At most universities, education majors do not receive experience in a real classroom setting until their final year of school. However, that is not so at my university! I have just begun my third week teaching in a second grade classroom in Green Bay! This semester, I am a part of the Sophomore Block experience for education majors. This means that I complete four 9 week accelerated courses and then finish off the semester in a classroom placement.
Over the past three weeks, I have been an observer and a teacher, and I have had to complete reflections for each week. These reflections provide insight into my time in the classroom, and I am sharing parts of them with you below to receive some insight into my experience so far.
Only one week into my virtual placement, and I have learned a substantial amount about the dynamics of a second-grade classroom. This learning of mine has stemmed from observing the students in their work, interacting with the students during free periods, assisting the students with their questions, and having discussions with my cooperating teacher. I also had the opportunity to uniquely introduce myself to the students this week by creating a presentation with some images of my family and interests as well as putting together a WeVideo about Saint Norbert College. I took the students on a virtual tour of Saint Norbert College to share what my school looks like in comparison to their schools. I am excited to share that the students’ engagement with my video was encouraging. Overall, from this first week of observation and introduction to the classroom, I noted how the teacher conducted her classroom, how the students interacted with one another, and how the students engaged with the content being presented.
The discourse that the students engaged in during virtual class this prior week was limited, and I target the limitations of discourse on the reality of being in a virtual classroom. It is easily noted that the students want to interact with one another; however, they are reserved with their interactions. Each morning, there are a handful of students that log on early, and both myself and my cooperating teacher recognize that they want to see and talk with their friends. Yet, they are not able to do so in a private manner. Whatever discussions the students want to have with one another, they would have to have them in front of the entire class, or whoever is present on the Google Meet call at the time. This is a consequence of being in a virtual classroom. I will acknowledge that there are two or three students who are not reserved about having discussions in front of the entire class, and I appreciate those students because they engage the others in their conversations. Towards the latter part of the academic week, I was also informed that some students use Google Chats to communicate with one another, but my cooperating teacher is uncertain of how appropriate these chats are. So, she attempts to put an end to them unless she is included in the chat for monitoring purposes.
Due to being in a virtual classroom, behavior is evoked in various ways. Students will be attentive at some points during the school day, and at other times they will walk away from their computers. Inattentiveness and problematic behavior are difficult to address because the classroom is online and not in person. However, teachers support positive behavior to encourage attentiveness and engagement in the virtual classroom. My cooperating teacher is implementing a reward system for students to encourage positive behavior, and she is doing so through the platform called Classroom Dojo. All students have access to this platform, and they can monitor the points that they receive from their teacher. Additionally, students are provided guidelines as to what they will be rewarded points for and how points can be taken away. Some of the ways students can earn points include participating, in class, completing assignments, and following directions. Once students reach 100 points, they decide what they want their reward to be, and these rewards vary from having lunch with the teacher to being excused from a homework assignment of choice. My cooperating teacher also encourages positive behavior in students by reminding them that they should have their computer camera on at all times. By having students do this, they are more responsible for their actions because the teacher can see them, and the meetings are often being recorded. Some students do not leave their cameras on, and that makes it difficult for teachers to see if the students are on task or distracted by something within their homes. I am eager to see how well Classroom Dojo works with the students and how it encourages them in displaying positive behavior. I perceive it to be the most rewarding and motivating method of support for students when considering positive behavior.
I have started to become engaged with the students in a few different ways so far in my placement. As I mentioned above, I created a student-friendly presentation about myself so that the students can understand a little more about myself, and I put together a video about what a college campus looks like. From these two showings, the students and I engaged in a discussion about various topics of my presentation and video. Another way that I have been engaging with the students is in spontaneous discussion in the morning before class begins. Some of the students log on early, but they are reserved to talk with their peers. So, I have attempted to initiate some conversation by asking students about things they have done, places they have gone, and other prompts that involve experiences and stories they can share and relate to one another with. A final way that I engaged with the students during the first week of placement was by checking their classwork before excusing them from the class period that day. This interaction is more professional, but I perceive the students becoming more comfortable with me from these interactions.
