Monday, April 13, 2009

St. Mary's Final Reflection

1. Based upon observations and interactions with the St. Mary’s students, describe what you have learned about young children? Provide examples of activities you felt were appropriate. Why? Were there activities that were not appropriate? Why?

I have certainly learned quite a bit about working with young children from my experiences at St. Mary’s. For starters, you need to have excellent classroom management skills to be an effective PE teacher for young children. While this is also true for middle and high school kids, I think classroom management is especially important for pre-K through 4th grade. Young children have much shorter attention spans so you have to be short and to the point when explaining directions, while at the same time making sure to include all pertinent safety directions. It’s hard for young children to sit still and pay attention unless they are really interested in what you have to say. Thus, it’s also important to plan exciting activities with creative themes and catchy hooks. Another reason why classroom management is of great importance for young children is that they are not at the stage of development where they are proficient in all stability, locomotor, and manipulation skills. There is a greater risk for injury because there is a greater risk for falling, tripping, getting hit with something thrown to them, etc. A PE teacher with excellent classroom management skills keeps the gym safe and in-order, decreasing the chances for injury.
From my experience at St. Mary’s, I’ve also learned strategies for interacting with young children. In addition to keeping your instructions short and to the point, you need to use language that they understand. For example, I have a friend who is as intelligent as anyone I’ve ever met. Sometimes when he is explaining something to me, I have to stop him because he just goes way above my head. I tell him, “Dave, explain this to me like I’m five years old.” This is exactly what we have to remember when we are working with young children. It’s also important to remember that young children respond to your enthusiasm. If you look bored and uninterested, then they will be bored and uninterested. Even if you are not always full of energy and excitement outside the classroom, it’s important to be this way inside the classroom.
A third thing I learned at St. Mary’s is how to pick activities that are appropriate. To pick appropriate activities, you need to consider the individual, the task, and the environment. Although motor development is not age-dependant, it is age-related. Thus, you should consider the levels of motor development of the students when choosing activities and the skills that will be utilized in the activities. You also need to consider the culture and interests of the students to understand what they will respond to. An appropriate activity that our group observed was Stinky Letter Stew. We found Stinky Letter Stew to be appropriate for 1st graders because the skills emphasized were appropriate (running, hopping, and leaping). It was also appropriate because it was well-organized and included things that kept the kids’ attention, such as rhyming. An appropriate activity that we taught was Endless Bucket with a Superheroes theme. I thought that this was our most successful activity because we chose tasks that were developmentally appropriate, created a theme that engaged the children, structured the activity so that it maximized activity time, and organized ourselves around the gym so that we could be in different places to help the children when they had difficulties.

2. Based upon your interactions with St. Mary’s PRE K program, describe your experience. How was this different from working with the older age students? Did you enjoy working with younger age children? Why or Why not?

I very much enjoyed my interactions with the pre-K students during the two labs our group worked with them. During these two labs, the students were scattered around their classrooms in small groups, usually playing with toys or coloring. There were three of us per pre-K classroom. Basically we just went around independently to play with children informally. I tried to manage my time so that I could spend at least a few minutes with each of the kids in the class. In addition to participating in whatever activity they were engaged in, I tried to learn a little bit about them by asking questions. I was interested in finding out what subjects they enjoyed in school, what they enjoyed doing outside of school, their ages, if they had brothers and sisters, etc. After the students had a snack, we would read stories to them in small groups. I liked this a lot because the children were attentive and interested in the stories because they chose them. I found that it is important to keep the book to your side when reading so that they children can all see the illustrations without climbing on top of your back.
Work with the pre-K children was different from working with the older kids because instead of being in the cafeteria, we were in their classrooms. When children are in the cafeteria, I think that they tend to be a little wilder. In a typical school day, students are in the cafeteria during lunchtime, which is essentially a break from being in their classroom. They can speak louder, converse amongst themselves, and enjoy more freedom. In the classroom, there are more rules and structure. Even though we were there during the afterschool program and not during the day, the classroom is associated with more proper behavior, and thus, I believe this is a reason the pre-K children were better behaved. When we were in the gymnasium, the pre-K students were just as wild and crazy as the kindergarteners and 1st graders. In addition, they were not as skilled in movement concepts. Thus, we had to plan activities that were developmentally appropriate for them to take part in. For example, instead of shooting basketballs on a 10-foot basket, we held hoola hoops with our hands for them to shoot kickballs into. I really did enjoy working with the younger age children, especially in the classroom. They surprised me with their creativity and imagination. I especially enjoyed our time in the classrooms with them because the structured environment allowed us a chance to talk and get to know them (although we also had the opportunity to do this in the cafeteria).

