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As a second-grade teacher, there are many import aspects that go into creating a successful classroom environment. I believe one of the most important aspects of teaching is creating a safe and fun classroom where my students feel comfortable and want to grow. With the growth mindset as a teacher, I will be a guider of knowledge as my students will learn best through creative self-discovery. Social development is highlighted throughout elementary school where it is the time a student learns how to be a student, and as a teacher, my role is to help my students develop academically and socially as their learning process becomes internalized to support their love of learning. Drawing on Vygotsky’s theories, social constructivism, and a continual positive student teacher relationship throughout the school year are the ways in which my ideal second grade classroom will be based.
Role of the Student-Teacher Relationship
A teacher is a guide to knowledge. At a child’s young age, their development socially, cognitively, and academically is influenced greatly by their school environment, especially through their teachers. I am drawn to teaching the age of second grade because at that time, children are still eager to learn, and their creative imagination takes up a large portion of life in and out of school. The impact of a great teacher on a child early in elementary school dictates much of how their learning and liking of school will follow later in life. I believe one of the most important aspect of being a strong teacher is teaching through a social constructivist lens as the student is the only one with true autonomy over their learning highlighted by the social aspect of language and culture as crucial to the development of knowledge. High teacher expectations are the best way to have a successful classroom environment because when there is a positive and strong student-teacher relationship, a student will rise to the level set by high expectations. I think it is essential to know each student personally. This is a key way to teach within their zone of proximal development as my philosophy of learning and teaching comes from Lev Vygotsky’s theories of cognitive development on a social level of a child.
The development of children in early elementary school is at a place where they are sponges of knowledge and absorb everything around them. They process new knowledge, all surrounding cognitive stimulation, and cultural influences simultaneously to lead to great amounts of learning throughout their various stages of development. I believe one of the most important aspects of teaching is to allow for students to grow socially because this fosters improvement in literacy, motor skills, and general knowledge. Second graders are at a place where they are constantly attempting to make sense of the world through facts, but as a teacher it is important to aid them in the process of defining the world on their own.
All children grow and develop in different ways, so no two students will be at the exact same point developmentally. They each have differing environmental experiences and genetic makeups. Second graders can range from early on in the preoperational stage to later in the concrete operational stage developmentally according to Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. Egocentrism is a major aspect of a student developing throughout second grade as children often assume that their personal experiences apply to everyone around them (Woolfolk, 2018). As second graders are highly self-focused, I think it is imperative to work on social-emotional skill development in the classroom. Piaget may have underestimated children’s abilities, so I believe that dealing with every student to each their own stage of development adds to the uniqueness of a second grade classroom. I understand cultural factors to be a major influence on a child’s development, so Piaget’s stages can seem quite limiting as children develop behaviorally and intellectually within their culture. This leads to a major effect on their learning processes inside the classroom. Piaget identifies key aspects of development, but development is a continual process that is not always identifiable by single stages as Vygotsky’s theories align with the multiple influential factors on a child’s development.
Vygotsky believed that development occurs through dialogues on the social level and then on the individual level (Woolfolk, 2018). In second grade, students are developing their listening and conversation skills, so I believe the classroom should be centered around conversations and problem solving through the use of cultural tools. Discussion periods are important along with student teacher check ins. Vygotsky believed in the role of private speech as learning and language are interconnected for cognitive development to take place (Woolfolk, 2018). I believe creating a classroom environment that caters to the development of social interactions is extremely important as an early elementary teacher. Social interactions are the key to learning because the development of knowledge is a continual and active process. Regular small group activities with open ended questions seems like the most effective way to know where my students are in their development and guide them within their ZPD.
The zone of proximal development, according to Vygotsky, is the difference between what a student can do with help and without help (Woolfolk, 2018). This focuses on what a child can achieve with appropriate support by a teacher who possesses prior knowledge. When a student is working within their ZPD, they are solving problems that are challenging to solve but are still solvable. A goal of mine is to have all instruction take place within the ZPD while providing individual assistance to each student, so they can succeed and grow in their personal understanding. As a teacher, it is important to guide my students to create their own understanding through questioning as a formative way to identify what my students know, and where they are in their development.
