On February 24, 2016 I taught my first lesson as a guest teacher at Expeditionary Learning Academy at Moylan School (ELAMS) in Hartford, Connecticut. I was invited into a third grade classroom to teach a supplementary English Language Arts lesson about frog adaptations.
My lesson objectives included:
- Students will able to apply previous knowledge of adaptations to imaginary scenarios in order to demonstrate their understanding of why frogs need adaptations to survive.
- Students will be able to use information gained from illustrations to justify the reasoning behind their creative decisions.
To fulfill these objectives, students would create, through a written and drawn activity, their own “crazy” frog species with adaptations suited to survive in a unique habitat. To complete objective one, students needed to implement their previous understanding of adaptations to devise a new frog species that could survive in a habitat. To address objective two, they would need to prove their understanding of adaptations in written and illustrated form.
I organized my lesson plan into three clear parts: an introduction and powerpoint presentation, an interactive writing and drawing activity to ensure creativity, and student observation of a live frog.
“Hooking” the students’ attention:
Design a “Crazy Frog”
After a brief introduction, I quickly reviewed what an adaptation is, and then used a powerpoint presentation to explain to the students that it was their turn to get creative.
Writing and Drawing Activity
Students were then given a worksheet to design their own frog species.
By drawing on CCSS RI.3.1 and to encourage interpersonal learning, I suggested students to ask each other questions like “what are some characteristics of your frog”and “how does that help your frog survive”. As students worked, I walked around the room answering questions and performing informal checks for understanding.
As an evaluation method, I had students share their frog creations. Volunteers explained their frog’s habitat and adaptations, and how they would aide survival. This enabled me to see if students were able to draw on their knowledge of adaptations to create their own frog, and whether they could justify their creations based on their illustrations and writing. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, not every student was able to share, and therefore I could not evaluate each student. This was a definite shortcoming of my lesson.
My lesson had both strengths and weaknesses. A definite strength of my first teaching lesson was the organization and flow from one part to the next. I felt as though my lesson progressed properly, the activities were scaffolded in difficulty, and while transitions can be moments of chaos in classroom, I did not feel like the time between activities got too unruly.
A second strength was that I felt like most of the students understood the concept and were able to demonstrate their knowledge about the purpose of frog adaptations. Evidence of this was seen when students were able to independently justify the adaptations their created on their worksheets, without prompting from me.
Finally, I was proud when I was able to relate the lesson to Frog Hollow, an area that the students knew very well, and present the students with a live frog because I felt that this made the lesson very personal for them. It was fulfilling to see how excited the students became when they recognized a habitat and learned that it used to be home to so many frogs.
My first major weakness was timing. Going into the lesson I thought I would have thirty to forty five minutes to teach, but upon arriving in the classroom, the teacher asked me to try to keep it to exactly thirty minutes. Because of this, I felt that things were a little bit rushed, and after reviewing the video of myself teaching, I definitely wish I slowed down and emphasized certain parts. For example, many students did not have time to finish writing about and drawing their frogs, and I think this weakened the lesson. As aforementioned, I also did not have enough time to evaluate the whole class, which I think created an overall shortcoming in the effectiveness of my teaching.
For my next lesson, I want to improve in two ways. First, after watching my teaching film, I noticed that when I turned my back to help students on one side of the room, students on the other side would immediately go off task. This was not something I noticed while teaching but something that I want to be more aware of next time. Overall, I want to pay more attention to whole class classroom management. To do this, I will employ Lemov’s strategy about providing students with concrete, sequential, specific behavioral directions (Lemov, 319). For example, if a student is not paying attention because they are reading a book I will break down behavioral instructions for them to follow by saying,, “Student X, eyes on me, close your book, pick up the book, place it in your desk, and fold your hands above your desk.” By providing students with clear instruction, there is little room for confusion or push back from students. Second, I want to begin my lesson by clearly stating the objectives out loud to the students. I will also write the lesson objectives on the board for students to refer back to. For this lesson, I simply told the students that they would be creating frogs, but not necessarily the purpose behind this. I think it is important for students to know why they are being taught certain lessons, not just that they have to learn it. Next lesson, I would like to have a strong introduction and explain to the students the learning goals and their purposes.