Samstag, 28. Januar 2012

thought a week - creating and filling a lesson plan

Even tough there are plenty of lesson plan templates out there, working with a lesson plan and actually filling it can be very hard for student teachers in the beginning. If you are fortunate enough you get to know all sorts of different styles of lesson plans during your studies. Our professors always told us that it’s not mandatory to use this or that specific lesson plan, but it’s key to know what’s out there and how to work with all the different versions.
But in this post, I won’t talk about lesson plans and how you’re supposed to use them. I’d like to write about the creative process that goes behind designing a lesson.
I believe it’s very important for student teachers to find out how and when you get your creative side out while designing a lesson plan. At first I struggled with these things. When I had to design a lesson we sat together with our teacher and we got all the basic information about what we need to do. Just the main theme to the lesson, what skills we should focus on and what material we can/should use and so on. During those sessions I felt pretty much lost. It sounded like way too much and kind of overwhelming. Intuitively I thought, ‘that is absolutely too much and I don’t even know where to start’.

Of course the first thing you start to do, without even thinking about if it actually makes sense, you just sit down and try to work something out with the input you got. As the hours went by and no progress was in sight, I decided to take a break and let it rest. It was frustrating because you like to get the lesson done as soon as possible, especially if you know what kind of lesson you want. Since we had enough time to finish the planning, I thought it’s not a problem if I just came back to it the next day. Two days later I was supposed to meet up with my colleague in the library to work on the lesson plan. I arrived earlier then the appointed time, but I thought to myself I’ll just wait till he arrives. So as time went by I started to do something else, checking up on seminars and so on. But right at this point the back of my mind starting working. And right in the middle of it, I just took out our template and started to fill it out. After that, it was smooth. By the time my colleague arrived I completed the lesson plan and the only thing he needed to do was check and fill out his closing sequence.
The next time I planned a lesson, I tried a different approach. First of all, at the planning session with our teacher, I just made sure I listened carefully, took notes and nothing more. No immediate planning and no thinking about the lesson. The next step was to stay calm and relaxed and let it come to me. And thankfully it worked again. This time I was writing something completely different for on of my seminars when it hit me. Again, I just took out my sheets and notes, and started working.
Now this all sounds easy, but the point I’m trying to get across is that it may take some time to figure out how and when you have your ‘creative bursts’. I remember planning one of my lessons sitting in the tram. I was on my way home and these ideas popped in to my head, only thing I needed to do, take down notes and write it down properly when I’m home.
It really helped in the sense, that I’m calmer in the beginning, I don’t worry when I’m starting, I just try to let it flow somehow.
As soon as you figured out if you’re the kind that gets a lesson done, while researching everything from the first minute on, or you have to wait one or two days and sit down quietly and then get to work, or maybe you are like me and you have creative bursts and the ideas come when they may.

Montag, 23. Januar 2012

practical training - pro's

There is no better preparation for student teachers, then to be in class right from the beginning. I can’t imagine to ‘learn how to teach’, while only sitting in seminars and hearing about stuff. I love to be in class and work with kids, even tough I’m only an assistant-teacher at this point in my education, it’s still fun and an invaluable experience.
There are other teacher education programmes, where the students get to sit in class and observe for a year, then they have a few months of practical training and another year at the university just hearing about teaching, and not experiencing it in person. These students have to teach right after graduating, with very little practical training. I can imagine the first two years at work aren't much fun.
On the other hand, I really appreciate our programme. We get be in class from our second week on. We are in class every week, and if you enjoy it and your practical-teacher is open-minded, you get to help from your first lesson on and it’s a great way to get in touch with this kind of work and interaction for students with no prior experience in teaching or coaching.
It’s great that we get to teach a part of a lesson two months in. The second semester gets even better, we have to prepare and teach entire lessons by ourselves.
This hands-on experience with the addition of observation and reflection tasks, is a complete training which I wouldn't want to miss.

Another good concept is the team-teaching aspect. Usually we are in groups of two to three students. Three student-teachers per class seems to be the perfect number. Especially in the beginning, it can be very helpful to prepare and teach with two other colleagues. On the one hand it’s kind of a safety-net, having two other partners by your side (and the teacher of course), you kind of feel that it’s not bad to screw something up, because it can happen to anyone. But if it happens, there are no hard feelings towards each other, because you know that it’s natural to have jitters the first few times. On the other hand, it’s more comfortable to talk about the teaching experience with fellow student-teachers, than talking with the actual teacher. I also liked preparing the lessons with a partner, because even if one of us does not have an idea, the other one may have a great solution. So with this team-teaching concept there’s always some kind of support you can count on.

So all in all, practical training is not only a great way for teacher education, it is the only way.

Samstag, 21. Januar 2012

thought a week - designing a test, englishman or mathematician?

