I have found myself really reflecting on our class this past week. I keep sitting down in an attempt to write my response but yet I find I am stuck. There is so much to think about from last class that I do not know where to begin. The discussion was deep and thought provoking and wrapping my head around each theory of knowledge and theory of learning became a little overwhelming. The opening discussion about how do we know when we know something to the conversation about people having their own beliefs and only seeking answers from those that share the same view, really got me thinking and reflecting on what is happening in our schools right now with a political election coming and with all the new protocols surrounding Covid-19! It is very obvious to me who has a strong opinion on the matter and how they only see things from one view. It can make for some tense times in the staff room when a conflicting view comes in. As the week went on tho, I started to think about how I have changed as a teacher over the last tens years and how I have changed depending on what school I was in or what I was teaching.
When I first started teaching I was in a grade 3/4 classroom in our highest economic school in Moose Jaw. I had done my internship there and I had also attended this school as students so I was familiar with it. I was eager to have my own classroom and I was more than willing to put in long hours to create the lesson plans I had wanted. I think I had various ways of teaching that focused on a cognitivism approach and a constructivism approach. Teaching at the school I was, I had the opportunity to use experiences that the students had to further their knowledge. They had travelled, they had access to technology to further their education. For the most part the students were reading at or near grade level so it made it a lot easier to plan lessons that the whole class could work together on. The dynamics of the classroom and the support from home made it a little bit easier to build off of prior knowledge and to teach in a way that the students were really engaged.
The next four years of my career I spent in rural Saskatchewan teaching Kindergarten, Grade one and Grade two in a combined classroom. The class size was small and the levels of ability varied drastically. Half of my class came from a farm or ranch while the others lived within the small community. The knowledge these students had varied. At times it was tough because the students did not have the experience to build off of. Other times they did because growing up on a farm provided them with an experience that could not be taught. I really enjoyed my time teaching in rural Saskatchewan. I found I was using a Humanistic approach at times as I was providing my students with scenarios to learn from and I would role model experiences to help them better understand what we were talking about. I still mainly incorporated a constructivism and cognitivism approach. I was strategic about my groups with my students so that they could learn from one another and have a hands on approach to their learning.
The last five years I have been a SST in a community school here in Moose Jaw. It used to be the EAL school in town. Students from all over Moose Jaw were bussed here and they were provided the extra support they needed to be successful in both their learning and with learning how to become literate in English. It is no longer the EAL school as each school is responsible for EAL students in their catchment areas. However, the families that were part of our family were grandfathered in and the younger siblings still get bussed to Prince Arthur from out of catchment area. This means that in our school we have a lot of students from other countries and cultures. We also have a lot of students from low income housing in the neighbourhood. Since we have students with so many different life experiences, knowledge and abilities it has once again changed how I am as a teacher. Plus with me being in a different role and moving from an SST in grades 2 all the way up to grade 7, I have learned to adapt my style to suit my students needs. I absolutely love my current position and have found I have learned a lot from the students.
As an SST, I do feel I am still using constructivism but I have now used a bit of connectivism to help my students learn. I have used their past experiences from their home countries to help them make a connection to the book we are reading. So often our EAL learners struggle with comprehending a book. However, by making the connections to things that are familiar to them, they are able to understand better. It is also such a huge learning opportunity for some of our students that have not travelled out of the country, province or even city. Some of my favourite conversations have been off topic and student-led based on the sharing of a students culture.
Finally, the one thing I have noticed, as I reflect on myself as a teacher but more specifically as an SST, I have used a behaviorism approach with some of my students. My principal has commented to me a few times about how one of my strengths is connecting with some of our more challenging behavioural students. Each case is different and therefore my approach to working with them is also different. These students are often extreme cases where a students behaviour is my main focus and some major learning needs to take place. Positive and negative reinforcement has been one thing that they have responded positively to so that is why we used it. I know this is not what a lot of people support but with these specific students it was a positive experience. It was one of the only things that resulted in growth and change. Yes, for some students we used the dreaded classdojo and it was a game changer. Depending on the student, we were able to alter the positive and negative points to suit the child’s needs. We were also able to hide the negative points so they were unable to see that they had lost points. It ended up being a tool multiple staff members could use to collect data. In the end we were able to see trends and target behaviours to help the student learn. Some kids it was not as successful and we moved onto other tools. I really do think in some cases it is an option and like most things, moderation, how we utilize it and the other strategies we use in collaboration will determine how beneficial or detrimental behaviour conditioning is. I know the way I teach has evolved as I have learned more, changed positions, schools and even students. At the end of the day if we are connecting with our students and meeting their needs, that is what it is important. I will continue to adapt and embrace new theories to help my students reach their full potential. I will make mistakes along the way I am sure but I hope I will continue to have success with some of our most challenging students.