cbarragan's blog

Week 13: History and Prehistory

This first week back from the break went well. Since we have been learning history and prehistory, I have been talking to my students a lot about how all of history is biased and how there are multiple perspectives to events and happenings.  We have also been talking about how we learn about our history and how archaeologists and historians often have to make guesses about what occurred in the past and do a lot of speculating and “reading between the lines” when they are writing our history because for a large amount of time, we have no written records documenting what actually happened.  Students read about the oral traditions and the importance of passing on your culture through word of mouth.  Here is a link to a cool video on this:

 I have been solo-teaching for a few weeks now and I am really enjoying the experience!  Over Winter Break, I wrote up and thought through an entire unit and not surprisingly, having the entire unit planned out and thought through in advance like that has been so helpful.  This makes me think of how difficult those first few years will be when I will be starting from scratch, having to create entire unit plans and think through what kind of learning I expect from my students.  But, of course, this is where all teachers begin.  I am certain that no teacher has started their career having everything ready to teach!  Teaching is a learning process and we all have to pass those teaching internship and first year hurdles before really mastering our practice.  Many teachers never get there!


Week 12: Focus on Classroom Management

This week was a bit chaotic due to Winter Break coming up.  With a half-day, assemblies, holiday parties, locker clean-outs, and increased student absences, it was difficult to hold regular classes towards the end of the week.  But I did manage to maintain some order among all that commotion.  Again, this week was one of trying new things in the classroom to assess student knowledge.  Starting a mini-unit on the effects of humans on the environment this week, I decided that instead of using a written assessment, I would allow my students to choose from a variety of options to show their understanding.  Again, I was glad to see that students chose a variety of formats to showcase their learning; from pictowords to drawings and podcasts.  A group even performed a play on the effects of littering!  It was a fun, creative, and quick way for students to demonstrate understanding.

I am still having difficulties with several students in one of my classes.  Even though the situation is significantly improved from last week, I find that this small groups of students are engaging in a power struggle with me and with any struggle, there has to be a winner.  As a teacher and the adult, I have to be the winner in this struggle so this puts these students at a disadvantage since they want to win this “battle of wills” against me.  Ms. Buck and I have decided that the way to lessen their feeling of powerlessness, I have to try harder at forming a relationship with them in order for them to feel there is more at stake when they misbehave.  They are less likely to misbehave if they have a connection with the teacher, is the idea.  Although I do believe that this is true, getting to this point will be and has been the difficult part since they have not been willing to open up to me and I have also closed up because I have been focused on keeping control of the classroom. 

This week has taken me a little bit closer to getting to the point where my students feel a connection with me.  We started a lesson on cultures and after talking a little bit about my own culture and my family, I felt that my students were able to see that I am a real person with a family and a past, not just some random person who is forced upon them as a teacher.  I will continue to make an effort to form a relationship with my students, focusing particularly on that group.  I am sure that the long Winter Break will put a dent in my efforts, but I will definitely be deliberate in including myself in my teaching.

Week 11: The Joys and Hardships of my Teaching Experience

This week was marked by my biggest success during my internship so far.  Prior to this week, I had been assessing my students using matching and multiple choice quizzes.  These were the ready-made quizzes included in the6th grade Social Studies curriculum.  Since I decided to change things up and not go by the curriculum for the mini-unit on political systems, of course I could not simply use the ready-made quiz when it came to assessing student knowledge on the subject.  I decided to veer completely out of my student’s comfort zone and created a quiz where students defined the vocabulary studied and had several short-answer questions that truly assessed their understanding of the four types of political systems that we studied in depth.  Although students were surprised and nervous about taking a test like this, the night that I was correcting the quizzes I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of the students had retained the information!  I passed out the scores the next day and congratulated my students on being so successful on their first written quiz (at least in their 6th grade Social Studies class). 

Unfortunately, this week was also one of the most difficult of my teaching experience. With a student with emotional problems having a nervous breakdown in my class to a group of students who showed utter disrespect towards me in the classroom, I was really feeling upset and lousy by the end of the week.  This was definitely one of those times when I needed some comforting words of encouragement and was grateful to my wonderful supervisor for providing these.  She reminded me that each day is a new one and that just like I expect that students give me a new chance at redeeming myself as a teacher when I mess up, I should also give students a new chance to behave appropriately next time around (with some guidance, of course).  Next week is a new week and that means it is a new opportunity to make things right, try new things, and (hopefully) keep reaping the successes and joys of teaching :)

Week 10: The Reflective Teacher

Week 10 was all able culture for my 1st, 2nd, and 4th period classes.  I had my students create a poster where they would describe a few characteristics of their family’s culture.  Since I had created a poster of my own in which I talked about my family and our cultural traditions and beliefs, this assignment was a fun way for my students and I to learn about each other.  Making the posters themselves was the difficult part since the classroom was chaotic and managing an activity like that was nearly impossible at times.  But it was worth it to see the final products that students created and hearing about their families and discussing the differences in our family’s cultures. 

