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RUNNING HEAD: Classroom Observation Paper 1

Classroom Observation Paper


Meghan Schmitt










Classroom Observation Paper 2

I observed Dana Longs second grade classroom at TR Paul Academy of Arts and
Knowledge in the afternoons of May 22
nd
and 23
rd
, the Thursday and Friday of their second-to-
last week of the school year. There were 17 students in the class. Although I plan to teach high
school science, not second grade, I was hopeful that this would be a useful experience. Ms.
Long had come highly recommended by another teacher in the school, so while second graders
and teenagers are very different I was still likely to gain useful insights into teaching methods
and classroom management.
I first arrived in the classroom at 2:30 pm on Thursday, when the students were just
coming back from recess. The first activity I observed was snack time, which Ms. Long used to
build relationships with her students. Students told stories about things that had happened at
recess and she and the students both talked about their summer plans. Ms. Long often used time
between activities and while waiting for computer programs to load to foster these discussions,
which I found to be an excellent example of building relationships with students without taking
much time away from academics. According to Marzano and Marzano (2003), building
relationships with students is important to effective classroom management. I saw evidence of
its effectiveness in the ease with which she managed class discussions with young children
without needing strict behavior rules. The students feel that she likes and respects them and they
respect her in turn. Although I plan to teach high school students, not second graders, and I do
not expect to have such easy opportunities as snack time to get to know my students, I can
definitely see the merit of taking opportunities to get to know them as I find them to build better
relationships between us and foster a classroom atmosphere of mutual respect.
After snack time Ms. Long told the students to throw away their trash and come sit on the
carpet in front of the smart board. Nearly every change in activities I saw in this class also
Classroom Observation Paper 3

involved a change in location. The changes could occasionally be slightly chaotic but the
students were quickly brought back under control and it helped the students refocus on the new
activity. This lesson was for Paragon, the social studies program the school uses which
integrates art, music, and drama into learning about the world. The first part of that days lesson
was taught using a smart board, based around slides containing text, pictures, and graphics. The
lesson included very little lecturing. Most of the instruction was done through asking the
students questions, getting a variety of answers, getting some students to elaborate on those
answers, and then finally clicking to the slide that gave the answers and comparing it to the
students answers. While some teachers may consciously or unconsciously favor boys over girls
when asking or answering questions, I saw no bias in Ms. Longs class, with a total of 92 boys
and 94 girls talking over the whole observation period. They were learning about the people
who currently make up the United States and how and why those people came here, so a lot of
the questions related to what the students had seen in their own lives or what they had learned
from their parents when they asked about their ancestry for their homework.
Soliciting answers from students was highly effective in keeping the students engaged
and it also helped them see how what they were learning directly related to they and their
classmates lives. Willis (2006) explains that both student-centered learning and forming
personal connections to the material helps to form and reinforce pathways in students brains to
help move new information into long term memory. The focus on student response and
acceptance of a variety of answers also fits to some extent with the methods encouraged by
Fernandez-Balboa and Marshal (1994), who emphasize the importance of getting future
democratic citizens accustomed to valuing their own thoughts and knowledge instead of
mindlessly absorbing the words of an authority figure. The extent of the discussions was limited
Classroom Observation Paper 4

to the teacher asking the students questions and occasionally asking them to elaborate on their
answers, but even asking such questions at all is an improvement over the traditional lecture
format of education. As a teaching assistant and as a tutor I also found that guiding the students
to produce the answers on their own was highly effective and I certainly plan to use it in my own
teaching.
While Ms. Long had planned to teach the entire smart board based part of the paragon
lesson in one day, within fifteen minutes of starting the lesson it was clear that the students were
losing focus. It became harder to solicit thoughtful answers from them and many of them got
distracted by side conversations. Noticing all of this, Ms. Long decided that it was time to
switch to a more active part of the lesson and leave the rest of the smart board discussion for the
next day. For that to happen she had to pay close attention to her classs behavior and to
recognize that punishment for misbehavior is not always the best way to deal with it. There were
times when she told students to get back on task and times when students lost computer time,
dragon tickets, or other rewards because they were not listening but in that case she recognized
that the class just was not in the right mental state to deal with that type of lesson. She also had
to realize what kind of lesson would work better in that situation and have a good alternative
already prepared for when lessons needed to be rearranged.
The next activity the class engaged in was cutting out the shape of their hands in
construction paper and writing the countries their ancestors came from on the hands. Before
letting the students get their materials she prevented a lot of problems by first clearly explaining
the instructions and then asking students to repeat the instructions and writing them on the board
as a reminder. She also told the students to turn in their hands and read silently when they were
done so the students would stay occupied. This and many other paragon activities are useful not
Classroom Observation Paper 5

