A Newsletter for CSB/SJU Cooperating Teachers
Growing, Nurturing, Developing, and Supporting
Engaged Classroom Questions and Conversations
It’s a blustery October day, and my lesson is flowing well. Students are connecting with the material, and I’m asking questions to clarify and extend their learning. Then, a student yells out, “It’s snowing!” Focus shifts, the class is chaos, lesson seemingly blown. The students are more interested in looking out the windows and either lamenting the end of autumn or celebrating the fun they will have in future winter activities. Now what? How do I get them back?
For veteran teachers, these shifts in focus and engagement are not out of the ordinary. We deal with them almost every year at the seasonal shift and, honestly, more often than that with other interruptions in our day. We know how to rebuild and refocus our students when our well-planned lessons go awry. Although we may find challenges in bringing our classes back to our intended purposes, we have the basics down. “Thank you for letting us know, [student],” I would often say. “In Minnesota, we know that it is going to snow, and today is our lucky day. Let’s [insert shifted activity to get the snow talk out of their systems].” One year, I was in the middle of teaching The Great Gatsby, and we were talking about the opulence of the parties Jay Gatsby hosted. Students were collecting details—to build their lexicon of adjectives and adverbs and to help them in deep reading—from the descriptions of the guests, the setting, and the activities. We were writing lists, drawing pictures and pulling them from online sources; there was flow. Students were participating, thinking, and positive! Then…the snow. After a few moments of excitement or dismay, I pulled the class back to think about these descriptions in snow terms. How would the partiers be dancing in the snow? What would it look like? How would the setting shift? What would the hired workers be doing to help the guests and to prepare for their departure? The objective was still met; we were developing our vocabulary and connecting to our own contexts. Hooray for a tool in my toolbox!
As a way to build our teaching toolboxes, our student teachers have been focusing on student engagement strategies this month in our seminars. As such, we have been reading about and discussing what engagement looks like, sounds like, and feels like in our classroom settings. We have thought about this across teaching modes to address our current situations: face-to-face, hybrid, and distance learning. To guide our thinking, Jon Konen, a principal in Great Falls, Montana, offered us several questions to examine when we think about engagement (questions taken directly from Konen’s article referenced below):
1. How can I incorporate more engagement in the activities, tasks, and assignments for the students? Konen draws us to Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences and to Bloom’s Taxonomy. We can consider how our questioning techniques connect to the levels of the taxonomy and consider how diverse learners learn best.
2. How can learning structures and active participation support a higher level of engagement? Here, Konen has us look at think, pair, share and Socratic circle, and jigsawing ideas as well as a variety of low-risk student response options. We can examine our strategies for classroom environment and participation.
3. How can teachers transfer the power of engagement to the students? Konen speaks to the importance of developing student agency, voice, and leadership through the transfer of power for their own learning and for that of students’ peers. When students have agency, they increase performance and critical thinking.
4. How does pacing play a role in student engagement? Konen reminds us of the delicate and deliberate balance made between the needs of our students, the contexts of the school, and the demands of the curriculum. Again, we connect to diverse learners and participation and have opportunities to monitor and adjust.
5. What does student engagement and teacher engagement look like in the classroom? Konen references Charlotte Danielson and Maryellen Weimer. All of our standards come into play when we capture how engagement presents itself.
6. What are the most common components of a highly engaged lesson? Konen notes the work of Madeline Hunter in lesson design and the practice of gradual release (I do, we do, you do). He also highlights closure activities that help to determine student understanding of the lesson and to guide planning for the next lesson. All of the standards-based categories would be evidenced here.
Each of the questions noted above pushes our student teachers to think about our planning, teaching, management, and assessment practices. They help our student teachers think about how their choices are adding to their teaching toolbox. Additionally, these questions could help our student teachers to move more deeply within the intention of our department’s conceptual model where the Teacher as Reflective Decision Maker is at the core.
