Weekly reflection: The junior juggling act

Image used under creative commons licence (image by Criss Cross Circus via Flickr)

Before I went out on Teaching Experience, I had a couple of people mention that year 1/2 teachers have it easy because all the kids are learning at this age group is their 123s and their ABCs with some finger painting thrown in for fun. I’m convinced that anyone who thinks this must never have set foot in a junior classroom. Sure we all know our ABCs and the prospect of teaching that part of the curriculum might seem easy until you are actually staring down the barrel of 25 youngsters at various reading levels and keeping them engaged with reading.

During my first week I quickly found myself in awe of my associate teacher’s ability to juggle 8 reading groups plus the few extra students that come into the classroom for reading knowing full well that in no time at all I would be taking the reigns. Having only observed English classes at my last placement, where the students were reading George Orwell’s 1984, I knew reading was going to be tough task but I’m here to learn so last week it was my turn.

29 junior students, 8 reading groups, 60 minutes and 1 student teacher what could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

This school’s reading programme is based on small-sized reading groups for more individualized instruction. However the corollary of this type of programme is that a teacher doesn’t have much time with each group, maybe 10 minutes but certainly not 15, which is how long I spent with my first group. This meant I didn’t finish going through all the groups I needed to during the session. I had some kids way off task which inevitably led to trouble which I didn’t pick up on soon enough because I was concentrating on putting the theory of what a guided lesson is into with practice and wasn’t scanning the room.

But with so many balls in the air it is perhaps unsurprising that I might have dropped some. I keep reminding myself that it took me about a week to remember to mark the roll back on my first placement so it is unsurprising that I’m finding the reading session hard when I am still literally finding my way around someone else’s classroom. Right now I have to think about things like where are the marker pens, student-sized whiteboards, modelling books and reading books for students while keeping an eye out for off-task behaviour and also trying to keep focused on the task at hand, taking a guided reading lesson.

Eventually I will remember where the marker pens are kept, that student A and student B have a habit of distracting each other from the task at hand so need to be split up and will make better use of the extra space that the collective indoor courtyard area attached to the classroom has since there are extra bodies in the class and activities going during reading that require extra room.

This is learning at its best: messy, unpredictable with lots of mistakes and the best thing is that I get to make some new mistakes next lesson!

Yes there was stuff I did well. I’m good at using questioning strategies to promote thinking and understanding, the students were moving between activities quickly, the dexterity check is a good way to get the class’s attention and at the end of the lesson the students and I did some collective trouble-shooting of problems encountered during the lesson (which we will recap on Monday) but I’m definitely my harshest critic.

Hopefully next week will see some improvement because I have a lesson assessment with my visiting lecturer which Murphy’s law dictates will be during the class’s reading session. Last placement I taught my best lesson when my visiting lecturer came to visit which was an awesome ego boost but also meant we had trouble generating next learning steps for me. So I’m trying to use this assessment as an opportunity to improve rather than to feed my Type A desires of wanting a nice gold star for my learning.

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8 thoughts on “Weekly reflection: The junior juggling act

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  1. Stephanie
    That is a very tall order to take Reading in a Year1/2 class. I take my hat off to you. It will be as difficult as anything you will meet in teaching in my opinion. I actually believe this is where the very best teachers need to be. I have been thinking of you over the last 2 weeks and hoping you were learning and enjoying. Just reading your post tells me I actually think you are doing really well.
    Kathryn

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    1. Thanks for your wonderful comment Kathryn,
      Junior reading is difficult but I am enjoying the challenge which is perhaps the most important thing!

      I agree that having the best teachers at the level as critical, all the research I’ve read suggests that the first three years are critical for a child’s success in the schooling system.

      Stephanie

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  2. Stephanie,

    I agree with one of your comments – those who think teaching in the early years is easy have probably not taught in the early years!

    I remember my very first teaching placement was in a grade 1/2 classroom and I was so overwhelmed! At that point I was only required to complete 1 full day of teaching, and reading groups was just unbelievably unpredictable! And then my last placement (in 2009), I was in a prep classroom and I was planning and implementing reading groups over a two week period. It’s such a contrast to older students who are capable of working independently.

    Now, in my second year as a prep teacher, I still struggle with reading groups – because of the age and the difference in abilities of students. One session/week might go fantastically well, and the next week I’ve got kids (who are supposed to be working independently) running all over the classroom – and I feel more like I’m crowd control, rather than a teacher! But, as you say, it’s all an opportunity to improve, and as teachers we should be striving to improve based on how each lesson succeeds (or doesn’t succeed).

    I salute you – 29 students and 8 reading groups is tough. But it’s also the best learning opportunity available to student teachers! Good luck (though, I suspect you don’t really need it!) – and enjoy! The early years is a fantastic place to teach, and to see the learning curve of all your students.

    All the best,
    Stef

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  3. Stefanie,
    Thanks so much for you wonderful comment. I’m enjoying the challenge of teaching this age group and am happy that this placement has pushed me right outside my comfort zone.

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  4. Yes Steph, you are certainly your own harshest critic! Many experienced teachers would struggle the juggle which is why many still shy away from teaching junior classes. However, you have correctly deciphered the key – organisation and class management is at its utmost at this level, so keep up the learning as you will carry these new skills with you throughout your career! Hope the rest of the practicum is great!

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    1. Hi Kimberley,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes I’m tough on myself and juniors definitely are hard work but there are pay offs. When I told them I was teaching the class next week they ran up and gave me hug!

      Stef

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