“Education is a natural process carried out by the human individual,
and is acquired not by listening to words,
but by experiences in the environment.” Maria Montessori

Lesson-based Teaching
Methodical lesson-planning based on state standards is the foundation of my classroom instruction. This strong preparation increases my confidence. I keep a firm eye on specific objectives as I review and reinforce each lesson’s essential knowledge and skills. This organization and clear lesson-planning frees me to connect with my students during the lesson. I understand where I am going and can enjoy the educational journey with my students.

I began my mathematics student teaching with a unit on fractions. I planned to link my direct instruction and subsequent modeling with the students' individual work with manipulatives. In this particular case, I gave the students hands-on experience by tasking them to demonstrate their knowledge of equivalent fractions with tortillas. The students worked in pairs and then shared their tortilla fractions with the class. I used my detailed lesson plans to stay on time and on task with this engaging and potentially distracting activity and thus was free to assist and engage with my students. Explicit planning also permitted me to organize multifaceted instruction. For example, in preparation for SOLs, I reviewed second grade standards on magnets by incorporating magnet activity centers with reading passages and comprehension questions.

My lesson planning was also prefaced on enhancing and stretching my students' existing knowledge. With the robust curriculum demands of third grade, every lesson is valuable and time cannot be squandered to repeat information that is already well understood. As such, I prepared units to begin with an assessment of students' existing knowledge. In my unit on Ancient Rome, students began our first lesson with an individual KWL activity that I then compiled into a class composite for room display. I referenced this KWL as we progressed through our week. After our final review and before the summative assessment, I led a whole class discussion to complete the KWL by filling in the final column detailing what we had learned about ancient Rome during the week.

Meeting Individual Needs
An effective teacher differentiates instruction to meet the individual needs of all students in the classroom. I planned lessons to allow me personal contact and attention with my students and to accommodate different ability levels within the structure of each lesson. While guided reading groups were naturally leveled by ability, I also tailored comprehension booklets for reading groups according to the skill development needs of these students. Booklets for more advanced students focused on more critical supply-response questions while I structured comprehension packets for my other students around SOL format select-response items.

My math lessons were structured around centers where students rotated in small groups among a teacher's group, independent classwork, and computer review and reinforcement. These groups were leveled according to ability as determined by a unit pre-assessment and allowed focused and differentiated teacher instruction. In addition, I created individualized math folders to supplement classwork in interludes where students had completed required work. These folders contained specific review work as well as entertaining math activities such as art, puzzles, crosswords, and riddles. These folders became even more personalized as I responded to students' written requests for specific activities of interest.
Students' individual math folders

Student request for material to be added to individualized math folder

Motivational Strategies and Student Engagement
Engaging students is fundamental to successful teaching. If order to motivate students and to interest them in investing in their own learning, you must stoke their curiosity and then draw them into the lesson's content. I am a naturally upbeat person with a strong sense of innate curiosity across all content areas. I believe that one of my greatest classroom assets is my ability to convey this positive attitude to my students and to inject a sense of fun and camaraderie into the classroom while maintaining respectful and firm classroom management. Students who are actively engaged in a lesson are more likely to retain content knowledge and to be predisposed to further learning.

Mali "human characteristics" activity

In my student teaching unit on the ancient empire of Mali, students participated in an engaging week-long activity. Every day, students were designated as one of three of Mali's “human characteristics” - a farmer, salt trader, or gold miner. For every correct answer offered during class discussion, students accumulated a corresponding token on their desk (bean for farmer, gold stone for gold miner, or salt packet for salt trader). At the end of the week, they traded products with the goal of achieving balance between food, salt (as a preservative), and money in order to survive. The students were highly engaged during class and were extremely eager to participate in discussions. As a result of this high emotional involvement, I believe that student learning was enhanced thus resulting in strong performance on assessment.

During my student teaching unit on Natural Cycles, I created a week long Rotation and Revolution movement activity where designated students modeled these different motions by either spinning on their axis at their desks or revolving around their desks whenever I mentioned the relevant words. This activity spurred great excitement among the students throughout the entire week. They debated the number of "years" that students revolved in their orbits or "days" they had spun on their axis. The video below shows all twenty-three students rotating and revolving in a quick review lesson.

Promotion of Critical Thinking Skills
Two students' notes on character traits of the title character of "Socks" by Beverly Cleary

I promoted critical thinking in my classroom by providing opportunities to problem solve and to promote individual views in group debate. In my discovery circus lessons, students were challenged to explore different aspects of animal adaptations and simple machines and to work in collaborative groups to respond to questions in their investigation packets. After exploring the discovery circus stations, students discussed their findings in their collaborative groups before sharing their final determinations in whole class discussions. Students also worked in heterogeneous groups to brainstorm input for other science as well as social studies units.

In reading, students met in a small group to share their Thinking Maps that described a character featured in an interactive read-aloud. After this small group discussion, students participated in a larger full class conversation about how these character traits contributed to the story. Students also met in literature discussion groups to extend their knowledge and comprehension of their guided reading selections. For example, in these discussions, students shared their individual summaries of characters' traits from Beverly Cleary novels. During another guided reading group about "The Kid in the Red Jacket", I led the students in a discussion of bullying and how events and behaviors in this novel related to the students' own life experiences. Students offered specific examples of how unkind behavior had affected them directly as well as how peer pressure had influenced their friendships.