Feb 13, 2013

Community Learning: Anything but Mundane

This piece was written by a DCPS prekindergarten teacher and 2011 Fellow in the Inspired Teacher Certification Program.

Finding ways to incorporate the community into my classroom—as well as take our learning out into the community—is a big focus of my second year as a prekindergarten teacher. In my first year, I was timid about taking 4-year-olds out of the classroom and into our neighborhood. I saw their age, our lack of private transportation, and our geographical location as barriers to taking advantage of DC as a rich resource for learning.

I came to realize that these perceived “barriers” were simply that. The summer before my second year, I decided that I would bring down those barriers and enrich my curriculum with real experiences. I had heard fellow cohort members talk about taking students, as young as mine, on public transportation and walking trips. And I just decided, “I can do that too.”

By setting rigorous expectations and creating pre-field trip lessons—and even practice runs, we have now taken three local field trips. The first outing into our neighborhood of Marshall Heights SE took the form of a walk to the local library. This was the perfect opportunity to show the students how wonderful it is to check out library books. The trip also sparked our full-fledged obsession with Mo Willems and even started an author study!

Our second trip took us to the local grocery store in November. We asked our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) Coordinator to accompany us on our Metrobus ride to the store. This trip helped increase my students’ background knowledge for a classroom learning unit on understanding the jobs people perform in the store. Our SNAP-Ed Coordinator also taught us about healthy foods and different ways that fruits and vegetables are grown.

Our third trip took us (via Metrobus again!) to the neighborhood Denny’s restaurant. My students and I were building a new dramatic play theme in our classroom. This trip provided research for us to create our own restaurants, fill the different restaurant staff roles and responsibilities, and be good customers. Much to my students’ excitement, we were treated to placing an order off a real menu with a real waitress, met the cooks, and even got a visit from the manager.

Although these trips may seem mundane, the learning that has taken place in our own neighborhood has been anything but. My students now have library cards, have tasted spaghetti squash, and can demonstrate the roles necessary for an operational restaurant in a dramatic play setting. Along the way we encountered patient city bus drivers, kind neighbors, and lots of community members who were excited to teach.

I have plans for more community trips in the new year, all of which will take place on foot or via public transportation.

Nov 26, 2012

A System for Remembering, Relating, and Reflecting

Center for Inspired Teaching welcomed 22 new individuals this summer into our Inspired Teacher Certification Program, a two-year program that prepares, supports, and certifies highly qualified individuals to become teachers in DC. These Inspired Teaching Fellows begin their teaching career with a 12-month residency, working under the guidance of a Lead Teacher (at the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School or Capital City Public Charter School) to gain the knowledge and experience necessary to transition in their second year to becoming teachers of record in their own DC public school classrooms. This piece was written by a 2012 Inspired Teaching Fellow teaching 5th grade. 

At a recent Inspired Teaching math training, our instructor asked us to create a personal “weather report”.  We had to fold a piece of construction paper into four sections and write or illustrate how the past four days had gone. I had no trouble remembering what happened that day; likewise with the previous one. But I couldn’t remember much of anything from the first two days of that week. The same was true for most everyone in the class.

This got me thinking about my own reflective process, which has not been what I’d like it to be. This is not to say that I’m not a reflective person. I spend a good deal of time thinking about and reflecting on things as they happen throughout the day. I take observation notes in the various classrooms where I spend time each day. But I don’t have a real system.

This reminded me of something I’d read in the Introduction of Teaching with Intention. I pulled my copy off the shelf to see exactly what author Debbie Miller had written:

“I think it’s challenging to find time in the day for reflection–it may feel like just one more thing to add to the list that never seems to end. And yet if we don’t, where does that leave us?”

Miller’s musings, plus my Inspired Teaching instructor’s assignment, have really got me moving toward establishing a more formal system of reflecting.  It’s weird, because from the time I was about 15 until 35, I was an avid and dedicated journal keeper. I’d write pages and pages, mostly about my teen, then young adult, then more adult, angst and problems.

The past few years, I’ve still been pretty faithful about writing every night, but it has been reduced to a few sentence summary of my day. The method I use now is a five-year journal, where you write about four lines for each day, and the entries are sequential by year.  I’m on year three now, so I’m able to look back and see what I was doing and feeling this time two and three years ago.

I decided to use a similar method as a Teaching Fellow and teacher. I think it will be really cool to look back in a few years as a more experienced teacher and see what’s changed since I was an Inspired Teaching Fellow.

I remembered something else from Miller’s thoughts on reflections: If we expect our students to be “thoughtful, reflective, and strategic readers, writers, and thinkers,” we need to follow the same practice as teachers.


Sep 4, 2012

The Skills to Be a Great Teacher

students deep in thought
students deep in thought

In partnership with the District of Columbia Public Schools system, Center for Inspired Teaching is building teacher capacity and supporting strategic application of the Common Core State Standards for content area literacy in the social studies at the middle school level. Below, a teacher participant describes a lesson taught through the Literacy Design Collaborative's module structure, and its importance in her classroom:

"The students were given a compelling problem to solve, and tasked with creating a product that served a purpose. A few of their letters were sent to an Egyptian Art Administrator, who sent me feedback on their arguments, then distributed their work amongst his colleagues in Cairo, in an effort to show that American students are advocating for the return of their precious artifacts. It blended social studies content with literacy skills. Students were focused on the evidence-finding and argument-building, which are really research and writing skills. But to be able to make sense of the documents, students had to have a basic understanding of Ancient Egyptian civilization. With this basic understanding, they were able to soak in the documents and gather new information about Ancient Egypt."

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