hesis on NBPTS
While completing the requirements for my graduate degree I wanted to apply the educational theories to my own practice through action research. This action research birthed my pursuit of national certification in teaching adolescence and young adults in Language Arts through the NBPTS. I initiated the process of national certification in the spring of 2002 and enthusiastically anticipate the final results by December 2004. I am forever indebted to the kindness and thoughtful consideration of my chair, Dr. Fred Bail.
Professional Growth through Accreditation
A Plan B Paper Submitted to the Graduate Division of the University of Hawaii in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Education in Educational Psychology
Frederick T. Bail, Plan B Chair
I remember attending a teacher’s workshop that focused on personality traits of students. The facilitator talked about how to teach learners of different personality styles. She introduced all the various ways to creatively instruct these learners using unique and inventive approaches. Ironically, she presented her material similar to every other workshop I’have attended, via transparencies projected on an overhead and disseminated to a whole group. She never once used one of the distinctive strategies in her own instruction.
This workshop left me wondering if I might be the same type of instructor. Over the past six years of teaching and in my two-year graduate course work, I have learned a great deal about the effectiveness of quality, formative assessment and the success of intentional and purposeful instruction. I questioned whether or not I was this same teacher who knew the correct way to teach, but chose instead to teach my students using the traditional method of instruction.
According to Freeman (1998), a teacher’s competency level is measured “in terms of action and activity, by doing the job, and not by speculating on the structure, efficacy, or outcomes of those actions. I wasn’t paid to speculate or to wonder; I was paid to teach” (p.2). Some teachers simply teach lesson-to-lesson without catering to student learning or looking for results from the teaching. Teachers rely on a daily routine in the classroom to efficiently conduct class almost “semi-automatically” (Wien, 1995, p. 12). This type of automatic teaching without reflection or speculation leaves one to question whether a student is receiving the best instruction available. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was created in 1987 after the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy's Task Force on Teaching as a Profession released A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century(May 16, 1986). In 1991, the National Board for Professional Teachers (NBPTS) addressed this problem by creating an optional assessment for teachers to accomplish in his or her content area in order to obtain national certification and recognition as a professional in the teaching field.
Purpose of Project
My Plan B MEd project was to complete my application for certification by the NBPTS in the area of Adolescence and Young Adult English and Language Arts. In order to accomplish the national certification process, I completed a four-part portfolio and took six assessment center tests. While undergoing this process my goal was to identify factors of my teaching philosophy and explore their impact on my instructional practice. The project allowed me to “speculate, to puzzle, and to question [my] work as a teacher in establishing the fact of [my] expertise and authority of that work” (Freeman, 1998, p. 2). I used the accreditation process to determine if my teaching philosophy matched my daily practice. According to NBPTS, quality teachers are needed for student learning . This accreditation process enabled me to reflect on my teaching practice and to determine how well it agreed with my understanding of effective teaching.
Significance of the Plan B Project
Teachers need to be cognizant of their practice in the classroom. For teachers to be mindful of their instruction, they must become researchers and study the effect of their actions on student learning. Teachers and researchers are not too far removed from one another when taking into account “both teaching and researching are concerned with processes of knowing and establishing knowledge” (Freeman, 1998, p. 7). In order to understand the processes of knowing and establishing knowledge, teachers need to gain a clear understanding of their personal teaching style (Ritchie & Wilson, 2000). Researching my beliefs about teaching and comparing it to my actual practice will enable me to see if I have a positive affect on student learning. Freeman (1998) believes “research is important because it causes teachers to seek knowledge about their own teaching” (p.7). The process of accreditation enabled me to see if I can professionally develop my teaching practice over a set period of time.
This teacher project was not a typical teacher research project. It was based on the standards set by the NBPTS. I explored my teaching practice through the creation of my national certification portfolio. Effective classroom practice followed the outline in the professional standards and was documented through a systematic and well-detailed portfolio. NBPTS certification measures a teacher's practice against high and rigorous standards; the extensive series of performance-based assessments includes student work samples, videotapes and analysis of the teacher’s classroom teaching and student learning. This arduous process assisted me in reflecting on my teaching practice and refining my formative and evaluative assessment of student learning.
I will begin by introducing the need for national professional standards and critical reflection in the teaching profession. I next will explore the theoretical contexts of professional development, self-reflection, and collaborative group work. I next will explain the context of my educational practice and the accreditation process. Finally, I will reflect on the major components of my teaching through the use of self-reflection and professional development. I conclude with a tentative prescription for myself as a teacher.
