Reflection: Production Manager of the Learning Environment

During the high school portion of my student teaching apprenticeship I entered nearly thirty grades in Gradebook for assignments and weekly behavior/time management. This allowed me to collect significant data on student performance in order to better address their needs, and evaluate the effectiveness of my teaching. It also allowed students the opportunity to make a change in their grade average if they happened to bomb a few assignments. Assessment, both formal and informal must be built into every lesson in order to accurately determine what students need the most. I needed to know what my students were learning and what they weren’t.

As part of my graduate studies I completed to pre-clinical experiences that required me to create a Teacher Work Sample (TWS), for which I taught lessons and collected data on student performance from pre-assessment to summative assessment. During the spring of 2014 I taught a lesson on public art to a class of 5th graders at Hamilton Elementary School. If I had taught that class again the data I collected on their performance would have been able to direct me in best working with the students. I also gained valuable insight into what didn’t work with the lesson, and would be able to use that information to make changes to the lesson if I were to teach it to another class. Teachers must be reflective, open to trial and error, and open to adapting lessons to best fit the needs of the students.

My second pre-clinical experience and TWS was completed at Senn High School where I would student teach. I was required to log over twenty observation hours, which allowed me some time to get to know my students before I would spend eight weeks with them. I was particularly drawn to the 5th period class–a very difficult group of students with a lot of personality. I chose to focus on them for my initial TWS and for the work I completed as part of Columbia College’s EdTPA pilot. In my experiences, what came to stand out the most was my students’ struggles with written work and in turning in completed work,if they turned it in at all. At a school with only a 25% college readiness score due to low literacy. With my background in writing I wanted to offer as much as I could in developing students’ confidence when writing about art.

My cooperating teacher had asked me to prepare a lesson that would allow students to practice skills they would need to use on the REACH assessment. I created a packet modeled after the REACH, and the students had three class periods to complete it and the option to take it home for homework. They were required to respond to Chiaroscuro, a multimedia installation by Sougwen Chung. Prior to giving them the packet I gave a presentation on installation art, Chiaroscuro the installation and the term, as well as any information that would be relevant and helpful as they completed the assignment. They were given additional reading materials and a vocabulary worksheet as further support. Even with lenient grading, very few students were able to meet all of the objectives of the lesson, though a handful out of the five art classes exceeded expectations. Students most frequently received low scores on the assignment because they left questions blank. The assignment itself was seemingly manageable, but many of my students did not have the appropriate focus, or skills to break down and process the assignment, even with guidance.

Moving forward, when I entered into student teaching I designed assignments and supports meant to help students develop their written and oral communication skills in response to art, and provided structure and support for helping students complete and turn in work on time. I also had a decent handle on how much information my students could handle at a time to help me in chunking lessons. I built frequent written responses of varying lengths into lessons, including requiring students to write a five-paragraph essay in response to an installation project we worked on. I wasn’t all that interested in the quality of their writing in the beginning, but in challenging them to organize their thoughts and get them down on paper. Revision comes later in writing. In my experiences teaching writing I have learned that the first obstacle is getting something on the paper, but once it is there, everything else can follow.

My students had a significant deficit of creative confidence. I addressed this by designing a unit that integrated, technology, music, and science–opening multiple avenues for students to connect with the art content. We learned watercolor techniques, but applied them in studying the relationship between sound and image, looking at Kandinsky, Synesthesia, Neil Harbisson and Cyborg technology, and Cymatics. My students took the opportunity to use technology and incorporate music into their work, as they created their own beats using an online program, which they then translated into watercolor paintings. Throughout the unit I provided support to students struggling with concepts through class discussions, small-group and one-on-one discussions, worksheets, presentations, and supplementary readings. Students began to use their class time to actually create art, rather than sitting blankly, napping, or doing homework for other classes. Through a series of activities around responding to music visually, students became more open to the creative process and developed a comfort with experimenting with watercolors.

The impact of my work was apparent as we moved on to self-directed projects. Students had the freedom to make art about whatever they wanted, and where weeks ago they would have been hesitant, almost all of them could think of something they wanted to paint. They were required to find an article that related to the subject of their painting to add a layer of research and throughout the process they logged their daily progress on a worksheet. The worksheet allowed students to breakdown their process for completing the project into manageable steps and allowed me to monitor their progress. When my time at Senn came to an end students were coming in and getting to work with little prompting and working until the bell rang. Conversations diminished as they were quiet and focused on their work. I was incredibly proud of the progress students made, and I think many of them changed their relationship with art.

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