I also tried a few different assignments with my students this week and they really paid off.  We started a mini-unit on political systems with my 1st/2nd highly capable class and I used the jigsaw reading strategy so that we could learn about four types of government systems (monarchy, oligarchy, tyranny, and democracy) and students really seemed to enjoy this type of activity.  It was a fun way for students to learn a lot of new material without having to actually read all of the information themselves.  Within the same unit, I had students draw pictowords in which they can demonstrate their learning of the four political systems by using a combination of words and pictures.  I am really seeing the benefits of using a variety of activities and strategies with my students to teach information vs. reading from the book and taking notes.  This week alone I was able to see increased engagement levels from several students who I felt had been struggling to get interested in the material in the past.

Unfortunately, the same was not true of my 5th/6th period block class.  This is also a highly capable classroom and we have been learning about Earth’s physical geography.  In order to get the class more engaged with the material, I had students create PowerPoint presentations covering a section of the chapter.  I chose the groups as well as the section that they would be presenting on.  Even though I felt that students worked together well to research the information and make the projects, the presentations themselves were not so great.  I realized that for many students, this was the first time that they had to create and give presentations such as these and for being their first time, they really needed a lot more guidance which I did not provide.  Again, assuming that students know how to do something can really get you into trouble.   

Overall, this was a very positive week.  With teaching, you can only learn from your mistakes and make improvements the next time around.  This is one of the many benefits of being a reflective teacher.  That is also one of the benefits of this profession: even when things don’t go so great one day (or one week), we can always start over the next day.


Technology in the Classroom: Weeks 8 and 9

These past two weeks have been all about technology in my classes!  My 1st/2nd and 4th period classes have been working on creating podcasts.  Since Ms. Rainbolt and I have been meeting regularly with the tech person from Tacoma Public Schools, discussing ways to integrate technology into the classroom, we decided that this would be an engaging way for students to learn.  Ms. Guy, our tech advisor, taught our students how to use the audio-recording and editing program, Audacity.  Students then recorded some of their work (poems and summaries) and added music and intros/outros.  Our goal was for students to learn the process of creating a podcast and we will have assignments in the future in which they create podcasts within the Social Studies and Language Arts content.  This will be a fun and engaging way for students to learn since they are very interested in the technology aspect and anything that gets them excited about learning is fine with me!

My 5th/6th Humanities block class has also been using technology for their assignment.  For this assignment, students will be in groups (which I assigned), they will research a section pertaining to Earth’s physical geography (i.e. climate vs. weather, vegetation regions, etc.) and teach their peers about their assigned section.  Although the process has been lengthy, I think it will be good for students to get in the habit of working with technology in the classroom.  Who knows, they may even teach me a thing or two about technology!


Due to the bad weather conditions and shortened weeks, I have combined the past two weeks in this one reflection :)

Week 7: Teaching Internship (Halfway there!)

I can’t believe that I am halfway through my teaching internship!  Although the time has been going quickly, I have been really busy and learning so much!  I feel that I am gaining ground with my students, making personal connections with them and gaining their respect.  But not all is well (and will never be perfect because in teaching, there is always room to grow and improveJ). My biggest challenge for this week has been student participation.  Actually, it’s been an issue all along but I have been busy concentrating on the management piece.  But it is definitely time for this to be addressed and I have several plans in mind for next week:

1. Flashcards with student names: I have considered different ways of getting students to participate and my mentor teachers have their own ways, but I think that I go with this old-fashioned method.  I will use these randomly to call on students to participate, give comments, and answer questions.

2. Do not let students get away with saying, “I don’t know.”: Up to now, I have been letting my students get away with this, but I will be using another method from now on.  When I call on somebody, if they say they don’t know an answer, I will tell them that I will come back to them.  After a few minutes (whether I pull out their name or not), I will call on them again.  This way, I give them time to re-focus and think of a comment they can contribute to class.  I was a shy student in middle and high school, so I can sympathize with these students that do not want to participate, but I would like to find ways to encourage them to speak up without feeling too pressured.

3. Call on students randomly:  Even when I don’t have the flashcards out, I will continue to call on students randomly.  This encourages students to pay attention and refrain from spacing out.

4. Change seating assignments:  It is time to change up the seating assignments.   I would love to change the seating arrangement, but I must get this approved by my mentor teaching before proceeding with this change.  For now, I will change students up so that they are sitting with new students.

5. Integrate more group work:  I think that students enjoy working in groups and this will hopefully get students to participate more actively.

6. Isolate students:  There are some students who are causing a lot of issues in my classes and I will resort to isolating them since nothing else seems to work.  If they feel that they are out of the group, they may be encouraged to behave differently and get back in with the class.

I hope that with these changes, participation will increase in my classes.  Stay tuned!

Week 6: Internship

Overall, this was a good week! I taught a lesson on the Day of the Dead and students really enjoyed learning about a different culture than their own.  And my Spanish-speaking students were really excited to share a little bit about their own culture with the class.  I was also able to incorporate some language arts into the S.S. classes, making the lesson much more fitting for a Humanities class. 

