My Experiences with Diversity

During my time at Berkeley Middle School and New Kent High School, I have worked with a very diverse array of students. At New Kent, I have worked with students that I would identify as at-risk. Several of my students worked late hours, and one girl even mentioned that the trailer she lived in was unheated during
Working with Students at the Chicago Botanic Garden
the wintertime. Another student had just learned she was pregnant. During my field experience, I have also worked with students from several different racial/ethnic groups, students receiving special education services, and students who have been identified as gifted and talented.

Additionally, I have done significant research with a William and Mary professor, Dr. Juanita Jo Matkins, regarding teacher preparation for working with diverse student populations. Recently, the article summarizing my findings has been accepted to the Virginia Journal of Science Education. I have also been published as a coauthor in an article accepted to the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting.

During summer 2009 and summer 2010, I had the unique opportunity to participate in an internship through Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow, an internship program that provides prospective science and math teachers with research and teaching experiences designed to prepare teachers to teach in high need schools. Through this program, I was able to work with inner-city high school and middle school students participating in an educational program at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I found my work with them to be highly rewarding and eye-opening.

Recognizing Different Approaches to Learning

Throughout my teaching experiences, I have done my best to identify my students' learning preferences. In my student teaching classroom, I asked students to fill out a survey, which helped me to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and approaches to learning. By analyzing the results of my survey, I found that most of my students prefer hands-on labs and activities. Many are also visual learners, and several mentioned that they do not learn well from reading the book. Other students identified areas of concern to be math skills, writing skills, organization skills, focusing skills, etc.

In my classroom, I also teach students who receive special education services. During my student teaching experience, I have done everything that I can to accommodate these students' unique needs. For some students, this simply entailed proximity seating to reduce distractibility. For others, these accommodations were a bit more extensive, and involved extended test time, printed teacher notes, or after-school tutoring.

Providing for Individual Differences in the Classroom

One example of my ability to provide for individual differences involves a lesson I co-taught with another student teacher. This lesson was designed to address reading comprehension difficulties mentioned in the IEP's of several students. For this lesson, we also attempted to make the content relevant to student interests by asking students to read an article about how sports drinks relate to osmosis and tonicity. We did our best to scaffold the activity by doing a whole-class read-aloud with guiding questions interspersed throughout the activity. We also provided students with an anticipation guidewhich is a pre-reading/post-reading activity designed to improve student comprehension of text. Typically, we chose students who were strong readers to read select paragraphs, though we incorporated the guiding questions to make sure that all students were understanding the material. During this activity, we found that students who do not usually participate in class were volunteering to read and answer questions.

At the Chicago Botanic Garden, I also made a concerted attempt to understand student learning preferences and provide for individual differences. Throughout the course of my internship, I tried to be as observant as possible and note when students were engaged. Quickly, it became apparent that many of the students complained bitterly when asked to work outside. As a nature-lover, I did not understand this attitude until I put myself in their shoes. The result? Instant light bulb moment. "Of course!" I thought. "They may not be comfortable outdoors because they have relatively little experience interacting with nature!" Growing up in urban neighborhoods, many of the students rarely had the chance to catch a breath of fresh air, let alone weed a garden. As such, my coworkers and I attempted to give them positive experiences outdoors to increase their comfort interacting with nature. Additionally, we tried to have a balance of indoor and outdoor activities to accommodate the needs of all our students.

Note: Please see the "Teaching Skills" section for a more detailed explanation of my use of differentiation in the classroom.

Building a Positive Rapport with Students and Creating a Respectful Learning Environment

Throughout my student teaching experience, I have done what I can to build a positive rapport with my students. Before even beginning, I asked students to fill out a survey regarding their interests, learning preferences, and perceived strengths and weaknesses. In my classroom, I have used the results of these surveys to have meaningful conversations with students about their interests and personal lives. I have also coached track, which has allowed me to build a strong relationship with the track athletes, and surprisingly, other students as well. One day, I fell down during track practice, and by the next morning, all my students knew! Overall, I do my best to make myself relatable by sharing appropriate stories from my life. I also encourage student feedback and even created an anonymous surveyto allow my students to constructively critique my teaching skills.

Additionally, I respond very quickly to any instances of disrespect and bullying. When I noticed that three of my students were picking on another student, I quickly took care of the issue by assigning punishments to the students and adjusting the seating chart. Since then, there have been no clear instances of bullying in my classroom.

Collaboration with Related Service Personal

During my field experience, I have taken advantage of the guidance counseling office at New Kent High School to review a student's 504 plan. By speaking with the student's guidance counselor, I was able to better understand the intricacies of the 504 plan and learn more about the student then I could from reading a quick synopsis of his disability. I also was able to gather some information about strategies I should try with the student that were specific to a science classroom. After the meeting, I gathered all relevant information into a summary document. In addition to speaking to this guidance counselor, I have also reviewed a students' IEP with his special education caseworker in an effort to learn more about the IEP process and implementation of student-specific accommodations.

Note: Names in the summary document have been changed.