Field Observation Portfolio, Essay Example
Field Observation Portfolio: Memorial Middle School, Point Pleasant, NJ.
Introduction and Overview
This portfolio contains information and discussions pertaining to a field-observation project conducted in a classroom setting. The primary scope of this project involved observations of a teacher and her students in Spanish language classes at Memorial Middle School in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. The time devoted to observation in the field served as a valuable addition to the theoretical and practical components involved in being an educator. The field observation context allows for consideration of theoretical concepts and ideas, while contextualizing them in practical, real-world ways. The following pages provide background information about the school and the specific classroom in which the observations took place; the host teacher and the students in these classes; an overview of my experiences in these classes; and a discussion about what the lessons learned in this setting and their applicability to future educational endeavors.
The Point Pleasant School District
The Borough of Point Pleasant, New Jersey is relatively small; the entire borough only takes up 3.5 square miles. As of the year 2013 Point Pleasant had a population of just under 19,000 people, divided almost equally among male and female residents. The Borough of Point Pleasant has a fairly dense population in relation to its size, with approximately 5,000 people per square mile. The median age of the residents of Point Pleasant is 37.1 years, which is fairly young. The community of Point Pleasant is comprised of approximately 7,000 households, and of that number, roughly 4,000 of these households consist of married couples. There are relatively few older residents in Point Pleasant; fewer than 1,000 households have residents 65 years of age or older.
Consistent with its relatively small size, Point Pleasant contains only four public schools: Ocean Road Elementary School; Nellie Bennett School (also an Elementary school); Memorial Middle School; and Point Pleasant High School. Ocean Road Elementary School has the district’s self-contained special education classes, though both Ocean Road Elementary and Nellie Bennett Elementary are committed to offering educational opportunities to special needs students that prioritize inclusive approaches to all students. The school district prides itself on its commitment to providing differentiated instruction and to mainstreaming students with disabilities or other special needs wherever possible. The district’s two elementary schools have demonstrated strong academic achievement in their student populations, with both schools having near-perfect scores in mathematics and language arts on the state’s standardized testing program. In addition to this proficiency in these areas, both schools also have high scores among their student populations in Earth science, physical science, life science, and social studies. Both schools also provide instruction in visual and performing arts, physical education, and library science.
Memorial Middle School has a student population of approximately 700 students (as of 2012-2013). Memorial Middle School provides differentiated instruction for all students; although it does employ several special-education instructors, the majority of Memorial’s special needs students are provided with inclusive and differentiated instruction in the context of its general education classrooms. Memorial Middle School has developed a set of “academic teams;” the teachers and instructors on each of these teams work closely with administrators, guidance counselors, and other members of the school staff to focus on several specific areas of instruction. The six academic teams at Memorial Middle School are based on the following areas of core instruction: Mathematics, Language Arts, Science and Social Studies. The other teams provide instruction in subjects such as Visual and Performing Arts, World Languages, Technology Literacy, Consumer Sciences, and Music. Across all subjects, the school is committed to providing inclusive and differentiated instruction consistent with state mandates and community principles.
As the borough’s only high school, Point Pleasant High School is also committed to providing differentiated instruction and inclusive opportunities for special needs students. Point Pleasant High School has twelve academic placement programs, and also provides a wide range of educational opportunities in addition to its core-curriculum classes. As of the 2012-2013 school year more than 80% of the school’s student population was involved in extracurricular activities; these activities range from sports programs including football, soccer, and other athletic programs; drama and music programs; and social organizations that emphasize character development and involvement in the community. The administrators and instructors at Point Pleasant High School are committed to the principle that these and other extracurricular activities are a fundamental component of preparing students for success in college and other post-high school experiences. As of the 2012-2013 school year over 90% of graduating seniors went on to pursue higher-education opportunities, and earned approximately $200,000 in public and private scholarships.
The Borough of Point Pleasant has developed and implemented a number of programs aimed at preparing new teachers for their roles in the school district. In addition to these training and orientation programs, the district offers workshops and other training opportunities to current teachers that allow them to develop and strengthen their teaching skills, learn about new approaches to classroom structure, and prepare for and implement instruction and guidance related to standardized testing and other state-mandated regimes. The distinct recognizes that the opportunities and challenges provided by advances in technology will benefit instructors and students alike; with this in mind, the district also provides workshops and courses specifically related to the use of technology in the classrooms both by instructors and by students.
Despite the relatively small size of the Point Pleasant community, it has a solid tax base; the school district is committed to utilizing its financial opportunities responsibly and wisely, and the district has an AA credit rating based on its history of fiscal responsibility. This history has made it possible for the district to pursue and utilize a wide range of incentives and programs provided by the state and federal government and from private and corporate sponsorships. Such financial opportunities are fundamental to the district’s success in providing excellent educational opportunities to its students, and have made it possible for the area’s schools to pay for computers and other forms of technology that are key components of a world-class 21st century education.
