This week, I managed to secure a mentor for my in-depth project! Mrs. Morrison, my Grade 3 elementary teacher, has so kindly agreed to be my mentor. At our meeting on Thursday, I asked her a few questions regarding my topic, and I also assisted her in some classroom tasks, including marking, which I’ll explain more later.
For the interview, I asked her several questions, but one of the more prominent ones I asked her was about the difference between teaching primary and intermediate students. Having taught grades 2-6, Mrs. Morrison had to say that the main difference between the two was that primary kids were more needy, in terms of requiring help and attention. In the same way, she says they require more stimulation, they always need to be active and engaged, which she says must be integrated into the classroom routine. The older kids, she said, presented their own problems in that at that age (9-11), although they become more independent and self-directed, they also start to push the boundaries of classroom rules. Classroom management, she says, becomes more difficult because the kids start acting more freely, crossing lines and start ignoring rules, and following their natural “instincts”. Interestingly, she says that intermediate kids could benefit from a more primary approach (more interaction, more engagement), which I completely agree with.
I also asked her, how would a lesson plan look, if she were introducing a new concept? I asked her how she gauges the ability of the class to move on, and how she would introduce a particularly difficult subject. To this, she said she tries to use some kind of video, story, or prop to draw them in to the learning. This is usually followed by some kind of activity, then another task (usually on paper). In regards to when she introduces a new topic, she says that generally sticks to a steady pace, but she believes in going deeper in a topic and reaching better understanding rather than going through every subject very fast. She even says she has learned to slow down the way she talks to accommodate for the stage of learning the children are at in terms of their listening/comprehension abilities. There is a variety of learners in her class, fast and slow, which she says can be a struggle, because it can be difficult to accommodate all the different learning styles and needs in the classroom. One thing she told me that I found especially interesting was that she would not expect all children to do exactly the same things. For example, a child that struggled in a particular math concept would still be in the same environment as the other children, but would not need to do as many problems on a worksheet. This way, the child seems to have their own individual way of learning based on their ability, in a regular environment. This, for now, is where I will wrap up the interview questions, which I will also be asking her more about this week.
Something interesting I noticed was the way she told me to mark. Many teachers have different ways of marking things wrong on a worksheet. Some mark it with a dot, leave it blank, or make an ‘X’, but Mrs. Morrison used a circle. This, I feel, draws attention to the wrong answer without making the child feel distraught about it. I know for a fact that when I had a teacher who used an ‘X’ to indicate a wrong answer, a lot of kids would feel down about getting their work back. In comparison, when I had a teacher who would simply leave the question alone, kids would look at their answers and think about their mistakes. The subtle changes in the way a teacher marks can be so interesting.
The most difficult mentoring challenge would be the fact that I haven’t been able to find one until now. Luckily, I have another teacher that I am going to be meeting with soon, but I feel like I have made this more difficult for myself by having many. The thing that is working well is that it is a win-win for both sides. I get to receive information, she receives some help in the classroom, and the dynamic conversations we have are very beneficial to my research. Right now, I only need to improve my questions, because I still feel a little bit awkward discussing things. In order to do this, I need to up my professionalism by practicing my questions, and making sure that I prepare better.