EDUC 213: INTRODUCTION TO TEACHING
Lucas Longo – Dec 5, 2015
Description of the Lesson
Mr. Fischer’s lesson utilized several pedagogical techniques to enhance the learning objectives, stated at the beginning of the class. The lesson started out with giving students input about the subject with some direct teaching and lecturing (3:37). The teacher pulls from previous knowledge the students poses when mentioning cross examination (3:10) and recalling that the have done this process before. Asking the students questions about the case, the teacher assesses informally their knowledge and summarizing what is being said in the class on the blackboard by drawing a mind map. Scaffolding the students with prompts, probes and further questions, the teacher was able to extract deeper and more precise responses.
Mrs. Gomez then switched gears into an interesting activity of following her directions in Spanish. She was able to model to problem of communication, identified during the class activities, effectively and realistically. She was able to generate an affective response from the students (8:17) allowing them to feel what the problem was and hopefully promote metacognition. This activity was preplanned by the two teachers and showed a great level of PCK application to the lesson – they understood the content and created interesting ways to convey this to the students.
In preparation for the mock trial, the students broke out into groups. They moved from independent practice they’ve had with the content towards guided practice. After organizing themselves into the roles each wished to play, they discussed the subject matter with each other while the teachers moved from group to group facilitating discussion (9:40), assessing informally their knowledge about the subject and coaching them towards the trial. The teachers understood the concept of ZPD providing scaffolds for the students while not overdoing it by giving out all the answers. “I’m not going to do it for you. You know how to do it” (13:00). This activity then culminated in the actual reenactment of the trial and a debriefing session to summarize what the students had learned from the exercise.
Application of Course Content
Instructional Planning & Assessment
The teacher’s objectives for the lesson seem to be to illustrate to the students the importance of history and the connections that can be made with the present through the law and the court systems. They wanted the students to understand how does the US Supreme Court’s decisions in the past affect our lives today and how labour is an important aspect for understanding our past. By exposing the students to the Amistad case, topics about slavery, justice, and communication were covered, even if indirectly.
The teachers planned the instruction with care with distinct types of instruction starting ranging from direct teaching, prior knowledge assessment, group discussions, facilitation, modeling and peer-to-peer teaching. We can say that the lesson moved effectively up the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy starting by recognizing and recalling facts about the case, understanding what the facts meant, applying and analyzing these facts in order to prepare for the trial, evaluating what was important or not and finally creating the mock trial reenactment. A full progression that visibly engaged students.
The teachers used informal assessment to judge if these objectives were met. By creating the mock trial exercise, they were able to understand how well the students grasped the subject. An important part of this assessment was conducted throughout the group sessions where the teachers could hear and interact with the student’s knowledge by facilitating their discussions. There was no formal assessment in the sense that there was not a test nor a written documents each student had to present.
Knowledge for Teaching
The teachers did show a wealth of content and pedagogical content knowledge in preparing for this lesson and teaching it. Their content knowledge about the Amistad case was necessary to be able to explain the case, focus on key issues, and provoke thought and questions about relevant facts. Without this knowledge they would not be able to guide the students in the process of creating the mock trial.
In terms of pedagogical content knowledge, the teachers understood the benefits of utilizing several techniques to pull from the student’s previous knowledge, elicit content association, and even draw upon their funds of knowledge. A great example of this was the activity where instructions were given out in Spanish – it situated them in a context that might very well be present in everyday life. It was so effective that it caused transfer when the student, playing the lawyer, used the same technique to ‘prove’ that the witness did not speak Spanish.
Their PCK extended to having the students model the trial, preparing for it using independent practice, group activities, and metacognition. At the end of the video one of the students summarized it well saying that the ‘trial got all the information they already knew and made it more realistic’. Without PCK, I believe the teachers might not have been able to crate such a rich experience for the students.
The lesson included several ways for the students to engage, process, and construct ideas with the content. They obviously read about the case before coming into class, heard a lecture about the case, responded to the questions the teachers posed, worked in groups to dig deeper into the content, were scaffolded during the process of preparing for the trial, and finally created and enacted the trial to expose what they had learned. This diverse set of activities ensured that the students had several opportunities to engage with the content, ask questions, and absorb the content throughout the exercise.
An important part of their differentiation technique was illustrated in the group activity where the students were learning from their peers while being scaffolded by the teacher’s facilitations and interventions. The trial also aided in the sense that the students were able to observe each other’s performances which illustrated facets of the issues based on in-depth analysis of each other’s roles in the trial.