only in keeping students interested but also engaging multiple intelligences in learning. In
Gardners theory of Multiple Intelligences, summarized by Carla Lane, students can be taught
through seven different learning styles; visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal,
intrapersonal, linguistic, and logical-mathematical. Most people can learn to some extent
through all of them, but they learn most effectively with information presented for their strongest
learning styles so it is important to present information in a variety of ways. Willis (2006) also
says that presenting information in a variety of ways helps students form multiple connections
between new information and old information, placing the new information more firmly in long
term memory and making in easier to access. Paragon teaches through reading, teacher
instruction, discussion, art, music, and drama, engaging many ways of learning. While it might
be more challenging to plan lessons that include all these methods than simple lecture, reading,
and worksheet combinations the ease with which it reaches so many students would make it well
worth doing in my own teaching.
After finishing the hands project Ms. Long called the class over to sit in front of a map of
the world. Ms. Long and the students each took turns telling the class where their ancestors
came from and why they came to the United States and she put a post-it flag in each place the
students mentioned. The students noticed that many, though not all, of the flags were in Europe,
which prompted a discussion about why that was. They also discussed what they thought the
countries in various parts of the world were like, considering things like proximity to the equator
and the Arctic ocean. This discussion leant itself well to bringing in students own background
and heritage and discussing how those things effect the United States today. Huerta (2009)
emphasized the importance of connecting education to all students background and heritage,
which this lesson did. As a science teacher my subject will not always lend itself so easily to
Classroom Observation Paper 6

making these connections, but I can still do it by avoiding a Eurocentric, and incorrect, history of
the development of the concepts I will be teaching and by showing my students global
applications.
By that time it was nearly the end of the day. The students got their backpacks, cleaned
up, and met on the carpet at the front of the room. Ms. Long gave a brief overview of the plan
for the next day and then the class spent the next few minutes discussing their plans for the
evening. I like this format for wrapping up the day. Since everyone already had their things
packed they were all able to hear what she needed to tell them clearly and then they could spend
the last few minutes building class relationships and ending the day on a positive note.
The next day I arrived at 12:45 pm, just after recess and just before math class. Second
grade math was split into two ability-based math groups so half of the students from Ms. Longs
class went to the other second grade class where the more advanced math class was and half of
the other second grade class came to Ms. Longs room. Math began with the students writing
word problems based on a picture they were given and then answering each others word
problems. After the word problems the class moved to the floor in front of the smart board,
where they first went over the rules before starting the lesson. She also reminded them that this
was their last combined math class and told them that if they worked hard and finished early they
could have free time in the computer lab, which they were excited about. The lesson began with
going over the months and days of the week, as well as the weather and a song they learned to
remember how many ounces are in a pound. They went over the days agenda and then
reviewed multiplication and division with math warm-ups. Problems were shown on the smart
board one at a time and the students answered by holding up their number cubes with their
answer. When students were wrong Ms. Long told them they were and they changed it until they
Classroom Observation Paper 7

got it right, after which a student would show the answer on the screen. This review method was
successful both in providing immediate, minimally stressful feedback, and in activating previous
knowledge to build on later in the lesson. For questions with slightly more complex answers I
can see the merit of reviewing this using small student white boards in a quick pre-lesson review
in my own classes.
Next they started using the function machine. The function machine was a moving
drawing of a machine on the smart board that could apply certain math rules to numbers. The
operation of the function machine was actually quite similar to a basic algebraic equation, but by
presenting it in terms of a fun machine with lights and noise that applied processes they had
already learned; addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, they were able to learn
material that I would have thought was well above their grade level. From the function machine
they learned to study tables of the machines inputs and outputs to find the machines rule for
that table. Most of the class was then able to do it on their own without the machine or any more
guidance, although a few students needed to be walked through the process a few more times
before they could do it on their own. This method of building up to new, complex material from
previous knowledge instead of immediately overwhelming students with a whole set of new
concepts described in unfamiliar terms would be an excellent way to teach science, which many
students assume is beyond their comprehension.
The rest of the day consisted of computer lab free time, recess, snack, and finishing the
paragon lesson from the day before. This part of the day was very similar to the previous day,
other than not needing any unexpected changes to the lesson plan. At the end of the day the
class followed their typical room cleaning procedures and then gathered on the carpet. Ms. Long
went over what they would be doing in the last week of school and how it would be different
Classroom Observation Paper 8

