Effective learning environments
One of the most difficult skills for me to master in the classroom was accurately assessing the amount of time available for any given lesson and the amount of time that lesson will take. This is due in part to the nature of working with twenty or more young students, and partly due to inexperience. Not having taught some of these lessons before, I had no prior knowledge to help determine a realistic amount of time. To this end, I carefully considered what lesson I would teach during each period and created a weekly schedule to organize my instructional time. Additionally, I would review previous lessons to better gauge the amount of time something would take, or I would modify an upcoming lesson if I knew that the class would take longer (4a). However, this was not the only factor influencing the classroom environment.
It wasn’t until being given the task of designing a seating chart that I realized how crucial the use of space can be. I decided that I wanted the students to sit in small groups as this facilitated collaborative work. For example, our time in science- which was in another classroom- balanced whole-class instruction with group work and this was facilitated by the seating arrangement (4b,f). In planning the seating chart for our room, I carefully weighed the different student dynamics and tried to ensure that distractions would be minimized. Overall, the arrangement did work well and was useful in completing work during which students had to collaborate. To reinforce the importance of collaboration, students were given the opportunity to choose their partners or group members on occasion with the teacher having the final decision if this became a problem. I also modeled positive, collaborative behavior in my interactions with other teachers. This took the form of such things as enlisting the help of the mentor teacher in a lesson, or sharing and comparing the results of our science work with the other fourth-grade class (4f,g). I also took the time to be clear with students about what was expected in their work and to include a rubric. For example, for their biography presentations, a letter was sent home with information for parents, as well as the grading criterion that had been previously shared with the students (4c).
Lastly, to create an effective learning environment, one must differentiate between assessment and evaluation. Assessment is the process by which one determines whether a goal has been met, or more problematically, whether understanding is present. Evaluation refers more a judgment made about a product or end result. For example, we frequently used a KWL chart to frame our discussions about what we knew and what we wanted to find out in our study of the Southeast region. This chart and the accompanying discussion allowed for an assessment of student understanding and progress towards making connections between the ideas in the unit. An example of evaluation would be the grade a student received on his/her biography presentation (4h).