Standard 3: Learning Environment
The teacher works with learners to create environments that support individual and collaborative learning, encouraging positive social interactions, active engagement in learning, and self-motivation.
My student teaching placement in a functional skills classroom began with the
2015-2016 school year. I was therefore able to participate in classroom set up and the
establishment of classroom routines. By actively engaging in the daily work to create a
classroom community, I was able to analyze classroom structure from the ground up. I
helped create and post schedules of classroom routines and then empowered students
to use them.
I welcomed new sophomores to the senior high school and helped them understand
the routines and expectations for their new school. I found it particularly useful to
frame behavior expectations in the context of career readiness.
I was also offered an invaluable experience over the summer of 2015, when I
worked as a Montessori Assistant in a Toddler classroom. Many of the students were
beginning school for the first time. As such, it was a great opportunity to work on
building classroom routines and because the system was so consistent, they were able
to transform to independent members of the classroom, capable of following the schedule, and
selecting their own work, as well as preparing for and cleaning up from work. There were several
key factors that contributed to their progress. Two of the most important are: the physical space
was thoughtfully designed with the students and their needs prioritized and the staff was able to
consistently train and retrain students because we clearly communicated with each other first.
Working with an experienced educator to construct a classroom community from
the first day of school gave me valuable insights into the key elements of learning
environments. Her room is clearly the result of many years of careful study and
continuous honing of what works as well as what isn’t effective.
The walls display calendars and schedules. Any pertinent question a student
could ask about their daily or monthly schedule can be found on the walls. Each
student has their own trays and folders organizing their functional skills work as well as any
work from other classes that they many need to complete. Even supplies like pencils
and calculators are kept organized and labeled so that students learn where to find
them and don’t have to interrupt instruction to ask for them. The class expectations and
rules are also clearly posted. In the first weeks of school, daily journal activities focused
on examining and clarifying these expectations. Whenever students had questions
about their schedules, they were empowered for future self-sufficiency by being shown
where to look for answers around the room. This was also in evidence in the Toddler
classroom. Students learned where to look in the classroom instead of being given
daily items like tissues or pencils.
Since I have been exposed to a variety of classroom management strategies, I
have more resources to draw upon when faced with challenging students. For example,
I worked with two students with low-incidence disabilities who had adverse behaviors, and was
able to develop two very different prompting strategies for them based upon
observation, interaction, and input from experienced educators. Matthew (name has
been changed) is a Sophomore with Autism. His adverse behaviors center on his
explosive responses to feedback, requests, and directions; these explosive behaviors
include yelling, slamming items on desks, and slamming desks. He has also displayed
bullying behaviors towards classmates and verbally abused them. I have found that his
behaviors need swift and unambiguous responses. He needs to be clearly told that his
behavior is unacceptable and why. He has responded to this accountability-model with
explicit behavior instruction.
By contrast, there is Lindsey. She can be kind and lively. However, she can also
be moody, negative, and non-compliant. She is a junior with Down Syndrome. My
mentor teacher and I found that firm and direct commands escalate her behaviors.
Instead, it has been successful to address her in a quiet voice without direct eye
contact. If I used the same prompting strategy with her that I used with Matthew, she
would shut down. Knowing a wide variety of behavior strategies has prepared me to
respond to different students based on their individual needs.
The functional skills classroom, where I did my primary student teaching
placement, integrated technology into daily instruction. Most often, I used Apple TV and
iPads. This technology allowed me to access videos so that we could watch the
animals and places students were studying. iPads allowed me to create age-appropriate content and
use apps like Google Earth to connect students’ classwork to the larger world. Every week, we
would also watch CNN Student News and connect our own experiences to a global context.
In the future, I will work to establish effective learning environments using
consistency and clear expectations. I will utilize the classroom space for the students’
benefit and pay close attention to increasing independence in the classroom
environment. I will continue to use technology thoughtfully and harness its unique
properties in order to connect the classroom to a global context.