Theoretical Context of the Certification Process
As stated earlier, this project will explore the effect of the national certification application process on one teacher’s professional development. Three educational topics will serve as contexts to direct and lead my teacher project as a reflective process: professional development, teacher and student self-reflection, and collaborative group work.
Burnaford, Fischer and Hobson (2001) state that, “the central work of teacher action is to identify effective educational practices and to design ways of helping classrooms and schools become democratic communities of quality learning and teaching” (p. 30). The basic reason for teachers doing research is to address the essential educational issues and concerns of the day, including advocating for learners, working for social justice and human rights, and educating citizens to build a more peaceful and livable society (Burnaford, G., Fischer, J., & Hobson, D., 2001). Sometimes it is a challenge to be both a teacher and researcher. According to Darling-Hammond & Milbrey McLaughlin (1995) effective professional development allows teachers to struggle with the doubts of being both a researcher and teacher. Professional development makes teachers learn, and asks them to think about what, when, and how to learn. This concept requires the shift from policies that control or direct the work of teachers, to strategies intended to develop teachers’ capacity to be responsible for student learning. Capacity-building policies view knowledge as constructed by practitioners for use in their own contexts, rather than something communicated by policy makers as a quick panacea for all teachers to implement (p. 599).
When the teacher participates in a professional development program “he or she must observe students and study classroom interactions, explore a variety of effective teaching methods, and build conceptual frameworks that can guide and enhance one’s own teaching practice” (Burnaford, G., Fischer, J., & Hobson, D., 2001). Teachers have been accustomed to distancing themselves from their work as if such separation would somehow render the work more plausible, credible, and perhaps more scientific. Some teachers have difficulty seeing themselves as researchers, but when teachers are invited to talk in supportive settings, they discuss a cornucopia of questions, concerns and issues they wish to investigate (Burnaford, G., Fischer, J., & Hobson, D., 2001). Professional development that leads to significant change engages learners in practical ways to apply powerful ideas and practices, to reflect upon the experience, and to revisit and reapply ideas making learning for the educator the on-going process expected for students ( Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995).
Adult learners are not different from young children in their acquisition of new concepts. As people involved in designing adult learning opportunities, we undermine our work when we begin to think that efficiencies can be gained by doing the same thing, at the same time, in the same way. For example, when we ignore the individual needs of learners as we design learning opportunities, we risk deluding ourselves. Learning cannot be mandated; learning needs to be supported. Practice and research support the following beliefs about learning that underlie our work: all people can learn, people learn in different ways and at different times, learning is both an individual and a social process, and assessment is an on-going, continuous process (Davies, 2001, p. 3).
Teacher and Student Self-Reflection
Lenses of teaching
In Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, Stephen Brookfield (1995) discusses how critical reflection helps teachers understand why they teach in a certain way and to assess the impact and perceptions of these practices. The heart of the reflective process, according to Brookfield, is viewing teaching from four different perspectives or "lenses": our autobiographies as teachers and learners; our students' eyes; colleagues' perceptions; and relevant theoretical literature (p. 28). The first lens considers our experiences as teachers and learners. This process unveils the assumptions and reasoning that shape and influence our teaching. Later, these assumptions may be verified through the remaining three lenses. In addition to videotaping and peer observation, Brookfield describes several innovative strategies that can be used with this lens (p. 34).
The second lens used in Brookfield's process of critical reflection is our students’ eyes. Assessment of student perceptions reveals to what extent our assumptions about teaching or classroom management corresponds with those of our students (p. 45). Brookfield maintains the third lens as the importance of dialogue among colleagues. Discussion of pedagogical matters frequently reveals that concerns or problems are shared. Peer discussion not only validates our trials and successes, but it also provides new perspectives and insights into problem solving (p.58). Lastly, theoretical literature plays a role in critical reflection in helping us to understand our experiences by naming and describing them. According to Brookfield, this can help prevent us from believing that we are responsible for everything, good and bad, that happens in our class.
