Special to CSMS Magazine
Powers Ferry Elementary is a Title I school located in the East Cobb district of Marietta, Georgia. This school services one pre-kindergarten class and other classes ranging from kindergarten through 5th grade with a total student body of 492. The majority of the students are First Graders. Because of the diverse makeup of this Atlanta suburb, the student body is an excellent representation of the racial mixture present in the area. I observed the teaching style of Mrs. Amy Stossell-Barnes, a 7-year veteran currently teaching 4th grade. I observed Mrs. Barnes all day to watch her in the different classes that she taught throughout the day, as she teaches various subjects to students of various levels within the same grade. In this diverse class of students, six are Hispanic-ESOL students.
Per my observation, the ESOL students mesh well with the other students in class socially. They work well with groups of students outside of their cultural background and did not appear to gravitate to any particular group. The teacher I observed taught Math, Science and Social Studies. In each class, there was a great deal of student involvement. One noticeable characteristic among the ESOL students was that they tend to shy away from group involvement. Mrs. Barnes encourages class participation as a means of using peer “teaching’ and when working on the board, she can see steps to math problems worked out. For exercises where there is required talking or explaining, the Hispanic students are not generally the first to volunteer to share their work with the class or to explain a process. However, when working individually, they had a firm understanding of the concepts being taught. As an educator, Mrs. Barns tries to incorporate all students in the learning process. This strategy works well, especially for those students who are not actively involved. She makes it a point to call on them as she knows that they have valuable responses to contribute. When watching many of the ESOL students and their open involvement in class, in some cases they would struggle to find the correct word to use or when speaking they would pause for an extended period of time as if to gather their thoughts.
On my final day of observation, I attended a planning meeting for the fourth grade teachers. Each student, regardless of the grade level, must complete a pretest at the beginning of the nine week period and posttest at the end. These tests are not used for grades, they are teaching tools to distinguish what the students know before the unit starts and what they have retained once it has ended. The meeting that I attended was to evaluate the students pre and post test results in the areas of reading, writing and comprehension. In the 5 fourth grade classes it was found that 60% were “on level,” 28% were below grade level and 12% were above. When the teachers investigates deeper to diagnose each of the scores, it was noticed that 72% of the below level students were ESOL students. The focus of the meeting was to take the scores and reassess the teaching styles to better meet the students’ needs.
During my observation period, I did not notice any particular care given to incorporate culture into the lesson plans. Primarily because of the topics/subjects discussed in her class, Mrs. Barnes did not have an outlet to include cultural study into her daily lesson plans. During planning period, I used the opportunity to discuss with Mrs. Barnes how she incorporates culture into her class work and instruction considering the diversity present in her class. She informed me that because of what she teaches (Math, Science and Social Studies) there is not much room for culture to be incorporated. I did however notice that information sent home with students from the school such as announcements and general information (P.TA, upcoming events ECT…) are printed in English, Spanish and Portuguese. This shows that the school encourages family participation and takes into consideration language barriers.
The relevant materials for the classes that I observed were in no way cultural. They were course specific and covered specifically the information being taught in that class. Following my observation of Mrs. Barnes’ class, I saw no way that her teaching style could be more cultural because of the subject matter being taught. One way that Mrs. Barns incorporated cultural differences was in the décor of the learning environment by having a Hispanic heritage month display on the social studies wall. The wall boasts flags of Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and other Hispanic countries. It also consisted of notable historical figures and their contributions to history. Finally on her geography board she had a map of the world with push pins placed by students showing where they were born. This allows students not only to learn, but to share a piece of their heritage with the class.
Note: Tracee Goodman is an Education major at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.