Memorial Middle School Language Arts Instruction: Reflections and Observations
Language Arts instruction at Memorial Middle School is framed almost entirely in the context of an inclusive and differentiated approach. The host teacher for this observational opportunity provide an excellent example of how contemporary issues and theoretical constructs related to special needs students are manifested in a real-world setting. Although Memorial Middle School does offer pull-out programs for gifted students as well as some separate classrooms for special needs students, the majority of students at Memorial receive instruction in the general education classroom. This holds true for language arts instruction; the host teacher for this observational opportunity is a Spanish-language instructor, and she teaches all of her students in a general education setting. While the host teacher is faced with the challenge of meeting the educational needs and requirements of a wide range of types of learners, she ably demonstrates how various approaches and techniques can be used to meet these challenges.
The approach of providing differentiated instruction in the general education classroom is becoming increasingly common in schools across the country (Latz et al, 2009). The host teacher at Memorial Middle School has a relatively small number of special needs students in her classes, and all of these students are provided instruction in the general education setting. The host teacher shows strong classroom management strategies, and this is underpinned by her apparent preparation. The host teacher is particularly adept at demonstrating patience and understanding where her special needs students are concerned, and she allows the students who face challenges to work at whatever pace is most comfortable for them. The benefits of learning foreign languages at a young age are well-documented, both in terms pf intellectual development and in for the practical, real-world benefits inherent in multilingualism (Met, 1989), and this teacher places significant emphasis on the practical utilization of the Spanish language, especially for students whose primary language is English.
One of the challenges the host teacher faces, however, is that she does not have the help of any special education instructors to assist her with providing differentiated instruction. Because differ5entiated instruction is a core principle of the Point Pleasant school district, there are a number of strategies that are used in the host teacher’s classroom. One such strategy is peer coaching; this has been shown to be an effective means of meeting the challenges of differentiated instruction (Latz et al, 2009; Rodriguez, 2001). The host teacher does utilize peer coaching to some extent, though it would likely be beneficial to her and her students if she were to further deploy such a strategy. There are only a few students in the host teacher’s classroom who appear confident enough to offer effective peer coaching; such a lack of confidence is particularly common in foreign-language classes (Coffey, 2009).
For a classroom observer with little practical, real-world experience in the classroom it can be difficult to determine answers to questions about how well an experienced teacher is implementing theoretical concepts related to issues such as classroom management. A competent and effective teacher may make the job of managing a classroom look easy; moreover, it can be difficult to tell if the teacher oversees a well-behaved group of students because he or she is deploying a range of classroom management techniques, or simply because that teacher has the good fortune of teaching students who are naturally well-behaved. The host teacher for this observational opportunity almost always appeared to lead classrooms that functioned smoothly, stayed on schedule, and accomplished targeted goals. Considering the challenges of leading a differentiated foreign-language classroom without the assistance of a special needs teacher, the host teacher appeared to be especially effective at classroom management.
From a theoretical perspective there are a wide range of techniques and approaches to classroom management, and such theoretical constructs are often structured based on age and grade level. Classroom management strategies must take into consideration a number of issues; of particular relevance are issues related to development, which is notably significant at the middle school level. Students in middle school are leaving childhood behind and entering adolescence, and these changes have a number of implications. Middle school students are developing physically, socially, and intellectually during these years, and classroom management strategies must take these changes into consideration (Obenchain & Taylor, 2005). Teachers in middle schools must often content with behavioral issues related to such changes; these can include fighting among students, students talking back to teachers, and students talking to each other and otherwise being distracted during instructional periods.
A number of different strategies are recommended for dealing with students who exhibit behavioral issues, and most experts agree that no single strategy is always effective for every student (Obenchain & Taylor, 2005). What many theorists do agree on, however, is that whatever strategies are used, they must be deployed early to make sure that intervention occurs before behavioral issues escalate (Obenchain & Taylor, 2005). In a classroom where few behavioral issues are demonstrated, however –such as in the classrooms of the host teacher for this observational opportunity- it can be difficult to determine if and to what extent the teacher has had to deploy behavioral intervention strategies. What is clear, after observing this host teacher, is that her students largely accorded her with respect and followed the instructions and guidance they were offered.
Because the Point Pleasant school district and the Memorial Middle School are both relatively small, the host teacher faces a number of challenges that may be different than those faced by teachers in larger schools or larger districts. Memorial Middle School does not have a dedicated classroom for Spanish-language instruction, nor does the host teacher have her own (or even a shared) office dedicated to foreign language instruction. These limitations mean that each of the several classes the host teacher teaches at different grade levels are held in different classrooms. This poses a significant challenge for the host teacher, as it means that she cannot utilize a wide array of instructional aids and materials; anything and everything she uses during the course of instruction must be portable enough to carry from one classroom to the next. Among the instructional aids she utilizes is a smart board, which she must bring with her to each class. For an observer with no real-world experience in the classroom, this realization was surprising. While classes on teaching offer information about the different types of instructional supports that are available to teachers, it must be remembered that there are always practical concerns and challenges to face when deciding how and what to use in the real-world setting.
