I suggest that you ask early in student teaching for letters. Realize that everyone you are working with from your master teacher, grade level team, faculty advisor, professors, and administrators are all possible letter sources. Ask early, they have busy schedules of their own.
At my first placement, I had a meeting with the principal before I ever started to introduce myself as suggested by my University Advisor. I encourage you to do the same to get to know them and the school. They know you need letters, asking for one isn’t going to shock them. While in this meeting, let them know that you are interested in having them come out and observe a lesson so that they can write you an honest letter of recommendation.
If you are checking out multiple schools for possible placements I suggest talking with the administration about letters right at the start. Obviously, they need to see you in action but it is important to make sure they don’t have a blanket policy against writing letters for student teachers. Yes, that is a thing I have come across. If the administration denies all letter requests before ever seeing a student teacher in action, I suggest finding a different school. Teachers regularly need letters from administrators to apply for jobs and if all your placements were at schools with an auto “No.” policy then you might be in a hard place for finding a job.
That all being said, admins are busy people with quite a bit on their plate so if they aren’t able to write you a letter don’t fret. Ask your master teacher, your professors, your academic advisor and even just a status letter from your university about your expected graduation and recommendation dates. And never underestimate the influence of just word of mouth. If you really like a school or district, let them know it.
I created a Digital Breakout for my second-grade students to review all of the concepts they learned this year in Math. I was so excited to try making my very first breakout style game after running physical locks one with my fifth-grade placement. After trying a digital style and physical locks both, I think I would prefer a physical style. Maybe just a digital lock or two for more complex puzzles with older students. However, the students loved it. They said it was the best party day they ever had (which is awesome since this was a lesson before we got to our afternoon party). I included a script on the project page for people to see how to move through the game since they do not have all the materials. I created a EDU Breakout with the resources and instructions that are needed to recreate this activity. Now I just need to wrangle it all together and submit it to an actual Digital Breakout site so people can run it themselves without having to re-create the materials.
This is the seventh in a series of posts (1: Choices, 2: Parent Communication, 3: Research, 4: Thinking, 5: Planning, 6: Peer and self-evaluations) about supporting successful product assignments at the end of a unit of study. Now let’s talk about audience. If you followed my advice, students have already had a small audience of their peers reviewing them during the process and fresh small set of peers evaluating them during the finished product. Consider using gallery walks and inviting other students and parents to view. Or find a place you can display the products on campus with greater foot traffic. If students know that their product will be viewed not just by you and their classmates they are more likely to push themselves to create a quality product.
This is the sixth in a series of posts (1: Choices, 2: Parent Communication, 3: Research, 4: Thinking, 5: Planning)about supporting successful product assignments at the end of a unit of study. Now let’s talk about peer and self-evaluations. During every formal check-in, I believe in incorporating formative peer and self-evaluation. Put students into groups of up to four products to critique each other. The same students will peer review each other during the project at every check-in and ask students to self-evaluate their progress. During the final presentations, regroup the students for summative peer evaluations, that way students are asked to evaluate only the finished project without knowledge of the whole process. Students will be asked to self-evaluate again at the end of the project. All peer and self-evaluations need to be based on the established content and production criteria. I suggest you provide a rubric for the students to use.
This is the fifth in a series of posts (1: Choices, 2: Parent Communication, 3: Research, 4: Thinking)about supporting successful product assignments at the end of a unit of study. Now let’s talk about planning and follow through. School is a time for students to build lifelong work habits and one very important habit they are working on is time management. Hand out a project planner sheet. Have the students create a plan that lists all the steps of a project. This may be a guided process or not, depending on your grade level and their experience.
For example, locate sources, research, rough draft of the text, edit text for spelling, make visuals (images found, hand drawn, colored, etc.) and construct the final product. Once students have finished creating a plan. Hand out a calendar with the final product due date and any check-in dates. Check-in dates should be matched to the level of student independence and ability, more frequent for younger or less responsible students. The goal is to make sure that students are using all the time for a project instead of rushing at the end. Kick the procrastination habit now! Have students create figure out when each step of their plan will be completed, write those dates on the plan sheet and turn it in. Review the plans, if needed meet to discuss realistic goals with students and modify to create a timeline that is functional. Hold them to the timelines, make keeping on track part of the grade earned at every formal check in.
This is the fourth in a series of posts (1: Choices, 2: Parent Communication, 3: Research) about supporting successful product assignments at the end of a unit of study. Now let’s talk about thinking. Successful products need students to use their problem-solving skills but they also need to use their creative side. Critical and creative thinking go hand in hand for product assignments. Talk to your students about using both thinking styles for their product. Use products as a way to connect what they are learning in the classroom to life outside the classroom. Are they doing a slideshow? Talk about how business people use slideshows to make a presentation at work. Connect the projects to real-world issues, maybe do animal research reports on endangered animals to raise awareness. Maybe ask the library or other commonly visited location if you can display them for a week to allow the whole school a chance to see the projects, raising awareness of the whole school.