Benefits of reflection for teachers
Goodson and Sikes (2001) focus on the benefits of self-reflection. They allow us to investigate our beliefs, values and experiences. Reflection also encourages us to view the origin or development of these beliefs, values and experiences with an understanding that our past can influence the present and future. Schon (1987) believes that we may also investigate the “clues we observe and the rules we follow; or the values, strategies, and assumptions that make up our ‘theories’ of action” (p.25). “We may reflect back on action, thinking back on what we have done in order to discover how our knowing-in-action may have contributed to an unexpected outcome” (Schon, 1987, p. 26). Tripp (1994) finds that it is more useful to focus on particular classroom incidents so the “professional formative experiences… can be elicited, articulated, understood, accepted and reconsidered” (p. 68). Tripp also acknowledges that the process is not an easy one. “It revealed a number of my values and beliefs” (Tripp, 1994, p.70). While the significance of self-reflection for teachers is great, it is absolutely important for students. When it has two distinctive purposes, Brookfield (1995) believes reflection becomes critical: to understand how power frames and distorts educational processes, and to question assumptions that seem to make our teaching easier, but actually work against our long-term interests (p.8).
When students begin to question their own work, and seriously consider what is working and what needs to be improved, the learning is no longer in the hands of the teacher, but rests in the mind of the student. Learners need to be actively involved in constructing their learning. Rather than individuals being born with a single, unchangeable intelligence, intelligence is now conceived of as multi-faceted and subject to change with experience (Bruner, 1997; Gardner, 1993). When students are involved in their own assessment, they are required to think about their learning and articulate their understanding, which helps them learn (Schon, 1987). Self-assessment asks students to make choices about what to focus on next in their learning. When students make choices about their learning, achievement increases; when choice is absent, learning decreases (Lepper & Greene, 1978). When students are involved in their own assessment, mistakes become information for feedback to use to adjust what they are doing. When students pay attention to their mistakes in learning and identify ways to improve, they learn. When others identify students’ mistakes and feedback is limited to marks or letters, students are less likely to know what to do differently next time (Shepard & Smith, 1986). Involving students in assessment and increasing the amount of formative assessment (feedback) increases student learning significantly. While all students show significant gains, low achieving students generally benefit the most from formative assessment (Black & William, 1998).
Collaborative Group Work
Informal and formal learning groups and study teams
Students learn best when they are actively involved in the process. Collaborative groups and cooperative learning refer to a variety of structured instructional techniques developed and studied by Aronson, Johnson & Johnson, Kagan, Slavin, and others since the early 1970s. Researchers report that, regardless of the subject mater, students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats. Students who work in cooperative groups also appear more satisfied with their classes (Johnson & Johnson, 1991; Kagan, 1994; Slavin, 1980). Various names have been given to this type of instructional grouping: cooperative learning, collaborative learning, collective learning, learning communities, peer teaching, peer learning, reciprocal teachings, team learning, study teams, study circles, and work groups. Though there are general distinctions among these, there are three general types of group work: informal learning groups, formal learning groups, and study teams (adapted from Johnson & Johnson, 1991).
Informal learning groups are spontaneous, temporary groupings of students within a single class session. Informal learning groups can be initiated, for example, by asking students to turn to a neighbor and spend two minutes discussing a question, or by asking groups of three to five to solve a problem or pose a question. Informal groups can be formed at any time in a class of any size to check on students' understanding of the material, to give students an opportunity to apply what they are learning, or to provide a change of pace (Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 1991).
Formal learning groups are teams established to complete a specific task, such as perform a lab experiment, write a report, or prepare a position paper. These groups complete their work in a single class session or over several weeks. Typically, students work together until the task is finished, and their project is graded (Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 1991).
Study teams are long-term groups, usually existing over the course of a semester, with stable membership whose primary responsibility is to provide members with support, encouragement, and assistance in completing course requirements and assignments. Study teams also inform their members about lectures and assignments when someone has missed a session.
Another important factor in collaborative group work is the opportunity to develop social relationships. Social relationships are critical to a student’s quality of life and are a major determinant of whether the student will be a valued participant in his or her community. When teachers deliberately help students, especially those with disabilities, develop positive social relationships, the teacher engages in a powerful strategy for overcoming the negative effects of disability. Social relationships are critical to one’s quality of life and are a major determinant of whether an individual will be a valued member of his or her community across the lifespan. Family and neighborhood play a major role in shaping one’s social relationships, but school is perhaps the most important context for children’s social opportunities with peers and with adults other than family members (Tharp & Gallimore, 1989).
While family and school teach children many of the skills and behaviors they will need to be successful as adults in their families, careers, and communities, one's relationships with peers and acquaintances of all ages are widely acknowledged as the context for mastery of the social rules governing how we use our skills and behaviors in any situation or environment (Vygotsky, 1978). Furthermore, research in developmental disabilities has consistently revealed the significant role of social relationships in building the individual's social competence and the natural support networks needed by anyone throughout life (Bryant, 1989). For example, one's perceived social competence is known to be critical in attaining and keeping a job, and a lack of social competence is the most frequently cited reason for employment difficulties (Putnam, 1993). Friends, mentors, and benefactors are among the terms used to describe personal relationships that create interdependence and that promote participation in a variety of valued roles in one's community. Natural support networks involving friends and community members who are comfortable with persons with disabilities are particularly important for those persons with significant disabilities who may not acquire as many complex skills or behaviors as their peers (Bryant, 1989).
