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Student Observation Session Leads to Big Dreams

*The following was written by a WIU-QC student as a part of her program requirements. WIU-QC The Edge takes great pride in the amazing work done by our students. If you are a student looking for a place to share your work contact Dan Dankert at dm-dankert@wiu.edu for more information!*

By: Gayle Grundstrom

Opportunities within the WIU English Department are everywhere – you just have to take advantage of your situation. In an independent study course in for the Fall Semester of 2018, I took it upon myself to fulfill my out-of-classroom work requirement and test my boundaries of being an aspiring high school English teacher by observing for an afternoon at United Township High School. I had never been given the chance to observe at a city-level high school before – I couldn’t help but leap head-first into the fire.

On November 13, 2018, I spent three class periods inside English classrooms at UT High School in Moline, Illinois. After emailing with Professor Chelsea Clearman, she graciously took time out of her day to meet me before her class started and give me an introduction to what she was going to be having me do at the high school.

My agenda was to sit through Ms. Clearman’s Remedial Reading 6th Hour class, and then travel down the stairs and around the corner to Ms. Williams’ 7th Hour Urban Literature class. From what was explained to me, the Remedial Reading class was for Freshman students who were below average with reading and writing; the group of students I encountered in 7th Hour were upper-classmen.

The students of 6th Hour Remedial Reading consisted of a relatively small group – twelve students at most – and they all regarded me with silent interest. Most likely, they were unsure of why I was there; students turned and looked at me with curiosity and humor as I sat in the back of the classroom, silently taking notes.

Ms. Clearman had a presence that filled the room, and a lesson topic that took complete reign of her student’s attention. Although the topic of the workbook for the day was on the Black Plague, Clearman took the discussion further by opening class with a YouTube video on the removal of boils and other things associated with the plague. Students had just returned from lunch and the expressions on the students’ faces were absolutely priceless.

The class interacted heavily with the workbook – Clearman had a teacher/interactive web edition of the workbook that she projected on the white-board at the front of the classroom that reflected what the students were looking at in their books. I liked that she differentiated the presentation of the material in a multi-modal way.

She went through the reading with the students as a group, pausing to make distinctions that the image they were looking at—which accompanied the reading—was a painting and not a photo; she explained to the students that it was notable of the time period that the only images of the Black Death available for the book were of fabricated works and that the truthfulness behind them could be skewed or misleading because anyone who stood too close were at risk of catching the disease. She used the example of: if you saw a fight, would you paint it differently from someone else who saw the same fight? The majority of the students expressed that they completely understood that the painting could be very subjective.

Clearman moved about the classroom constantly, but not in a distracting way – she seemed more engaged with her students by always being by someone new. She also had a very clear teaching voice, and her pace was appropriate for the Remedial Reading course.

She had explained to me before class that the text in the workbook will be read three times: the first time, the class reads the text together; the second time, she reads the texts and when she stops, the class has to interject with the word that comes next; the third time the class is split into sections and the students have to engage with the text. The workbook itself was very interactive and included fill-in-the-blank and short answer questions that related to the text.

There was a para-professional in the back of the classroom, in the opposite corner from me, that became a group leader when Clearman took half the students and the para-professional took half the students to work in smaller groups. In the groups, the students finish the workbook questions and, if they work together and are well behaved, Clearman rewards the classroom with a short video – today, the students viewed a short clip from Jimmy Fallon about a husband coming home from the military. While it wasn’t necessary, having something at the end of class that boosted the spirits of the students after a fifty-minute class period about the Black Plague seemed appropriate.

The 7th Hour Urban Literature class – a literature class I have had zero experience in – was on the topic of hip-hop. Students showcased their presentations on various hip-hop groups that express gender relations in the songs. Three groups presented, ranging from artists like Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah, and TLC.

Each presentation required students to give a short biography, and explanation of how their influence carries on today, information on their musical background, and explanation of the impact of their music, and at least one example of a song that relates to the topic of how hip-hop talks about gender. The presentation on Queen Latifah was the most positive of the bunch – the student reciting the Queen Latifah song read the lyrics like a body of lyric poetry. I couldn’t help but think that this presentation or unit in general could be an easy way to transition into a poetry unit. While observing the class, I found myself pondering how I would have approached aspects of this lesson differently if I had coordinated it within my own classroom.

Once 8th Hour Study Hall began, Clearman entered the room to meet with me and answer any additional questions I had before the end of the school day. She told me that she was actually an alumnus from United Township High School and hadn’t initially planned on teaching there, but a vacancy opened up and she transitioned easily into the space. The high school was currently undergoing construction – a grand library was being built and new office spaces were being created for faculty, among other things. From what I gathered, the high school is going to be an impressive sight in about two years.

I informed her that I was only experienced with smaller, rural schools; my quick afternoon at UT was an eye-opening experience that I found myself surprisingly comfortable with and eager to continue. I didn’t know what exactly to expect or see when I came to the large school – I couldn’t imagine what a school with thousands of students looked like or how it could ever flow. Seeing Clearman engage with her students eased my fears that I wouldn’t be able to have as personal of a relationship with my students as I hope to have; many of Clearman’s students came up to her just to chit-chat after class.

I’m interested in gaining more experience inside larger high school facilities to see if its an environment that I could picture myself contributing to in the future. Having classrooms with a vast array of diverse students was enlightening and, honestly, refreshing after only having experiences with less diverse classrooms. I was grateful to the WIU English Department for giving me the opportunity and to Ms. Clearman for allowing me to observe her classroom; I’m more confident than ever that my future as an educator was the right decision.

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