Several people share that kids learn from what is being modeled to them by those in their surrounding environment, this can be the same for adults as well. Observation can lead to substantial learning, and I have come to this realization from my time this past week in my virtual placement. Student and teacher discourse, behavior, and interactions are what I observed this past week in my virtual classroom placement, and I am eager to learn more about the dynamics of a second-grade classroom this upcoming week.
As a student in my Sophomore Block placement, there are weekly guidelines to follow provided by the Saint Norbert College Education Department. I use these guidelines to become involved in my classroom placement, but I also need to be flexible with the dynamics of the classroom when attempting to become involved. The virtual classroom makes it challenging to get to know the students and work with them at times. It has taken the past two weeks for the students to become comfortable with my presence in the virtual classroom due to interaction limitations. I have not had the opportunity to have a conversation one-on-one with a student and get to know them individually. Instead, the conversations are most often surface-level because the entire class participates and the topic of conversation needs to be appropriate for each student. However, despite some of the limitations that have surfaced in regards to interaction and becoming involved, I have developed responsibility with daily instruction which helps me become involved within the classroom dynamics. This responsibility includes answering questions that the students have, calling on students to respond to a question that my cooperating teacher presents, and probing questions to help the students think more abstractly and critically in the academic work. One example of my involvement is at the beginning of each class period when the students are asked to respond to the daily discussion question. My cooperating teacher presents the question to the students, and I call on students to answer the question as well as give commentary to their answers. The second example of my involvement includes work time in math, reading, phonics, and writing. After each of the lessons, the students are given time to complete assignments on Seesaw or in their workbooks. Each work period, students have questions about the task given to them or the content within the task. It has become my responsibility to address these questions. When I was first given this responsibility, some of the students still asked for my cooperating teacher to respond to their questions which were difficult for me to accept. I perceive the uncomfortability that the students felt with me to be evoked from the virtual format because it is less personal. However, by the end of last week, all the students were comfortable with me answering their questions, and some of them were eager to share with me what they were working on.
Overall, I perceive the success of my instructional involvement to have been a progression the past two weeks within the virtual classroom because the instructional methods have been virtual. As I mentioned above, it was difficult for the students to become familiar with me because I was not able to get to know them personally. I still don’t. However, they have learned to trust my ability to guide them in their learning over the past two weeks, and that is why I have become more successful in my instructional responsibilities. I regularly considered how I could help the students become more comfortable with me, and my response to those thoughts was the video I made about what college was like. I thought that maybe the students were intimidated by me, so I then thought that making a video about the normal routine of a college student would help them realize that I was learning and growing just like them. I know that my video helped some of my students be more comfortable with me in their classroom, but I know that for the others, it just took time. To conclude, I am hoping that during these remaining weeks of my placement the students will start to share stories about themselves with me more casually without probing from myself or my cooperating teacher. I am hopeful to have a genuine student-teacher relationship between the students and myself in the class, and I understand that I most likely won’t be able to achieve this aspiration until the concluding week of my placement. It took the students two weeks to allow me to assist them in their learning, so I perceive it to take another two or three weeks for them to open up more personally to me.
I am certain that I would have a different experience teaching this group of students if we were physically in the second-grade classroom, and I know that it would be different because of three primary reasons. The first reason is that I would have a more personal connection with the students. I would be able to work with them one-on-one and have intentional conversations with each student that does not involve the rest of the class. Having that ability, I think that it would not have taken the students as long to develop trust with me and be comfortable with my presence. The students would have been able to meet my personality and happy character in person. I feel as if I would simply be more real to my students. Thus, I would be able to connect with them better. The second reason that I would have a different teaching experience is that I would have access to all the teaching materials that are used. Right now, it takes my cooperating teacher some time to email lesson plan materials to me. Additionally, there are supplies and activity potential located within the classroom that cannot logically be used over a virtual format. The third reason that my teaching experience would have been different would have been because I would have been able to connect with many more students beyond my classroom placement. My cooperating teacher shared with me that if we were in person, she would occasionally have me observe and interact with the other second-grade classroom to compare the dynamics of her classroom to others. Not only would I have been able to meet more students this way, but I would also have built professional relationships with other teachers and administrators within the school.