The high school in which I teach is a large, urban public school on the island of Oahu. It is located in the Central District and is approximately five minutes from Hawaii’s international airport. Our school enrollment for the 2001-2002 year was 1,962 students; 15.8% of those students were Caucasian, 19.9% Filipino, 16.6% Japanese, and 21.4% were military dependents. The community directly surrounding the school is mostly high-rise apartments and military installations. We are considered a year-round school by the Department of Education.
I teach three single-level classes: senior Phase Four English/Language Arts, senior level Business English, and junior level Advanced Placement Language and Composition. My students range between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. The average class size in Senior English and Business English is 27, while in A. P. Language and Composition it is 20. The average number of students I teach per day ranges between seventy and ninety. I recently became the Language Arts Department Chair, which decreased the average number of students I see daily and cleared one of my course offerings so I could hold the position of department chair. Last year I applied for a technology grant and received six new computers, two printers and a large twenty-four inch television for my classroom. My class also has a DVD/VHS player and two older computers connected to a printer.
Since this project explores the effect of the national certification application process on a teacher, it is important to explain this process in some detail. This section explains the certification process, and my role as the teacher-researcher, a difficult task when considering the continuum of participant to observer.
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is rooted in the belief that the single most important action this country can take to improve schools and student learning is to strengthen teaching (http://www.nbpts.org, p. 1).The standards for teachers have been raised in order to strengthen the educational preparation of students and make teaching a profession dedicated to student learning. To meet those standards, a teacher needs to go through the certification process, which is an extensive series of performance-based assessments that include teaching portfolios, student work samples, videotapes and thorough analyses of one’s classroom teaching and student learning. Teachers also complete a series of written exercises that probe the depth of their subject-matter knowledge, and their understanding of how to teach those subjects to students.
The mission of the NBPTS is to advance the quality of teaching and learning by:
• Maintaining high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do,
• Providing a national voluntary system certifying teachers who meet these standards, and
• Advocating related education reforms to integrate National Board Certification in American education and to capitalize on the expertise of National Board Certified Teachers (http://www.nbpts.org, p. 4 ).
The Five Core Propositions of the NBPTS are:
• Teachers are committed to students and their learning.
• Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.
• Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
• Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
• Teachers are members of learning communities.
The vast majority of teachers who have participated in National Board Certification process have stated it is the most powerful professional development experience of their careers. They say the experience changes them as professionals and that through the process they deepen their content knowledge and develop, master, and reflect on new approaches to working with their students (http://www.nbpts.org, p. 3). The national board assessment consists of two major sections: a four-part portfolio and six assessment center tests. The portfolio is a compilation of videotaped teaching, student examples of learning and other products and artifacts that support analysis of one’s teaching practice. The portfolio is designed to capture teaching in real time, in real life settings, giving trained assessors the ability to examine how teachers translate knowledge and theory into practice. The assessment center tests are composed of six thirty-minute exercises that examine my content knowledge, ranging from literary analysis, universal themes, teaching reading, language study, analysis of writing, and teaching writing.
The Four Portfolio Entries
Part of the assessment for the accreditation process is the completion of a portfolio. The portfolio consists of four different entries, each of which asks the teacher for direct evidence of some aspect of his or her work and an analytical and/or reflective commentary written by the teacher about that evidence. The portfolio consists of three different classroom-based entries, two videotaped classroom interactions, and collected student work samples. In every case, the teacher is asked to write a detailed analysis of the teaching in the videotape or student work.
The first entry asks the teacher to demonstrate how she teaches her students to read, write and respond to various types of texts. The teachers is asked to describe the goals for teaching, the context in which the student responded, and the teacher’s analysis of the student’s growth and development as an individual who can interact with texts and effectively communicate in writing. Finally, the teacher must explain how the entire entry is indicative of the instruction of reading and writing. This section is limited to fifty-three pages: one packet of thirteen pages of written commentary that analyzes four responses from two students; and two packets of twenty pages of a student’s responses to four assignments (two writing and two reading), the assignment prompt, and the rubric or scoring criteria that was used to score the student’s response.