Even though I didn't have the opportunity to design a test for school yet, I had the pleasure to be the part of the thinking process several times.
Two weeks ago we talked about designing a written test for the first grade.
It was a little different from the last planning session I was part of. This time it was supposed to be a shorter test, it should take no more than 25 minutes. The last time we designed one it was way more more extensive - the test lasted an hour.
But the two main differences I took away from both planning session was that the teaching background does have a pretty big impact on the design of the test, the evaluation and the basic instructions.
For me, you can divide the test forms by your teaching background. Here’s a look at the two:

Englishman-background (mostly language teachers): they’re used to do creative writing, a lot of dialogues and reading in their lessons.
These methods give the kids more freedom to be creative, but you still can lead them on to various topics you like to work on. Now because of this, you can’t really have a standardized grading-scheme. You have to take a lot of things into account while marking; the length, the depth, grammar and so on.
These tests tend to be very open with a lot of writing.

Mathematician-background: these types of teachers are used to work methodically and with strict rules, so the outcome is always easily calculable and verifiable.
Because of this previous knowledge they tend to design the questions in various styles, but always in the same pattern. For some examples:
The kids have to match the first part of a sentence in column A with the second part in column B, or the kids or the kids have to tick “right” or “wrong” in a chart.
Most of the time these tests are very systematical and methodical.

Both of these options have their pros and cons, but one thing they share is that both of them are hard work.
For one thing you have to think about questions and tasks where they answer it with a logical, mathematical sense, and for the other you have to read through all the different versions of a dialogue or story.

It’s not mandatory to be on only one side, you can pick and choose depending on your topic and the kids. But it’s good to think about why we think about designing a test a certain way.

Donnerstag, 19. Januar 2012

stagnating development

We all share a common goal at the University of Education. When we graduate we want to teach. Some of us might already want to teach before that. And fortunately we have that opportunity right from the beginning of our studies. We get to spend 2 hours in class every week, starting with the second month of our teacher training. After a few weeks we’re already able to participate actively in the actual ‘teaching’, meaning we can help out with group-work and help the kids with a few exercises. 
Now imagine you’ve been working with kids for a few years now, and teaching is kind of your dream job and you really enjoy it, but because you are only a beginner student-teacher you’re not allowed to teach. You have to wait and sit through a lot of lessons observing, just like all the others. Besides that there may be a few seminars in which you feel you get no benefit out of them, it feels like no development is taking place. It can be the professor who just can’t get the message across, or the topic is boring. Then of course you got different tasks to do like writing tasks, research tasks and reading tasks. All those can be fun, but most of them aren’t.
After days and weeks of having this rhythm you ask yourself if that’s really necessary and you question your personal development. 
But if you take a moment and really look at the whole situation you will find out how much you can take out of those weeks too, and further your development easily.
When I think about the practical training I see it as a path. At the beginning you know that it's a long, long way to go, but no matter how difficult or repetitious it gets, ultimately you have to keep walking, because the longer you walk, you know the closer you get to reaching you goal and the more you can learn, be it teaching methods or just personal development.
Teaching is what we want to do, despite all the circumstances, why not enjoy being in class and learn from different teachers and colleagues who you get to watch every lesson, and you still get to work with kids and help them out.
Why not enjoy every seminar and take something positive out of the negative. You get to hear about various topics and you can focus on the didactical approach of your professor. Something I heard a lot at teacher training already: “at least you get see how it’s NOT supposed to be done”. So all in all, there is no such thing as a bad seminar.
Another thing you can take away a lot from is talking with your colleagues and spending time with them. Because basically, they have the same problems as you do.
It may be something new to them, they’re just learning how to teach, how to interact with kids and so on. They’re also overwhelmed by all the tasks they have to fulfill in a certain time period, but they sure have experience you can benefit from as well.
So why not enjoy those moments, where you get to talk about how you handle the stress, about how they handle the stress and to reflect on all the issues that’s bothering both of you together. 
The one thing you learn with time and experience is that you take something positive for your own development out of everything that gets thrown your way. You have to observe whats happening around you and think about it carefully. 
Make sure you go through your training thoughtful and try to capture the world around you and you’ll develop life skills without even noticing.

Sonntag, 15. Januar 2012

thought a week - winter break and reflecting

The first week after the winter break is in the books.
Over those two and a half weeks most of us just relaxed and tried not to think about school and university again. If that's the right approach depends on how you get back in your daily routine again afterwards.
Some of us may start getting things done one week prior to the first official school week, just to get their mindset right. This can be done by either checking your to-do list (assuming you have one) and planning your next steps or just going over them in your head. The key thing would be to get ones head back into action.
We all know how we tend to go in standby-mode when we’re done with the last task or seminar the week before Christmas.
But another way would be to stay active right from the beginning of the winter break. Probably the best way to stay active and involved, and even develop further is to reflect on the last few months. 

This can be done either in written form or just quietly by yourself. Especially at teacher training, the tasks keep piling up and if you’re not ready for all of this, it can become overwhelming. The funny thing is that we have reflecting tasks to write for this semester anyway, but as I mentioned above, it quickly can become overwhelming, and if it does, you just write and don't think about what you are actually writing. This way it's more about remembering than actually reflecting and thinking about what happened.
So I think its beneficial if you try to use the winter break for gathering you thoughts rather than strictly enjoying the free-time.
Other than that, I heard a few friends talk about how stressful the first week was and how hard it was to adjust to the schedule again, even though the schedule has been almost exactly the same as at the beginning of the semester. It seems like a lot of people have a hard time going back to their routine.
Upon hearing that, I was even more convinced that we absolutely should use the winter break, not only to regroup, but also to stay ‘in-shape’ during the break.
And if you enjoy what you’re doing, working with friendly colleagues, learning, teaching, being at the university and being at school, it shouldn't be a problem staying involved during an off-time like the winter break.

