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Element 2

ELEMENT 2Teachers know their students and how they learn.
 2.1.1 Knowledge of and respect for the diverse social, cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds of students, and the effects of these factors on learning 
2.1.2 Knowledge of students’ varied approaches to learning 
2.1.3 Knowledge of strategies for addressing student needs 
2.1.4 Knowledge of how students’ skills, interests and prior achievements affect learning 

As supported by research-based evidence, I have a firm conviction that understanding and respecting student diversity including their various cultural and ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic status, gender, age, different learning styles, skills and interests, and physical, social & intellectual abilities, is the key to successful teaching and learning. 

I have therefore diligently made it an important priority for me to meet graduate standards firstly by acquiring a theoretical understanding of how diverse backgrounds, experiences, approaches to learning, skills, interests and prior achievements have a pivotal effect on learning.  The following excerpt is an example of my research that considers the expertise and perspectives of a range of educational theorists.

Relevant Educational PrincipalsThe humanist Carl Rogers advocated the need for real facilitators of learning established by interpersonal relationships and student-centered teaching.  Based on this philosophy, subsequent educational researchers such as Arvizu and Snyder have stressed the importance of teachers understanding learning and motivational styles across cultures by facilitating learning in a manner which reflects cross-cultural understanding, and  being “mindful of people not only as products of culture but also as active, creative producers of culture.” (cited in Allameh, 1986, p. 2)  Indeed, Allameh notes that when teaching ESL students, teachers are essentially teaching culturally different patterns of perception, communication, and effect.  When students’ identity, diversity and language are accepted and respected through the sensitive planning of appropriate teaching materials, this allows room for students to experience pride in their heritage and to forge forward in their learning (Allameh, 1986, p. 13).Malone (2006, p. 17) further suggests that the interactions between a child’s inner and outer world, the mix of exchanges between child, family, community, popular culture, media, technologies, the past, present, and future, creates a complex milieu whereby students life worlds are being actively shaped.  It is thus imperative that teachers not only consider children’s’ diverse backgrounds, but are ever mindful of the fact that present life worlds are being simultaneously fashioned.

As a result, I have been made more aware of students diversity and the utmost importance for respectful environments and relationships.  The following situational analysis and reflection based on my 2nd year practicum at Berala Public School provides not merely evidence of my consideration of student diversity and how their skills, interests and prior achievements affect learning, but is also indicative of my desire to respect each individual which may require being aware strategies to address their specific needs.  The following journal excerpt is an observational reflection of a valuable learning experience gained from my cooperating teacher.  It describes the actions and teaching techniques that she used in the classroom to demonstrate that she respected and held high expectations of all her students, even the slower learners. 

Background to Berala Public School & Class 3B

School Motto“To Learn is to Flourish” Mission Statement“Our purpose is to provide stimulating experiences & programs that recognise the various stages of learning and guide individual development of students, within the context of this diverse community, towards maximum individual development.”School Profile“Berala Public School was established in 1924 to ensure that all students could reach the highest of educational standards, irrespective of backgrounds or circumstances. Today, Berala Public School is the largest public school and one of the most diverse facilities in the South-Western Sydney Region.  The current enrolment of 1070 students comprises diverse cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds. 94% of students originate from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds: Chinese, Arabic, Turkish, Pacific Islander, Vietnamese and Afghani are the predominant cultures amongst 36 different cultural groupings in the school community. The cultural demographics within the school boundaries will slightly shift with changes in federal and state policies that relate to immigration, housing, employment and global events. Many families within the school boundaries and community are second, third and fourth generation students who have a proud association with Berala Public School.” (Berala Public School, 2007) 3B Class Profile                3B is one of six year 3 classes at Berala Public school.  Reflective of the demographics of the community, the class is extremely culturally diverse.  Of the total 29 students, there are 17 boys and 12 girls; 10 Arabic, 5 Turkish, 4 Islander, 6 Chinese, 1 Vietnamese, 1African, 1 Indian, and 1 Iraqi.  Due to the grade allocation of classes at the beginning of the year, the vast majority of students in 3B are participating in reading and mathematics recovery programs.  A number of students experience mild to moderate learning difficulties and/or behavioral problems.  Two students are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and as part of an integration program, they receive additional support from three different teachers’ aides throughout the week.
 An excerpt from a daily reflection:
5 Nov 2007     …I am very impressed by my teacher’s commitment in ensuring that students who are often left behind in their class work are followed up regularly and are provided with extra assistance.  It is obvious that some of these students do not complete their in-class tasks not simply due to laziness, but often because they are confused about what they need to do.  They often try to divert learning by finding distractions, or distracting others.  As a result, my supervising teacher runs a lunchtime ‘catch-up club’ on most days for students whose in-class work is unsatisfactory or incomplete.  The main intention, however, is to provide these students with extra help, and to communicate the message that she has high expectations of all her students in all areas of schooling regardless of gender, special needs, social, cultural and religious background.  Although catch-up club is involuntary, students understand the logical consequence of not finishing in-class work and are thus quite willing to stay back during lunch time to catch up…      …I assisted my teacher in the running of catch-up club today, and helped an Islander girl with very poor understanding of mathematics concepts.  The teacher informed me that the girl’s completion of homework rarely occurred and part of this may be attributed to the fact that she comes from a family of 8 siblings and consequently receives very little attention or homework help at home.  Working on the topic of 3-digit subtraction, I made visual number lines and taught her to use backward ‘bunny hops’ for each of the 1s, 10s, and 100s columns.  This worked really well, and at the end, the girl even asked me to give her extra practice questions.  It was very satisfying to know that the student herself felt that she had accomplished something…”

