Reflections in a Double Latte

My experiences as a Master of Science candidate can be described as thought provoking, empirically relevant, culturally sensitizing, and iconoclastic. During the course of my endeavors, in the role of student- practitioner, I have indulged in a virtual intellectual feast. As such, I have digested a menu of illuminating concepts, practical strategies and relevant practices. Although my intellect was hardly a tabula rasa at the beginning of my studies, my consequential intellectual growth has caused it to resemble a palimpsest. Wave upon wave of new and exciting ideas derived from the texts, supplementary readings and videos, and complemented by engaging discussions with my co-learners, have added to my baseline knowledge. In addition, an array of practical applications has been responsible for the many densely contextualized layers that now enrich my pedagogical slate.  Consequently, I have discovered many tools which will help ensure that the totality of learning begins and ends with all my students.

One of the philosophical tenets of Walden University is to embrace and cultivate the diversity we find in our students. Accordingly, I have become more acutely attuned to the challenges encountered by these neophytes. As we strive to increase the academic achievement of our linguistically and culturally diverse flock, we should reflect on their particular circumstances. “English language learners enter the classroom from homes where English is not the primary language” (Van de Walle, 2007, p.100). In consequence, although it may take these children a relatively short time to develop conversational communication skills, it consumes up to seven years to learn the academic language used in algebra and other subject areas (Van de Walle, 2007). The Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) endorses the approach of having these students use English in their content courses, while still encouraging the practice of their native language for cultural as well as clarification purposes(Van de Walle, 2007). Consequently, the teacher should initiate and maintain certain conventions that take into account the cultural and language differences of these learners.  First, he/she should face the students when addressing them, speak slowly, use simple sentences and gestures that reflect the vocabulary, and be willing to repeat these instructions when requested.  Non verbal answers, in the form of flash cards, the nodding of heads, and pointing to objects should be encouraged. In addition, the teacher needs to be aware of differing cultural norms, such as the meaning of eye contact, and the possible reluctance of some to volunteer answers. Additionally, we must become sensitized as to what constitutes personal space (Williams, 2009).

While immersed in my coursework involving algebra in the elementary grades, I was struck by the connection between success in that particular subject and ascendency in later academic and professional experiences. Specifically, many experts agree that algebra inculcates the critical thinking skills students will need in order to become informed adults, capable of weighing options and making wise decisions (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000). Many educators also concur that algebra is mastered through hard work rather than innate ability (Jamar, Clark, Cooper & Curcio, n.d.). Hence, although it may be counterintuitive to traditional thinking, all students should have equity and access to this rewarding domain. However, the success of any plan of inclusion depends primarily on a number of related factors. First and foremost are the high expectations of thoroughly trained teachers, and the perception of these expectations by the learners. In addition, the following strategies will prove salutary for the linguistically or ability challenged learner of algebra: early, conceptually-based learning with concrete manipulatives, heterogeneous groupings, attention to individual learning styles, and the integration of multi-sensory lesson dynamics. In addition, we need to identify and affirm cultural, linguistic and ability distinctions. This will lead to the accommodation and modifications necessary to ensure the relevancy and mastery of the lesson content. Finally, by underpinning these practices with parental and communal support, we will provide the means for all students, through their own diligence, to attain algebraic literacy.

Another evolutionary change in my thinking involves my present core belief that quality active reading and writing instruction can be based on the same principles for struggling and non-struggling readers (Duffy-Hester, 1999). Consequently, I now subscribe to the belief that ambivalent readers should not engage in low-level activities. Rather, they should participate in diverse, authentic learning tasks with their on-level classmates. Concomitantly, ample opportunities should be provided for the below-level readers to discuss and further explore their instructional level reading and writing experiences with the rest of the class (Tompkins, 2006).  These encounters can occur in collaborative, heterogeneous groupings as well as literature circles.

Yet another area of my professional growth concerns my relationship with the support personnel in my school. As such, I am more cognizant of the need for a strong affiliation based on open communication and close cooperation. In order to optimize the learning for the at-risk reader, for instance, I must be apprised of home conditions, preexisting disabilities, standardized test results, the individual’s learning plan and other idiosyncratic nuances. For this type of well informed data, I need to consult the specialists. I would also want to ensure that the resource room activities complement my classroom activities. This will take timely and continuous exchange of information. For this purpose, I  plan to use a “traveling notebook” that will accompany my student(s) to and from the resource room. This will assure up to the minute progress reports.

Reading is the keystone to education. Unfortunately, close to fifty per cent of children enter kindergarten or Pre K without much background in phonemic awareness. These learners lack an extensive oral experience. They have not had much exposure to read alouds or word games to heighten awareness of sound structure and language patterns (Laureate Education, 2007, a).  English as Second Language students may be particularly vulnerable at this point. My recent coursework has indicated that, because of these current home conditions, the onus of enriching the child’s literary background has largely fallen on the teacher. Consequently, the instructor needs to provide pictures and concrete objects to advance the students’ phonemic awareness. He/she also needs to incorporate the knowledge the ESL’s have in their first language (Laureate Education, 2007, a).