The second entry asks the teacher to demonstrate the teaching strategies used for a whole class English language arts discussion. This entry should capture the development of students’ abilities to engage with the teacher and with one another in meaningful discourse, and the teacher’s integration of language arts. The videotape should show the teacher and students involved in a discussion about a topic, concept, or text important to the instruction. The teacher needs to provide evidence of her ability to describe, analyze, and reflect on her own work. The written commentary that provides a context for the instructional choices, and describes, analyzes and evaluates the teaching through the whole class discussion can be no longer than thirteen pages. An additional three pages can be included of instructional materials related to the lesson featured on the videotape that will help assessors understand what occurred during the lesson. The continuous and unedited video is allowed to be no longer than fifteen minutes.
The third entry is a demonstration of the teaching strategies used for a small English language arts discussion. This entry is designed to capture the students’ ability to engage with the teacher and each other in meaningful discourse as they work in small groups and within the context of language arts. The videotape should show the teacher’s facilitation of and interaction with the small groups of students. This interaction with the teacher must be intermittent as the teacher circulates among the small groups in the class. The entry also asks for the teacher to provide evidence of her ability to describe, analyze, and reflect on her own work. The written commentary that provides a context for the instructional choices, and describes, analyzes and evaluates the teaching through the small group discussion can be no longer than eleven pages. An additional three pages can be included of instructional materials related to the lesson featured on the videotape that will assist assessors in understanding what occurred during the lesson. The entry requires a fifteen-minute, continuous and unedited videotape that shows the teacher circulating among and interacting with the students who are conversing purposefully in small groups. The focus for the videotape should be on at least two groups of three to six students, and the topic must relate to language arts.
The fourth and final entry asks the teacher to demonstrate her commitment to student learning through her work with students’ families and community and through her development as a learner and a leader or collaborator. This commitment can be demonstrated through evidence of the teacher’s efforts to establish and maintain partnerships with students’ families and the community, through evidence of the teacher’s growth as a learner, and through work that she does with other teachers at a local, state, or national level. This entry is designed to capture evidence of the way in which the teacher’s role is broader than what she does in the classroom. It provides the teacher with an opportunity to show how what she does outside the classroom contributes to student learning. This entry is allowed to be no longer than thirty-two pages: twelve pages of description and analysis of activities or accomplishments that clearly and specifically describe why they are significant in the teaching context and what impact they have on student learning; and no more than twenty pages of documentation that support the teacher’s accomplishments that are described in the description and analysis section.
Reflections from the Process
For the purposes of this paper, I will highlight only three main foci of my reflection: professional development, self reflection, and collaborative group work. I sometimes find myself dreaming about teaching. Those dreams are always fun, satisfying and intriguing. This reflects my outlook on teaching. This job is fun, and that is why it includes my personal life as well as my professional life. Regardless of where I am or who is watching, I make sure I model the role of an educator.
One big change in my approach to professional development is the importance of parental contact; parents are an integral part of a student’s education. Once I talk to a parent, I realize that student will need some kind of accommodation, and it is with this insight that I believe all students need tailored instruction. No more can I teach to the masses. Collaborative group work assists in my ability to individualize the instruction for students. When I contact a parent, whether it is through e-mail or a telephone call, I have made a contact and need to establish rapport with that parent. We all need to be allies in this fight for education.
Can a teacher realistically only work from nine to five? The teaching day does not start or end in the classroom when the bell rings. I have found that my teaching day continues into my weekend, and frequently sneaks into my evenings. My students are involved in more than just my professional life, which I never truly reflected on before this time. I find that I spend time outside of class with my students: in the ocean, at music concerts and operas, and at sporting events. I highly value the rapport between teacher and student, but now I realize how this personal relationship influences respect in the classroom. By participating in my students’ extracurricular activities, I am not only increasing classroom rapport, but also increasing the connection to classroom activities and real world experiences.
When I look at the patterns in my teaching practice, I notice the amount of time spent doing my job, even when no one is looking. This can easily be seen in my role as Language Arts Department Chair and Surf Club Advisor. There are times when I need to take the weekend to put together a presentation on standards for the department, or camp with the club on the north shore. These activities are done to improve the learning experience for students and offer them as many possible opportunities to explore their world. I enjoy connecting with my colleagues and students, and believe that interpersonal skills are imperative in the professional world.
