John Hamm's Teaching Portfolio

Reflections on Education Standards

The following passages contain my personal reflections on the NYS educational standards, which are essentially mission statements for effective teachers.

1. Content Pedagogy

“The teacher understands the central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures of the discipline he or she teaches and can create learning experiences that make these aspects of subject matter meaningful for students” (INTASC).

As an undergraduate student I spent six years studying a variety of authors, periods, and a writing styles. I emulated these styles in the many writing classes that I participated in, practicing my hand at every genre. In that sense, I am well prepared to guide students to be successful writers as well as readers.

Now, not only do I have a BA in English (I graduated Summa cum Laude), but I also have a MS in adolescent education for English. I consider this to be a perfect match of degrees.

The specialized educational background that I earned in the Master’s program taught me methods, techniques and expectations for teaching multicultural literature and authentic lessons in a diverse classroom.

The side menu has two very different examples of my writing. Stop Wasting Time Being Polite is a graduate level linguistic analysis of the use of politeness and how it often leads to gross misunderstandings because we rarely say what we mean.

Great Granpy Magnus is a tall tale drawn from my family and experiences, as well as pure American tall tale traditions (see my learning center for more information).

2. Student Development

The teacher understands how children learn and develop, and can provide learning opportunities that support a child’s intellectual, social, and personal development.” (INTASC)

It is important for teachers to understand that their students have different learning styles and may develop at different paces. A teacher must look at his or her students as individuals with unique qualities and skills.

Children learn best through positive reinforcement. This should not only be given when a student is successful, but also when a student has taken risks. There can be no real development unless a student feels secure in taking risks. The teacher’s role is to create a safe environment where students are free to develop and take risks at their own pace.

Through these risk taking opportunities, children will develop stronger intellectual, social and personal skills. These opportunities can be built into the curriculum, encouraging students to perform at levels that they previously thought impossible. Taking risks and making mistakes equals progress.

A Fine Hootinanny is a learning center I developed for my American Folklore unit. The learning center gives students opportunities to take control of their learning. It supplements the unit with 8 optional writing activities at different tiered levels of difficulty. Students are able to explore areas that interest them that might not be covered in detail during the lessons, such as music, dance, and art. They can work at their own pace, and choose which activities they want to do, working toward a goal of 40 points.

3. Diverse Learners

“The teacher understands how students differ in their approaches to learning and creates instructional opportunities that are adapted to diverse learners.” (INTASC)

Students in a classroom cannot be treated as a homogeneous entity. Each student approaches learning through a different modality, yet traditionally the school system only instructs through one or two types. This may be easier for the teacher, but it prevents students from achieving their best.

Howard Gardner’s research on learning modalities found that there are at least eight main styles, with variations and overlaps among them. Teachers tend to teach according to their own learning profile. However, this ignores the 25 students who are being instructed, who each have their own unique profile.

Strong teachers attempt to combine their knowledge of these learning styles into their lessons, creating a diverse curriculum that supports all learners in the classroom.

Teaching with diverse learners and learning profiles in mind has an additional benefit: People learn better when more of the learning modalities are activated in a lesson, not just their own. Therefore, not only does diverse instruction benefit each student by addressing their profiles, but it provides many more opportunities for the student to connect information in meaningful, memorable ways.

One group of students who’s learning style is often neglected are those who have autism. In Teaching Reading to Students with Autism I researched modern, effective methods for teaching reading, comprehension, and communication skills to students who have autism. The handouts briefly show several teaching methods one might use with these students.

4. Multiple Instruction Strategies

“The teacher understands and uses a variety of instructional strategies to encourage student development of critical thinking, problem solving, and performance skills.” (INTASC)

If one understands that all students have unique learning profiles, then multiple instructional strategies are necessary for conveying knowledge. Students will not be engaged unless their particular learning style is kept in mind when instructing.

The traditional role of the teacher lecturing to the class only activates the oral learning modality. It is almost impossible for students to learn critical thinking, problem solving and performance skills, in an environment where they are lectured to, and asked to recite information.

