By Colleen Mahany, SED 2015
I am in my senior year at Boston University’s School of Education and I am student teaching at a middle school. I’ve been at the school for less than two months and I’m already fully in charge of the lesson plans, classroom management, grading, and general wellbeing of my students. In short, I feel like a real, walking, talking teacher. Finally.
Anyway, after three years of filling my undergraduate head with as much pedagogy as I can, I have begun to test it all on my students. Essentially, my seventh graders are my guinea pigs. Sometimes I implement strategies on purpose, such as having students sort tier three vocabulary words into a word web. That’s a fancy way of saying that I have my students sort domain-specific vocabulary into different categories on a graphic organizer. Other times, I put together a lesson and realize happily (and luckily) that aspects of my lesson reflect established, research-based instruction.
For example, my very first, independently planned and executed lesson was about what constitutes a civilization. For homework, I wanted them to review the information and convey to me that they understood the notes and group work from that day. I allowed students to choose their mode of response. If they felt that they were a strong writer, I encouraged them to write a letter, speech, or skit. If they felt that they were better able to express their ideas through pictures, I encouraged them to create an illustration, comic, or cartoon. If they were talented songstresses, I encouraged them to write a song.
The next day I received a variety of versions of the assignment, which made me happy since the students, for the most part, demonstrated that they understood the major concepts of the lesson. Some of my students struggle to work independently, but thrive working in groups. As a result, I had a group of students turn in a group skit. I also found that this approach was most helpful for English Language Leaners who are not completely comfortable with the language yet. Obviously English Language Learners need ample practice with reading, writing, and speaking, but, when appropriate, I try to allow them to show they know the information in a comfortable way. One of my students also voluntarily turned the small homework assignment into a poster presentation. I was beyond thrilled that this 12-year-old boy felt inspired to go beyond the ordinary and expected.
The whole point of this rant is not to glorify my first teaching experience; trust me, I have had my fair share of flopped and confusing lessons this semester. I just want to explain how I reflected and realized that I accidentally took something I learned in my Introduction to Education course and put its ideas into my lesson. Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory basically asserts that students have nine different areas of strengths and learn best through different modalities. These strengths include visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, logical-mathematical, naturalist, and existential. In a small way, the homework assignment reflected this theory and translated it into practice. Students were able to explore their strengths and learn in a way that made the most sense to them. Hopefully, I make the happy mistake of being influenced by classic, education research while planning lessons. Or, you know, include instructionally sound practices on purpose.
Colleen Mahany is a senior in the School of Education, majoring in History.