Practicum Experience, Praxis Reflections

Teachers Taking Tests

I will be the first to admit that I postponed starting my practice for the Praxis.  I don’t know why, but this specific test had me in quite the state.  I had taken several Praxis exams before and never had such anxiety about it. 

And so I did what every other overworked teacher with two small children that is taking three courses does, I conveniently did not find time to start studying. Which I realized was the exact opposite of what I tell my students to do for their tests.  And yes, I am aware of the hypocrisy. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I crammed the day or week before.  I am not that type of person.  So maybe, I’ll just start in February, when I actually got around to registering for the test to begin with. 

Once I completed the registration, I downloaded the accompanying study companion.  All 45 pages of it.  Immediately I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the PDF I was looking at.  It should also be noted that this first foray into Praxis-readiness was happening at 8:30pm.  Right around the time this Cinderella turns into a pumpkin. 

So, I downloaded the study guide, that counted for something right?  Well, it turns out that downloading the study guide and actually using it were two completely different activities that were separated by more days, okay weeks than I’d like to admit. 

Daunted by the 45-page PDF, I turned to the other study option available to me from the Praxis website, which was the Practice test.  Feeling particularly confident one day in March, I sat down and took the 120 question practice test.  Which I prompted did NOT do well on. 

That was when the panic set in.  The questions were over material that I was completely unprepared for.  Did I turn to the study guide? Nope! I did what most of my students do when I ask them a question, I Googled. 

In hindsight, I should have started making flashcards then.  Right after my first calamitous practice test.  Maybe it was pride in my usually excellent test-taking skill that kept me from the flashcards.  Or maybe it was exhaustion.  Again, these practice attempts were being made late at night by a partially pumpkin-ified heroine. 

Then the two week mark before the test came and I suddenly got serious.  I found online flashcards and started working on them throughout the day.  Not just at night when I couldn’t concentrate, but during breaks at work and in the afternoons.  I took the practice test two more times and with each attempt, my score climbed a little higher.  

By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, I was ready.  I truly had put in as much effort as I possibly could and I felt that beyond that, there wasn’t more I could do. 

The questions were NOTHING like what I prepared for.  With each passing question, I had to calm my nerves and steady my breathing.  Out of the 120 questions I answered that day, I probably marked about 59 as ones I need to come back and look at.  

So I slowed down and I looked at each question carefully.  I found key words in the question and tied them to key words in the questions.  I paused before moving on to make sure I did not miss anything.  I went back over the whole test when I was finished.  When I saw my raw score I wanted to cry in relief.  I’m still waiting on my actual test results, but this whole experience had me wondering. 

Is it more important to cram as much information in between your ears before the test or is it more important to calmly take the test and use the information in front of you as intelligently as possible? Or is it a combination of both? 

Practicum Experience

Reflections from an Elementary School Library

On the first Monday after Spring Break, I walked into Brushy Creek Elementary school to shadow their Media Specialist. 

Let me say that I am not an “elementary” person.  I know people say middle school is tough, but for me, those little people are WAY tougher than my 6th graders.  I was a bit nervous, just because I wasn’t sure how busy “we have a full busy day today” was going to be. 

Turns out busy meant incredibly, working every minute supervising littles. 

I didn’t realize this until we spoke over a Google Meet, but at elementary schools, the librarian serves as a Related Arts teacher.  At some schools that means a flexible, come as you will schedule and at others, a fixed rotation A/B schedule of times when students from all grade levels visit as part of their Related Arts class. 

The Monday of my visit, the librarian had a class come in each period. She planned four different lessons, repeating her K5 & 1st grade lesson.  

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Did I mention that at elementary schools, there is a morning show?  Yup. And the librarian and a group of four 4th & 5th graders run it each and every morning.  So in between prepping for her own lessons that morning, Mrs. Dobyne was also supervising the preparation for the show.  A group of kindergartners walked in to help say the pledge.  Students got their headsets on, the twinkle lights on the backdrop were turned on and the show started.  There was only one hiccup, as a student forgot to advance a slide, but for the Monday after Spring Break, it was a good show. 

We had maybe a ten minute break from the end of the Morning Show to when the first group of 3rd graders came in.  In that ten minutes, supplies were placed on the table centers, the touch-screen Promethean Board was set and we grabbed a breath before the day.  Also, we had a steady stream of students and teachers come in for chromebook issues:  damaged screens, broken chargers and stolen laptops.  All day long. 

