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Pedagogical Content Knowledge

My goal as an educator is to continually grow and learn new techniques, concepts, and strategies to reach
and teach every student in my classroom. I believe building a strong rapport with students right from the
moment they step into my classroom is critical. In my experience, it’s the one thing that has allowed
students who struggle the most with behavior to stay out of trouble and participate in learning. It is the
mutual respect for each other as people that opens the door to learning by creating an environment in
which students feel safe to participate in academic topics and even take risks. Each of my seven years in
the classroom, I have had at least one student who was consistently in trouble in school or didn’t believe
they could earn good grades for one reason or another. While building positive relationships benefits
every student, it’s the students that have had those negative experiences who benefit the most. Having a
strong rapport is also an important aspect in building a classroom environment in which students feel
psychologically safe to learn and grow. I show respect for my students by treating them as young adults,
holding them to high expectations, and making it clear that they can become successful in the classroom,
as well as the community.

It has never been difficult for me to relate to students; the biggest challenge that I had to learn was
knowing how far to take a teaching moment for correctable behavior without it losing its impact. My first
year of teaching presented many challenges while I was learning how to manage a classroom on my own
for the first time. It caused me to look at how I was interacting with students and how well I knew the
content I was teaching. I struggled to find the balance between behaviors I needed to correct and those
to let go. That was an important year, if not the most important year of my career because I continued
to build my understanding of how rapport impacted the classroom. One of the first strategies I
implemented to build rapport was a reward system. I looked for positive behaviors in the classroom, some
of which I would verbally recognize while others earned points on the board when students were doing
what was expected of them. Most of the time, the reward was a snack or an activity chosen by the
students. It may seem trivial, but it made me more cognizant of students’ behavior and better at predicting
their actions. It became something that helped me establish a culture for creating a psychologically safe
environment for my students in which to learn. The reward system also curbed unwanted student
behaviors and gave me a chance to spend more time on academic content. In the following years, I
continued working to build a stronger rapport with students, while also learning new strategies to support
their learning.

The school where I taught at the time was a focus school, meaning students’ standardized test scores
needed to improve. (The California equivalent at that time was deemed a “PI” school, or Program
Improvement). The curriculum at the school was scripted, but even at that, reading strategies were still
necessary to help the students better comprehend the text and meet the needs of a diverse classroom. I
wanted to find a way to help my sixth-grade students create a deeper understanding of texts they read
and be able to apply a variety of reading skills to other texts. We used AIMSweb assessments to determine
each student’s current Lexile level, which is a numeric score to represent reading ability. This data helped
me organize small instructional groups to work with students at their instructional levels. The Lexile score
was recorded in the fall, winter, and spring to monitor growth. In order to build their reading
comprehension, I incorporated the use of graphic organizers that matched the skills in the texts we read,
such as text structure, author’s purpose, and story elements. I also used reciprocal teaching to help them
with making predictions, asking questions, clarifying information, and summarizing in small-group
instruction.
In the fall of 2014, I transitioned to teaching seventh grade in California. It was a challenge in the sense of
learning a new curriculum that was not scripted, having 40 students in a class instead of 18-20 students
with an aid, and learning how to navigate new norms of a much larger educational community. Teaching
seventh grade is definitely different than teaching sixth, but the structure of both was the same in that I
taught English and world history at both grade-levels. Additionally, the needs of the seventh-grade
students were similar to those of my sixth graders, in that both needed support in building reading
comprehension as well as listening comprehension.

To continue my professional growth, I attended professional development in reading to help me learn


ways I could support students in building better reading comprehension skills. The guest speaker a one
conference was Douglas Fisher, who spoke to us about reading strategies and how to implement them in
our classrooms. Fisher described several things that stood out to me, including the importance of clearly
setting the purpose of a lesson, modeling strategies and expectations, and the importance of close
reading, text complexity, and the fact that total reading volume matters (Fisher et al, 2016). While these
topics were not new to me, the explanations of why teachers should use them and how to use them
effectively really stood out to me. This encouraged me to reflect on how I had used them in the past and
how I could use them much more effectively moving forward.

