"If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important." - Barbara Colorose

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Here is the disaggregate of race among the two fourth grade classes that I teach.
Class Demographics:

During my student teaching experience I have had the unique experience of working with two different sections of fourth grade. My homeroom class has fluctuated since the beginning of the year, with students leaving and with new additions to the class; right now there are twenty-six students, an even split of thirteen girls and thirteen boys. My cooperating teacher is a Reading and Language Arts instructor who team teaches with another fourth grade class. I instructed this class for part of the day as well. This class is composed of twenty-five students, with fourteen boys and eleven girls. Overall, I had the rare experience of working with fifty-one students!


Racial Backgrounds:

My homeroom class is composed of eighteen students of Caucasian descent, two students of Hispanic descent, four students of African American descent, and one student of Ukrainian descent.

The other class that I team taught is composed of twenty-one students of Caucasian descent, one student of Hispanic descent, two of African American descent, and one student of Asian descent.

Overall, I taught thirty-nine students of Caucasian descent, three of Hispanic descent, six of African American descent, one of Ukrainian descent, and one of Asian descent.

Special Education:

While my two classes lacked an equal representations of race, between the two, students had a variety of special needs. Out of the fifty-one students, eight had either Individualized Education Plans or Student Assistant Plans. Because I worked in inclusion classrooms, these students need specific accommodations or modifications to classwork, homework, and tests. As their student teacher, I knew that it was my responsibility to be aware and familiar with students' specific accommodations and modifications. Several times, I read test instructions and questions aloud to students who required this accommodation in their IEP. I also had experience with modifying a test for a student who needed the number of questions reduced. I did this in a way to ensure that the student was still being assessed on all necessary intended learning outcomes. In addition to being aware of and personally giving students accommodations and modifications, I attended an IEP meeting for one of my students, so am aware of the process. I also am very familiar with the IEP document itself, as I did an IEP-at-a-glance project, where I analyzed a students' IEP and recommended remediation strategies for him. (Of note, I changed the student's name for privacy reasons.)

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Students use their diverse skills and strengths while working together in small groups to create a product together.

Nine of the students that I teach work with a reading specialist and are pulled-out for separate instruction for a thirty-minute session every school day. This takes planning with the reading specialist to ensure that students do miss key instruction in the general education classroom. I quickly saw the necessity of planning with the special education teacher and collaborating with her. To increase my understanding of how the reading specialist instructs my students outside of the classroom, I requested to observe her instructional strategies for half a day before my full time student teaching began. I was able to watch her instruct specific students in my class and to see strategies that helped them learn effectively. This experience helped me understand my students' learning as well as what their instruction is outside of the classroom. It was an extremely valuable experience. The reading specialist also graciously allowed me to interview her to help me understand her role and duties as a special education teacher, and what she needed from me to make the most efficient and effective collaboration possible during my student teaching.

Eight of the students that I teach also work with are pulled out to work with a math specialist. In addition, nine students are also recognized as being
gifted in math, and are a part of the Visions Advanced Math Program. These students are also pulled out twice per week during instruction allotted to Reading and Language Arts. For this reason, I have learned to be flexible, yet also organized and proactive with coordination when planning lessons so that students do not miss out on key whole group instruction.

Gifted Education:

As much as I need to pay attention and give accommodations and modifications to special education students, I also try to remember that gifted students also have "special needs." One way to accommodate gifted students is to plan ahead by differentiating class work. For example, if gifted students complete classwork early, I will have a packet ready for them that takes the concept being taught but assesses students at a higher, more advanced level. An example would be for the class's normal spelling words, students following the general education classroom curriculum would have to find one definition for a spelling word and create one sentence where the word makes sense in context. For gifted students, however, I would have them look up multiple meanings for words and ensure that they incorporated all definitions of the word, as well as create sentences where the word can be used in different contexts. Another idea is that instead of having gifted students come up with sentences that are unrelated, their challenge would be to create a story where all of the sentences that they chose had to make sense in a story. Alexis raising hand.jpg

A.D.D./A.D.H.D:

While being exposed and addressing the diverse academic needs of students, I also gained experience with working with students with a variety of behavior issues. Across the two classes that I taught, three students were diagnosed with either A.D.D. or A.D.H.D., and multiple students exhibited hyper-active or inattentive behaviors in the classroom. In addition, two of the students took their medication irregularly, so had inconsistent behavior in the classroom. To accommodate these students, I had a lot of hands-on activities and movement in the classroom. I noticed that these students benefitted from hands on activities and especially learning stations where each activity only lasted ten to fifteen minutes before moving on to a new activity. I believe that learning stations are extremely effective because they target specific skills, hold student attention, and provide students with a plethora of various activities.