We know that not every lesson is going to be highly engaging for every student, and we know that trying to so could be beyond reasonable reach. However, we also know that quality teachers are reflective teachers who seek continuous improvement. We also know that quality teachers can adjust their teaching to engage and re-engage students as needed. Now is a great time to add to the toolbox of strategies and ideas for reflection!
In the next few weeks, I encourage cooperating teachers and university supervisors to engage in conversations with student teachers (and for student teachers to engage with each other) around Konen’s questions. I also encourage you to look at the standard categories drawn from observation and evaluation documents (see box below) that we discussed in our seminar.
Konen, J. (2017, Dec. 17). Six questions to tackle when engaging students in learning. Teacher.org. Retrieved from https://www.teacher.org/blog/engaging-students-learning/.
Weeks 9 & 10 Documentation and Timelines
Please refer to the previous issues of The Acorn and the Student Teaching Handbook as needed.
For student teachers with 12 and 16-week placements--
- Conduct one formal observation
- Allow the student teacher to take on 80% of the day (secondary candidates may have two preps)
- Candidates with 12-week placements should be moving to full-time
- Assist the student teacher in addressing areas needing improvement with continued informal observations and feedback
- Refer to the student teacher's mid-term goals for mentorship
For student teachers with 8-week placements--
Week 1 of second placement
- Help the student teacher get to know your students, the teachers, and the school
- Review the Orientation Guidelines/Checklist
- Assist the student teacher in setting up observations--one of the cooperating teacher and another of a colleague (this may not be possible in the COVID-environment, but any opportunity the student teacher has to gain ideas from colleagues is appreciated)
- Allow the student teacher to assist with planning, preparation of lessons and materials, monitoring of individual and group work.
- Determine which classes the student teacher will lead building to teaching one less than the teacher’s full load.
- Allow the student teacher to teach a lesson you have co-planned. Observe this lesson and provide feedback.
Week 2 of second placement
- Work with the student teacher in planning, preparation of lessons and materials, monitoring student work.
- Co-teach lessons throughout the day
- Conduct informal observations of the lessons taught and provide feedback.
- k-12 Candidates:
- Allow the student teacher to solo teach 30-40 minutes per day or one class period.
- Allow the student teacher to begin teaching in one course (at least one section)
By the end of week 10, all student teachers should have had a minimum of THREE total formal observations by the cooperating teacher(s).
At the end of placements, cooperating teachers should complete three additional forms: an evaluation of the university supervisor, a dispositional rating of the student teacher, and a final evaluation of the student teacher.
Please remember to use N/A (unable to observe) for any areas not evaluated during a particular observation.
Engagement Standards from Observations and Evaluations
Instructional Strategies: Teaching for Diverse Students (SEPs 4.3L & P, 5.4I)
Student teacher uses approaches that are sensitive to student's experiences, learning, and performance modes; multiple perspectives are brought into the lessons that call attention to student's background, experiences, and norms.
Instructional Strategies: Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Performance (SEPs 5.4D & G)
Student teacher nurtures the development of critical thinking, problem solving, and performance capabilities using multiple teaching and learning strategies, active learning opportunities, and independent use of learning resources
Instructional Strategies: Classroom Environment (SEPs 6.5H & P)
Student teacher develops expectations for student engagement that creates a positive, open, respectful, supportive learning environment.
Instructional Strategies: Participation (SEP 6.5R)
Student teacher organizes, prepares students for, monitors independent and group work that allows for full, varied, and effective participation of all individuals.
Differentiation and Modification: Monitor and Adjust (SEP 5.4H, 6.5Q)
Student teacher monitors, analyzes, and adjusts work and the classroom environment in response to learner feedback (immediate and delayed, informal and formal).
Communication Skills: Questioning Techniques (SEP 7.6J)
Student teacher knows how to ask questions to stimulate discussion, encourage a variety of thinking skills, and help students articulate their responses.