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.