January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Productive Discussions

Posted: Thursday, March 1st, 2012

by Donna Ross

It is the season for future educators to settle into new placements as student teachers.  As their mentors (guide or cooperating teachers) help them find a home in the classroom, it seemed timely to remind both parties of a few basics that can help smooth the process.  It is worth noting that a critical part of an effective student teaching placement is the opportunity for both the student teacher and the mentor to discuss pedagogy, theory, and practices.  It is not necessary for both parties to share the same views about every topic. 

The growth and improvement in teaching comes from listening, considering different perspectives and approaches, and then analyzing the best choices for one’s individual setting.  A really strong mentor shares the “why” behind his or her actions, so that a new teacher can understand when and how to make effective pedagogical choices.  The following suggestions provide fodder for in-depth discussions, as well as serving as a reminder that student teachers need to consciously address the basics of everyday classroom practice conducted by experienced teachers.

Student and Mentor Teacher Discussion Topics:

These are in no particular order.  They are posed as questions from the student teacher to the guide/cooperating teacher, but they could easily be modified to be initiated by the mentor.

  • How do you decide where the students can sit?  What is your experience with using a seating chart vs. letting students choose their own seats?
  • Have I shared my university course syllabi with you yet?  Are there any readings from my university course that you would like to read?  Are you familiar with my assignments that relate to student teaching?   (One of the first things student teachers and guide/cooperating teachers should do is go over the university calendar and assignments that might influence student teaching.  There shouldn’t be any last minute surprises).
  • I have been thinking about the different views on homework.  What is your experience with the type and amount of homework to assign in science classes?  (Homework brings up issues of equity related to providing adequate college readiness vs. penalizing students who must work after school or who do not have safe places to live.  It can be a divisive topic, but also the basis of a very thoughtful and meaningful discussion.)
  • I know that the system may be different where I find a job next year, but what are common policies on attendance and tardies?  Do you think they should directly affect grades? At what age do you think it moves from the parents’ responsibility to that of the students?
  • What have you found to be effective methods to motivate students?  Do you have different approaches for students who are failing vs. those who do fine in class but appear disengaged?
  • How do you balance the reality of preparing students to do well on science exams without spending too much instructional time doing test prep or vocabulary drills?
  • What supports are provided for struggling students?  What can I do to help them be successful?  And, how can I challenge students for whom the class is easy?  Overall, what have you found to be the most effective ways to differentiate your instruction?
  • What types of professional development does this district offer?  Do you have school or district committee responsibilities?  What types of expectations and opportunities are there beyond the classroom?  (Early in the student teaching placement, the student teacher should have a tour of the building and be introduced to key employees at the school site).
  • Are there teachers at this site who are particularly good at certain aspects of teaching who I should observe while I am here?  (Early in the student teaching placement is the best time to observe in other classes because the student teacher is usually responsible for a smaller portion of the planning and teaching).
  • What strategies have you found most helpful for supporting English learners in science?
  • What do most teachers do about extra credit?  Do you think it is an effective approach?  (Some teachers see extra credit as a method to support struggling students, others see it as a system to discourage turning assignments in on time, others view it differently depending on the quality of the extra credit assignment.)
  • In your experience, what are some areas in which student teachers need to work the hardest to improve?
  • What tips do you have for me for interviewing for teaching positions? (Late in a successful student teaching placement, it is appropriate to ask for job hunting and interviewing advice.)

Donna Ross is associate professor of science education at San Diego State University and is CSTA’s 4-year college director.

Written by Donna Ross

Donna Ross is Associate Professor of Science Education at San Diego State University.

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