 One thing that I am having trouble with (aside from management) is transitions.  Not only from one activity to the next (during the same lesson and day) and from one day to another.  One suggestion that I received was to have a daily schedule up on the board for students to see exactly what we will be doing and for me to keep up with the agenda that I had planned. This is something that I plan to start doing next week and I think that it will help me immensely since everything will be outlined and visible for us all to see.  As for day to day transitions, I will start using the “do now” for this use, having students recall information and sharing with their table.  This will get them started for the day and I will not have to go back and re-introduce the topic every day. 

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about middle-schoolers, it’s that you have to be extra-mega-super clear about your expectations for the lesson.  I have all 6th-graders  and they are coming from elementary school where a lot was done for them, but now, they are required to do things for themselves and take responsibility for their own learning.  But this is not something that they will learn overnight, or even throughout their 6th grade year!  It takes a lot of time and practice for students to learn to be accountable to themselves and the teacher and it is our job to teach them how to do this explicitly.

Internship: Week 5!

This week was great because I was able to try some different things and gain some ground with my students.  For one, Ms. Rainbolt and I had students work in pairs to create their own PowerPoint presentations including information on Earth’s vegetation regions.   This assignment was fun because students were able to apply their researching and presentation skills, using technology to assist in the entire process.  Groups then taught the class about their region and experienced first-hand what it is like to be in front of the classroom.  This assignment was a great way to see how students work together, as well as how they handle being given more responsibilities.  This is the kind of project that I would love to incorporate into my classroom, but of course I cannot overdo it because it takes a good deal of time for students to find information and create their presentations. 

Another thing that I tried differently this week was a Jeopardy review activity with my 5th and 6th grade classrooms.  I set up the review just like the game show and placed students in groups.  Students really enjoyed this type of review and even the quietest and most shy students participated actively in the game.   Even though I have read that placing students in competitive groups is counter-productive, I was pleased to see that the level of engagement and involvement was greatly increased by reviewing in this manner.  This goes to show that there’s nothing like experiencing something firsthand versus reading about it from another’s perspective.  I think that I will continue to review in this way because it involves students and keeps them engaged.

I am continuing to struggle with management but will persist in my efforts to gain respect in my classrooms.  Now that I have laid down the rules and consequences in all of the classes, students know what to expect and know how to behave.  As I have mentioned before, it will be my follow-though that will dictate whether or not students will misbehave or if we will have harmony in the classroom.

I am really excited about next week because I will be teaching students about The Days of the Dead, a traditional Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1st and 2nd commemorating the departed.   This will be a great way to incorporate my culture into the classroom and students will learn a little bit more about me :)

Teaching Internship: Week 4

I feel that I have made tremendous gains this week in terms of classroom management.  Since I have almost completely taken over one of the S.S. classrooms, I took a few minutes on Monday to go over the rules, procedures, expectations, and consequences in the class, emphasizing that the same rules that apply when Ms. Rainbolt is teaching will apply when I am teaching.  Students seemed to respond to this and saw that I was serious.  This especially paid off on Tuesday when Ms. Rainbolt had to be absent and I was left with a substitute teacher to lead the class.  I applied the consequences that I had discussed with the students previously and they saw that they were expected to behave appropriately at all times and with any teacher that is leading the class.

 I have found that follow-through is the most difficult, yet the most important piece to the management puzzle.  If you have a list of consequences spelled out for the students, but don’t apply the penalties, students will take full advantage of the situation and misbehave.  This is something that I continue to struggle with and that I will continue working on in the future.

Furthermore, I have taken up my mentor teacher’s offers to try different teaching styles in class and see how they work out.  This is especially important for me at this time since I will be able to apply the strategies and practices that I have been learning about and see them in a real-world context.  I will continue to contemplate various ways of teaching the material and increasing student and engagement and interest.   Overall, this was a good week and I look forward to continue working with wonderful people, teachers, supervisors, and students alike :)

Internship: Week 3

Overall, this third week had some ups and downs; I feel that I have gained some ground in establishing a relationship with my students but I also have a lot to work on in terms of preparation, guiding, and management.  I taught several lessons and led several review activities this week and I can gauge where my students are at and how I can reach them during future lessons.  One thing that I am grateful for is that I have two mentors who have completely different ways of teaching and management styles.  I know that I will learn a lot from them and can develop my own style based on their example. 

I was especially pleased to see that I have been able to establish a good relationship with my students.  I really enjoy working with all of the students in my classes and feel comfortable working with them.  But I am also having some management issues because some students do not see me as an authority figure in the classroom.  For next week, I plan on taking a few minutes of each class to review rules and expectations with each of my classes so that students understand that just because they have a different teacher does not mean that they can behave differently with me.

Another thing that I have encountered is the need to be extra prepared.   That means knowing the material back and forth and having a back-up plan (and explanation) when my first one fails.  This follows my third issue which is guiding my students throughout the entire learning process.  I am working with 6th graders in all of my classes and at this age (and developmental stage), they need a great deal of guided instruction.  I cannot assume that I can explain an assignment once and students will get right on it; I have to give several examples and opportunities for them to see how to complete the assignment. 

I have also had a great realization: no amount of books or classes can prepare you for being in the classroom!  And there is nothing more rewarding than feeling that you did something right with your students :)


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