Cognitive Coaching: 2nd Observation

What?

For this observation, I had Professor Hasenbank focus and provide feedback on my questioning techniques, specifically not asking “yes or no” questions, and my timing to allow students to think for themselves and ensure everyone’s voice was heard. Also, not specifically outlined in the plan but I wanted to be more explicit with the big ideas of the lesson.

So What?

Throughout our Cognitive Coaching session, I elaborated on my strategies used and how I felt they effected the classroom. I made a conscious effort to give students more time to answer questions before accepting a volunteer’s answer. I had also explicitly told the students “by raising your hand…..” which helped keep the students from yelling out answers and not allowing their peers time to think. I also asked more open-ended questions, allowing students to think critically as opposed to a “yes or no” question. This allowed me to gain some great insights on the students’ thinking process as the lesson progressed. Another benefit to giving students more time to think about questions I posed to them was that they had more questions for me about the lesson. I have been trying to eliminate the question of “Are there any questions?” from my lessons, and with all of the questions my students asked me I felt that posing this question was unnecessary.

Overall, I thought that my questioning strategies are much improved from the beginning of my Teacher Assisting, but can still be greatly improved. The ability to guide students thinking with a few questions is an art, and very difficult to master.

Now What?

I have been given the opportunity to reflect on my lesson and my Coaching Session, and the insights are extremely beneficial. Not only was I able to see a distinct difference with this lesson and a focus on my questioning and how that effected engagement, student participation, and understanding of the content, but also classroom management. I am looking forward to using the MTBOS to improve my teaching, specifically my questioning techniques. I intend on creating a questioning techniques that suits my style of teaching, and is age appropriate for my learners. One that allows them to think deeper than just which formula fits where and allows them to really explore the conceptual aspects of mathematics.

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The Edison Moment

We have all felt it. Imagine walking through a thick fog and you can even barely see your feet. Suddenly, the fog clears and you can see for miles in many different directions.

Today, after a short discussion on simplifying expressions, a student that frequently needs assistance in class had asked for my help with a problem. I started with the basic:

Me: What did you do?

Student: (explained exactly what he had done)

His solution was exactly what I was looking for, but not at all what I had expected.

Me: Okay, so what is your question?

Student: Well, I am stuck. I don’t know what to do next.

Me: There is nothing you can do.

Student: (with a puzzled look on his face) so that is all I need to do?

Me: Yep

Student: Really?! I get it now!! It makes sense after you showed us that a simplified equation is equal to the given equation!

 

He proceeded to perfectly complete every problem on the activity.

Bingo. Seeing it all come together for that student was a special feeling. I could see the excitement and pride in his eyes. He had felt accomplished, but not as much as I. Especially after a day when I felt like I was talking to 25 mannequins sitting in desks, witnessing this was very refreshing. It also reminded me that I do know what I am doing after all.

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Coaching Session 2

What??

My second coaching session was what I would call a success. Not only did our lesson go smoothly and the students were hitting their target objectives, but for the most part our class was engaged and really responded well to being able to use manipulatives and work in pairs. However, I did see some areas for improvement. I had asked John to track engagement levels for me during class. He came up with a really neat classroom seating chart and periodically (every 5-10 minutes) would simply mark down if students were engaged or not. His blog post about this can be found here. This was a great tool for me to see where engagement levels dropped off and where they were at their highest.

 

So what??

The significance of the seating chart has had a pretty positive effect on my teaching. From the seating chart, I found what areas of my teaching and different areas of the classroom are less engaging than others. This has changed my teaching strategy. For example, during lectures or when reviewing solutions, I tend to ask more questions to students in the less-engaged areas. This addresses both time and location of engagement. I also know what students to walk through to ensure they stay on task during group and pair work. But this addresses and even broader aspect of my teaching: that I, too, must maintain my ability to be a learner. I need to be able to adapt to different settings and change from class to class to ensure my students are getting the most out of me, and to ensure that I am getting the most out of my students. I need to learn from my students just as they learn from me.

 

Now What??