Through open-ended assignments and hands-on tasks, I hope to alleviate some of the stress that comes with time limits and perfectionism seen often by second graders. “Students should be taught in the magic middle where they are neither bored nor frustrated” (Woolfolk, 2018). By observing how my students attempt to problem solve and respond to situations, whether it is systematic or guess and check, it aids me in knowing where they are in their ZPD, and how I can support them in through the process of scaffolding. Teachers and classmates are vital to the process of scaffolding as a child is not alone in their discovering of knowledge. (Woolfolk, 2018). I think collaborative learning is one of the best ways to help students scaffold because a group of peers helps each other construct meaning and learn together with a shared authority over a task. As a teacher, communicating the steps while simultaneously performing the skill with the help of organizers is the best way to simplify a problem into steps and draw on prior knowledge in my students because language is crucial to the process of scaffolding. If a student is able to be creative, but also have clear directions, they will feel guided with the proper support but also develop autonomy over their learning as they are interested in their schoolwork.
I believe knowledge is a process that occurs internally and externally. As second graders still often have an egocentric viewpoint, teaching cooperative and collaborative learning skills develops knowledge individually and within a group. “Dewey sees education coming as a result of the empowerment of the learner in a social situation” (Hirtle, 1996). By teaching the skills of cultural awareness, my students will be products and producers of their societies and cultures according to Vygotsky. Making the classroom fun and inclusive, children will develop an ownership of their learning as they become more self-aware. There is no fixed amount of knowledge a student can learn, and no matter age, the development of meaning is internal.
A classroom is the place for educational associations to occur as it is the ‘perfect storm’ of cultures and social interactions taking place. When learning happens in a more enjoyable and interactive way, children are engaged and choose to develop meaning that is important to them. This autonomy over learning is a key aspect of my ideal classroom. Social interactions, cultural tools, and learning through belonging to a group emphasize the importance of constructing knowledge through the process of appropriating (Woolfolk, 2018). Even young students can learn about the construction of knowledge process, and I believe this is a way to help them become more independent in their learning resulting in pride of previous accomplishments and motivation for upcoming work.
Student-Centered Classroom Environment
My biggest hope for my students is that they are genuinely eager to come to school every day. The classroom should feel be a safe place that incites learning. I think it is necessary to have an interactive classroom that caters to my students’ creativity. Hands on activities that are centered around play are the best ways to get young students involved in their learning process. If the classroom is an open and warm environment, the teacher is more readily available to meet the needs of individual students (Keiler, 2018). Students facilitate their learning with all the resources available to them but have the support, prompts, and encouragements by the teacher in the classroom.
Young elementary students are very eager to use technology and are often more engaged when they have opportunities to be on the computer. Having a technology-rich environment is an amazing way to support academic learning if the district has the resources to facilitate technology. I do not think that any computer could ever replace a human teacher in a classroom, but when students are given the opportunity to interact in a type of virtual learning environment, they become very excited to get ‘computer time’. “Combining games with educational objectives could not only trigger students’ learning motivation, but also provide them with interactive learning opportunities” (Woolfolk, 2018). Having technology rich environments can bring a new realm of fun into the classroom. Computer games often do not feel educational, yet there are numerous supplemental math and reading online programs that can be beneficial to learning.
A positive student-teacher relationship is one of the foundational elements of a successful teacher and classroom. All students need to feel comfortable at school and especially in their classroom. The teacher sets the stage for successful students, which is all facilitated through a great relationship for a teacher to positively influence a student. Often the STR of younger elementary classrooms can predict the outcome of a student behaviorally and academically up to high school (Woolfolk, 2018). A teacher creates an extended family for children at school, so students need to feel consistently comfortable in their classroom and with their classmates. The important role of a teacher is to facilitate this positive learning environment using personal caring and academic caring. A great student-teacher relationship is based out of patience, humor, interest, and willingness to listen from a personal perspective for each student along with setting high and reasonable academic expectations (Woolfolk, 2018).