Language and Culture
The teachers were able to build off of and support the students’ community and cultural knowledge by choosing the case to be studied. The Amistad case dealt with issues that were culturally and historically relevant to the class since the majority of the students were African American and Latino, including the teachers themselves. With this, the subject matter was directly relevant to the students and taught them about their heritage.
English Language Development was supported by the teachers by showing the students the effects of not knowing another language and the communication problems that it entails. They were aware that some students did not speak Spanish and used this to their advantage and illustrate this point. They also explained in Spanish some concepts to a student who needed it. The other students also were shown helping each other in Spanish to clarify some concepts. In this sense, the whole classroom culture was geared towards accommodating for bi-lingual students.
Classroom Management and Engagement
The classroom was well managed and the students well behaved, showing that the teacher had established control and respect. The norms of engagement seemed to be well established in the sense that students were comfortable in participating, answering questions, and working in groups. During the group activities, the teachers walked around verifying if there were any doubts, encouraging them to ask questions, share with their neighbors, and discuss their ideas. The teachers also allowed great freedom for the students in promoting individual and group decision-making, making them think and build upon each others knowledge.
The group activity also allowed for the teachers to mediate discussions, reflect on the subject matter and finally demonstrate what they had learned in the mock trial. They also ensured that they worked with the students to draw out the underlying issues about the case as well as making sure that they were able to follow the mock trial’s proceedings and constraints.
By ‘making it real’, they were also able to obtain full class engagement and participation. The students were clearly interested in the subject matter and put in real effort in making sure that everyone in the team was on the same page, had no doubts, and were sure about what they had to do. To the mock trial was a formidable way to assess the students knowledge and keep them motivated to present their best work.
Overall analysis of the strengths and weaknesses
The greatest weakness of this lesson I found to be the debriefing session. Granted that we might not have been presented its entirety in the video, yet it seems like it was short and shallow. I would have spent more time with the group trying to pull out what they had learned, what they had found most interesting, and what they felt about the lesson’s structure. I would also have attempted to summarize what was learned and trace back to the learning objectives along with what the teachers felt they had learned from the exercise.
The greatest strengths of this lesson were the multiple ways in which the students and teachers engaged with the content. It was not simply a lecture that exposed the students to the Amistad case and then tested them formally on what they could recall. The teachers created activities that engaged the students deeply with the content. The mock trial was a big motivator in the sense that every student participated in the activity, contributed to the task at hand and, through self investigation, deepened their knowledge about the subject at hand. The teachers were also very attentive to all students and were able to access the students’ ZPD by providing scaffolding and facilitation so that they could reach a level of understanding high enough to create and act out the mock trial.
Particularly, I was pleased to see how the teacher noticed one of the students, who did not speak Spanish, stand up following the cue from her peers, instead of truly understanding the instructions given to do so in Spanish. From the simple fact that the teacher noticed this action, I believe that in some minor way, might have acted as an informal formative assessment. This observation might cause the teachers to reflect and adapt their instructions on this task – they might say explicitly that you should only follow the instructions you undeniably understand. Yet I also feel there was a missed opportunity there for the teacher to ask the girl who stood up, why she stood up, and use that to demonstrate social pressures that lead to involuntary or automatic reflexes while in a community.
I was also pleased to see that there was absolute no mention of a test, grades, common core, or any kind of formal assessment. This shows that the teachers might be aware of reports such as 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward Public Schools which shows that there is too much emphasis on standardized testing.
Finally, the lesson was an absolute success if we analyze it using the “Identification of Evidence-based Practices” framework (Simonsen, Fairbanks, Briesch, Myers, & Sugai 2008). The use of two teachers instead of one along with a well organized and reasonably sized classroom attended to the needs of maximizing structure. Clear rules were stated, revised, monitored and enforced. One clear example was when the teacher interrupted the mock trial to correct a procedural sequence the students missed. The teachers also offered plenty of Opportunities to Respond (OTR), Class Wide Peer Tutoring (CWPT), along with some Direct Instruction. There was no evidence of the use of Computer Aided Instruction (CAI) nor Guided Notes yet they could have been part of the assigned reading and homework activities. The strategies for acknowledging appropriate behavior were limited to verbal acknowledgements yet were clear and precise. There was no evidence of inappropriate behavior so we also cannot tell if there was any strategy in place to do so. A good sign that the class was well managed and that the students were seriously engaged.
Simonsen, B., Fairbanks, S., Briesch, A., Myers, D., & Sugai, G. (2008). Evidence-based practices in classroom management: Considerations for research to practice. Education and Treatment of Children, 31(3), 351-380.