Practicum Observations

For my practicum, I was assigned to a US 9 history class at James Madison Memorial High School.  The teacher (Mrs. Miller) focused on ensuring the students were engaged with each lesson, first and foremost, and the flow of the lessons reflected that.  Content was presented in various ways, almost always changing formats every other day.  On days where a power point lecture was required, a handout for guided notes was always in accompaniment.  The guided notes required students to pay attention to what she was saying in lecture, as it required students to reproduce the definitions of major terms, as well as jot down specific historical examples that she would raise in class.  However, the guided notes drew a line between what students had to discover, and what they had to come to the material knowing, meaning things like vocabulary lists always appeared at the top.

I also discovered that student participation was best gained through student empowerment.  By this, I mean making students the target of historical learning, either by relating the historical material to current events, or in some cases, giving volunteers the honor of being the “historical person of the class” for the day.  The latter meant whenever a less on city bosses during the gilded age happened, Brandon, who volunteered, would be pointed to, and called Boss Brandon for the rest of the unit.  It seems simple, but for Brandon, it tied him to particular characters of the material.

While the students’ text books were rarely, if ever used, the guided notes were only the tip of the handout ice berg.  In order to compensate for the amount of paper the students were being asked to place in their binders, Mrs. Miller came up with a ingenious, but simple plan.  Each unit was color coded (Industrialization was orange, progressive era was blue) so that students could tell the relevant handouts for the lesson at a glance instead of needing to dig through their binders looking for misplaced sheets of paper.

The students had certain note taking as well as writing structures they seemed to go by.  The structure for Cornell Notes and Mel-Con paragraphs were laminated and posted on classroom walls for the entire school.  For the most part, this class abided by this structure as well.  However, certain lessons were specifically designed to allow students to write more freely instead of needing to be restricted by this formality.  Such activities included journal entries, auto-biographies, and more arts and craft focused projects.  One such project was the Progressive Tea Party where each student had to research a particular progressive reformer, and write a one page auto-biography focused on the social issues they tackled and why, then presenting it in class to each other on a day when the teacher brought in tea (I brought the paper cups.)

The one thing lacking, I felt, was the lack of use of audio in the class.  There were plenty of pictures, but rarely a song or video used to help supplement the students’ learning.  However, the reason for that is not something that can be addressed by the teacher.  The classroom is 843B.  Room 843 is in fact a rather large room with 4 smaller classrooms carved out of it with the use of office cubical wall dividers.  As such, they did not even reach up to the ceiling, and sound from one classroom could be easily heard in all 4, if it got loud enough.

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