This is the third in a series of posts (1: Choices, 2: Parent Communication) about supporting successful product assignments at the end of a unit of study. Now let’s talk research. Teach students to use more than one source to get their information. I like to teach students to use different kinds of sources at least one in print and one online. If you do not have a book in your class library or available from the school library for checkout to the classroom you could provide a printed article or reading out for students to use. My suggested goal is one source per grade level after Kindergarten.
For example, in first grade, students may use a printed fact sheet, digital source or a book (using different sources throughout the year for exposure). In second grade, I would introduce the requirement of multiple types of sources one digital and one print. In third grade, I would require 3 sources at least one of each type. In fourth grade, I would require 4 sources two of each type. In fifth grade, I would require 5 sources at least two of each type.
This is the second in a series of posts about supporting students through the process of creating successful products. In part 1 I discussed choices for products. Now we are going to cover a bit about school to home communication.
It is important to keep in touch with parents regularly. If you are doing a project during class time only then this step could be skipped. However, if the students will be taking any part of the project (even just research) home then it is important you communicate with parents important information. So what is the important information you need to communicate? Timelines for the project including progress check-in dates and final turn in dates are a must, let the parents know right from the start whenever there is a formal check-in. Be sure to explain the requirements for the project, a great way to do this is share the grading rubric(s) with them. Include how they can help support their student and what they should NOT do during the product creation, remember help is appreciated but this does need to be the student’s work. Level of parental aid may be something that you differentiate based on student ability and need.
You may decide to explain the rationale for the product. This is a great way to share the purpose with parents who do not have the training to infer it themselves. A word of caution that I got from a veteran teacher who did share the purpose of product lessons. If you offer this kind of transparency in a lesson the parents will expect it for all project products for the rest of the year. Taking away transparency after having offered it can result in negative attitudes from parents. So make a choice and stick with it if you can. As a different option, you could write the purpose of product assignments into your back to school letters giving transparency without having to do it for every assignment.
My last series of posts was about designing curriculum for powerful product assignments. This seven post series is about supporting students through the process.
People communicate in a wide variety of ways. Inspire your students to push beyond the poster, rise above the written report and move past the mobile. Early in the school year introduce your students to a variety of modes of expression, materials, and technologies through required product styles (lower grades) or limited choices (upper grades). Lower grade students may not have much or any product creation experience so having a set product is ideal whereas upper-grade students have already had experience creating some products in the past. It is important as you need to teach students the required production skills. Teach them what a quality (grade-level appropriate) product looks like in this format. For upper-grades, this may be a quick review but with lower grades, this will take more time as it will be a step by step guide. Later in the year, consider letting go of the reins some and letting students have limited choices (lower grades) or free choice (upper grades) with approval. Teachers create student buy in the assignment by allowing students to have more control over the product. The more they decide themselves, the more they will want to create a quality assignment.
For a group project: If each group is reporting on a different aspect of the curriculum then you can build groups based on their top 3 aspect choices. For example, 5th-grade students may pick their top 3 colonies to report on during a 13 colonies unit. You place students into groups based on their submission. This allows them to feel that they had a choice on their colony but still allows you to design the groups as you wish (homogeneously or heterogeneously).
For an individual project: If each student is reporting on a different topic (ex: leopards, koalas) within a theme (animals) you can select enough topics for the class plus at least one extra (so everyone has a choice, even the very last student). Then do a random drawing using equity sticks to call students up to pick their topic. You could have the topics available on a list that they read and select from. You could make it more of a game as well. The randomly selected student could come up and draw a numbered stick. Once every numbered stick had been drawn you could reveal the list to show what number matches what topic. You could also give students one minute to swap numbered sticks with anyone. The gamification will take more time but it could also be a fun little activity to get the kids up and moving.
There is a lot of paperwork that goes into student teaching. I am going to make a fairly big suggestion for anyone looking at starting student teaching in the next six months, ready? Get on the substitute teaching list for all the districts that you live nearby. Do it now that way when the time comes to get your placements set up you have done a huge amount of the needed paperwork already. The district has already vetted you and accepted you to work in their district. I did this with my first placement’s district (in my hometown where I regularly took substitute jobs) which made starting there a breeze. I did not do this with my second placement which is a town away. I had figured, why get on the substitute list for another school district when the one in my hometown keeps me plenty busy? The answer is…to make student teaching easier, much, much easier.
Added bonus: many districts consider substitute’s internal candidates when they apply for teaching positions and grant them preferential treatment in the hiring process.