I began with setting a purpose for lessons. I felt strongly that that my students should be able to
adequately explain the purpose of any lesson if asked. I typically have the objectives posted on the board
and began posting them with online assignments as well. Students, at the very least, would be able to
draw on those if they were not able to determine the purpose from the lesson introduction. As my lessons
progressed, I realized that a majority of the time students were able to identify the skills needed to
complete tasks, but they couldn’t tell me the purpose or objective of the lesson. This let me know that I
should be doing a better job of setting a clearer purpose for each lesson and, just because it was clear to
me, didn’t mean it was clear to my students. I accomplished this by challenging my students to ask
themselves, “What am I learning?” and “Why am I learning this?” Then, after a lesson, ask themselves a
final question, “How will I know that I have learned it?” (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 2016) It took time for students
to buy-in, but I continued implementing the strategy and more of the students were able to link lesson
purpose to learning objectives. As we moved on to new lessons, I found students’ abilities to connect
knowledge of previous skills to new discussions was steadily increasing.

Over the last year I started working to identify things that have had the highest impact on student
achievement. I began by reviewing John Hattie’s work on Visible Learning and found that concepts like
teacher-to-student relationships had an effect size of 0.52, strategies like reciprocal teaching had an effect
size of 0.74, and metacognitive strategies such as evaluation and reflection had an effect size of .75 (Hatti
2017). While reviewing Hattie’s meta-analysis data at www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au/hatties-2017-
updatedlist/, I remembered we had received a book called “Visible Learning for Literacy” by Douglas
Fisher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie (2016) at a recent district training. In reading several chapters, my
“aha” moments came from the first and third chapters. These chapters explain how to make sense of the
effect sizes in relation to their impact on student learning. They further explain that an effect size of .4 is
equivalent to what we would expect a student to learn in one year and that anything at or above .4 is
considered being in the range of desired effects. These chapters also discussed moving students from
surface-level learning to a deeper understanding using strategies like concept mapping, metacognitive
strategies, reciprocal teaching, and close reading. My takeaway was that these chapters affirm some of
the things I had already been doing, but I needed to be cognizant of when, why, and how I was
implementing them.
I began working to learn more ways of utilizing metacognition in the classroom. This came together for
me in several ways at a recent Reading Apprenticeship training. The presenters had fantastic energy and
clearly explained more tangible structures to help us in our classrooms. Most of the training was focused
on inquiry learning, which has an effect size of 0.4 according to John Hattie, putting it in that lower range
of desired effects (Hattie 2012). However, two strategies presented in that training really gave me a more
structured purpose to helping my students build their metacognition. The first was a metacognitive
bookmark (Schoenbach, et al, 2012). It can be used as a visual tool to help teachers with modeling think-
alouds or, as Fisher explained at the training, it should be called a think-along because we want our
students to be engaged with us and it can help them keep track of their own thinking. The bookmark cues
the students to actively take part in reciprocal teaching.