I believe humor is extremely important in the classroom. Fun and creative learning activities only go so far. An environment based around humor is the best way to foster positive relationships and learning. As a teacher, it is important for my students to see me make mistakes, so they learn it is good to make mistakes as well. Second graders are still very egocentric, and they are learning the importance of respect and responsibility in the classroom (Woolfolk, 2018). There should be a mutual sense of respect and care between a student and teacher to create this safe and fun environment that highlights growth and not perfection. By adding humor into the learning process, students are able to develop a more positive self-concept and feel freer to explore beliefs and values as they develop a sense of true independence. A positive student-teacher relationship centered around respect gives way for a humorous and caring environment. This also means that when discipline does need to be put in place, my students will understand where it is coming from and have the proper respect for the rules in place.
A positive student-teacher relationship is based out of high and practical expectations of the teacher and conversely, student expectations of the teacher. I believe it is very important to know what my students expect of me just as they should know my expectations of them socially and academically. When students have knowledge of their teacher’s expectations, it can greatly influence their focus and promote a successful inclusive environment in the classroom, so it is very important to be clear on teacher expectations and give proper explanations why they are set in place (Lane 2003). Without a positive student-teacher relationship, a great lack of respect may be in place leading to a dismissal of teacher and student expectations.
Teacher expectations of the elementary level often involve “the importance for students to demonstrate competence in the areas of cooperation and self-control skills” (Lane 2003). Behavior expectations should be highlighted for the classroom specifically because in second grade, students are still learning how to act in the classroom, and they are developing those necessary behavioral skills. In addition, I believe it is just as important to have the same expectations of their work as this leads to the development of a self-efficacy of learning.
Research shows that high expectations do affect students’ achievement as teachers often make accurate assessments on their students’ capability, but it is still so important to not underestimate students as this leads to a poor self-fulfilling prophecy and the possibility of learned helplessness by a student at a young age (Woolfolk, 2018). I believe that no matter my beliefs on my students’ capabilities, I should always have the expectation that each of my students are able to be successful, no matter how much extra help and guidance necessary. Through challenging yet effective instruction and opportunities for choice, my students will feel more comfortable and confident in their abilities. Smiles and affective support are two of the simplest and most important ways to create a warm and caring relationship with a student as that is the predominant way to have mutual and effective expectations in the classroom.
Second graders have a love of facts and order which make them such a unique and fun age to teach. As a teacher to the second grade, my students will need me to model positive behavior for them to learn to balance perfection with mistakes as they progress through school. I believe learning comes from the learner, and one of the most important roles of a teacher, especially in an early elementary classroom, is to help students develop a love of learning on their own because that is internal and can never truly be taught. Learning needs to take place within the zone of proximal development to balance the growth of social and academic skills throughout the school year. I believe the most effective teaching method is based around a positive student teacher relationship and high expectations for the classroom as a whole. Without a teacher to provide a humorous, structured, and safe environment, the task of learning from the learner is not as successful as it could be.
- Hirtle, Jeannine St. Pierre. (1996). Social Constructivism (Coming to Terms). English Journal, 85(1), 91-92.
- Keiler, L. (2018). Teachers’ roles and identities in student-centered classrooms. International Journal of STEM Education,5(1), 1-20.
- Lane, K., Pierson, M., & Givner, C. (2003). Teacher expectations of student behavior: Which skills do elementary and secondary teachers deem necessary for success in the classroom? Education & Treatment of Children, 26(4), 413-430.
- Woolfolk, A.E. (2018). Educational Psychology (14th Edition), Boston, MA: Pearson
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