Thanksgiving Plans

This Thanksgiving break will be different than usual. In the past, I have gone to see my parents and cousins in Connecticut, however this year I’m staying in Brooklyn to take it easy at my apartment. A friend is comging up from Baltimore to have Thanksgiving with my girlfriend and I. Having forgotten to pre-order a Turkey, a chicken will likely be cooked in it’s place. Maybe two. I will not be participating in any of the ‘Black Friday’ sales which have come to mark the holiday in recent years – you’d think people haven’t figured out how to use Amazon by now. It will be a great few days to recharge my batteries from student teaching, and take a bit of a breather as the busy month of December looms on the horizon.

Supervised Fieldwork Demystified

 
These are questions I often hear about Supervised Fieldwork at Bank Street:
  • How does Bank Street help you get your placement? 
  • When do you find out?
  • What do you do when you find out?
  • How do you survive a year with no income?
  • What’s the best part of it?

Supervised Fieldwork

As I approached the end of my first year of Bank Street, I met with my supervisor about supervised field work placements. I described my previous experience in schools, plus any concerns I had about where I would be placed. Staying in touch over the next few weeks, there were a few forms to fill out, including one that asks where you live in the city. In the late spring, my supervisor organized a get together for students going into supervised field work and those currently in it. In true Bank Street style, snacks and iced tea were provided. The students shared their current experience and fielded questions as well.

Then, in late June or early July, I received an email with my placement information. My supervisor suggested I email the teachers I’d be working with, but warned that I may not hear back until closer to the school year was to begin. That was true, but I took it upon myself to take a look at the school’s website and get to know the schedule and name of the principal. I sent both teachers I would start with an email, as well as the principal.

I then had to go to the Department of Education and get fingerprinted (it was at 65 Court St, Brooklyn at the time). I also had to get some paper work done by signing up online with the Department of Education. You have to input the school’s information in your online profile, which you create, and print a letter saying you’re approved. That whole process took about an hour, and it was great to have the whole summer to do it! Then I heard back from the teachers and principal with some starting dates, and enjoyed a week or two more of vacation before starting at the end of August.

The school is very close to where I live, and it really does feel like a good “fit” for me, from a personality and professional standpoint. I feel that my supervisor listened to what I had to say and picked a good school. I am  comfortable there but also feel like I am expanding my teaching experience with new challenges. Field work is 4 days a week for me. For some programs it is 3 days a week. The supervised fieldwork is for pretty much all of the school year – it ends in early June. My advisor will come in periodically and observe me teaching a lesson, then give feedback on the spot as well as written notes later.

A big challenge that was on my mind at the time of organizing supervised fieldwork was how I was going to finance myself for the year. I met with the financial aid office ahead of time and they were very helpful in making sure my loan information was correct. Once I filled out some forms there I received a letter with a very clear breakdown of how much money I could receive for living expenses via a GradPlus loan. I requested just enough to cover rent, bills, and groceries. Most grad students I talk to in supervised fieldwork have picked up little odds and ends jobs like tutoring or subbing, coaching or teaching musical lessons after school hours or on the weekends to supplement the living allowance from the loan.

So far, the best part of supervised fieldwork is meeting with my conference group. Every Wednesday, we meet at Bank Street, much like any other class would, but there are only 6 of us and our supervisor. It is a very positive environment that can range from a vent session to serious lesson planning ideas. You’ll be able to reflect, share, and get ideas to try out next time. It’s stress free and I look forward to it very much every week.

Hopefully this answers some of your questions. Many people already have a job before doing this, and that transition is hard for sure. But you’ll quickly get into your new role and routine. I’ll be sure to write again once the experience is over, and talk about the ending of the experience!

Smart Board

As part of student teaching for my dual certification for Literacy and General Education, my supervised field work includes a 2nd grade classroom at a Magnet School in Brooklyn. I am there 4 days a week, and I very much feel less like an observer and more like a teacher there. I help with lesson planning, organize activities for reading groups, assess with running records, and my input is valued by the head teacher, especially when it pertains to good literacy strategies. Since this is a general education classroom, I still have to tackle an occasional math lesson.

