Elementary Classroom Observation
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I am conducting my service learning hours at Palm Springs North Elementary School, which teaches grades between pre-kindergarten and 5th grade. This school is located in Palm Springs North, Florida. This elementary school has a total enrollment of 966 students most living within the Palm Springs North and Miami Lakes area. The student demographic consist of 87% Hispanic, 7% White, 5% Black, 1% Asian and 0% other. Currently the school has one principal, three vice-principals and approximately 65 full time teachers. It has a student to teacher ratio of about 15 students per teacher. The average student-teacher ratio for Miami-Dade County is 16 to 1. I am observing the classroom of Mrs. Yessenia Prieto. She teaches 3rd grade language arts. Mrs. Prieto earned her degree in Education for grades K-5. She has only taught elementary and has been a teacher now for close to 10 years. Her average class size is about 30 students. 60% of her students are boys and 40% are girls. There is a small group of Esol students in her class which need to be taught in the Spanish language.
Even though most of the schools demographics is Hispanic during my observations hours I have noticed that there are many subcultures within the student body. A subculture is described as a social group with shared characteristics that distinguish It in some way from the larger group in which it is embedded (Cushner, McClelland, and Safford; 2007). The set up of this classroom is different from the traditional classroom. It is located on the second floor of the main building. It is a large open space which is separated by dividers which shape the different classrooms. The students have small individual desk which are grouped in fives. The teachers desk is located in the back of the classroom and surprisingly it does not have a computer. There is a flat panel television on the wall which is turned on in the morning to give the morning school news and sing the national anthem. At times this television is also used for presentations or exercises which cater to all learning types, except for kinesthetic learners which require a more “hands-on” approach.
On a daily basis Mrs. Prieto writes the daily assignment on the board that the students need to work on. They are asked to take out their journal which is usually either a reading or writing journal. The students are then asked to do three short assignments. At this time of the year they are preparing for FCAT testing so most assignments given are for reading. They read a short story and answer a few questions regarding the reading. Once the time is up the teacher reads the story out loud together with the students. She then hands out red pens and have them check their own answers. I observed the students get excited to answer the questions. Sharing their answers with one another and working in groups encourages the students to connect and find commonalities amongst each other. The small size of this classroom allows Mrs. Prieto to be really creative and provide personalized attention which becomes specifically helpful for certain students who need it. I realized that in a small classroom versus a larger one students engage more with the teacher and the classroom is much easier to manage. I believe this to ultimately be more of a benefit to the student than it is to the teacher. Also, Mrs. Prieto needs to dedicate some of her class time to her E.S.E. students, which often need more attention and time to finish assignments.
The students who require the most attention from the teacher are the non english speaking students. The group is composed of about 7 students all of hispanic decent. Mrs Prieto is a spanish speaking teacher so she is able to communicate effectively with this small group of students. I observed that this allows for the students to feel like they belong with the rest of the classroom despite the fact they do not speak the same language as most of the other students. When they are immersed in an intercultural situation, this sense of belonging may be difficult to achieve because they do not know the rules of behavior in the new situation (Cushner, McClelland, and Safford; 2007). Although they are not able to understand the direction of the regular class they get special time and direction for their assignments. To create this inclusive environment the teacher must plan ahead and balance the different learning styles to teach the same material to all the students in the class. What I found the most interesting is an assignment that the students work on for about 30 min several times a week.
These assignments are reading and writing assignments which prepare the students for FCAT testing. The teacher hands out the packets to each of the students. They work on the same packet each time. The students are alloted times to read the passages and answer questions. They check their own answers and take time participating in the different activities. The packet is utilized in the case a student does not pass the FCAT. If the student performed well in the packet exercises but failed the FCAT the packet would allow the student to receive a passing status. The dedication I observed Mrs. Prieto have with the students, making sure they do well in these assignments was to be admired. It is very obvious that it is not an easy task at hand but what is evident is the reward it produces.