Volunteering to Learn, Part Three
Volunteering in classrooms has greatly impacted my teaching practice. Last week I shared about Mrs. Kertz’s ability to reinforce positive behaviors and differentiate instruction in her first grade class. In this post, I’ll open the door to Ms. Whitaker’s middle school English classroom.
MS. JUDIE WHITAKER
Creative, enthusiastic, and engaging! Anyone who walked into Ms. Judie Whitaker’s classroom at Carver Middle School immediately thought of these three adjectives. You could feel the energy even without anyone in the classroom, and when the bell rang, the students added to the excitement. The walls and bulletin boards were full of interesting academic information and inspiring messages that captured your attention. After volunteering in Ms. Whitaker’s English class, I knew I wanted to encourage my students to explore their interests in a supportive environment. This skill is a challenging one to master and was accomplished by Ms. Whitaker coaching her students, instead of explicitly instructing the class.
Ms. Whitaker believed in clear expectations and rubrics to keep her students informed and motivated. When volunteering, I observed groups of students working to complete projects, holding each student accountable throughout the process. The students’ high level of engagement did not just happen though. The structure of Ms. Whitaker’s teaching provided students the freedom to explore their interests and be creative due to her supportive environment and clear evaluation rubrics. I accomplished this in my own classroom by allowing students to collaborate on projects and activities that encouraged multiple solutions. Creating heterogeneous groups has worked best to support collaboration and allowed me to successfully embed higher order questions and inquiry activities into every lesson.
Developing the support structure for productive collaboration was rooted in the strong relationships Ms. Whitaker built with her students and their families. Students’ interests were incorporated into her lessons and certainly into her conversations with students. Just as Mrs. Kertz at Skeen Elementary School respected each student for his or her unique abilities, Ms. Whitaker did too.