Predicting
I Predict…
In the next part I think…
I think this is…

Visualizing
I picture…
I can see…

Questioning
A question I have is…
I wonder about…
Could this mean…

Making connections
This is like…
This reminds me of…

Identifying a problem
I got confused when…
I’m not sure of…
I didn’t expect

Using fix-ups
I’ll read this part…
I’ll read on and check back…

Summarizing
The big idea is…
I think the point is…
So what it’s saying is…

The second strategy was the use of a metacognitive double-entry journal. I found that having students
write a reflection at the end of a lesson and leaving it open-ended as a free-write was not only interesting
for me to read, but empowered the students to think more deeply and elaborate more on their own
learning. I wanted to implement this journal for note taking and to get students to capture their thoughts
in real-time, rather than waiting until the end of the lesson. I thought about the way I learn and reflected
on the number of times I was unable record an idea or concept during a lesson because I was already
thinking of the next concept as the professor continued through the lecture. I couldn't remember what I
wanted to write since I was working to keep up with the lesson in progress. The sample below is how I
used the journal entry from the reading apprenticeship training to take notes on chapter three in Visible
Learning for Literacy (Fisher, Frey, Hattie). This is what I would model for students to show my thinking in
applying this strategy in reading an expository text.
I saw/ I heard I thought/I wondered
Visible Learning for Literacy Chapter 3
Deep Literacy Learning
• Moving from Surface to Deep I can use these structures in
• Types of teaching that will help students move from surface level my class to help move
learning to deeper literacy learning students to a deeper
• Concept mapping understanding of the text.
• Discussion and questioning
• Metacognitive strategies, including feedback to the learner
• Reciprocal teaching
• Close reading
• Deep Acquisition and Deep Consolidation
• Self-regulation and Self-talk
• Your ability to internally reason and make decisions.
• Deep Acquisition of Literacy Learning Made Visible Pg. 77-79
• The goal of deep acquisition is for students to assimilate This helps me understand
knowledge, especially through integration with existing what I will need to prepare
knowledge. my students to do in order to
• There’s a higher degree of self-regulation needs to take place, build not only their thinking
for students to wrestle with ideas and concepts. skills but their listening and
• Intellectual Virtues (Wiggins (1989)) conversational skills.
• Knowing how to listen to someone who knows something
you don’t
• Perceiving which questions to ask to clarify an idea’s
meaning or value
• Being open and respectful enough to imagine that a new and
strange idea is worth paying attention to
• Being inclined to ask questions about pat statements hiding
assumptions or confusions
• In order to assimilate knowledge during this period, students
should be interacting with the curriculum and one another as
they plan, organize, and elaborate on concepts.
• Close Reading Pg. 89-91
• The practice of close reading, an instructional technique for
instructing a brief passage of text to determine its inferential I am glad this is more clearly
meaning, not a new one. defined because I understood
• Students should engage in repeated reading of a short it conceptually but needed to
passage to build fluency and deepen understanding. know what components were
• Students annotate text to mark their thinking. necessary to make the
• The teacher guides discussion and analysis through strategy more effective.
questioning
• Students engage in extended discussion and analysis with
their teacher
• Close reading is a form of slow reading, where the endgame is
not about the volume but rather about depth of understanding.
• Because close reading is cognitively demanding, lessons are
often extended over two or three sessions.
• Metacognitive Strategies Pg.92-93
• Metacognitive awareness is vital to the learning process, and
specifically to reading and writing. Palincsar (2013) describes
metacognitive awareness as having three parts:
• Knowledge about our learning selves
• An understanding of what the task demands and
necessary strategies to complete them
• The means to monitor learning and self-regulate
• Strategy
• Self-Questioning Both meta-cognitive
• Provide Questions strategies and reciprocal
• Teach students to ask their own questions teaching are areas of growth
• Reciprocal Teaching-Pg 98 for me, so I have a higher
• Summarizing-each passage to extract key information to and investment in wanting to
central themes further understand them and
• Questioning- at the literal, structural, and/or inferential levels using them for instruction.
about the passage
• Clarifying-information and ideas through discussion and
checking in with peers
• Predicting-the content of the next passage, given what the
author has explained thus far
• Feedback to the Learner-Pg. 100-101
• Effective teachers look for opportunities to give feedback to
students by playing back what occurred.
• Hattie (2012) speaks of three internal questions that drives When I read this, it made me
learners. thing of the types of
• Where am I going? What are my goals? feedback I am giving
• How am I going to get there? What progress is being made students, and am I giving
toward the goal. feedback that supports
• Where to next? What activities need to be undertaken next student learning? It also
to make better progress. (p. 116) brings up the question of
how much is too much and
how much is not enough?

I have learned that it takes concentrated effort, in addition to trial and error, to become a better teacher
as well as a better learner. As an educator, I am committed to learning new strategies to help students
grow in big and small ways. One of my focus areas is building a strong, positive rapport with students, and
creating a safe learning environment for all students. Academically, I have focused my professional
growth on learning and implementing reading strategies designed to help all students increase their
reading comprehension, embrace reading, and provide them strategies to rely on when reading
increasingly complex texts. My understanding started at a conceptual level and grew increasingly concrete
as I studied the research-based strategies and implemented them in my classroom. The more
opportunities I have to practice strategies with my students, the more I understand which strategies have
the greatest impact on student learning, and the more I understand the value in constantly reflecting on
my teaching practices.
Sources Used

Fisher, D., Frey, N., Hattie, J. (2016). Visible learning for literacy: Implementing practices that work best
to accelerate student learning. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin.

Hattie, J. (2012) Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York, NY; Routledge.

Schoenbach, R., Greenleaf, C., Murphy, L. (2012). Reading for Understanding: How reading
apprenticeship improves disciplinary learning in secondary and college classrooms. San Francisco, CA:
Jossey-Bass.