Another pattern I see in my accomplishments is in connecting with the community and business world. This is important to me because I want my students to see the relevance in my lessons and the state standards for their own lives, and that which the will face in the real world. For example, they need to see how important it is to work together in cooperative situations because they cannot isolate themselves from society. They need to be responsible for their own learning because this is the time in life when they realize they are moving into the market place, and mom or dad is not going to be there to help them along. They need to be involved in complex thinking and problem solving because we rely on these students to lead our society in a positive direction, continuing to advance our technology in useful and ethical ways. They need to be able to produce and recognize quality products because it is up to our students to see what works and put it to work. For me, that my students are able to succeed in the real world is an indication that I have successfully addressed the general leaner outcomes.
The proudest teaching accomplishment I have to date is the creation of the senior portfolio showcase evening. This event truly gives the students a “real world” feeling because of its ability to address all the above listed outcomes and a few of the state standards. The students are given a culminating task at the beginning of the school year, a portfolio of their best works, and spend the rest of the year putting together this portfolio. The students learn to evaluate their own products and identify areas of growth in reading, writing and oral expression. One thing I would change for the portfolio showcase would be to make it a graduation requirement for all senior students. This would confirm and document the student’s education and learning, just as this project documents my professional development.
As a teacher, I find my strengths and weaknesses balance each other out. I feel it is an asset to be creative, open and spontaneous because it helps me to abandon a useless lesson or use formative assessment to gauge student comprehension and re-shape certain activities to accommodate more learning. But such spontaneity can be a detriment to a linear student; some students want to have clear-cut expectations and criteria weeks in advance. I frequently change my instruction, which prevents concrete thinkers from following my instruction.
I can identify my approach to assessment both as a strength and weakness. When looking at my responses to student work, I find that I give an enormous amount of formative feedback. This can be seen as good since the comments are designed to improve the overall quality of the paper. The problem is that students rarely rewrite the piece to include the suggestions for improvement written on the paper. I hurriedly return papers to give the feedback as soon as possible, but then I move on to the next assignment. I want students to be exposed to as much writing and reading as possible, but maybe my pace is too fast even for myself. The variety of writing assignments and depth in which the students write is an affirmation that their writing is improving, but it would be equally exciting to see the development over the course of just one paper.
When looking at the process of instructing a student in language arts, it can be messy and discombobulated. Sometimes I feel that I am not teaching in a very linear manner, like some science or math instructors, and I wonder if my instruction loses students along the way. Both students included in the first portion of my NBPTS application are spontaneous, creative thinkers; they do not need instruction to be black and white, but can tolerate the gray that frequently accompanies a language arts type of learning environment. I want to be able to address the needs of all my students, and feel that this accreditation process has attributed to some quality reflective practice.
The goals I set out to accomplish this year were in line with the Department of Education and the high school’s General Learner Outcomes. I would like to assist my students in becoming life-long learners so they can think critically and problem solve, create and identify quality products and be able to work in cooperative groups. Though I cannot yet agree that I have fully met these goals or outcomes when viewing the four responses from the first entry, I can say that these two students have drastically improved in their comprehension of effective oral and written communication. I think I have only partially met the General Learner Outcomes, but I feel that the students will continue to advance, even after graduation because they have the building blocks in place to improve. They know the importance of the six traits of writing (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions) and can identify which of the four responses to use when reading (initial, critical, personal, or interpretive) and value the writing process.
The formulaic writing style works for most students. Developing introductions, supporting body paragraphs and closing with an insightful conclusion paragraph assists students in seeing the commonalities in the writing process. Regardless of the topic, if a student follows the formula, he or she will end up with a successfully organized paper. On the other hand, this type of essay smothers creativity, which is evident in the student writing samples.
Frequently, a student can write a terrific essay, but it does not address the writing prompt and receives a low score from the judge. I use certain strategies, such as highlighting the key words or verbs in the prompt and adding them to the introduction in their essay, in order to help the student avoid this problem.
I also want the student to state his or her opinion to the class and listen carefully to his or her peers to create a common appreciation of the author’s message. This common understanding will increase our overall interpretation of the writing and positively affect the student’s essay. As the students interact with one another during the class discussion, it is clear to see they are advancing their comprehension of the author’s message. As a student shares her insight about the author’s use of replacements to show the importance of the company over the individual, she refers to another student’s example about the use of replacements to strengthen her argument. The students work together to make warranted, plausible interpretations of the author’s rhetorical devices.
A successful moment on the videotape was when the class realized that the “company man” could be anyone working too hard and not creating personal relationships in their lives. For example, one student commented that the man did not even have his wife as a part of his life. She states that the wife gives up on the man as a husband, but continues to let him exist in her life because he is the financial provider for the family. The class is able to make the leap from home life to business life, realizing that the life the man has created at home mirrors that of his work life. He is simply a cog in the machine making the factory function.
