Inspired Teaching Fellow Raven Robinson (‘17) is a mixed-age preschool teacher at Powell Elementary School. Inspired Teaching interviewed Raven about her experience co-teaching Pre-K at Capital City during the Summer Teaching Practicum and how it has prepared her for her first year as a teacher of record.
As you look ahead to your first year as a teacher of record, what does being an Inspired Teacher mean to you?
Being an Inspired Teacher means spreading the message of Inspired Teaching to my school community. I’m going to a DCPS school. It’s not one of Inspired Teaching’s partner sites so I really want to prove that inquiry-based education and play-based education works. I am looking forward to demonstrating that teaching the whole child, not just teaching to the test, is what’s best for children.
Throughout summer school, every classroom has focused on a STEM-related theme. What theme did you choose and how has it helped you create a student-centered learning environment?
It’s hard to plan a unit before you know the kids, so my co-teacher and I wanted to pick something broad, that could be tailored to our students’ interests. We chose engineering for our theme because there are a lot of different directions you can go with it. My co-teacher and I had ideas of things we wanted to do, but the first day when we asked what they wanted to build, all of the students wanted to build houses.
In the first few weeks, we discussed what it means to be an engineer and we developed blueprints. We also went on a field trip to the Building Museum, where they were engineering a lot of the things we had talked about, like cars and musical instruments.
Once our class finished researching the building process, we encouraged them to use their knowledge to do what their hearts desired. Each child received a big box that they could use to build a house for a person or an animal. That’s how we tried to be student centered – We let them drive the project.
Why was it important to you that the students drive their own learning?
It is important that students drive their own learning because I want them to love school. When they have more control, and when their ideas are driving the learning, they are more likely to love what they are doing. They are more likely to learn and retain the information than if I propose an idea they aren’t interested in.
Even students who tend to struggle with staying engaged and paying attention have been interested our study of engineering. When we asked what they wanted to do, they suggested building a telescope. When children find a project or activity they’re passionate about, it drives the whole day for them and they’re proud of what they’re doing. With that pride, they want to do more and they want to learn more. They want to take initiative. They’re in Pre-K now, but this desire to take initiative is going to grow and they’re going to take it with them.
What was your proudest moment this summer?
I was working with a child who typically is really excited about and interested in a variety of activities all at once. One day the class was fascinated by the puddle we saw and grew focused on engineering items related to the puddle. The student took initiative, declaring that they needed to build a telescope and a boat. I was proud to see their excitement and interest when they asked to test the boat they created in the puddle. As a class, we observed what happened when we set the boat down in the puddle and cheered for our friend when his creation floated.
What has been more challenging than you expected this summer?
One of the challenging parts of this summer is that it’s summer. Our day is structured like a school day but it’s July and kids are in summer mode. It has been a challenge to help them stay engaged throughout the day, but the key has been using the inquiry-based model, so they’re learning and also having fun. One of the first things we decided as teachers was that we need to be flexible. We really work on letting them have time and control over their day. We are intentional about giving them autonomy.
In what ways has the cohort model influenced your experience?
Working with my co-teacher, Inspired Teacher Billie Case (‘17) has been amazing. We were at two separate schools during the Residency Year, so we had different experiences that we can now share with each other. If this weren’t a cohort model, we wouldn’t be so comfortable with each other and teaching together would be harder. Our cohort is really supportive of each other. You grow to be comfortable with teachers in your school but it’s different with us. You make eye contact with a Fellow in the hallway and it’s like a breath of fresh of fresh air.
What is your favorite thing about working with children?
One of my favorite things about working with children is that they are so joyful. If you’re not feeling the greatest, they just make you smile. They’re funny. They’re kind. They don’t judge. They’re honest. Being around that is nice!