Smagorinsky noted that in modern schools, students ask only one question on average per month. And these questions tend to be procedural, not problem solving. It is obvious that if our goal is to teach students problem solving and critical thinking skills, then multiple forms of instruction are essential. (87).

As many students will attest, teachers often get carried away with multiple instruction strategies without consulting the research on it. For example, many teachers use group work inapropriatly. There is a mountain of research discussing questions such as, when are rewards appropriate? How do you distribute responsibility among the students? Should you use groups at all? What are fair methods of evaluation?

In Making Group Process a Positive Experience, I researched how to effectively use group work in a classroom. I answer all of the above questions, consulting heavyweights Kegan and Slavin, among others.

Citation: Smagorninsky, P. (2008). Teaching english by design. Heinemann, NH.

5. Motivation and Management

“The teacher uses an understanding of individual and group motivation and behavior to create a learning environment that encourages positive social interaction, active engagement in learning, and self motivation.”

Fostering a sense of positive motivation in a classroom is very important for student development. During the years that I spent teaching karate, I discovered that positive reinforcement could do more for a struggling student than anything else.

Many students have developed a negative self image that affects their performance. “Bad” students are often ones who have poor self esteem, but may be star students with a little support from the teacher. These students are easy to spot – They often tell you that they can’t do, or aren’t good at something. Yet, when I applied constant positive reinforcement a funny thing happened. The grumbling and complaining grew less frequent, and the success and smiles increased daily.

As a teacher, your responsibility goes beyond conveying knowledge. You are the sole adult role model in the class. Students take their cue from your behavior. If you are negative, inconsistent, and immature, students will react the same way toward you and other students.

If you enforce a strict policy of positive attitude, ban phrases like, “I can’t,” and display strong role model characteristics, students inevitably come up to your expectations and imitate your behavior.

Ruling the class with an iron fist is the last resort of a teacher with weak personality. You do not “manage” students – You lead them. Managing a class with an iron fist is easy, but both the students and the teacher suffer for it. The best proof of a good teacher is when students insist on coming back to visit your class long after they have graduated.

6. Communication and Technology

“The teacher uses knowledge of effective verbal, nonverbal, and media communication techniques to foster active inquiry, collaboration, and supportive interaction in the classroom.” INTASC

The use of technology in the classroom has received a lot of attention lately. I have seen both ends of the spectrum. Classrooms at wealthy schools have Smart Boards (essentially a white board that is a giant computer screen that you can write on). Classrooms in the inner city schools may be lucky to have enough text books, much less any type of technology.

Likewise, I see some of my peers setting themselves up for disaster by relying too much on technology. What happens when it fails? The result of using visuals, audio clips, video clips etc etc. in your classroom can be awesome. The chaos that arises when the technology ceases to work can also be awesome (I witnessed this first hand in an inner city school).

Technology is a great opportunity for the teacher to supplement the learning, as well as for the students to express their learning in new and more complex ways. However, one must always be prepared to communicate the lesson without technology. A teacher should ask himself, can I still teach this lesson if the computer projector fails?

7. Planning

“The teacher plans instruction based on knowledge of subject matter, students, the community, and curriculum goals.”

In each class I have taken on instruction, the teacher has had a different view of how to plan. Some teachers advocate the students first, some design the assessment, some consider broad conceptual goals. It is my opinion that the situation will guide the planning. If any one method were correct, we would all have perfect lesson plans that never needed changing.

Planning is an example of where reflection is important. While curriculum goals are important, if the teacher does not reflect on the students’ readiness level and cultural background when planning, then the lesson might not have the best results. I have made a habit of asking myself, “Have I taught these students how to perform this task?” If the answer is no, then I spend extra time working in activities that will prepare students to do what I am asking.

One important aspect of planning is to determine whether the text is written at an appropriate level. I learned different ways to assess texts in an adolescent literacy course. The Shakespeare Text Analysis document discusses how I used the Fry assessment model to determine the reading level of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In my account I considered the strengths and weaknesses of the Fry system, vocabulary level, student interest level, cultural relevance, and other factors.