This is a big moment for learning because the heart of the author’s message has been established and from here the students start to analyze her message and make their own personal connections. One student started her writing prompt discussing what was important in her own life, and she admitted that sometimes she becomes a victim to the habits of the workaholic and finds the symptoms of the workaholic in her own life. What a great way for a student to read a work and apply it to his or her life! This is the point to reading and writing, making sense of the world around us and creating a meaningful and thought-provoking existence for ourselves-- one that includes analysis and introspection, reflection and improvement. Otherwise, reading becomes another hurdle leaped or obstacle met in the challenge to attain a high school diploma.
Collaborative Group Work
To give the reader a better sense of the actual application process, as well as to document the importance of collaborative group work, the remainder of this section is an except from the actual application.
My ultimate goal for this lesson was for the students to create intended outcomes for the service-learning project by March 15th. We were six weeks into third quarter, and I was apprehensive about the amount of success each group would have with such conscientious projects. I wanted to put a date limit on the project or the students would have worked straight into fourth quarter. In order to make the project real and tangible, I asked each group to come up with intended objectives and expected outcomes. This goal helps the students to be self-reflective because they are asked to predict the learning from the project. This is an advantageous assignment because it is what a teacher does on a daily basis. I write lesson plans that have intended objectives and I predict the outcomes. I have essential or driving questions that I use as targets for my instruction. It was fascinating to watch the students create their own objectives.
For example, the purple group was asked to create an objective for the field trip. I wanted them to decide what they wanted the group to learn from the activity. Normally, field trips are exciting adventures off campus, but sometimes students do not see that the trip is an extension of the classroom. The purple group decided on the first objective, to enlighten students about the function of the Hawaiian Humane Society, but they decided on a second objective as well, to make an impact on students’ lives for animal adoption. This second objective stemmed from the initial field trip the purple group took at the beginning of the quarter. Just by looking at the participation and the concentrated expression of each member, it is obvious that this intended outcome was group-generated. They are passionate about their service-learning project!
I found it particularly successful to be able to address the green group’s letter writing idea because I don’t think they fully conceived the idea. They saw that the red group received an enormous number of donations, and I believe that is what inspired them to create their own letters. The donation letter writing was a great idea because it could generate income for and awareness about the project, but without having a formulated activity, the group did not even realize the possible problems that could arise. Also, letter writing is not as easy as it seems, and I had already received back a few erroneous letters sent by their group. This was a true learning moment. I was able to present the group with the mislabeled letters at the beginning of class and explain how to address them in the future. During the class session I was able to ask the group about the objective of letter writing.
I asked one particular student to share with the group the generated list of activities, which is what I thought he had in his hand since it was the previous day’s assignment. Another student informed me that the brainstormed daily activities were in the collection basket. I realized then that this student had a list of local businesses, so I questioned him about the businesses instead. I pulled this student into the conversation not only because he held the list, but also because he is generally less talkative and slightly introverted. I wanted to get his feedback and support him in any way possible. I asked the student to explain that the paper was a list of companies and he intended to write to them. He said he was just waiting to hear back from some the companies.
I decided I would give an example about letter writing to see if the group could relate. I thought that if I could put the experience in a real life situation, the group could see the incident better and learn where there might be some concern. I gave my grocery store example and explained to the group the idea of a target audience and purpose. The group was asking for donations without even planning an activity, but they did not sense a problem. It was only after I explained the need for specific donations and clear, concise writing that they were able to redirect their need for donations. When I finished the example about donation letter writing and looked from face to face, I saw a flurry of agreement and understanding. The students rewrote their letters to ask for specific food and financial donations to support an on-campus barbecue controlled and directed by the cafeteria staff.
I feel I could have been more receptive to certain students’ voices during this lesson. The student tried several times to say something about the group’s progress with the field trip, but we talked right over him and did not give him enough time to speak. There are other times when I get overly excited about a topic and I tend to keep talking without any student contribution. My examples to the students could be more concise, and I should have asked the students to tell me what they could learn from my example, or tell me why I told it. I do not think I gave everyone the opportunity to share, and that can be distressing to students with low self-esteem. I need to get everyone active in the conversation and not isolate the discussion to a few individuals.