Math has always been challenging for me personally, and many of my colleagues and friends here at Bank Street have expressed the same sentiment. I know this because of a wonderful class I took here with Linda Metnetsky, called Mathematics for Teachers. In Linda’s class, we learned about Piaget, an educational theorist who encouraged students to make mistakes in order to learn. By experiencing “disequilibrium” (which became my favorite new word at the time), learners must explore and struggle to make sense of new problems. The course trained us in the use of many hands-on and experiential based activities like 10-frames, computer games, geoboards with rubber bands for geometry, and the like. These materials are both visual and sensory in nature. The 10 frames help students subitize, which is to just see, for example, “7 dots”, without counting each dot. The computer games helped students make 10 in various ways, all with colorful and fun animations. The geoboards allowed us to explore area and perimeter with strings and rubber bands. When I was growing up, math was very worksheet and memory oriented.

Flash-forward to just yesterday, when the students began a unit on measurement that needed a big, juicy, and engaging opener lesson. My cooperating teacher and I had the students using centimeter cubes to measure lengths of objects at their tables, but still many struggled to grasp the concept. It occurred to me suddenly to use the Smart Board in the room. I opened a new ‘notebook’, sketched a crayon (one of their objects), and then drew squares underneath, to model how to line up the centimeter cubes. By selecting a square with the cursor icon, I quickly went to edit-copy, then again to edit-paste, and was able to place the pasted square next to the first. I repeated the process until I showed that the crayon was 7 centimeter cubes in length. A lot of noisy little light-bulbs went off behind me. I could hear them go “ooh” and “aah”. That visual really helped. I think another great aspect of the Smart Board was the spontaneity of it as a resource. The kids saw us trying something new when the first thing wasn’t working.

What I saw was that having that visual representation and modeling the open-minded trial and error process of learning math is so vital to help young learners succeed with math concepts.

The Smart Board, while scary to some, can take a bit of fiddling with to master. But I try to think of it as no different than a computer. The notebook program is remarkably similar to basic PC programs like MS Paint that have been around for nearly two decades. Of course, there is so much more to do with a Smart Board, particularly with math, than what I did. If your classroom is equipped with a Smart Board, make an effort to get to know it. Great technology will never replace a great teacher, but if you’ve got the tools at the ready, don’t waste them! Here is just one of many videos available that teachers might want to check out if they are looking for Smart Board inspiration.

Hard at work on blog post topics

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Hard at work on blog post topics  (11/11/2013)

Why memoir?

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As a future literacy coach, writing will of course be a focus of learning for my students. I recently read an article about memoirs from Beth Kephart that I found interesting. Writing memoirs is a particularly attractive activity, because it allows the opportunity for the student to think about themselves and their own feelings. It can be empowering, fun, and also serve a multitude of purposes for the teacher reading it. There are some pitfalls to avoid, however.

Kephart writes:

“It is all too tempting to allow that let-me-tell-my-story instinct to rule, all too easy to spend the time sussing out details, confirming chronologies, giving the whole thing some shine and some sass. Memoirists must succumb to weeks, months, years spent examining (and cross-examining) themselves. But things grow claustrophobic – monochromatic, monologue-esque – when memoirists fail to say to the reader — one way or another— I know that you have lived your joys and sorrows, too. These are my lessons, for you.”

Kephart praises memoirs which include the reader in the story as well. The article is a great quick read and has some other worthwhile concepts to consider, and is found here.

The Mayoral Candidates’ Proposed Educational Reforms

citysealAs voting day for New York City’s new Mayor approaches, I wanted to offer a progressive education prospective on the proposed educational reforms from candidates Bill deBlasio and Joe Lhota. What is a progressive education, though? The progressive mission statement of Bank Street is to nurture the creative, independent, and problem- solving talents of all children by “applying to the educational process all available knowledge about learning and growth.”

These are the words of Lucy Sprague Mitchell, who studied how child development and learning are intrinsically connected. Bank Street has some wonderful literature and links can be found here.

Each of the candidates has made promises to improve education in the city, but in different ways. I took a look at each candidates’ proposed education policy.

Lhota’s three main objectives for improving education are to “make students number one, create more charter schools, and empower teachers.” He is supportive of teachers using the common core in schools and also favors teacher evaluation systems, describing them as “means to guide teachers in their professional development.” Lhota also wants to work with the unions to “ensure they are in the best possible position to educate our kids.” He also promotes using the Common Core standards as a way to better our education system.

