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Field Notes 03/05/13

ellenv's picture

Field Notes 03/05/13


Morning meeting started a little different than usual in class today. I was sitting at the back of the class sorting through student’s reading tests and putting them in piles for each student while teacher B started morning meeting. Usually, Teacher B starts morning meeting by having the students go in a circle and greet each other. Today, however, Teacher B starts by saying “you know, im a little disappointed with you guys right now” and began talking to the students about how they had laughed at a student. Teacher B spoke to the students about had come to her even before the event occurred and had indicated that they were a little insecure that day. Teacher B indicated that while this student may have laughed along with them, it didn’t mean that they weren’t hurting on the inside. At this point, it was unclear to me which student she was specifically talking about since I was facing away from the circle. During class I noticed that one of the students seemed less animated than usual. They were frowning and staring at the desk for the first two periods and were avoiding talking to their peers. It wasn’t until a conversation with Teacher A later that I realized that the student that felt insecure and the student I noticed looked upset were the same person.


Following morning meeting, the class moved into the new poetry unit they had begun at the end of last week when their research project came to a conclusion. As a class, they went over the ABCs and Twinkle Twinkle Little Start as examples of poetry and to discuss where to put line breaks. After working as a class, the students moved back to their own desks where they chose a poetry book at random and engaged in independent reading before starting an activity where they started their own poetry writing. During this activity, the students were given little direction. What was unclear to me is what the student’s introduction and background with poetry was. During the research project period, the daily activities had been highly regulated and there were clear instructions given to the students so it was easier for me to gauge where the student’s understanding of the research process stood. Today, however, it was not as clear how much previous, explicit instruction on poetry the students had been given.


In between this poetry activity and the planned standardized test prep period, Teacher A had me play a game called “Sparkle” with the students. Initially, I did not recognize this game based on the name but the second that Teacher A started describing it, I recognized it as my all-time least favorite game during elementary school. The students have to stand in a circle while the instructor (in this case, me) states a word. One student starts spelling the word by giving the first letter and then they go around in a circle, with each student stating the subsequent letter, until the reach the end of the word. When the word is done, instead of saying a letter, the next student says “Sparkle” and I would read out the next word. If any student said the wrong letter, or said “Sparkle” before the word was complete, they had to sit down until the last child standing is given a word to spell on their own. As a visual learner who hates spelling, I do not remember this game fondly. Several of the students in the class are not very loud and as a result when we were going around, I could only catch about every other letter that the students were saying which led to further confusion and a mistake that eliminated half of the class from the game.


The final section of the class focused on test prep activities. During this activity, Teacher A gave the students a reading passage with comprehension questions and had them work in partners to read the selection, summarize the points of the paragraphs, and then answer the questions that followed. During this activity, Teacher A had me work with a pair of students to go through and read the passage and answer the questions. One of the students is very visually impaired and has to read everything using magnifying technology on a special computer screen. While these students comprehended the entire passage, their pace was significantly slower than the rest of the class.  This meant that at the end of the activity, they still had half of the questions unanswered and were instructed to come back during lunch in order to complete the assignment.


After this period, Teacher A had me go through all of the completed packets and grade them. Teacher A did not have an answer key and therefore before I graded the papers, we went over the answers that we thought were correct. In doing this, we encountered a question that we both agreed had two answers that could be interpreted as correct. As a result, we decided that if a student answered the question with either of those answers, they would get it correct. This was partially driven by the fact that Teacher A went through and found the packet for the strongest reader in the class and saw that they had put the answer that a smaller portion of the class had answered. This raised the question for me whether this answer would have been interpreted as less ambiguous if one of the identified weaker readers had selected it rather than a top reader.


In a conversation between periods, Teacher A and I discussed the upcoming standardized tests. Teacher A identified two major issues that she was dealing with in preparing for the tests. The first was how to teach the students to game the system. This came up when we started talking about how often, it feels like the test purposefully sets out to trick students. We talked about how the previous week, when I was completing a similar test prep packet with students we came upon a question that asked students to define what “extraordinary” meant. One of the answers that they gave was “very ordinary.” Unprompted, one of the students indicated that they had chosen this option because if you break down the word into parts (like they had learned), you got the words “extra” which means “really” and “ordinary,” so the obvious choice was “very ordinary.” The second issue that Teacher A identified was how to approach the test-taking process with the students who were significantly below grade level and would still be required to take the 6th grade level test. Teacher A (and the other collaborating teachers) did not want these students to take one look at test book and give up before they started, which apparent was something that had done in the past (i.e. a student randomly bubbling in answers without even opening the test booklet). They decided they needed to be frank with these students: yes, you need to try on this test, but it is going to be difficult and there are going to be a lot of things that you won’t understand. While the teachers had decided that they wanted to have this conversation with the lower performing students, they did not know how to frame the conversation without bringing down the self-esteem of the students.