One of the primary considerations involved in differentiated instruction is that students will possess and display a variety of intelligences and learning capabilities (Neiser et al, 1996). The move towards making differentiated instruction the norm, and towards mainstreaming special needs students has made it necessary for general education teachers to develop strategies for meeting the different needs of students, and for providing instruction that takes into consideration the different ways that each student learns. Ideally, a general education teacher who has special needs students in his or her classroom(s) will have the assistance or support of a special needs instructor, but this assistance is not always available. The hoist teacher for this observational opportunity is faced with the challenge of teaching her special needs students without the assistance of a special needs teacher, and she therefore has to deploy strategies to compensate for this lack of assistance.
It becomes apparent that facing this challenge requires a combination of classroom management strategies and instruction strategies. The host teacher has only a few special need students in each of the grade levels she teaches, so that may be why there are no special needs teacher assigned to assist her. The host teacher has two specific strategies she utilizes to assist her special need students: the first is peer coaching; the second is the allocation of extra time and one-on-one assistance between herself and her students where necessary. The host teacher follows a fairly regular routine in deploying these strategies; she begins by offering whole-class instruction, followed when necessary by small group projects involving peer coaching. During the small group instructional periods, the host teacher then has the time to provide one-on-one assistance to her special needs students and any other students who are having difficulties with some aspect of the material being taught. This combination of strategies appears to work well for the host teacher, though it is difficult to determine how well this approach would work for a teacher with a greater number of special needs students in his or her classroom (or for a teacher who faced the challenge of having a significant number of students with behavioral issues to content with).
The other primary strategy then host teacher utilizes to provide differentiated instruction is to simply allow special needs students additional time to work on classroom projects, tests, and other tasks. This strategy requires the hoist teacher to display strong classroom management skills as she juggles the challenges of providing instruction to general education students while special needs students are working on projects, while also ensuring that the general education students do not get too far ahead of students who are taking additional time on tests or other projects. The skills needed to balance these conflicting needs go beyond the theoretical constructs taught in college classrooms; they must be learned and developed through real-world experience.
Lessons Learned Outside the Classroom
The opportunity to observe a teacher in the classroom setting offers tremendous insights for individuals who are studying to become teachers, but there is more to teaching than what happens in the classroom. Teachers do not teach in a vacuum; they must contend with school boards, parents, state and local rules and regulations, and a variety of other issues. Many of the issues that teachers face inside the classroom are determined by what happens outside the classroom, and the opportunities and challenges they face are often decided for them by decisions and actions made by or taken by individuals and groups beyond the administrators and other school officials. In order to develop a stronger understanding of how these issues affect teachers and administrators, it is helpful to attend school board meetings and other events and opportunities outside of the school setting. In the context of this observational report, the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Point Pleasant Board of education offered insight into the kind of issues that happen outside of the classroom that affect what happens inside the classroom.
Among the discussions that took place at the school board meeting was a presentation made by two elementary school teachers who provided an overview of their experiences with using new technology in their classrooms. The teachers engaged in a pilot study on the use of the Google Chromebook in the classroom. The Chromebook is a small, relatively inexpensive laptop computer that is based on the Chrome operating system (OS). The Chrome OS is browser-based (as opposed to the onboard-software based Windows systems that are familiar to most computer users). Chrome OS is a simple, easy system for most users, and the familiarity of using Internet browsers means that teachers and students alike quickly become comfortable with this OS. According to the presentation, the teachers and the students in this pilot program found the Chromebooks to be helpful classroom tools, and the students in this program were enthusiastic about the opportunity to use computers in their classroom activities. As technology such as computers and cell phones are becoming an increasingly common component of everyday life, the benefits of offering instruction that incorporates technology are becoming increasingly clear as well (Junior Scholastic, 2012).
The pilot program was developed to assess the use of the Chromebook in helping students prepare for PARCC assessment tests. These assessment tests are used to measure development in K-12 students in the areas of Mathematics and English/Language Arts/Literacy (parcconline.org). School districts throughout New Jersey and across the country have begun making use of the Chromebook; by one account the Chromebook is now in use in over 2000 school districts across the country (Evangelho, 2013). A number of third-party organizations, such as B3B provider CDW, have developed training and implementation programs aimed at helping schools ease the transition to the Chrome OS and to take full advantage of these inexpensive and easy-to-use computers (Evangelho, 2013). The Point Pleasant Board of Education is considering the possibility of purchasing a large number of Chromebooks; such a decision will clearly have significant implications for any teachers who are given the opportunity to incorporate these computers into their classrooms.
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