I truly enjoyed the first lesson of the day: Onomatopoeia.  Students were given cartoons that featured onomatopoeia words.  They read the cartoon and then shared with a friend the onomatopoeia words.  Then they switched and again shared.  Then they were given a half-piece of paper and a list of onomatopoeia words to create word pop art.  The students worked very hard at their art, and there were some great examples of pop art in that 3rd grade class. 

Next we had a sweet group of 1st graders come by.  The librarian read them the winner of the South Carolina Picture Book award.  It was about a student who dreams up what he would change at his school.  Afterwards, students were given a sheet of paper to draw what they would change about their school and a spot to write a one sentence summary.  They had some very good ideas.  This lesson was repeated at the end of the day with the kindergartners. 

With the 5th graders, we played a GimKit review game for their Science Light unit. This lesson was prepared with their science teacher as a review for the upcoming SC Pass Science test.  The students played the GimKit twice and tried to bet their previous class score.

Each group also checked out books.  I loved her procedure for getting the students attention with a clapping sequence.  She also had a great procedure in place for dismissal that the students: steps for leaving the tables cleared up and in order and where they were to wait for their teacher. 

Overall, this experience was not what I was expecting.  I wasn’t expecting four full-on lessons every class period.  I wasn’t expecting 28 kindergartners in one class.   But I also didn’t expect to like the experience.  The kids were sweet and well-behaved.  And freedom to craft lessons to reach all content areas is appealing.  Whether it is appealing enough for me to deal with the 28 kindergartners, that is the question friend! 

Practicum Experience

High School Library Day

Today I went back to the very first school setting I stepped foot in as a junior Social Studies Education major. Back in 2007. Technically I had stepped foot there before, as a sub a handful of times in 2013.  But obviously, for this post, let’s not count those handful of visits. 

This time instead of heading to the Government/Econ class, I stopped half-down the hall and walked into the Media Center. 

Things were different and they were very much the same. The room smelled the same, the must of books and the stillness of a morning library that hasn’t quite gotten its start. But there were so very nice changes. The furniture was updated, shelving had been moved around and rearranged. Also the head librarian, who graciously invited me, I had never met before. 

First off, her blouse and earrings were amazing! A floral and ruffle shirt and a boho dangle made me instantly like her. And her energy was fantastic. I found myself asking her to host a podcast and that I would listen to her as she motivates teachers and librarians. 

I knew right away that I was going to learn a lot.  

The day started with an advisory meeting, which was extra fun since that meant seeing students interacting in the library.  It was contagious to hear about their animal service project and listen to students presenting to their peers. 

Next came a tour of the library. 

The library is a long rectangle of a room, with an entire wall of windows facing the street.  The natural sunlight makes the room an inviting and relaxed place.  The most interesting set-up to me was the the fiction and nonfiction were at opposite ends of the room.  Separated by quite a large space of desks, tables and alternative seating.  

Scattered throughout the room are comfy caffe-style chairs and tables with puzzles, games and coloring sheets.  It was altogether a very cozy space. You could smell hints of spring as the weather was particularly nice and the sunlight was streaming in through the windows.

The first bell of the day rung and students came trickling in.  This was my moment to watch the interactions between the librarian and her students.  It was obvious that she worked hard to develop a good relationship with her students.  She knew their names, chatted about scholarships and college, and greeted each one warmly. 

Mostly the students were quietly chatting in groups at the tables, studying for classes or reading. 

After second block had started, we went on a small trip around the front of the school and up to a class on the 2nd floor hall to give a student a book.  We chatted about how to build relationships with teachers that are increasingly busy and students that are glued to electronic devices.  

I believe that the small act of bringing a student a requested book was a way to build and maintain those relationships.  It was a day without any lessons in the library, and it took all of five minutes. 

Now, scattered throughout our interactions was a healthy dose of tough-love from the librarian to her students.  The most common student interaction was printing needs.  There were instructions printed on the table and not once did the librarian complete the task for them.  She directed them to the correct table that had the instructions, and told them she was there if they needed any extra help. 

Now, don’t think that this whole day was spent with me doing nothing! I learned how to check books in and out to students.  I re-shelved the returned books throughout the day.  I also learned how to cover hardback books with a dust jacket. I mostly managed to not mangle the job too horribly! We ran a job through the laminating machine, and I got all my questions answered and more. 

At the end of the day, I left with so much to think about! But I knew that I had met a superhero of a librarian and that no matter where I ended up in the future, she would be there to lend a helping hand.