My theoretical understanding of students’ varied approaches to learning has also prompted me to be innovative in my teaching practicums, using a diverse range of teaching approaches and strategies in order to accommodate for different learners. For example, I have adapted classroom management techniques, utilized different forms of students groupings and incorporated differentiated lesson content to cater for different learners at different stages of learning.  The critical reflection below collected from my 3rd year practicum at Concord Public School demonstrates how I used theory-based evidence to consider how I could best use student groupings to aid the learning of different groups of students.

Critical ReflectionAccording to research, although the majority of teachers perceive lesson modifications and adaptations to meet the special individual needs of students as important, most teachers find it difficult to actually implement these principles in the mainstream classroom, particularly if there is no explicit awareness dedicated to the issue (Scott, Vitale & Masten, 1998, cited in Cardona, 2002, p. 3).  Indeed, many teachers find the find feasibility an issue when it comes to targeting the individual needs of each child and thus forego lesson modifications without seeking alternative solutions such as the benefits of student groupings.  Throughout my practicum, I made it a priority to experiment with various types of student groupings, whole class, small group, and paired work, in order to meet the immensely diverse backgrounds, experiences and needs of my Kindergarten students.    I held the perspective of the classroom as a “community of enquirers” (Rojas-Drummond & Mercer, cited in 2003, cited in Blatchford, Kutnick, Baines & Galton, 2003, p. 2) whereby childrens’ diversity of life experiences, prior educational opportunities, genders, learning styles, personalities, cultural backgrounds and native languages can be capitalized upon and worked to the advantage of all students.  As a teacher of a class with a mix of newly arrived students with very limited English, NESB students, students with language learning difficulties, and students working beyond expected levels due to prior educational opportunities, I was particularly aware of catering for the learning needs of all individuals.  Many of my grouping arrangements were therefore based on the premise that in kindergarten classrooms, small group activities aid student integration into the classroom, can help overcome shyness particularly in ESL students, promote active learning, and allow all students the opportunity to attain educational success (Cardona, 2002, p. 14). Groupings also ensure student engagement in learning, teaches students how to work with others, facilitates social interaction among students, motivates them, improves their self concepts and attitudes toward self and school, and teaches them how to take responsibility for their own learning (Ward, 1987, para. 27-42).  Svinicki further highlights the fact that “group solutions to problems are often far superior to individual solutions, a phenomenon known as synergy”. (n.d., p. 1) 

The following anecdotal evidence reveals my implementation of student seating arrangements to aid effective learning.  It also became a means of monitoring issues arising from differentiated worksheets and encouraged peer help and interaction between lower ability and higher ability students.

Cainan: Tony, you need to trace around this word.Tony: [look of confusion…continues to scribble aimlessly on the page]Cainan: [tries again to explain, this time using his finger to model the action] No, no, trace around this word Tony, this word. [Cainan picks up a pencil and places it in Tony’s hand]Tony: [takes the pencil and looks at Cainan]Cainan: Yes Tony, good boy Tony, trace…look…trace.Tony: [starts tracing the action words]

The following stage 3 PDHPE unit of work overview I designed focusing on the sensitive topic of ‘Grief’ demonstrates how I successfully factored in student diversity and personal experiences in my unit planning through the use of various student-centred, innovative teaching strategies and resources.  


PDHPE K-6 UNIT OF WORK

5 LESSON OVERVIEW

Stimulus: “Charlotte’s Web” [motion picture] (Kerner & Winick, 2006).  To be viewed in an English lesson prior to the commencement of the PDHPE unit.
Lesson 1 “Weave a WEB”

This lesson will introduce students to the unit topic ‘loss and grief’.  To stimulate students’ prior learning and knowledge from other KLAs (i.e. English), a short YouTube film review of Charlotte’s web (Aboutjulia, 2007) will be shown to the class.  A class team-building activity will then follow, whereby students sit in a circle with a yarn ball placed in the middle.  The teacher will facilitate students in brainstorming the different losses that occur in Charlotte’s Web (Kerner & Winick, 1999) e.g. death, losing a friend, moving to a new home.  Students are encouraged to think of different losses that have occurred either in their own life, or the life of someone they know personally.  The yarn ball is thrown across the circle randomly gathering different responses.  Students hold onto a piece of the yarn each time, creating a complex web where all members of the class (including the teacher) are inter-connected.  This activity demonstrates and launches class discussion on the universality of loss, the different types of losses which individuals may encounter, and the importance of having support ‘webs’.  Simon’s ‘four major categories of loss’ is presented and discussed using a large poster (Simons, n.d., cited in Glassock & Rowling, 1992, p. 68, cited in Stitt, 2007, p. 3m).  Students will also receive unit assignments involving webpage designs (refer to appendix A). Note: Time will be allocated in the weekly class timetable for students to work on their web designs & progress will be monitored for quality control. 

