My Story

My entire time in the Curriculum and Instruction program has been new learning for me. My journey to becoming a teacher has been largely self-taught (NOT the words anyone wants to hear from a teacher, I’m sure.) Yet, the provisional license path allows this kind of teacher education to be a reality. Therefore, everything I’ve learned has included new material, new ideas, that perhaps I had heard of or come across, but never had the time or know how to dive into or develop independently. So, there I am. Beginning the first class in the program, tied to a computer screen and once again, blazing my own path. The irony of the situation was not lost on me.  A largely self taught teacher, beginning an education masters and excited about the opportunity to be back in the classroom as a student, finds her first class is an online, self paced, self taught class. Womp womp.

The class was Action Research. We were wading through methodology, statistics, research. While the research side was not new to me, as an English major, the math side was a bit of a, well, of a nightmare. Self teaching yourself math that you haven’t done since middle school proves for some long nights and strong coffee. Yet, I was learning. It was helpful. Interesting, not on its own, but in relation to my work.

I’ve since been able to apply the learning in my classroom in authentic ways. For instance, I recently saw my students struggling with a concept. I had given a pretest and a post test and saw that their scores were dismal. They had not grasped the concept what I was trying to help them understand. No growth. So, in the moment, I made the decision to change my strategy for my next block. It worked slightly better, but this was a General Education class, while my previous had been an Advanced section, and I wasn’t able to grasp from the data if the instruction had improved since their scores are historically lower, for a variety of reasons. My third class of the day was another Advanced section, but the time of day greatly varied from the first class in the morning. This was a post lunch section and it was a third bigger than my first section. I tried some more tweaks and they seemed to be getting it, but I still wasn’t happy with the lesson. I went home and reflected on what I had done, looked up some ideas, and completely flipped what I had done for my next days classes. Same thing – pretest and posttest but entirely new delivery and activities for them to recreate, analyze and use their learning. I then ran some statistical tests on the data, statistical significance in the growth between their pre and post. Compared post test scores to see if they were statistically significant and I was able to determine from the data that the new strategy was far more effective. What??? I had NEVER done this before. You mean, a hunch wasn’t enough? I had real data to support what I was doing. It felt good.

While the topic was interesting and the class relatable to my practice, the presentation of the material was not engaging. My only interaction with the professor or others in my class was via email, Blackboard posts or an occasional Skype session. The vast majority of the class was completed independently and relied on a great deal of motivation and drive on my part. While it wasn’t inherently engaging, it did require active learning. The only way for me to wade through a lot of the material was to read about it then put it into action through the creation of my own action research project. Learning by doing. I didn’t actually conduct the action research in the first part of the class, but I learned about the design process through create a mock study. This was done with a small group of other students. Together, we were forced to make sense of the material and apply what we were learning. We had to rely on one another when a question came up as a first line of defense, and the professor served a facilitator when we couldn’t solve the problem together or needed clarification. With the end product of the second part of the class being our own authentic action research that we saw through to the end, the class and process of learning was universally designed. The professor knew that we would be more or less on our own in the second part of the class to create and execute an action research process, the first half of the class had that end in mind, and allowed to problem solve and work through the learning in a collaborative setting so that our learning could then be applied to our independent work. There were a variety of activities in both sections of the class, that allowed me to show my understanding of the class material. That said, choices were not offered in the way the instruction was delivered or in the way I showed mastery. Those were prescribed from the beginning. Classes met online, through Skype or email. Paper was assigned for this assignment, excel sheet for that one, and so on and so forth.

Through this process though, I was able to explore interesting topics in my classroom, specifically grouping of students and the effect on engagement and achievement. Previously, I would have just gone on a hunch about whether or not the grouping affected students, but now I had something to go on, even if the results did not support my original hypothesis. This exploration of my practice in a meaningful way has challenged me to think more critically about what I do in my classroom and the effects it has on my students. It has, in my opinion, critically changed the way I teach, reflect and interact with my classes. It forced me to not accept the decisions I made based on personal experiences, other teachers, or tradition. I wasn’t intentionally making “bad” choices and not all of what I was doing was off base, I just didn’t have the skills necessary to make the right ones or explain why what I was doing was effective (or ineffective, as it is.) The class allowed me to challenge what had “always been done” and begin making decisions based on the research that supported what I am trying to do.

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6 thoughts on “My Story

  1. Cute name! I really like how you mentioned: “This exploration of my practice in a meaningful way has challenged me to think more critically about what I do in my classroom and the effects it has on my students”. I couldn’t agree with you more. For Reflective Teaching Seminar we also developed a thesis, gathered data, research, and results. I though graphic organizers were beneficial but like you I didn’t realize how much of an impact they had on students with reading disabilities and low level readers. The graphic organizers increased their scores on their reading quizzes. Needless to say, I use them much more! I concur with your statement, the decisions we make in our classroom small or large greatly affect our students. Therefore, we should think more critically about what we do and the impact our decisions have in the classroom.

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  2. Since I was in your group, I can commiserate exactly with your feelings! Luckily, I had reflective teaching before I took action research, so I was familiar with many of the topics, but I still found most of the material dry and it was sometimes hard to motivate myself to complete it. I found the collaboration piece a good way to keep myself accountable for the work I was doing- because I had to blog to the group about readings, or contribute my portion of a project by a certain date, I was able to keep myself on track. In the second part of the course when we were actually applying action research in our own classroom, I found it much easier to be enthusiastic about the topics we were studying. I should have started earlier like you did!

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  3. Teresa,

    I love your blog! I also admire the fact that you have self taught yourself a lot through your teaching career. That is not always an easy task to take on. As for myself, I am TERRIBLE at math so that is not something I am looking forward to!! I really think that the data you found on your grouping is so beneficial. I think we all usually just go on a hunch of what we think is right rather than relating it back to literature. Reflecting in that you also made a really great point in that fact that you didn’t know anything other than doing it by what you thought. I would have done the same thing!

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  4. Teresa,

    My journey with my Masters program has been similar to yours. I’ve had to tap into my inner self determination, teaching myself to be self motivated in order to obtain and retain course information. Like you I took online classes at the start of the program and did not experience an active learning approach. It was passive, and although I learned, it was not in a way that fit my learning style. Thus, I can appreciate your viewpoint as I have been in a similar situation. I admire your honesty, and although the classroom environments were not ideal or what you expected, you made the most of it and found ways to carry certain strategies into your actual classroom. Kudos!

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  5. Teresa,

    Good post! I do appreciate your honesty in regards to your viewpoint on the classroom environment. Having been in class with you I share similar sentiments about the learning experiences in our classroom environment. Looking over the reading about expert learners, having that self-determination is key when looking to master information and I believe you have this characteristic down.

    Kenneth

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  6. Very thoughtful reflection Teresa! I concur with your peers that you’ve crafted a nice blog space and a wealth of important points in your discussion. You are correct in your analysis of how universal design for learning (UDL) was addressed in this past situation — at least in some instances. You did a good job of reflecting across the questions on the what, how and why of this past learning experience. Good thinking and clearly this has left a mark in your own teaching practice and ongoing work towards practicing reflective teaching.

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