8. Assessment

“The teacher understands and uses formal and informal assessment strategies to evaluate and ensure the continuous intellectual, social, and physical development of the learner.”

Assessment is perhaps one of the most important aspects of education today. We are expected to assess students from the minute they walk in the classroom with pre assessments, to the moment they leave, with exit cards.

Whenever possible, teachers should design pre and post assessments into their lessons. Pre-assessments give the teacher valuable information regarding students’ readiness levels. And post assessments give the teacher evidence that their lesson was successful. Certainly if students are having difficulty with the post assessment, that reflects on the choices the teacher made while designing the lesson, and might suggest the need for reflection and revision.

The use of multiple forms of assessment has become popular. During my teacher observations, I noticed more than one occasion where a student was unable to express their knowledge in one format, but would have displayed full competency with another format.

I built multiple forms of assessment and expression into a Romeo and Juliet unit. The menu link, Romeo and Juliet Assessments, contains several examples of formative (ongoing) assessments, as well as the summative (concluding) assessments. Beneath that are the detailed rubrics and student checklists for each assessment.

9. Reflective Practice

“The teacher is a reflective practitioner who continually evaluates the effects of his or her choices and actions on others (students, parents, and other professionals in the learning community) and who actively seeks out opportunities to grow professionally.”

The more time that I spend studying about successful people, the more clear it is that reflection is the key to personal growth. Reflection allows one to develop in a conscious and determined manner. Growth without reflection is by chance and haphazard.

Sometimes reflection is a long process of mental evaluation. One considers events, how effective certain practices were, and how future actions might be conducted in a more positive way.

Other times, reflection is immediate. A teacher who truly cares about his students will know immediately when he has made a poor choice. Reflection in this case is instant, and may require instant reaction.

It is easy to hurt a child’s feelings by mistake, and twice as hard to regain his or her trust. When this happens, the teacher cannot spend weeks reflecting on the event, but must act immediately. Much of being a successful teacher comes from split second reflection, judgement, and immediate positive action.

It is easy to punish a student for doing something inappropriate. But it takes reflection to determine that the student is displaying a need, judgment to decide what the best positive action is, then performing that action to avoid future conflicts.

For example: If a student is having trouble sitting still, I would give him or her a job to fulfill a need for movement, such as handing out books, writing on the board, passing out papers, or running an errand. In this case, the student is not embarrassed by an unnecessary punishment, but rather given a meaningful task to complete that takes their needs into account.

In this way, reflection and action make the difference between leading students, and managing a class.

10. School and the Community

“The teacher fosters relationships with school colleagues, parents, and agencies in the larger community to support students’ learning and well being.”

There are many ways that teachers can incorporate aspects of the community into their curriculum and instruction. Guest speakers are a great way to show the students that there are people engaged in the community in the thing they are studying. For example, a local businessman recently published his first book. I would not hesitate to ask him to speak to my class about the writing process, or how to get published.

Another way to get involved with the community is to participate in local events. A local bookstore that I like frequently has book readings and other events. At the last reading, on Banned Books Day, I saw several high school students participate by reading (one was actually a karate student of mine!). I’m sure that the owner would be more than willing to host a special event for my class, if I requested it.

A third way to foster relationships with the community is through the curriculum. In a curriculum development class I revised a bland cookie cutter curriculum by incorporating aspects of community involvement. There is very little in most English curriculum that correspond to the real world. Why is this? Reading and writing are central aspects to everything we do. Yet the current curriculum is focused on diagramming sentences and answering absurd multiple choice questions on state exams. Most English classes are divorced from social involvement.

In Community Involvement in the Curriculum, students identify problems in the community that they care about, research them, then write articles to the newspaper stating the problem and proposing solutions. These exercises still follow state standards, but engage the students in their learning, and give them a voice in the community. The link on the menu shows three lessons from this curriculum.


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