Donnerstag, 12. Januar 2012

Wordle - Simple, Easy, Useful

There are many great web 2.0 tools that can be used in variety of ways. During my first year at teacher training, we had a few courses dedicated to web 2.0 tools. We went through almost all of the tools that are available free and accessible online.
And one of those was Wordle.
It basically creates word-clouds form all kinds of sources.
For a examples, you can check out the different things I used it for:
Cover Picture for this Post - that’s actually one I used in class as a lesson starter. Even though I printed it out in Black and White (coloration just adds a little more flair), the kids liked it, because it was something they’ve never seen before and it looked interesting. I used it for them to try to guess the topic of the lesson, and also trying to memorize a few key words, since they would come up later in a different exercise.
The great thing is, it is good to look at. It looks fun and interesting and it can be glued in their workbooks and it’ll be one of the things they like to look at later on.
As you can see with these two links (here and here) you can use it as a summary too.
It was at one of my Mahara workshops, and we did a little brainstorming exercise at the beginning about those two topics. Since there was a lot of input, you can use it to get a better overview of things. In this case, it was even more helpful, because it highlights the terms that came up more often and you get an immediate sense of the topic and it’s focal points.
Another great advantage of using Wordle, is that you can use it in class directly as a live-feed if you have a computer, it can help with discussions or if you’re reviewing something.

They key part is, if you put it in like this, or maybe a link, or a text, it filters out the most common words, and it highlights them automatically. The rest of it is just for fun and for the more visual types, as you can choose the font, the color, the alignment and so on.

So if you are looking for an easy-to use visualisation tool, go ahead and try Worlde, I'm sure you will come back to it over and over again.

Samstag, 7. Januar 2012

thought a week - Teachers and social media

At the beginning of the week I came across this news story on Twitter. After this article spread around a discussion broke out. But since this news story broke on Twitter and the people who where discussing it afterwards, where all obviously pro-social media teachers, it became pretty lopsided.
These teachers use Twitter and social media for sharing experiences and new learning technologies and also for educational discussions of all sorts.
I guess my reaction was mostly the same as of all the other teachers, the first thing that came to my mind was just, ‘wow’. That’s really straight up, practically forbidding them to use social media. I suppose this sentence was especially disturbing:
Secondly, never make any comment about your work, about your employer, about teaching issues in general.”

One would think (hope) that teachers who use social media tools in their ‘private life’ (and not for teaching purposes) are smart enough to understand their position in society. Teachers have a special reputation, meaning, they have to act like role models and always do the right thing. So if you abuse this role, then it’s understandable where such policies come from.
But on the other hand, if a teacher is using social media tools as blended learning tools in class and using it successfully, the school would have to accept it and embrace it.

One of main things I heard over and over again during my training is to be authentic as a teacher. Don’t try to fake your personality, because the kids will notice it right away and it costs way more to energy than to be yourself. And if the kids find out, they can and will be fake too, and nobody wants to imagine a classroom where the fake-teacher is talking to fake-kids.
Since I’ve been coaching the last few years, it was not that hard for me because I’ve experienced learning environments and knew that there’s nothing better than to be natural and authentic. The kids appreciate it and the connection instantly becomes more personal.
And just think about how annoying it is to work or talk to adults who are fake, and everybody knows there are plenty of them.

So, as a teachers, you have the responsibility to act authentic, but theres’s a limit to everything. The most important thing is to find the balance between in-school use, socializing tool and professional portfolio.

Donnerstag, 5. Januar 2012

Blogging for Teachers/Students

There are a lot of good reasons for teachers to blog. Different sources provide inspiration, or just give you an idea what it’s all about. Probably one of best posts I read regarding blogging, was this one, it really sums up the benefits of blogging as a teacher, and kind of makes you want to start one right away (BTW I really liked this first comment, which is one of the main points in my opinion too: “Blogging is fun”).
Another thing for me personally was that blogging is an actual exercise for us at the university. In the first year, it didn’t start as ‘classic’ blogging where you write about what’s happening regularly and then post it somewhere, it started out as more of an observation and reflection. At the end of our teaching practice we had to summarize what we’ve experienced and write it down - kind of like a journal.

So there was no instant feedback, which you obviously have, if you go the ‘classic’ blogging route. But for our second year, we were encouraged to blog in real-time. The assignment was to open a blog on our Mahara-Portfolio and share our thoughts about the teaching practice.
In my case, I decided to take it to another level and started a blog here straight away. Since I’ve been reading a lot of Edu-Blogs and following a lot of Educational-Tweeps, it was an obvious decision to try this on a ‘bigger stage’.