This week we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 20th, which resulted in a day off for both students and teachers. My collaborating teachers have included activities and lessons around Martin Luther, King, Jr. throughout the weeks surrounding this holiday. For example, our read alouds revolved around the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Tuesday, we read a poem entitled “Martin Luther King, Jr.” and the students looked for words that rhymed, which happened to occur at the end of each line of the poem. On Thursday, we read “Let’s Read Biography: Martin Luther King, Jr.” Although my collaborating teachers did not read this entire book, the students made connections to what they had previously learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. The students “stick hi-fived a friend” (aka turn and talk) and they discussed what they can do to make the world a better place. My collaborating teachers typically join the students in their discussions so I have recently begun joining these discussions as well. I noticed; however, that the students surrounding me were distracted by my presence. I am unsure if this is because I am a relatively new face in the room or if students simply want my attention. I did my best to redirect the students to their partners; however, the students still had trouble focusing. My group discussed things they could do relating to jobs that they dream of having. For example, one student wishes to be a cop and he said that he could make the world a better place by arresting people who do bad things such as robbing and hurting others. After the turn and talk, we had a whole group discussion.
Then the students completed a worksheet entitled “I Have a Dream…” in which they drew and/or wrote about what they think will make the world a better place. My collaborating teacher always models for the students; however, when she models, she spells words incorrectly. At first glance, this seems strange; however, I have come to understand my teacher’s reasoning based on what she does. My teacher sounds out the words as she spells them because she is modeling how the students should try to spell words. The emphasis seems to be more on trying rather than getting the “right” answer. I think this is an interesting way to model spelling. I personally do not think I could implement this in the classroom because I do my best to write with correct spelling and grammar in all situations (yes, even in instant messages!) but I really love the idea of shifting the focus from the “right” answer to trying to get the answer. In the book The Dreamkeepers, Gloria Ladson-Billings quoted a teacher who focused on the success of her students: “You know, they’re all successful at something. The problem is that school often doesn’t deal with the kinds of things that they can and will be successful at. […] That’s why my class is a constant search for ways to be successful” (46).
I really believe, as Gertrude Winston (the person Gloria Ladson-Billings quoted) does, that all students can be successful: “Winston insists that she has never met an unsuccessful student” (45). I think that by taking away the pressure of spelling things correctly, my collaborating teacher allows the students to be successful in sharing their ideas, which can be a daunting task to some. I think it is important to let students know that it is brave to share their ideas and to take a guess. I believe it is part of my professional responsibility, as part of the FEAPs subheading 6 “Professional Responsibility and Ethical Conduct,” to treat my students with this respect because by doing this, I foster an open and caring learning environment in my classroom, which I believe my collaborating teacher does as well with her actions.
Another activity that my students did was use construction paper to create a two-dimensional version of Martin Luther King, Jr. I spent part of my afternoon on Thursday cutting up construction paper for my students so it would be relatively easy for them to assemble Martin Luther King, Jr. I did not do all of the work for my students, because they still had to cut out their papers and glue the papers together. After I cut out all of the paper, which took much longer than I originally anticipated, my final product was split into 9 groups of 4, which looked like this:
Although I did not do all of the work for the students, I spoke with my collaborating teachers and we decided it would be easier if I create the bow ties for the construction paper MLK myself.
This activity may seem like a simple craft, but I really appreciated the activity because Martin Luther King, Jr.’s accomplishments and actions were reinforced with a small fact sheet about MLK that the students used in the craft and heard/read.
I think this activity also allowed the students to have fun with the information and the person they learned about. After many days of discussing MLK, I was able to see the students make connections between what they had learned on previous days and make connections to their real lives, as seen in their discussions about how they could make the world a better place. Some examples of student work can be seen below. Please note that in order to respect the privacy and rights of my students as part of my professional responsibility and ethical conduct (FEAPs 6), all student names and any other identifying information has been removed.
Both students and teachers had Monday off to celebrate the holiday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, students did not have school on Tuesday but teachers could come into school to work if they desired. My collaborating teachers decided to come into school and I joined them in their planning and preparation for the upcoming week. On this day, my collaborating teachers discussed some upcoming activities and assignments, including some of the MLK activities that I already mentioned. Another activity that my teachers mentioned that I began for them is wrapping shoe boxes.
Since Valentine’s Day is coming up in just under three weeks, my collaborating teachers wanted to start wrapping shoe boxes with colored paper. My collaborating teachers do this because the students like to bring in valentines for one another but students often misplace these cards and get upset. My collaborating teachers had decided years ago to create a storage bin for the students so they could give out valentines and then put them away so teaching could still occur. My collaborating teachers asked if I could wrap shoe boxes for them. I agreed but did not realize how daunting this task would be. Below is a picture of my workstation, along with my notes.
Although this is a side note, I would like to note that in order to protect the privacy and rights of my collaborating teacher and students, I covered up my notes in Microsoft Paint so no personal or identifying information could be found about my teachers or my students.
I wrapped shoe boxes for the better part of that day and in the end, I wrapped thirteen boxes in red and pink paper.
To some, this activity might seem like “busy work.” I honestly never see any work that my collaborating teachers give me as “busy work.” I firmly believe that my collaborating teachers value my time as an intern and they do their best to help me learn and grow as an individual. I understand that as a teacher, I will have to do some things that may be boring or repetitive. I may get frustrated, for example, when teaching a lesson on what I believe to be a “simple” concept such as addition or subtraction. When this happens, I need to readjust my thinking to do what is best for my students. Perhaps I am bored with the lesson, and if I am bored, my students are probably bored, so their engagement is lacking. I should; therefore, take a moment to reevaluate my goals for the lesson plan and switch gears to gain back the attention of my students.
Copying papers is another task that may be boring, but it is necessary in the daily life of a teacher because students will almost always need papers whether they are articles, worksheets, instructions, etc. I actually love making copies because after over six months of being an intern, I know the copy machine pretty well but I still find myself getting confused sometimes. Luckily, if I am ever confused, I can ask my collaborating teachers for help. But by using the copy machine now, I have learned a new skill that I know will be useful in the future.
Another task that I have somewhat taken over in the classroom is “checking in” the students in the beginning of the day. In my classroom, each of the students has a binder with important information such as their agendas and homework. My students must turn in their binders in the beginning of every day and a teacher (or myself) draws a green smiley face for that day. In my elementary school, there is a behavior plan in which students start off the day on green and can either go up based on good behavior to blue, purple, or even pink and go down based on bad behavior to yellow, orange, and red. In my classroom, every student starts the day off on green and this is written in their agendas. At first I was confused about why my teachers did this but I realized they were managing their time effectively by using the time in the morning to write the students’ colors instead of rushing to write in their colors at the end of the day. If a student changes colors at some point in the day, which is unlikely but does happen sometimes, then the teacher immediately changes the student’s color in his or her agenda and writes a note for parents/guardians to read.
I really like the idea of all students starting the day on green and filling this out in their agendas because it reinforces the idea that all students are successful. In the book The Dreamkeepers, Gloria Ladson-Billings acknowledges that Gertrude Winston “insists that she has never met an unsuccessful student” (45). I believe that confirmation bias is a very real situation for most students because some teachers believe that “failure is inevitable for some students” (Ladson-Billings 44). I would personally rather believe that all of my students are successful and have the capacity to be successful by starting off every day reminding myself through the green smiley face that they can all behave well and end the day on green.
- Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of african american children. (2nd ed., pp. 30-53). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.