Gaining Experience with Expertise
October 16, 2012 by Sarah Hanson
I find myself in the middle of midterms week. For me, that means studying, writing essays and completing necessary homework. I feel that if you take enough time preparing for your tests or essays for midterm, there will not be a major issue to deal with.
However, that is not what I want to talk about through this blog post! What I really want to talk about is:
Learn & Serve
A lot of prospective students coming into Niagara have questions about the education program and its requirements. For the most part, you can find a simple breakdown on the education website or through pamphlets sent through the mail or given at a Discovery Day/Open House. I'd like to take the opportunity to share my experiences as a new student going through the Learn & Serve (L&S) program, so as to give an example of what your L&S experience might be like if you become an education major.
To do so, I will reference assignments I had to complete. The fall semester of freshman year for me started with EDU214, a class centered on cultural inclusion in the classroom. We talk about making all students feel welcome and accepted in the classroom by reading textbooks, sharing examples and partaking in discussions about solving different issues. It is required for class that we complete at least 20 hours of L&S. After each visit, we go onto our online supplement called Blackboard Learn and write up a journal entry about the experience we had that day in the classroom.
I attend L&S on Wednesday afternoons for two-hour sessions. Placements are scheduled around your course load, sports and work-study schedules. It is required that we look professional for our placement, which means that men wear nice pants and a nice shirt with shoes, and women wear something like a dress with a blazer, an appropriate-length skirt with a nice top, or dress pants and a nice shirt. Then the L&S vehicles drive us to our placement in the nearby school districts.
I currently take part in L&S at an urban school placement. I work with a kindergarten classroom for an hour, and then a third grade classroom for an hour. My experience is a little different than other L&S students because I am in the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program. At this school, I work with 15 different ESL students on rotation. I've worked more with particular students who seem to need more help than others, but I've still been able to gain experiences in a variety of situations. To show you exactly what this is like, I will close with three excerpts of my journal entries for EDU214:
(Kindergarten) "I went to the kindergarten classroom and was told that there was a new student there on her first day, and I could sit in the corner right there. I sat down with the little girl, who was sweeter than most other kindergartners I met there. She seemed very intimidated at first, but I put on a very cheerful voice, asked her what she was doing and gave her little compliments so that she'd open up. Gradually, I got a smile on her face and she told me a little bit about her family, as well as how she just moved to a new house in Niagara Falls and how she was scared of speaking English incorrectly to others. She taught me a little bit of Spanish while I was there, too. She also told me that she knew the alphabet, even though she was working on a worksheet for the letter M, and proceeded to write out "moon," "monkey," and "moo" with pictures all on her own..."
(Third grade) "When the teacher released the students back to their seats to try to write out their compositions, I decided to help one of the ESL students that was raising her hand but the teacher was too busy to help. It was difficult to understand her due to her accent, but I gradually adjusted and got used to it. She had me help her auditorily work through some words and I was proud of her working her way through her spelling and repeating the word for me to make sure she comprehended it."
(Kindergarten) "I ended up working with the same little boy on a reading exercise. I charted his progress as he read a picture book about animal moms and babies. His biggest problem was that he kept reading "and" as "is." I kept trying to show him how the two words look different so they're pronounced differently, but I don't think I made much progress. However, despite that small glitch, he read through 12 pages with just the use of my finger pointing at each word. He knew how to read and say "giraffe," "zebra," "elephant" and "polar bear." I thought that was technically pretty advanced for a kindergartner."
(Third grade) "The third graders were learning cursive Es and Hs, as well as continuing their creative writing story. I ended up working with a student who had been mischievous toward me the previous visit. This day, he was very passive and willing to learn from me. He has a very low English writing level and continued to revert to his native language. I helped him write out his story, but he has obvious confusion with verb tenses and spelling."
(Kindergarten) "The teacher immediately had me pull one of the ESL students out of the lesson into the back corner table with his yellow folder. Instantly, he became very restless and whined about how he didn't want to work with me. The teacher had me take him away from their favorite lesson of the day, singing songs about being kind, the months, days of the week, autumn, hygiene, etc. Obviously, the music was blaring and the students were excitedly shout-singing along, and all this student wanted to do was go over by his friends. I could hardly focus on teaching with all of the noise."
(Third grade) "I observed the teacher's lesson on teaching feedback for creative writing. He then had me show how to use a dictionary to look up words and explain the importance of filling out their personal student dictionaries with words they don't know and need to correct the spelling of in their writing. I spent a lot of time working with an ESL student who struggles with capitalization, punctuation and verb tenses in her writing (and tenses in speech as well). To the best of my ability, we tried to focus on some new vocabulary words and I helped her begin to make corrections in her creative writing piece. I feel like I had a good impact in the third grade classroom this time - especially since my teacher took me off to the side and shared his CUPS feedback technique with me: Capitalization, Understanding, Punctuation, Spelling."
It's obvious that L&S experiences have their ups and downs, just as real-life teacher experiences do. I feel this is perhaps the biggest learning aspect of L&S, not necessarily learning how or how not to teach, but learning to adapt to your students and their strengths and weaknesses. My best advice with L&S is always having an optimistic attitude, regardless of the day you had before arriving at your placement or the experience you've been having in the classroom.
Next time, I plan to write to you about some clubs I'm involved in on campus. Type to you soon! :)