Methodology and Technology
Coming into this experience I expected to see very structured lessons and lectures, carefully planned group work, and creative methods of presenting the information.
Throughout all 20 hours, I saw only one new idea. Although I have only been out of high school for three years, I expected that of the 15 instructors I observed, more than one would have something I’ve never seen to share. The lessons I observed were often not lessons at all, but “individual work”, which turned into entire classes off-task, out of their seats, and on their iPhones. Looking back, I realize the first day I observed at Normal West, I saw three excellent lessons, and every hour after that was some kind of individual work or chaos.
While reflecting on these surprising observations, I realized just how chaotic things become when there are low or no expectations set for them. These hours made me appreciate a well-managed classroom more than I imagined. I plan on setting the tone early on in a course, making the procedures clear so that there is no confusion about what technology is allowed, or what the class time is to be used for.
I was very surprised to learn about the methodology and technology at Regional Alternative School. I had never heard of a school system like this before, and wasn’t aware that it could be a job option in my future either. Methods-wise, this seems like a cold alternative to usual public school, and is absolutely only a good fit for certain students. I had never seen a school that is that technology-reliant. The interesting difference is that the students have to turn their cell phones in at the beginning of the day. Compared to the Normal Community high schools, where there is always at least one student on their phone during lessons, this was a refreshing idea. Personally, I think the cell phone debate is forever changing with technology, however, something that will never change is that a great lesson can be “distracting” enough to keep students off their phones, which is something I’m glad to have realized through these chaotic observations.
Another thing I gained out of this experience was “Kahoots,” and other tools from google classroom. During my very first hour of observations, Mrs. Freeman at Normal West took time during her lesson to explain the technology to me and see the students work, even their standards-based exams. I was surprised to see the re-take system in a high school classroom, and I love the idea of standards based history classes. It was reassured to see this implemented in high school level history, since I had never seen that before. This will allow me to be creative with how I grade my students, and further my effort to make the class about learning and not how many points they have.
I expected to see teachers dressed in business-casual clothing, to be welcoming to us observers, and to have control over their classrooms while maintaining a good relationship with their students. In a handful of classes this was confirmed, but the majority were not what I had expected.
Throughout my experience, I was reminded just how hectic it can be to work in a high school, with last minute issues arising often. I expected the teachers to know when I would be coming in, but that was never the case, each time they were nonchalant and would tell me where to sit, and that’s about it. In three classes, all on my first day, the teachers gave me the handouts the students received, and one teacher seemed to be aware I was coming in. I was surprised by the unprofessional and casual relationships other teachers had with one classroom at Normal West.
Though it was out of the teacher’s control that the neighboring teacher would randomly walk into her room, I think I would have acted differently in a number of these instances. The neighboring teacher walked into the room during a student’s speech one day, he had his students pulling many others out of their rooms for surveys, he would walk in in the middle of a lesson to grab something. I found it very interesting that all three times I observed at Normal West, this teacher was disrupting multiple other classrooms.
The professionalism at Regional Alternative School was more of what I expected from these teachers. Everyone was dressed in business casual attire, spoke to other teachers with great respect, and spoke to students in a typical tone, as opposed to overly casual or friendly. This was refreshing, and I hope to model my professionalism after the teachers at Regional Alternative rather than Normal High Schools. I believe this environment is much more beneficial to students. I found it very interesting that although it is all online and the classrooms are non-traditional, the work ethic was much different, there was a lot more getting done, and it felt more like a classroom than the traditional ones at other schools. The professionalism of the teacher makes a big difference in the overall attitude and atmosphere in a room.
All of the teachers I observed demonstrated understanding for their students and any exceptions they had to make. From letting students take their exam either online or on paper, to excusing them to take surveys for another class, or letting them miss gym altogether for another class, the cooperating teachers were very flexible for their student’s various needs and circumstances.
I found the idea of exams online to be a great alternative. However, I was also reminded that even with the most inventive ideas, there are exceptions and complications you have to think of and also prepare for.
I realized that often times, being flexible for students may throw a wrench into the best laid plans.
One gym teacher at Normal West informed me that their school is going the wrong way about helping students graduate. He said that gym class has become almost optional, they are able to sit out and not participate 2 days a week and still pass the class with a B. The relaxed atmosphere in the gym department has created problems with students skipping the class, not adhering to uniform codes, and not fully participating. This kind of flexibility has it’s consequences, and I will be sure to keep that in mind when trying to be helpful to my students.
Management of Physical Environment
The classrooms at the Normal High Schools were exactly what I expected, plus some interesting new ideas I had not seen before. I saw some very basic desk set-ups, but since the classrooms were small and they had to fit many desks, this was understandable. The interesting set-ups included a theatre class, where the students sat in the theatre’s audience, and could sit wherever they wanted, with their feet up on the other seats, with their friends, and even on the other end of the room from the rest of the class. The professor sat behind the students in the audience, and watched their presentations. I would be interested to see how he teaches a structured lesson in that type of setting, or gives a test.
Something else interesting to me was in the art classes, the graduating AP students would paint and decorate a ceiling tile in their favorite art room. I love this idea because it gives the students something to work for other than a grade. I’m not sure how I would use this in a history/social studies classroom but it’s a great starting point for new ideas.
The classrooms at Regional Alternative School were definitely the most interesting. The chairs were more comfortable, and spread around the perimeter of the room, and the teacher’s desk was in the middle of the room. These alternative desks and seats allowed for more comfort which is important when their 3 hours there are spent sitting down on the computer the entire time. They were also allowed to have snacks and drinks by their workspace. This confirms what I thought about making the environment as comfortable as possible being very important.
Diversity and Demographics