Lesson 2 “Stuck in a WEB”

In this lesson, students will explore the notion of being ‘stuck in a web’ of darkness known as grief.  They will learn the definition of grief, grief as a natural reaction to loss, typical grief reactions including emotions, physical sensations, thoughts, and behaviours, (Glassock & Rowling, 1992, cited in Stitt, 2007, p. 3n) and the timely, unique process of the experience for each individual (The Dougy Center, 2003, p. 4, cited in Stitt, 2007, p. 3g). Following an introductory “Which scene is it?” activity, students discuss the definition of grief and typical grief reactions, drawing stimulus from ‘Charlotte’s Webb’ (Paramount Pictures, 2006), ‘Standing Tall: helping children cope with 9/11’ (Stern, 2004), and Ericsson’s poem ‘Feeling Grief’ (n.d., cited in Journey of Hearts, 1997, para. 7-10).  Students will brainstorm words that describe grief reactions on a word-web worksheet (refer to appendix B).  These words will be collated and written on the board in a class discussion activity.  They will form the basis for poetry writing and a collage about grief, which will take place in an English and visual arts lesson respectively (refer to appendix C).  The ‘feelings box’ is introduced to the class whereby students can anonymously share their feelings, concerns, comments, or ask questions about leaving primary school and starting highschool.

Lesson 3 The invisible WEB  

This lesson will focus on the importance acknowledging expressing loss & grief as a means of overcoming it.  To begin the lesson, students will engage in a class discussion talking about Charlotte’s dialogue with Wilbur, “You have been my friend…I wove my webs because I liked you…By helping you perhaps I was trying to lift my life a trifle.” (Paramount Pictures, 2006).  Students will examine the importance of sharing the burdens and sad feelings with a trusted person and expressing them through crying, artworks, letters, journal entries etc.  Students will also discuss the negative effects of not being a good listener to a grieving friend and ignoring the problem.  In groups of 3 or 4, students will think of ways in which emotions of grief and pain can be expressed e.g. crying, talking to someone, artwork, letter, memory book, journal etc.  Groups will present their answers to the class in any form which they choose e.g. artwork, play, song etc.  Time will be set aside for students to explore the kids sections of the National Centre for Childhood Grief website (McKissop & McKissop, n.d.) and the ‘Kidsaid’ website (GriefNet.org, n.d.), answer worksheet questions, which draws attention to the different paintings, drawings, poems, songs, quotes and chat rooms included in the websites.  Ideas will also be gathered for students’ own webpage assignments.

Lesson 4 Saved by a WEB (guest speaker)

The purpose of this lesson will be to equip students with strategies for coping with loss & grief.  A specialist bereavement counsellor or social worker from the National Centre for Childhood Grief will be invited to speak to students about coping strategies.  Students will actively participate in drama activities involving role plays and problem solving solutions.  They will also evaluate given scenarios about ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’ responses to loss and grief using the PMI (plus, minus, interesting) strategy (Kagan, 1990, cited in Bennett, Rolheiser & Stevahn, 1991, p. 227, cited in Stitt, 2007, p. 5r).  At the end of the lesson, students will receive on a handout on who to seek help from and useful numbers to call.  They will also receive a “helping yourself, helping a friend” handout (Glassock & Rowling, 1992, cited in Stitt, 2007, p. 3o).

Lesson 5

In this final lesson, unit conclusions will be drawn and students will personally reflect on the content that has been covered and skills they have developed.  Cummings’s song ‘Stand Tall’ (1976) will be played.  Class will then engage in a teacher facilitated think-pair-share activity (Kagan, 1990, cited in Bennett et al, 1991, p. 226, cited in Stitt, 2007, p. 5r), whereby students discuss deep-thinking questions e.g. What are some different words that have the same meaning as ‘standing tall’, What message does the song send about ‘standing tall? Why is this important?’, ‘What is one way you could help yourself stand tall in amidst grief?  What is one way you could help your friend?  etc.

For the second half of the lesson, students will develop their communication skills by showcasing their webpages to the year 1 students of the school.

 

As I continue to be entrusted with different type of learners from different backgrounds, experiences, developmental stages of learning, skills and learning styles, I will strive towards professional competence standards by continuing to develop and apply my knowledge of student diversity to best facilitate their learning. 

To achieve this, I will need to build and reflect on my experiences with different types of learners.  I will also continue to learn from more experience colleagues through observing how they manage their classroom, as well as learn from helpful critiques of my own teaching. Finally, it remains important to be well informed of current teaching strategies and ways of catering for different learners through educational journals, professional development courses, and books.

I believe that diversity is a defining attribute in a multicultural country such as Australia.  It is therefore critical that Australian schools, beginning with teachers, foster a respectful environment that welcomes all learners regardless of their different backgrounds, and encourages them all to reach their utmost potential. 

  
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