from what they normally do. The students had a lot of questions and clearly benefitted from
getting the changes spelled out in advance. The day ended with a few more stories and weekend
plans, and then the students lined up to go home.
At the end of my first day of observing her classroom I interviewed Ms. Long to learn her
opinion of the state of the educational system and of how well it is meeting students needs. I
first asked her what she considered the primary purpose of schools. She told me there are two
primary purposes. The first is to set a foundation for academics. Schools should academically
prepare students to do well in high school, college, and life. The second purpose is character
education. Students should learn to respect themselves, respect others, and respect property.
The second question was when she thinks about the wide range and various needs of the
varying abilities, socio-economic/ethnic groups, races, gender, sexual identity, religions,
languages, and individual learning styles, how well do schools meet the needs of all learners?
She believes that this strongly depends on the teacher. She said that younger teachers especially
do tend to be aware of differences, but that there is still an achievement gap that needs to be
addressed. She pointed out that Hispanic and Black boys in particular are often misunderstood
by teachers, contributing to more problems and lower achievement in the classroom.
The third question asked her how her experience in the classroom aligned with her initial
expectations of teaching. Her first response was to laugh. Then she explained the familiarity
pitfall, in which many new teachers think that their life as a teacher is going to be the same as
what they expected when they were kids. She expected teaching to be much easier because her
teachers were always very experienced and had already developed their own effective teaching
strategies. She said her masters did not prepare her well for teaching, but that the most effective
way to learn has been to look at what went well and what did not each day and learn from it.
Classroom Observation Paper 9

For the fourth question I asked her about her hopes and concerns about the future of
education in the U.S. She hopes that we will be able to adapt to the needs of the 21
st
century
without losing some of the more traditional aspects of school and that teachers will be able to
effectively prepare students for what is coming. She is concerned that many things might get in
the way of that though. She fears that schools will not have enough funding to accommodate the
growing population. Meanwhile, students will become less and less healthy, and will shoot
ahead of their teachers technologically to the point that teachers can never keep up. Currently,
she can see that students are still not getting adequate science and math education early on,
which gets in the way of all future education.
As a final question, I asked Ms. Long how she keeps her students so engaged in their
lessons. She told me that above everything else the most important thing is knowing your
students. This lets you pull things into lessons that they can relate to, understand their attention
span, and recognize when what you are giving them is not quite what they need and change the
lesson accordingly. She uses multiple intelligences in her teaching to keep everyone engaged
and uses a lot of personal stories and connection from both her own life and the students.
Although Ms. Longs second grade classroom is not an age group Im likely to ever
teach, I still learned many valuable lessons from observing it. The most important lesson is to
know your students. Learn who they are, what they like, what they have experienced, and how
they think. I may not be able personally know everything about every student, but there are
plenty of opportunities to learn more about them and to design lessons that work for as many of
them as possible. I share Ms. Longs concerns about the future, but I also believe that through
learning from excellent teachers like her we teachers of the future can in fact gain the skills to
prepare the 21
st
centurys children for the 21
st
centurys world.
Classroom Observation Paper 10

References
Fernandez-Balboa, J.-M., & Marshall, J. P. (1994). Dialogical Pedagogy in Teacher Education:Toward
an Education for Democracy. Journal of Teacher Education , 45, 24-34.
Huerta, G. (2009). Educational Foundations: Diverse Histories, Diverse Perspectives. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company.
Lane, C. (n.d.). The Distance Learning Technology Resource Guide. Retrieved from The Education
Coalition: http://www.tecweb.org/styles/gardner.html
Marzano, R. J., & Marzano, J. J. (2003). The Keys to Classroom Management. Educational Leadership ,
61, 6-13.
Willis, J. (2006). Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning. Alexandria, VA: Association
for Supervision and Curriculum Development.