Shadowing students as they go from class to class during a school day gives researchers a back-of-the-room view of teaching and learning. I have done it many times and found it enormously helpful in getting the student’s angle of vision on teaching and the feelings students have going from one class to another for nearly five hours. The Las Montanas student’s day (see August 31, 2010 post on the high school) is filled with class periods, noisy movement in crowded corridors between periods, going to lockers, seeing friends, checking cell phone messages (not allowed in classes), and making it to the next period without being tardy.
After finally getting five student volunteers whose parents had completed consent forms allowing me to trail them through their school day, I met with them to explain the project and what we would be doing together. I told them that I would meet each one before their first period class, introduce myself to the teacher, and sit at a desk far from the shadowed student. After class, we would walk to their next one, and so on through the rest of the day. At lunch, I would offer to buy them whatever they wanted and would ask questions about the classes we attended. If they preferred meeting with their friends at lunch–as three of the five did–I would save my questions for the end of the day when I would conduct an interview and follow-up questions.
These students asked many questions: What did I want to find out about teachers, laptops, and students at Las Montanas, and the possible awkwardness of an “old white man walking with me,” as one student put it. I answered all of their questions including confidentiality were I to write about them.
What did I see in these classes? I shadowed Diane (all names are pseudonyms), a 14 year-old 9th grader, through her academic classes. Like the other four students, Diane had been given a laptop to use in school and at home. Diane is heavily involved in Las Montanas sports, wired (she has a cell phone, ipod, and, of course, a laptop), and believes that what she is learning in school will prepare her for college. She is engaged and enthusiastic about school expressing strong hope about her future. According to a recent Gallup Student Poll, Diane mirrors the 63 percent of U.S. students who are hopeful, enthusiastic, and engaged in school.
For the rest of this post I will describe what I saw in Diane’s first period class. The following post will describe two other classes.
*Biology. Ms. Colusia wears a white lab coat. Long lab tables are arranged in rows facing the teacher and her desk. There are 19 students present when the tardy bell rings at 7:55AM.
Ms. Colusia welcomes the students and tells them that they will be using their laptops for research later in the week. All but two of the students have laptops with them.
Ms. Colusia directs students to the textbook chapter on organ systems and reviews yesterday’s lesson on how cells make up tissue and tissues make up organs. She then tells students to complete a table where they list the body system (nervous, digestive, etc.), the organs that make up that body system, their functions, and the types of cells. Answers, she says, are in the chapter. She gives students 20 minutes to complete the table. Three students without texts get passes to to their lockers.
A hum rises as students work individually, in pairs, and trios, Ms. Colusia walks around checking their work and answering questions. After nearly a half-hour, the teacher sees that most students have not completed the table. She then tells the student to complete it for homework, adding that there will be 20 percent extra credit if the table is typed up rather than written in ink.
Ms. Colusia then passes out a three-page handout “California Content Standards: Biology/Life Sciences” which lists specific state standards and the number of test items for each standard. The teacher calls the class’s attention to the “Physiology” standard that deals with cells, organs, and body systems. She asks particular students to read the standard and then ask questions (“What’s the main point of this standard?”). Students yell out answers. This back-and-forth of teacher questions and student choral answers continues for 12 minutes. Teacher reminds class that on the state test: “Focus on the information and nothing else. That’s what they will test you on.”
Teacher proceeds to give assignment for next day, slightly changing the homework that she had assigned earlier about completing the table. She tells students to bring their laptops to class next week because they will be doing research on organ systems. Some students, alert to the end of the period in a few minutes, close their books, gather their papers, put laptops in their backpacks, and get ready, for the buzzer. It sounds at 8:46. Diane, the rest of class, and I leave.