As the Australian school year draws to a close, I have had the time to reflect upon and review my experiences teaching upper primary science during 2010.
March-May 2010 – Year 6/7 Science & Arts
Earlier this year, I replaced a science/arts teacher in a small independent Christian school in Perth’s southern suburbs. I taught Science and Art one day a week, working with a group of 20 students exhibiting a challenging range of literacy skills, learning difficulties and special needs. It proved to be a professionally rewarding relief assignment; one which required me informally plan, teach and assess students’ learning, rather than acting as a gloried (although well-paid) ‘babysitter’.
As a general rule, I tried to follow the absent teacher’s notes, in expectation of his imminent return. After discussing the situation with the regular classroom teacher; however, I increasingly drew upon my Curriculum Resource Bankand developing ‘instructional toolkit’ to translate the teacher’s suggestions into more engaging learning activities.
A Professional Experiment – Modelling Concept Maps
On my first day, I was asked to complete a unit on the Human Body, implementing a (poorly written) blackline master test. In a personal first, I decided to model the use of a concept map to assist students’ test preparation. The results were rather surprising, as I detailed the next day in my reflective journal:
“After the recess break, students had to revise for a test on the human body. I experimented with modelling the use of a concept map as a revision tool; using different coloured markers to highlight the levels of detail.
I was surprised to find that the use of this strategy enabled one student, who finds writing very difficult [and has an undiagnosed learning difficulty], to share his significant knowledge of the topic.
He was later able to complete most of the test, despite taking twice as long as his peers.”
Flickr CC Image: ‘Science Activity – Ecosystems‘
Putting this in Context
Throughout the Graduate Teacher Professional Learning Program, an extremely valuable mentoring / support program for graduate teachers in Western Australia, our presenters have discussed how effective teachers have a toolkit of instructional strategies which they can use to support and assess student learning.
Rather than using a strategy haphazardly, teachers can select a teaching strategy for a defined purpose, and use it to improve student learning outcomes. I believe this is an important aspect of ‘instructional intelligence’ (Bennett & Rolheiser, 2001), an area in which I have undergone significant professional growth over the past two years.
The seemingly trivial anecdote above marked the very first time I personally selected an instructional strategy with a clear learning purpose in mind (rather than following another teacher’s instructions).
Shortly afterwards, I recorded a professional learning goal to practice and evaluate my use of other instructional learning strategies in my relief teaching practice. As I will outline in my next post, I was extremely surprised and pleased with the results.
Bennet, B. & C. Rolheiser (2001). Beyond Monet: The Artful Science of Instructional Integration. Toronto: Bookation