Accordingly, these students, as well as their more advanced peers, need systematic, structured, daily exposure to activities that promote phonemic awareness. Such activities include identifying sounds in words, categorizing these sounds, substituting sounds to make new words, blending sounds to form words, and segmenting, or separating a word into individual sounds (Tompkins, 2006).  Small group settings are perfect formats for these endeavors for their diminutive size encourages children to become more actively involved. These settings also find the teacher reading and rereading rhyming books and alphabet books, as the students fill in the refrains, identify members of the same word families, and recall information from earlier parts of the story (Tompkins, 2006). 

Children should also be encouraged to experiment with oral language by formulating nonsense words, chanting poems, dictating stories and solving riddles. They can gain familiarity with the written word by make believe writing (Cunningham & Allington, 2007). Additionally, the teacher needs to cultivate print awareness in these neophyte learners. This can be done by demonstrating the relationship between sound and symbol, as well as modeling the left-to-right and top-to-bottom direction when reading aloud to the students (Cunningham, 2000). With a solid grounding in phonemic awareness, the children will soon be able to advance to phonics.

I am also now quite compatible with the notion that a positive teacher-parent relationship is a vital, ongoing dynamic that has played a significant historical role in the student’s academic performance. Parents and guardians are the most influential adults in the student’s lives (Jones & Jones, 2007). As such, children’s attitudes about school and their teacher are significantly affected by the primary caregivers (Jones & Jones, 2007). It therefore behooves the teacher to begin developing a respectful teacher – parent communication process on literally the first day of school (Laureate Education, 2007, b). At that time, I plan to send a letter home with the child, introducing myself. I will also include my professional background and basic philosophy on education. In addition I will apprise the parent(s) of my interest in developing a positive teacher – parent relationship, and ask the recipient to consider how I or the school might better serve them (Laureate Education, 2007, b). Lastly, I would extend an invitation to attend the “Back to School Night” to further discuss not only the curriculum, class projects, and my behavior expectations, but also possible vehicles for direct parental participation. I would follow this missive a few days later with a personal phone call (Jones & Jones, 2007). For those parents unable to attend, I reserve the option of videotaping the activity. To further emphasize my commitment to open communication and diversity, I will have the tape dubbed with the first language of the parents who speak in a non English tongue (Jones & Jones, 2007).

An imposing body of research indicates that academic achievement is greatly influenced by the quality of the student-teacher relationship as well (Laureate Education, 2007, b). It has been discovered that a large number of classroom problems can be prevented, and the learning quotient enhanced, by creating safe classroom environments based on these alliances (Laureate Education, 2007, b). These classroom affiliations lead to contented students and when these individuals feel happy and excited about learning, higher order thinking abounds.
Acting upon what I have recently learned, I plan on stressing the following practices to augment student-teacher entente cordiale. These include getting to know the students and expressing interest in them as individuals. This subsumes the idea of listening attentively to them as they discuss their work, their personal lives, as well as their successes and challenges.  Further, by communicating high expectations to all, I will signal that only their best efforts are acceptable. Finally, I plan on offering systematic and immediate feedback on their efforts (Jones & Jones, 2007). In this manner, these youngsters will come to view their instructor as a caring, firm and just teacher; one who also demonstrates interest, empathy and belief in them as both students and human beings. This can only increase my efficacy as an educator.

After becoming immersed in the course literature, I have also come to appreciate that positive peer relationships in the classroom have a profound effect on learning (Laureate Education, 2007, b). Not only do they pave the way for a safe learning environment, particularly for the lower achieving and/or linguistically diverse students, but they also have relational effects on self-esteem, discipline and intrinsic motivation (Jones & Jones, 2007). Utilizing cooperative groupings has multiple, positive, peer-related outcomes. First, the students are offered a prevision of the workforce they will soon enter, where team play is valued. Next, these groupings will strengthen the bonds that bind.  As this is happening, the youngsters are learning social skills as they practice cooperative goal achievement. Lastly, intrinsic motivation is fomented in each student, as the child seeks to please and impress friends in the group with a reinvigorated commitment to the task (Mawhinney & Sagan, 2007).   All of these factors facilitate learning, thereby making the short and long-term learning goals more easily attainable (Jones & Jones, 2007).

In conclusion,  I now view community involvement, along with more beneficent parent- teacher relationships, as necessary correlatives to the optimum academic performance of my charges (Laureate Education, 2007, b).  I am also now aware of the importance of order and discipline in the classroom. As such I am now thoroughly familiar with different problem solving strategies as well as the importance of consistently practicing and enforcing rules and procedures. This will certainly add to the serenity and the calm conduct so necessary for effective learning outcomes. Next, by attaining a deeper understanding of the relationship between engaging instruction and good behaviors, I have refocused my efforts on offering relevant, individualized learning formats that meet the personal and academic needs of my students while highlighting multi media and multi sensory aspects (Laureate Education, 2007, c).  As a result of these myriad progressions, I can now avow a classroom that values order, relevant, engaging lessons, community, communication and interrelationships.

As I complete this Master’s program, I feel not only the pride of accomplishment, but a renewed curiosity to learn more about my chosen avocation. Therefore, I intend to pursue a second Masters in the near future. This time my goal is to complete a subject-area trifecta by adding a  Masters in science in the elementary grades to my portfolio. As always, the future always remains a mysterious entity, filled with challenges and rewards. By successfully meeting the demands of my Master’s program, I feel more confident that I can meet these challenges as I improve the academic and personal prospects of all my students.




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