CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE
A Spotlight on Instructional Excellence at GIA
Scholars in Ms. Howell's Class Hold "HER" Accountable For Her Actions
Ms. Nicole Howell 1st Grade Boys Academy Teacher
Scholars begin each day on "Ready for the Game"
Ms. Howell uses action affirmations to motivate her students
The following excerpt is from a student-teacher who recently observed Ms. Howell's classroom instruction
I was intrigued to see that throughout the day, mindfulness was being cultivated within the students. Upon entering the classroom, alpha waves were being played in the background and after lunch, the students meditated and took a brain break as a class. I observed on an early release day, but the students typically partake in recess as well during that time. Ms. Howell also promoted the schools E5 Core (Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Economics, Expression, and Engineering) as the day progressed. She had many posters on the wall, a few of them were encouraging the E5 Core, but the majority of them were made by her and the class as they completed objectives. Alongside that, she continually used statements like, “What are my expectations,” and “Don’t worry about them, control you”, to which the boys would reply with, “Self-control!” This amount of order and level of self-awareness in a first-grade classroom was something foreign to me given my educational background.
During the interview with Ms. Howell, something that stuck out to me was her method of student academic evaluation. When asked how she measured her students’ academic achievement, she said that the school system requires that the students complete the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test. However, in doing her due diligence, she developed and used her own diagnostic test to evaluate her students before they are given the MAP test. She used the scores from her method as a catalyst to assemble the class seating chart, placing students that were in the same scoring range at the same tables. Interestingly enough, she said that her results tend to match those from the MAP test.
Ms. Howell said that she uses action affirmations like the ones mentioned above to motivate her students to learn throughout the school year. Another way she engages with the class is through posters and she also tailors her lesson plans to fit boys specifically. She noted that boys tend to be more competitive and need more stimulants than girls do. Therefore, she strategizes by developing games, challenges, and group activities to teach the daily objectives. Likewise, she allows the boys to exert their energy by talking or moving around the classroom during the instructional day. She expressed that she will let them move around or talk while they are working on activities as long as they remain respectful and on task.
Ms. Howell’s primary form of systematic reinforcement was preformed through a football themed token economy. Each student had a clothespin with their name on it and they began their day on the “Ready for the game” section in the center of the chart. Throughout the day she would have them either move their pin up or down the chart based on their demonstration of desired or undesired behaviors. The child could either make their way down the chart from “Fumble”, to “Penalty”, to “Benched” which would result in a phone call home – or they could move up from “Completion” to “Touchdown” which would result in a sticker for their behavior card. The method for her chart was very effective but what surprised me was that she had a clip for herself on the chart. She allowed the students to move her clip as the day progressed as well, this permitted them to hold her accountable for her actions.
In the Pedagogy of Freedom, Freire makes the point that, “There is no teaching without learning.” He says that the teacher is constantly being formed and reformed while educating students and that there should be a constant cycle of recurrence between the teacher and learning, for one cannot occur without the other. Freire also discusses the issue of adults feeling as though they are losing respect from children as they give them respect. By Ms. Howell allowing her students to move her clip when they deem it to be necessary, she is signifying her awareness that she is an unfinished being. She leaves the door open for continued learning and growth as a person and an educator.
As a collective, the school promotes their E5 Core to the students daily. However, Ms. Howell’s demonstration of educating the boys on the E5 sets her apart from Freire’s thought that, “There is a lot of training but not a lot of educating.” Not only does she construct her own diagnostic test for her class, but she also uses Phonics along with other self-developed strategies to educate her students. To accompany entrepreneurship, economics and engineering, Ms. Howell teaches her students how to code. She is certified in this field and she shares that with her class and her peers. She takes her training and schooling and turns it into education for her boys. This further validates the concept that education takes commitment from the learner. She shares her passion for learning and educating with her boys as well, by holding them accountable for their actions and by scaffolding. She uses the quick release and the I do, You do, We do (in the form I, We, You) pedagogy styles of teaching. By cultivating a love for knowledge, Ms. Howell teachers her student’s self-efficacy which brings about determination and excitement for learning.