Teaching Reading

Learning the System…

From the time I was six years old, I was playing “school teacher” in my room. I would set up my American Girl dolls in rows, find little notebooks or crayons for them, and use the supplementary materials my mom would pull out her old elementary school supply box for me to create in my own little imaginary classroom. During the times that I waver in my pursuit of education as my profession, I often think about those memories and my interest in the power learning and teaching from such a young age. Little did I know, over a decade later I would be seeing and experiencing all of the hard work and thought that goes behind what teachers bring into the classroom every day. Isn’t it funny to look back on your time in grade school and realize that you had absolutely no clue how much work went into planning each day? Talk about some irony.

Now that I am getting some first hand experience behind-the-scenes of running a classroom, I am constantly filtering through the things my mentor teacher does, the memories I have from my grade school teachers, and my vision of what teaching will look like for me. From our readings, Beers works through what it means to provide “explicit instruction” in the classroom. We are so quick to explain things simply in a way that makes sense to us rather than put ourselves in the shoes of our students and consider their level of knowledge and experience. In providing explicit instruction, Beers notes that we must activate prior knowledge for students in order to create those connections between previously learned material and the current concept at hand. Ideas like that seem so painfully obvious, yet we are quick to jump over these basic steps in the learning process, and when someone, like Beers, points out this seemingly obvious step it reminds me to slow down and consider why I do what I do when I lead the class. Taking the time to tie ideas to each other can help students feel confident in what they know before taking on something new. It’s only human to want to feel prepared going into a situation of uncertainty; learning takes place during the progression from uncertainty to understanding.

Amongst all of Beers’s helpful ideas for teaching more effectively, there is emphasis on constantly diversifying teaching to keep students attention. I am learning the system of teaching as I witness and read more about the preparation process teachers go through to effectively communicate a given concept. Beers mentions mini-lessons as a resource to implement in the classroom as a quick 5-10 minute section in class when you explain a point or reexamine a concept for students benefit where you see room for growth. For example, this week (Monday… eek) I will be teaching a mini-lesson on semicolons and their usage. Our students are throwing them randomly in their writings or simply not using them in places that they could use them to enhance their sentence structures and overall writing, so I am stepping in to teach a mini-grammar lesson that they can take and apply to their work. Even just this small break from the routine of class will (hopefully) provide a mental stretch break (if that makes sense) that is both useful and a step away from Chaucer, which I’m sure they will appreciate.

It is hard to believe we are only just weeks into the semester. With all of the information that is being thrown at us, it can be difficult to pick up an idea and let it resonate, but, hopefully, through our readings and in-class conversations, I will be able to begin narrowing down ideas I can integrate into my classroom and my future lesson plans. Slowly, but surely, I am beginning to learn the system, and, hopefully, I am embarking on a path to success.




3 thoughts on “Learning the System…

  1. I think the idea of “explicit instruction” is definitely one that myself, along with most other teachers, should learn to implement better. Lots of times when I get into the classroom, I get so excited about whatever it is that I’m teaching that I start speaking too quickly and using my hands a lot and overall running the class in a way that one of my college English classes would be. It’s familiar and comfortable to me, but of course it’s not at all familiar and comfortable to my students! It’s something that I really need to work on, and the readings from Beers really helped me to hone in on what it truly means to teach explicitly and helpfully to my students. I’m glad that this section was helpful and instructive to you as well!


  2. Hey Jamie! Glad you survived your first mini-lesson today! I love that you mentioned having to remind yourself to slow down and consider why you do what you do when you lead the class. I think sometimes we get caught up in getting the content out there instead of knowing the importance the assignment has on the development of a student’s critical thinking skills.


  3. Hi Jamie,
    First of all, I WISH MY KIDS WOULD USE A SEMICOLON AT ALL. I don’t think I have seen a single compound sentence in any of their work. Maybe we should combine classes and even our distribution.

    I also thought the importance of distribution was valuable. After reading that section of Beers, I decided to pay more attention to that in class today. My MT’s plans had a switch every 15 or so minutes, and he even planned in a 5 minute break in the middle for our 90 some minute class. You can see the class start to get restless, and once you gather their attention after the break, their work has a noticeably higher quality to it. Even if we do the same thing in class for an hour, we try to have the kids up and moving, usually using mini stations positioned around the room. They use the same skills at every one, but the actual activity is slightly different. It seems to be enough to keep them mostly on target.

    Also, thank you for sharing your childhood memory of teaching your dolls. When I was younger, I wanted to be a “frog expert” so I caught a ton of frogs at summer camp and they all died in like, 4 days. Needless to say, I am not a frog expert. I am glad you stayed on course and didn’t let all of your students die, even after 4 weeks.


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