Reflections Based on15 hours of observation in the classroom By Kim Richards
After spending 15 hours in the Kindergarten, second and third grade classrooms at Pinecrest CharterSchool, I observed that the classroom was somewhat diverse. The classroom was predominantlySpanish, but they were from different Spanish speaking countries. They were Portuguese students,Haitian students, African American and Spanish students, which was the dominant demographic. Manyof the parents were predominantly Spanish speaking and some spoke no English at all, so the teachersfound themselves trying to bridge the gaps of the cultural differences in the classroom. There was not awhole lot cultural artifact in the classroom, but the one thing that the classrooms had in common wasthe collection of ethnic books in the classroom library, which the students were encouraged to read.Every ethnicity was represented, but these books were not incorporated into the lesson plans. Theywere shelved and only brought out on special occasions, for instance, black history month recognition.All of the classrooms had ESOL students and all teachers are certified ESOL teachers. The classrooms arepredominantly Spanish, with some of the students coming to the classroom speaking little or no English.One of the challenges that the teachers faced was the fact that some of the parents of these studentsspoke little or no English themselves, or Spanish was the preferred language to speak at home. Many ofthe students had grammar and pronunciation issues, so the teachers found that working in small groupswith these students was most beneficial to them. The teachers also realized that some of the kidsknew what they wanted to say but could not express it in English, so the teachers incorporated the useof technology in the form of visuals and gestures that they were familiar with into their instruction.There were software programs that they could use to aid with understanding. The teachers had theclassroom set up in centers which allowed the students to work in small groups to work on a particularskill and these groups were often mixed with students of different abilities so that the kids could helpeach other. The teacher had special center time when she worked one on one with the ESOL students.
There were several religious beliefs represented in the classroom. Some were Catholic, JehovahWitness, Seventh Day Adventist to name a few. However, the teachers were quite reluctant to touchreligious issues. It was communicated to the teachers by the parents of the students who were JehovahWitness that their children do not celebrate any special occasions including birthdays, Christmas etc,and they will not participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Jehovah Witness students are thereforeexempt and are allowed not to participate. They have the option of leaving the room during those timesor staying in the classroom engaged in some other activity. Other Christian religions, such as Catholicsdo not celebrate Halloween and will not allow their children to participate in any of those celebrations.The teachers are very sensitive to these demands and very supportive of the parents’ wishes. There areno artifacts of a religious nature in the classroom. The teachers do not want to deal with such acontroversial issue.The teachers make great efforts to set up and change their classrooms periodically to facilitate thelearning of their students. There is both teacher centered instruction and child centered instruction.The classrooms are set up in centers that allow kids to master skills. There is the literacy center full ofbooks, flashcards, and writing materials. There is the technology center with computers for thestudents to visit various websites to reinforce what they are learning. There are software programs inthe forms of fun and interactive games which encourage the students to learn. The Science sites arequite interactive and animated which makes it interesting and fun for the kids. The thing that I observedand will take away from this experience is the fact that the teachers collaborate with each other. Thiswas mostly noticeable with the second, third and fourth grade teachers. They work together to planlessons for the week, focusing on the weakness that they want to strengthen in the students before theygo on to the next grade. The third grade is such a transitional grade because of the FCAT testing that the
second grade teacher constantly communicates with the third grade teacher on the skills that she needsto reinforce in her students before they are ready for third grade. The teachers also are the first torecognize gaps in the students’ learning and therefore work closely with parents makingrecommendations for assessments and testing. The teachers are advocates for their students.The teaching process is so much more involved now because of the child centered instruction that theschools are moving toward. In addition to that, because of the No Child Left Behind law, the classroomshave become inclusive with every type of student in the classroom. I believe that all children can learn,but I believe that some students are still going to be left behind. I noticed in the classrooms that Iobserved that the gifted kids were bored. The teachers tried their best to help by offering extra andmore advanced work, and it helps, but her time and attention has to be divided among the other kids aswell. They get the least attention because the school does not have a gifted program. The teacher hasstudents who are ESOL, have behavioral issues, learning issues, cultural and ethnic issues and thechallenge is how to tailor lesson plans to suit all kids. It can be done, but for that to happen theclassrooms have to be completely collaborative, and administrators and parents have to be a big part ofit. The teachers are doing an excellent job bridging the gaps and the kids are learning. All kids can learn.It may take some longer than others but they can do it.