Literacy instruction is a critical pedagogical parameter in elementary classrooms subject to the students’ limited abilities. The teacher should be able to combine various teaching skills to nurture young learners’ reading and comprehension capabilities. This paper is based on an observation activity effected at the 99th Street Elementary School on Monday, November 5, 2018.
Where I observed Mr. Vasquez and his 3rd grade class for two hours, the classroom teacher, conducted a lesson on close reading. The class read a narrative fiction literary regarding a monkey (Kojo), who faced a problem when attempting to play a trick that backfired on other monkeys. The observation activity lasted for 60 minutes, and this paper outlines the findings and the inferences made following the observation session. The teacher was good at handling a literacy lesson in an elementary class. However, he did not incorporate prior knowledge into the classroom activities.
Description of Observation
The teacher exploited and appreciated the language as a requisite for communication. He selected random students to read specific chapters of the literary work. Further, he ensured that students were actively involved in the learning process by de-emphasizing on the workbook activities.
After reading the whole text, the teacher directed several discussion forums that saw the students discuss specific issues regarding the text. For instance, the learners were required to discuss Kojo’s character traits with their partners. This not only broke the monotony of reading the text but also ensured that students were actively involved in high-end critical thinking.
Mr. Vasquez worked on improving the students’ self-esteem, motivation, and learning. He understood learners’ weaknesses and strengths and used this knowledge to tailor the lesson in a manner that boosted the students’ motivation and self-esteem.
In case the student gave a wrong answer, the teacher took time to explain to him or her why the answer was wrong and later gave the correct answer. He acted in a manner that indicated appreciation and caring to the students. In case a student gave a correct answer to a question, he asked the others to clap for him or her to boost his or her motivation.
Mr. Vasquez clearly understood that reading, especially for children, is a constructivist and a meaning-making process. He was sensitive regarding vocabularies and actively involved the learners while searching for the meaning of a word. For instance, he engaged the learners by asking what scrambling looks like after reading the second paragraph of the fictional narrative.
In addition, he used several minutes in a demonstration session that saw students exhibit how the leopard walked after reading chapter five of the story. These demonstrations were designed to help the learners encode the meaning of the word padded.
During the classroom session, the teacher understood that the interaction of thought and language is vital for cognitive and language development. Mr. Vasquez ensured that the class was characterized by systemic sessions of students reading, writing, talking, and reflecting regarding what they hear and talk about.
There were several discussions where each learner was to discuss a specific issue regarding the text. They were required to write about what happened in the story and the setting in which the story was narrated. For instance, learners held a discussion regarding the gist of the story and later were required to write why other monkeys were angry with Kojo. These activities were instrumental in cognitive and language development of the young learners.
Despite the teacher observing most principles of best practices in literacy instruction, the teacher did not seem to recognize that prior knowledge is a springboard for learning. It is important for the teacher to incorporate the knowledge and vocabulary brought to school by the students. Mr. Vasquez did not have takeaway assignments for the students on that day and neither did he give out take away assignments. Take away assignments encourage reading and writing outside the school, environment, and this improves the students’ learning abilities.
The environment was conducive for literacy learning for young learners. The students were arranged in pairs, and this made it is easy for partner-based discussions. It wasn’t clear whether the teacher used a certain criterion to select the students who sat next to each other.
Nonetheless, during group discussions, the students could easily rearrange their sitting arrangements to form a larger group of six students. Finally, the teacher was time sensitive, and each activity was guided by a personal teaching time plan. However, some sessions took longer than others in case the tutor had not achieved the goals he intended.
Despite the environment being good for literacy learning, several things can be altered to support more opportunities for learning. According to Gunning (2016), teachers should learn about children by watching and monitoring the modes of learning. The teacher’s observation can be directed towards the time, structure, and materials used in learning.
In elementary classes, teacher’s observation is a critical parameter in literacy education (Cunningham, 2017). Mr. Vasquez can use an anecdotal record to note the students’ habits and traits during the learning process. The record should have quotations of the learner’s words and actions and not interpretation or inferences. This should be used to improve the instructional programs after the teacher has critically assessed the information.
Further, the teacher can use ratings to assess the extent to which a particular student possesses a specific trait or skills either using checklists, interviews, or questionnaires. In this case, a checklist to assess the degree of involvement is critical. The checklist should use a present-absent scale that will be used to show the students’ activity levels. By using this information, the teacher can come up with a program that will increase the participation levels for various learners depending on their score (Gunning, 2016).
During the observation period, the surprising bit was that almost all students were active and portrayed a high level of commitment. It is unlikely for children of that age to show such activeness in class. This was linked to the excellent rapport that the teacher had created with the young learners. The confusing bit during the observation was that the teacher did not give take away assignments nor did he check the previous assignments. It was confusing because an elementary teacher should recognize prior knowledge as a springboard for learning.
The literacy instruction observation activity taught me various things as a teacher and as a learner. As a teacher, first, it is important to create a good rapport with your students. Mr. Vasquez had a good understanding of his class, and this made children feel free to ask him anything.
Most of them were very active during the learning activity subject to the good connection with their teacher, and this made the literacy learning process effective. Second, involving students in the learning activity through group discussions and de-emphasizing on workbook material is advantageous to the learning process. The observation activity gave me a real-life experience of handling an elementary class and pedagogical tips to improve their literacy as students.
- Cunningham, P. M. (2017). Phonics they use: Words for reading and writing (Making Words Series). Boston, MA: Pearson.
- Gunning, T. G. (2016). Creating Literacy Instruction: For All Students (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson