What Practicum Students Can Do In The Field:
Many times, when University practicum students start volunteering in the schools, they are unsure of what their role is in the classroom. Your supervising teacher may give you direction or an idea of what you can do to help in their class. Some teachers will ask you to lead a small group literacy or math activity or do a read-aloud for example. Some teachers however may not give you as much direction. This may happen because teachers are very busy or there is not a built-in meeting time for them to fill you in. You may step in to the classroom when the teacher is teaching and therefore there is no time to chat.
I am offering some tips and ideas of what to do if you are not given much direction in your setting:
Observe and Reflect:
It is ok for the first visit or two to observe the class. Run this by your mentor teacher so they know what your thoughts are about observing the class. If observing the first time or two makes you more comfortable than practicum is an ok time in your pre-service teaching experience to do this. Practicum is a chance to get a feel for what different classroom settings are like. You will be able to volunteer for 25 hours in five unique classroom settings. If you choose to observe, take the time to jot some notes down about what you are seeing in the class. Some guiding questions and things to look for include:
-What is the class makeup? How many students? Boys vs. girls?
-How many students are engaged? What types of activities are students doing?
Get an idea of what is age appropriate. Are the students expected to write, or draw pictures, share in partner pairs, etc.
-What seating options do students have?
-What types of rewards and punishments does the teacher have in place for the students?
Prep. Work, Filing and Organization:
It is ok to help the teacher with preparation tasks that help them further upcoming lessons or activities. This may include preparing materials, making copies, cutting out lamination, working on bulletin boards, filing papers, grading or organizing classroom materials. If organization or prep. Is a skill you feel strong in, you may want to communicate this with your mentor teacher. Prep. work is the behind the scenes work that a teacher has to do and helping with this can really lighten their load.
Get On The Student’s Level:
Once you are ready to jump in, especially with younger (smaller) students, it is important to get on their level. Sit down, crouch down or find a way to get your body closer to their eye level. If you integrate to the level of the classroom and start listening to the students, you can learn a lot about what is going on in the classroom. Supervising teachers tend to prefer a practicum student who integrate and physically gets down on the students’ level. Students are so fun to talk to and you can start building a rapport with them when you take the time to listen to what they have to say. Focus on what the students like as individuals and learn what motivates them. Start learning their names and challenge yourself to learn all of the names as soon as you can. Ask questions about what they like, and take the time to answer their questions. Most students enjoy the attention from adults and having the extra support in the class is valuable for the teachers and the students.
Help Students Individually: Individual Work Time
Rotate around the room and start honing your observation skills. Keep an eye out for students who are not completing their work, distracted, and appear unengaged. Don’t wait for a student to raise their hand for help. Some students will not reach out for help and can fly under the radar if we don’t keep an eye on them. You can use gentle encouragement and reminders to get the student back on task. If there are specific supports you can provide such as help with spelling, or sounding out words jump in and provide the support. If there are students you are unsure of how to help or who have special needs and receives specific accommodations, ask the teacher how you can best support these students. Every learner responds differently to feedback. Your attempts at supporting students may or may not go well but I encourage you to keep trying. You will learn a lot as a practicum student by jumping in and helping students. All individual supports should be done in a quite voice so as not to draw attention to the student or disrupt students who are working closeby.
Small Group Support:
Your supervising teacher may or may not ask you to lead a small group activity. Practicum is not a time where you are expected to lead a small group. However, if leading a small group activity is something you would like to do, ask the teacher if this is a possibility for you. Showing your enthusiasm and willingness to jump in are great qualities and will show your interest to the teacher. If you are asked to lead a small group, you will most likely be given a lesson plan or teacher’s manual to follow. Do your best and stay lighthearted. Mistakes are always a great way to learn and improve your practice.
Most classrooms have a time during the day when they do a read-aloud activity. Some practicum students are given the chance to do a read aloud to the class. The teacher will have a story or chapter from a book picked out for you to read. Most students love to be read to and it is a relaxing and calm time of the school day. Take note of the early childhood literature in the classroom. What types of books are being read at this age level? Pausing and asking comprehension questions, clarifying complex vocabulary words and answering occasional questions are all appropriate during a read aloud.
Practicum is a great time to ask some of the burning questions that come up as you volunteer in the classroom. Make sure to time this right…you don’t want to interrupt the teacher while he/she is teaching. Most teachers respect and will honor questions and it gives the impression that you are interested in teaching, and their role as a professional educator.
Get to know school staff:
Start networking now. You might want to pursue a teaching license in the future and this practicum experience is a great opportunity for you to start laying the groundwork for your future. I encourage you to use an open and friendly attitude when relating to all school staff including the office manager, teaching assistants, and any other teachers you may come in contact with including P.E., and music teachers. Present yourself in a way that honors yourself and the University.
Even if mistakes are made during any part of practicum, please see these as opportunities to start refining your reflection skills as a teacher. Think to yourself “what would I do differently next time?” “What would I do the same?” Take the time to reflect in a journal or discuss with your supervising teacher or practicum instructor. Practicum is a great time to start getting your “feet wet”, get a feel for what grade you are interested in and learn about what is developmentally appropriate for each grade level.
What makes you the most excited and most nervous about starting practicum? What are ways you have found to help out in your practicum setting?