I will now use what I know about classroom engagement to pay a little bit closer attention as to who is engaged and who may be drifting during class. I will also try to incorporate different strategies to “pull students back in” so to speak. Another question that was brought to my attention was “What do I focus on while teaching and what do I miss?” I also intent to look more in depth at this question. Am I just seeing and hearing answers from the smarter kids? Am I missing some tell-tale signs that students are not understanding the material? Aspects of my teaching such as these will also be a focal point of mine going forward. Making sure all students are involved and included in the classroom is essential to optimize learning.

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Visual Aides

While it may seem like a trivial difference between the teaching in different cultures, the use of visual aides is actually a major difference in the way the classrooms are conducted, especially seen between the United States and the Japanese cultures of teaching. The US prefers the use of overhead projectors in classrooms, while the Japanese prefer the use of chalkboards, or now I would assume whiteboards. It is interesting to note that in almost every US classroom, both of these options are available, while in Japanese classrooms, an overhead projector itself is very uncommon. But what can this tell us about the styles of teaching?

The overhead projector, document camera, and computer projector are among some of the common visual aides in the US classroom nowadays. Technologically, they are years past a chalkboard, but in my opinion they are overused especially when teaching lessons. It does not allow for any deviation in a class. You are to follow exactly what you have selected to present or show students and it is not used in a very meaningful way, only to present concepts as opposed to explore them. This plays a major role in the US script, because that is exactly what teachers do: present. They present vocab and solution strategies without building much meaning or understanding behind the mathematics. They don’t really allow for students to make connections between topics they learned at different points of a class. All of the information covered in class is scattered between note pages or a packet, and makes it difficult for students to see connections or other solution methods.

The chalk board, or white board, is a tool that is in every classroom. It is simple. It allows you to write something down and erase it later. This gives you great flexibility throughout a lesson, and also allows you to try different strategies and point out misconceptions in those strategies or connections to other solution strategies. Each class can be different, with different thoughts and topics and misconceptions. It also can provide a record of topics covered or solution methods that were discovered during class. This can allow students to make valuable connections between methods without having to flip through pages or recall strictly from memory. All of the material presented is right in front of the students for them to use as they see fit.

This chapter has caused me to reexamine the use of visual aides in my classroom. It has made me ask myself, “is this really beneficial to the students?” and “is there a better way to present this material to the students?”

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Coaching Session Reflection

WHAT

The coaching meeting was a great way to focus my thoughts for a short period of time and really stick to a framework to help develop those thoughts. I really liked having a “coach” with me to guide me through the thought process and pose questions that kept me relevant to my topic. My coaching session focused on the topic of student engagement. We discussed my goals dealing with student engagement, different things I may want to try to see how it would affect student engagement, and aspects that I will need to stay mindful of while teaching to ensure student engagement.

 

SO WHAT

My coaching session gave me some great insights on what I think engagement should look like in a classroom as well as a few strategies that I will try to incorporate in my teaching that should be helpful in keeping students engaged throughout an entire class period. One idea was to reduce clutter in room and on assignments to increase focus on the important ideas. We had also discussed the idea of using questioning as an effective form of formative assessment and teaching using dialogue as opposed to teaching using lecture.

There were also a few key pieces of teaching that I want to stay mindful of, one being to keep students constantly challenged and learning. Not only for the students that may be having a hard time in the class, but also for students that seem to pick up the material rather quickly. In either case, these students need to have activities that keep them engaged and learning, not just going through the motions.

 

NOW WHAT

After my coaching session, I have a much clearer idea of what engagement in my classroom will look like from many different perspectives. I do not want posters to clutter the walls and take away from what is important on the whiteboard. I want an environment where students feel safe and that wrong answers are seen as an opportunity to learn, not a reason to be reprimanded. I want to engage in conversations with my students about math and make sure that they are gaining a conceptual understanding of the lessons, not just a procedural understanding. I want students to be challenged with their assignments, but not set them up for failure. Giving them an impossible task with destroy their self-confidence and decrease their willingness to learn. Students that pick up the material quickly should also have extension problems that push them to think deeper into the concept and challenge what they already know so that they do not become bored with the class.

While this looks great in text, the difficult part will be putting all of these different concepts to use in a classroom setting. This will take some practice, as well as trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. A contributing factor to the success of any classroom is the students. Getting to know their interests is also an important piece in having an engaging classroom setting.

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