Certainly, a progressive educator would value putting children first, but in my opinion, his statement is vague. For instance, Lhota wants to increase the number of charter schools in the city. There has been much debate about Charter Schools, with some touting their improvement of test scores, and others pointing out declining numbers of ESL and SPED students. Lhota’s mission statement seems to suggest that teachers are empowered by teacher evaluation systems. Most progressive educators, such as Alfie Kohn, argue that creating standards in education is a purely political play on the part of the policy makers, and has little to do with improving learning among students. The same critique could be made of Lhota’s support of the Common Core Standards.

de Blasio outlines a more extensive vision of how to improve schools. He aims to establish truly universal full-day Pre-Kindergarten, offer after-school programs for all middle school students, ensure all students are reading at grade level by third-grade, improve special education, lower the stakes on testing, involve and engage parents and families, expand the community schools model in high poverty neighborhoods, increase focus on college and career readiness, reduce class size, recruit and retain teachers, place great leaders to lead great teachers in every school, strengthen citywide oversight and support for schools, turn struggling schools around, improve mayoral control, make school breakfasts more available, and ensure every child receives arts education.

I don’t see anything explicitly progressive about his policies, but one would have to see that he has put more thought into the many things that add up to a successful school model than Lhota has. de Blasio wants to ensure that every child receives an arts education, which the progressive approach that Bank Street embodies would certainly support. The arts are a phenomenal way to teach to the whole child. In fact, I recently wrote about incorporating music and movement into the curriculum as a way of reaching students who struggle to connect to academic concepts. In the paper, I wrote about a teacher who used a talent show in her room to promote multiculturalism and empathy. The students grew and learned through this process as opposed to rote memorization or following common core standards.

IMG_6260Overall, I think both candidates support common core standards and increasing the use of data and test scores to evaluate schools and students. As for the Unions, they have already backed de Blasio, even though Lhota has made it clear he wants to be able to work with them. de Balsio, with a son in the public school system and years spent as a public advocate, and Lhota with a vision for bettering schools as a way to bettering New York’s economy, seem to be pro-education and understand the importance of good teaching.

Our coursework at Bank Street focuses on meeting the Common Core Standards while also striving to consider the whole child, scaffold, and create opportunities for children to learn and show their knowledge in a way that is best for them. It is important to remember that while Lhota and de Blasio’s policies don’t appear all that progressive education-minded, there is still opportunity for progressive ideals to be in place in classrooms around the city, no matter who the mayor is.

Meet our Student Blogger

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Hello out there. My name is John Kuckens, and I am delighted to be your graduate admissions blogger for the 2013-2014 school year at Bank Street College.

Many of you are brought to the blog because you are curious about applying to Bank Street, or you are new students. I think you will see through posts on the blog that Bank Street is a wonderful and supportive environment for those who decide to attend. I’m sure you have many questions and  let’s face it, fears, associated with applying and attending (I did too it’s OK), what classes are like, and what financial aid is like. I’ll do my best to answer and alleviate these concerns in the posts, and also try to respond to questions in the comments section (in between classes and readings, if I can!).

As for me, I grew up on Long Island and in Connecticut, went to Wheaton College in Massachusetts for my undergrad, and began teaching right after that. I didn’t have a certification and it was hard to find just the right place to do it. I was always so inspired by the work of literacy intervention teams in the schools I had worked in, and felt it would be a good avenue for me since reading was always something I struggled with. I moved to NYC and was lucky enough to discover Bank Street. Now I am working towards my Masters in the Teaching Literacy and Childhood Education program. The courses here have certainly helped me find my voice as a teacher and harness my own interests for the purpose of helping and teaching others.

I once had a conference at Bank Street where the professor handed out name tags to wear that said “hello, my favorite author is _________” or, “hello, my favorite book is ________.” What a wonderful way to meet a new person! In the spirit of breaking the ice here at the blog, feel free to post below below in the comments section an answer to this hypothetical name tag:

“hello, I am (or want to become) an educator because ______”.

I am looking forward to some responses to break the ice with readers of the blog!

– John