3. During your field experience, each of you worked with children in the cafeteria setting. Describe the fine motor activities you observed. Do you feel that working on fine motor activities is something we should work on in Physical Education.
When in the cafeteria setting, I observed the children participating in a variety of activities and games such as coloring, paper airplanes, legos, puzzles, playing card games, Jenga, Mancala, and Checkers. I even had the opportunity to teach a few of the children Oragami by folding pieces of construction paper into picture frames for them to bring home to their parents. In all of these activities, the children had to manipulate small objects with their fingers and hands. When coloring, they had to pick up crayons with their fingers and manipulate them so that the point rubbed against the paper and inside the lines they were coloring in. When making paper airplanes and Oragami, they had to manipulate pieces of paper in their fingers and fold them carefully with their fingers and hands. During legos and puzzles, they had to pick up very small objects with their fingers and orient them so that they fit together. During card games, they had to (or in some cases tried to) hold their cards using both their palms and fingers simultaneously, fanning the cards out. During Jenga, they had to use their index fingers to push blocks horizontally and then their index fingers and thumbs simultaneously to pick up the blocks and place them on the top of the stack.
I feel that working on fine motor activities is something that we should work on in Physical Education. Although we spend the majority of the time working on more gross motor activities such as stability and locomotor skills, developing more fine manipulative skills will make students more skilled and efficient movers. The goal of PE is to produce physically educated individuals. We want our students to take part in physical activity during their school years and throughout their lifetime. Part of this is teaching them the skills needed to be recreationally competent in a variety of activities and sports, which include fine motor skills.

4. Reflecting on your growth as a future teacher, what have you learned from this experience that has given you insight as to your individual “teaching style”. Has your teaching style emerged based upon your experience and interaction at St. Mary’s. If yes, in what way. If not, how else might this occur?

Although I’m still quite rough around the edges, there are many aspects of teaching that I observed during this field experience that I have tried to incorporate into my own teaching style when working with young children. I’ve learned that to gain and keep the attention of young children, a PE teacher has to display extreme enthusiasm and energy. Young children are impressionable. If they see that we, as PE teachers, think that an activity is fun and exciting, then they will be more likely to think in the same way. Conversely, if our body language suggests that we don’t want to be there, even if in reality we really do want to be there, then the children won’t want to be there either. I am not always the most cheery in nature and my body language sometimes suggests that I don’t want to be somewhere when this really isn’t the case. I noticed this very early in the field experience and made a conscious effort to be more enthusiastic during lab. I think I did a much better of doing this as time went on, and although I’m no where near the level of Dr. Yang in terms of enthusiasm (you would be hard pressed to find someone who is), it’s something that I will continue to work on in the future by making a conscious effort to do so. I’ve also learned that planning is essential if you want the activities you teach to run smoothly. Furthermore, I’ve learned that it is critical to reflect on previous experiences when planning for the future. As I have talked about in previous lab reflections, our group learned from our experiences in the first two labs and incorporated what we found to work and not work into planning future activities. I believe that our success in teaching the Endless Bucket activity was a direct result of using our previous experiences in planning for the future. I’ve learned that to develop as a teacher, you need to assess your own strengths and weaknesses and figure out ways to continue to accentuate your strengths while improving upon your weaknesses. I hope that my teaching style will continue to be shaped by my experiences in future classes and field experiences such as EDU256 which I will be starting in about a month!

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