One aspect of my instructional plan that I would change would be the time in which I met individually with the groups. Instead of meeting at the beginning of the class and repeating the briefing session, it would have been better to let the groups discuss the objectives for a while. This would have allowed me the opportunity to hear the predicted outcomes for the service project and give the group formative feedback. I was able to gather the results of their discussions after class, but it was too late to refocus them once they left the class. Had I discussed with the groups their intended objectives at the beginning of class, I could have given the students more time to discuss their objectives instead of waiting for me to facilitate a discussion.
Lastly, I should have used the groups to help establish some kind of commonality among all the students. I feel that there was an abundance of rapport between members in each group, but not from group to group. I could have grouped the students according to roles in a jigsaw format and report to one another about their role within the group and the advantages and disadvantages in maintaining that role. This would bring in different perspectives on a common idea and give an inclusive feeling to the whole class. Knowing the various group settings, I could have established different types of groups to facilitate a better rapport among all students in class. I could create study teams at the beginning of the year, formal groups each quarter and rotating informal groups for small brainstorming or question generating.
Each time I meet with the groups, it gives me the opportunity to analyze the progress of the service-learning project. This class session enabled me to analyze the outcomes and see if all the groups would have an actual product by March 15th. My assessment of their service-learning project has being on-going. I am not only looking at the product, but the process as well. I conduct interviews, collect self-assessment journals, listen to conversations as an outside observer, and triangulate this data to draw a personal profile of each student. In this way I am able to create a learning log of experiences that will help me determine whether or not the student is meeting the standards for this assignment. The student will also fill out group and self-assessment sheets determining evaluative scores for themselves and each other. This assessment holds the students accountable for the work they put into the project, but also tests the ethics of each group member, a topic of which we spoke about regularly during the first quarter.
If the group does not have a service-learning project or product, they will present to the class the learning experience and how much of their project they developed. Some groups will be turning the service learning over to a committee formed by the school while others are going to use the project as a personal learning experience. The influence of this lesson’s outcome on future instruction will be on the continuing process of creating a service-learning project. The students are continuing to learn how to work cooperatively, create and recognize quality products, think critically and problem-solve, and take responsibility for their own actions.
Although the complete document is not contained here, it is available from the author.
Professional development is an ongoing process for me. Two areas of particular interest are integrating technology and professional development conferences. The next step for advancing myself professionally will be to find a way to have my senior students present their portfolios in a technologically advanced way. I would like to ask my students to create a website that illustrates their best high school products. This website could accomplish two tasks; the cumulative product, and the oral presentation. The students could experiment with several computer programs throughout the year and find one that can accommodate the needs of the portfolio. I will also ask the students to do voice-overs for the website, which will give it a professional and personal touch.
This year I participated in our school’s professional development conference and plan on doing so next year. I have developed a curriculum for the Business English class and will continue to expand this course to incorporate more technology and student reflection. The principal has identified the quality of a comprehensive business program, and I am privileged enough to be a part of this department. I will make sure next year’s Business English students participate in Hawaii Technology Quest Conference. This year’s class was the first class, and received a valuable learning experience by participating in the conference. I believe next year we will be better prepared to compete at the level the other participants were achieving.
Is this accreditation process worth going through? Absolutely! Previous to this experience, I have never completely assessed my teaching. The accreditation process allows a teacher to methodically and systematically evaluate and analyze her teaching practice. I feel I can now focus on specific areas in my teaching that need to be honed and sharpened to improve student learning. For example, I did not realize that there was a lack of communication between the parents and myself. At the beginning of my teaching career I made weekly phone calls to two or three parents apiece to congratulate the student or ask for parental assistance. I abandoned that practice because it was too time-consuming for me to make all those phone calls. Research shows that communication between the teacher and parent improves student performance, so regardless of time, I need to make those phone calls!
Also, I have support for why I teach the way I do. I never really contemplated the reasoning behind my instructional strategies. I simply assumed it was the best format for student learning. Now I can point to theoretical studies that prove group instruction is more effective and that having a formulaic writing unit can improve students’ writing scores.
Any teacher that proceeds to go through the accreditation process will find professional growth during the pursuit. Regardless if a teacher becomes certified or not, the growth occurs in the documentation phase. I would like to become certified, but I know that I have grown in my ability to be a more effective and responsible teacher by going through this process, just as I have grown throughout the master’s program. The accreditation process has offered me the ability to analyze my practice and justify my instructional plans. The next step I would like to take with the NBPTS is to encourage teachers on campus to pursue national certification and be the school’s liaison for the application process. There are so many small hoops to jump that a teacher should not have to jump through. I can be the middleman that removes those hoops.
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