This week, we had the unique opportunity to witness two people speaking in foreign language in conversation during class. I rarely get the opportunity to hear conversation in a language unfamiliar to me, so I tried to take advantage of this opportunity. It pushed me out of my comfort zone. I felt confused and uncomfortable because I didn’t understand what was going on. I think this is a great analogy to what some learners may feel like in the classroom. When they don’t understand the “language” of the content area, they can feel confused and uncomfortable. It can make them feel afraid and cause them to shut down. That is why it is so important to engage learners in other ways. We have to use tone, hand gestures, and visual aids to help communicate with all learners. We must engage them even when our dialects are different to help them understand gradually.
At the beginning of the semester, I thought of social justice and education as two very different entities. Now, I understand that the two are extremely interconnected. Social Justice in the classroom is evident when the diversity of learners is not only acknowledged but celebrated. Diversity of learners in a classroom fosters an environment of natural learning and provides teachable moments. I have also learned that diversity applies to much more than just race. Learners can be diverse when they have different ages, backgrounds, families, genders, and socioeconomic statuses. The teacher must not only include all kinds of students but give each student the care and attention that he or she deserves. The teacher must create a classroom environment that supports each student, promotes self-efficacy, and keeps learning the primary focus. A classroom that incorporates social justice is a classroom that encourages every learner to be the best learner they can be and celebrates the differences among students.
This week, I spent a lot of time working on my Universal Intervention Plan project. I focused a large portion of my research on classroom setting and the ways it relates to student motivation. Overall, I learned that classroom setting makes a huge difference for students. It establishes the priorities of the classroom and conveys the motivations and expectations of the teacher. Studies have shown that students focus better and engage in class more when the classroom is filled with warm colors, soft items, and natural light. The setup of desks in a classroom plays an important role when it comes to classroom expectations. Desks that are arranged in clusters encourages student collaboration. Desks arranged in rows promotes a teacher-focused environment. It is also incredibly important that teachers showcase student work. This relates to the need for belonging, as explained in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. A classroom should be a place that focuses attention on learning, not a place that distracts students from the content that is being taught.
This week, I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between effort and grades in the classroom. Many teachers give students partial credit or points based on the category of “effort.” But, how can a teacher discern if a student has put in effort? What if one student put in four hours on a project and it still doesn’t look as good as another project that a student spent twenty minutes on? Should students be awarded points based on effort if it’s going to hurt their grade? I also wonder if a student should be graded on the amount of time they spent on an assignment. If a student is meeting the rubric criteria, does it matter how much time they spent on it? What if one student has a job, younger siblings to care for, and extracurricular activities, while another student has massive amounts of free time? Should their personal schedules give them an advantage in the classroom? I’m not sure what the answer is to any of the questions I have posed here, but I do think it requires some thought.
This week, I learned a lot about power dynamics in the classroom. In a classroom discussion, we talked about power in the classroom. Some of the students in my class talked about how they think the teacher holds power in the classroom. I think that, while that may be true in some classrooms, that should not always be the case. As Dr. Brocato always says, the teacher should be the “lead learner.” The purpose of a teacher is to equip students to take control of their own learning. Students must take ownership of their own learning style and techniques. A student must learn that they are in control of their learning and that they alone can determine their destiny. The goal of a teacher is to help students realize their purpose.
This week, I had the opportunity to attend the Divided State of America discussion forum. Before attending this event, I was expecting to listen to a speaker lecture about the current state of our country. Instead, I stepped into a wonderful environment that fostered growth and discussion for people of all races, genders, and ages. I think it is important to note that diversity does not just refer to race; instead, it can include gender, age, socioeconomic status, upbringing, and more. The fact that we were able to gather as a group of very diverse people and have a very honest and productive discussion about problems in our society was incredible. Though there was the potential for disagreement, I never felt unsafe or afraid to share my opinion. I was able to participate in discussion with the other members of my table, and we all participated in a room-wide discussion. I am a big proponent of discussion as a strategy for learning. I think that sharing your opinion, listening to the opinions of others, and talking through the ways those opinions are similar or different are extremely valuable life skills. I want to create an environment in my future classroom that imitates the environment of the forum last week. Just like Dr. Brocato, I want my role as the teacher to be more like that of a moderator. I want my classroom to be a place where students feel they can be honest, express their opinions, and make each other better through discussion.