Practicing what I preach with Grade 3s – Technology, collaboration & diversity education

It’s been a hectic 3 months into the final year of my Master’s program.  I’ve found it difficult to blog, but I wanted to give an update on my Fall 2011 placement.  Please excuse the length… I think this piece is more for me, getting all the thoughts and feelings down.  It’s been building up for weeks now.  I’ve had several conversations but minimal time to reflect through writing.  I might be all over the place, as I’m in the middle of some Twitter chats (#CTchat and #OntCL).

It’s my third practicum and I went in rather comfortable and confident in my teaching philosophy and pedagogical approaches.  For those who don’t know, I am an advocate for technology, collaboration, critical thinking, culturally relevant & critical pedagogy.  These are priorities in my personal and professional life and I am eager to integrate them in the classroom.  I’m not entirely the new teacher candidate sponge, just trying to figure out how a classroom works or how to plan a lesson.  I’ve developed a strong philosophy behind my practice, with some tools and approaches that are tried, tested, and true.

Then boom – at the start of November, I entered into a classroom where everything I wanted to do felt impossible.  How can I ask students to collaborate when they can barely get along? How can I get them to think critically when they just want me to tell them the answers? How can I integrate technology when there is only one computer in the classroom, lab computers are so slow, and we are only allocated 2 blocks per week?

I spent the first two weeks beating myself up, trying to wrap my head around classroom management & unit planning.  Working up to 100% teaching workload, the routines and behaviour/attitude expectations slowly began to set into place.  It’s making the collaboration much easier for all.  It’s totally true – classroom environment and management is the foundation for classroom teaching and learning.  In terms of content… I’m covering Data Management, the “Aboriginal” component to the Pioneers unit, Language through Anti-Bullying/Bullying Awareness Week.  These units are all of personal interest.

One difficulty off the bat was teaching the “Aboriginal” story/ies after a lengthy exploration of early settler life in Canada.  My Associate Teacher had taken them to Pioneer Village, so she had decided to cover settlers’ life in depth starting in September.  I was also leaning towards covering contemporary issues rather than looking at Aboriginal peoples from the 1800s.  I was appalled by the many teacher resources that painted images of rosy interactions (past & present), of maple syrup and lacrosse.

Blessed with a thoughtful, responsive and flexible Associate Teacher, I am given a lot of freedom and feedback at all stages of planning and teaching.  I voice all of my concerns to her and she has helped me grapple with the many daily challenges & constraints that come up with a diverse group of students, a particular school environment, as well as limited time and resources.  It’s one thing to have teaching values and priorities, it’s another thing to try to put them into practice.

We talked about the reality that there are some things you know you can do better… not everything will be perfect and/or engaging.  Sometimes you just need to go with what you’ve got to maintain your sanity.  I’ve also realized that it’s almost impossible to think I can accomplish ideals within a 4 week span. Getting students to collaborate does not occur or develop overnight.  It’s already 13 days in and only now am I starting to see the fruits of my classroom management routines and conversations.

Must be fate, but I’ve managed to make connections with all of the curricular topics I’m covering this month – something very difficult to do during a placement block.

Back to the critical pedagogy piece, I seem to have combined some tech use & diversity education… but haven’t gotten too in depth at the critical pedagogy level.  We’ve been exploring contemporary Aboriginals experiences.  We’re going to be Skyping with First Nations students from Canada and New Zealand, learning about their experiences and cultures. We’ve been addressing our own stereotypes about Aboriginal peoples here in Canada.  We’ve also been exploring storytelling and myths, and the students are creating their own digital myths.

Wish I had more time to go in depth with this update, but fatigue and lesson planning calls.  I hope to update again very soon with student work samples & more reflections.