying on schedule, and also promoting self-learning within the students.
            • At this point in the year most students are very consistent with their letters.  Most completed the work pages without any help.  A few needed a little assistance, but I saw significant improvement in all students from last semester.
            • Once students generally finished their workbook pages (on their own time) I had them begin working on their commands on their train cutouts.
              • Even though the students had learned about commands previously, they struggled with this activity.
              • We took a bathroom break at around 11:15AM.
              • The boys and girls bathrooms are down the hallway (and around the corner) form one another in the basement.  Ms. Lowe took the girls to their bathroom, while I took the boys to their bathroom.  Bathroom time is usually a bit chaotic, as the students tend to roll around, dance, and talk, etc. in the hallway before and after they use the bathroom (while they wait for their classmates).  I had to continually remind the boys that we were in the hallway, and that they needed to stand (relatively) still, and not talk.  This always proves to be an incredible difficult task to get them to do.  This morning’s bathroom break wasn’t out of the ordinary in any way, until we met up with the girls to return to class. 
                • One boy, Emmal, cut another boy, Sam in line. My class is very concerned with line placement.  Sam told Emmal that he couldn’t cut.  Emmal ignored him, resulting in Sam pushing Emmal.  Emmal responded by grabbing Sam and throwing him to the ground. I grabbed each of their hands and separated them from the rest of the class. 
                  • I discussed how their behavior was wrong because both of them had not only touched one another, but had pushed one another.  I explained to them that this was not only not allowed in school, but that outside of school it was not acceptable behavior either.  I explained the consequences of hurting another person, and asked them to apologize. 
                    • Emmal has a history of behavior issues in school.  He missed my last two weeks of placement last semester.  Ms. Lower shared with me today that he had just returned from being “302ed.” This means that he was committed for psychiatric treatment because of his out of control behavior.  During this time, he was diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder—he is excessively angry, and defiant towards authority, etc.). 
                    • Sam apologized, and showed that he understood that pushing is not the answer. He explained that next time he should, and would use his words.  Emmal refused to apologize, and appeared to not understand that he did something wrong.  He seemed to argue that he had been wronged, and that that made it ok to respond with violence.  The word he used to explain my explanation for why he shouldn’t push was, “nonsense.”  This left me with a dilemma that I’m still unsure about.  You often see parents telling children to apologize. But if a child is only apologizing because he or she has to, does it have any positive influence? I continued to try to explain to Emmal the issue with his behavior, but was also taking up valuable class time. I eventually told Emmal that I wasn’t going to force him to apologize, but that I wanted him to continue to think about what he did, and what I had said.
                    • We returned to class and continued to work on the train command assignment, and the journal assignment.  The train assignment was taking longer than Ms. Lowe expected.
                      • I got the attention of the class, and we reviewed what a command was (by asking students, volunteers explained the definition and examples).
                      • After working for another 45 minutes, the students went to lunch.
                      • During lunch I jotted down some notes (reminders for these field notes), chatted with Ms. Lowe and Ms. Monay, and helped set up the next lesson.
                        • Ms. Lowe gave me a copy of her lesson plans for the week.  They were short and concise and recycled from last year with a few changes. 
                        • I discussed with Ms. Lowe and Ms. Monay their relationship with the Principal (not the best, they believe that the principal micromanages the school, and intervenes in her class too much). 
                          • Ms. Lowe says that she understands that there’s a way that the principal prefers that things are done, but that when it comes to her class that she has to do whatever works best for her students.  I found this conflict/argument to be very relevant, especially in our conversations about policy.
  • I also discussed with them the plans for the school to close next year, and to be combined with a middle school.  They, like me, disagree with combining elementary schools with middle schools. We feel that the older students are distracting and not the best role models to the elementary school students. We all agreed that the age difference was too drastic, and not beneficial to the elementary students.
  • Ms. Lowe had me come up with an objective on the board for the math lesson.  It was “We will learn how to represent or show numbers multiple ways.”
  • After lunch we began math.  Ms. Lowe brought the students to the front circle again and began a lesson on how to show the number 6 using number sentences, ex. 3+3=6, 8-2+6, etc.
  • This lesson included participation with Ms. Lowe asking for number sentences to represent the number 6.  Once the lesson was complete, Ms. Lowe instructed students to do what had been done in the lesson for the number 5. I handed out the number 5 worksheets.
  • Sitting at their desks the students struggled with the activity. About 3 students completed it right away, the rest of the class had their hands raised asking for help with either nothing written on their paper, or number sentences including the number 5, but not equaling the number 5.  Ms. Lowe, once again worked with a separate group while I went from student to student attempting to help re-explain the progress to them (basically guess and check).
    • For those that were confused, I brought all of their attention to the board.  I re-explained how the number sentences had to equal 5, not merely use it.  I explained that for addition number sentences, both the numbers being added had to be less than 5 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).  For subtraction sentences at least one of the number had to be bigger than 5.  It was a difficult concept or pattern for them to understand.  We worked on a few on the board together, using our figures to figure out what we had to add or subtract in order to be left with only 5 fingers. 
      • I’m not sure why specifically the students struggled with this activity after Ms. Lowe’s lesson, but I think math is a difficult concept to initially understand, but once you have it, it’s there.  They really struggled with the idea of having the number sentence equal 5, not just use 5. I considered that they may not understand the term equal.  I will have to look into this further next week during math.
      • After math there was another bathroom break, then we brought the students to music.  During this time I filled out behavior sheets to be sent home with each student (everyday), and placed parent-teacher conference schedules in each students homework folder.  After that, Ms. Lowe and I glued the math homework into their homework folder (to keep them from losing it).  By then it was already 2:30pm and time for me to leave, and for the students to come back from music.
        • I ended up staying until dismissal at 3pm, and cleaned up the classroom after Ms. Lowe took the students outside to leave.  I felt that this was an important part of the day to experience. Dismissal was chaotic, and fast.  Cleaning up the little pieces of paper that had been scattered all around the classroom (from an activity that required cutting right at the end of the day) was a lot of work.  But it helped me to get a more well rounded understanding of all of the aspects of being a teacher.


Questions/Points I’m left to consider:

            1. The politics within schools (ex. Principal vs. teacher), and the role of the Principal

            2. Should you force students to apologize even if a student doesn’t want to or think that they should? Or should you just try your best to explain the consequences of their behavior and why they shouldn’t do it?

            3. Combining ages within schools: what should the cutoff be? Should elementary schoolers be in the same building as middle schoolers?

            4. How to properly balance self-learning (and not just telling students what something is) and time restraints


jccohen's picture

pushing and thinking


This is a rich set of fieldnotes in which you raise and (at least begin to) address many complex ed issues.  I'll speak here to the issues of apologizing and thinking about math.

Perhaps another way to think about the apology question would be to ask what your purpose/priority would be in a given instance.  For example, in this situation is your priority about the exchange between the boys or what students who are watching are making of this or is it really about what E himself takes away from the incident?  Making a student apologize can level the field for the students involved, but it also entails the display of control on the teacher's part and perhaps a suppression of what's actually going on for the student.  In this kind of situation, which sounds fairly public, time-pressured, and 'unequal' in terms of how the boys respond, it does seem to me as if minimizing damage is important, and your choices seem to accomplish this.  Another time if you were able to talk separately with E, your options and priorities might be different...

I'm intrigued by the math question, particularly as it relates to our work with 'thinking.'  And so I like your impulse to investigate further where the children are getting stuck with this concept.  It seems possible that there's something about this that's catching them at the edge of their ZPD, and then the question is: What kind o guidance can help at least some of them to stretch and learn?