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A personalized homework checklist that I created for a student who was struggling with turning in assignments

Social-Emotional Issues:

Other behavior issues that I dealt with had to do with social-emotional issues. One student had been home-schooled due to a horrible experience at a previous school where he was bullied. As a result, he was very defensive and had issues cooperating with his peers. This student saw the guidance counselor once per week and participated in a "lunch bunch," which targeted students who had difficulty with social skills and gave them a setting where they had extra practice interacting with their peers and were given the opportunity to make friends with others outside their classroom. One thing that I noticed about this student was that he became very emotional when he forgot assignments. He was constantly forgetting his homework or failing to complete it. When he received consequences for incomplete work, he usually lashed out at peers and became emotional in the classroom. To help this student, I created an individualized intervention where I wrote out his homework assignments each night and gave him a Homework Checklist, where he had to physically check off boxes showing that he had both completed assignments and put them back into his homework folder. I also used this opportunity to give him positive reinforcement for things that he was doing well in the classroom. For example, I wrote notes on his homework checklist stating actions that he had performed well that week. This way, he had a good association with the checklist and was motivated to show it to his parents, (increasing their involvement and communication), and to bring it back to me each day. The student reacted extremely well to this simple intervention, which made me realize how one intervention can dramatically improve a child's educational experience.

Other Health Impairments:

Other specific individual issues that I dealt with were students with vision impairments, severe insomnia, dysgraphia, and speech impediments. To accommodate these students, my cooperating teacher and I made sure that students with vision impairments sat at the front of the class, that the student with insomnia's behavior was monitored, that the student with dysgraphia had the opportunity to type his essays instead of write them, and that the students with speech impediments had the opportunities to submit written answers if they were shy participating orally in front of the class.

I also had the unique opportunity to observe a self-contained autism class to see the instructional practices used with children in this class. I also had the opportunity to interview with the teacher in this classroom and hear about effective teaching methods to help children with autism learn. This was extremely helpful in case I have a student with a mild form of autism who could possibly end up in an inclusion classroom that I may teach. I believe that part of professionalism is getting to know the people who work with the children in the class that I am teaching. It was a great opportunity to see how the students are educated outside the general education classroom. I even helped with a kinesthetic activity while I observed this class.

Working with Parents:

Another diverse factor that my cooperating teacher and I dealt with was parental involvement. Certain parents were highly involved in their children's education and were constantly volunteering in the classroom, while others failed to meet the minimum requirements expected of them, such as signing their child's homework log or attending an IEP meeting. Often the children who needed the most support had the least at home. Because of this, I had to make sure that I was flexible to giving these students extra help and support. In order to create a positive rapport with parents, I made sure to send home a letter describing my credentials, educational goals for their children, and the units that I would be teaching. I aimed to establish trusting and open communication.

I even had the experience to lead a parent-teacher conference, and learned how to effectively relay information to a parent honestly yet tactfully, offer support, and collaborate to come to a positive solution to help her child succeed. This was an extremely eye-opening experience and helped prepare me for parent-teacher interactions. I also was able to observe a parent-teacher conference led by my cooperating teacher to see a good model of interpersonal skills.

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One of my educational goals has been to make my lessons accessible to as many students as possible. In accordance with Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, I incorporate instruction that utilizing multiple learning styles. For example, in my Math Transformations lesson, I used pictures of the different transformations for visual and spatial learners, short names to remember each for auditory learners, and had students act out the motions of "rotation," "reflection," and "translation" to the "Cha-Cha Slide," which catered to kinesthetic and musical learners.

I also always try to have an awareness of student strengths and interests, and use those to engage students in a lesson. For example, when several boys claimed that "poetry was for girls," I used a football and gave it eyes and a mouth to model personification, as well as brought in poetry about their favorite sports or activities outside of school.

Individualized Instruction:

I also had experience tutoring an individual student, and conducted an Intermediate Case Study. Within this Intermediate Case Study, I worked with this student for six sessions, giving him six individualized lesson plans, administering running records, DRA, Elementary Spelling Inventory, Informal Decoding Inventory, and Interest Attitude Inventory to have a well-rounded assessment of the students strengths and weaknesses.

Overall, I feel that I have had a well-rounded experience dealing with students with a variety of differences and needs. I have learned how to differentiate instruction. One overwhelming strategy that I believe works with all students is reinforcing positive behavior.

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Students reading individually at their own pace.