Table of Contents
Day 1: 09/13/2007.
Day 2: 09/18/2007.
Day 3: 09/20/2007.
Day 4: 09/25/2007.
Day 5: 09/27/2007.
Day 6: 10/04/2007.
Day 7: 10/09/2007.
Day 9: 10/18/2007.
Day 10: 10/23/2007.
Day 11: 10/25/2007.
Day 12: 10/30/2007.
Day 13: 11/01/2007.
Day 14: 11/06/2007.
Day 15: 11/08/2007.
Day 16: 11/13/2007.
Day 17: 11/15/2007.
Day 18: 11/27/2007.
Day 19: 11/29/2007.
Day 20: 04/12/2007.
Day 21: 06/12/2007.
Day 1: 09/13/2007
This was the first day which I spent at the above-named high school. I was very excited and, to be honest, also a little bit nervous when I entered the school building. Having seen the outside area of the school, I was already pretty satisfied to see that the school was obviously one being in a good shape. It looked nice and clean. Having entered the building, I was glad to see that the interior of the building confirmed the appearance I got from outdoors. A very clean and well ordered facility with exceedingly friendly people leading me through the process of “registration”. They showed me the way through the halls and directly to my classroom 208. As the mentoring teacher was not yet here and the classroom was closed due to lunch break, I had the possibility to get to know few students whom seemed happily surprised to have a guest in their everyday school life. Some minutes later, my mentor Tom Esslinger appeared and received me cordially. We had the opportunity to talk to each other for a few minutes. It goes without saying that I introduced myself and told him a little more on the “project” and how our cooperation was supposed to work. As the students of 9th grade still were in their lunch hour, they could chat while doing some of their homework. We could hence discuss the most important issues and even get a little bit into the forthcoming assignment for me. Reading the paper of Samford University, he became interested in the problem of homework which is not regularly done by his 10th graders in history. This is the class I am going to attend in the sixth period. As I am interested in the solution of the typical “homework problem”, too, we decided to take this problem into our first consideration. We have not yet decided on whether we are going to focus on a single student or on the whole class. I was happy to ascertain that my mentor feels quite the same about problems of relevance. Homework which is not done is definitely a big problem and therefore of major relevance. He continued to mention that the homework problem was particularly severe in this class which seems to be a difficult and unusual one. It might appear strange, but I’m quite glad to attend such a class. The challenge is even bigger so and it is the more fun to try to get them do their homework more often.
Well, at 1.15 p.m., the history class started. Before going into detail about the way the lesson was taught, I would like to give you a short insight into the arrangement of the classroom. It is inspiringly designed and helps students, in my opinion, to learn adequately and above all, learn and feel comfortable while doing so. There are lots of colorful maps (United States of America, Europe, the whole world, Middle East – good to see where American military action is going on). Moreover, there are posters of former American presidents, the famous Bill of Rights, a globe, several trophies of whomever, lots of covers of magazines arranged orderly and, behind the teacher’s desk to my surprise, some private pictures of him. That makes the classroom a more pleasant field of learning and eliminates the idea of it as a working place. I forgot the Stars and Stripes Flag which appears to be pretty normal in the American classroom. However, for me as a German, it is not common. Yet, I like it. It provides a feeling of community and coherence. Furthermore, there are no uniforms required in this school. Additionally, I realized that students do not have to raise their finger to be allowed to say their opinion. This could be due to Mr. Esslinger’s style of teaching or it could be an American habit. Mr. Esslinger was the centre of the learning process. He lectured in front of the class and invited the students to say their opinions. When it became too loud, he interfered immediately and made sure that he is the person who shows the way. His personality seemed to be fairly popular with the students. The reason is his easygoing, but though respectful and, if necessary, strict way of teaching. The class is completely under his control.
Let us now have a closer look into the lesson and the class itself. The class consists of 16 students – eight male, eight female. Nine of the students are black, seven of them are white. The seating of the class was very new for me. The sketch on the following page shall give you an impression of it (for you, it is probably a well-known seating arrangement, but for me as a German, it is definitely not):
x x x
x x x x
x x x
x x x
x x x
“TEACHER” stands for the teacher’s desk. It stands across. Thus, if the teacher sits at his table, he cannot see the students sitting left of him at all. Yet, this seating arrangement allows class discussions, as the students face each other.
The teacher began the lesson talking about the test which he had corrected and graded. He told them that they had fared badly as a class. He spoke to them openly and in a casual way. Let me cite him:”I am not a teacher who shouts at you guys if you talk to your neighbor or if you daydream. That is completely natural. If there was something interesting going on at the weekend, I can understand you guys telling your neighbor about it. That’s fine.” He went on explaining to them that he is entirely cool about these things, yet he expects them to participate once in a while and ensure they do their basic duties. He made jokes at which they laughed. Their teacher doesn’t discredit them for not being a perfect student now and again. They went on having a look on the test again. Then, Mr. Esslinger distributed the test to them and praised those who did well. It was funny to see one student sleeping and other gazing at the guest who had not yet introduced himself. After the correction of the test – it was the teacher’s objective to enable everyone feel good and safe about all questions - and some more organizational questions upon grades, Mr. Esslinger introduced me to the class and gave me an opportunity do so on my own. I did this and tried to make them feel positive about me. I was not too serious and told them that they could ask any question they had – whenever they like. They did so immediately and I answered them. After some minutes, Mr. Esslinger had to go on with the contents of the subject, which he did in a remarkable PowerPoint presentation. This was a completely new experience for me. I have never before seen a teacher using that program in class. Using this kind of media, he succeeded in exemplifying a bunch of facts on America in the 17th century. Maybe, there were even too many slides in his presentation. But as I am not into their working style and their level, I cannot judge it. It was only a first impression of mine. The fact that Mr. Esslinger had a mobile lecture table was another astonishing experience for me. I am used to lecture tables at university only, not at school. Yet, it is a helpful media. In his explanations, the teacher described the life of slaves on the ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to the New World. Most of the students showed sympathy for the slaves and were moved. Their eyes showed their feelings about the treatment of slaves in those times.
When the bell rang, Mr. Esslinger said goodbye to his students. Some of them came by and wished him a good day. He thanked them and gave his wishes back to them. We had a further little conversation after the lesson and changed email addresses and numbers. That was my first day at H High School. It was a very interesting day and I left the school building with a good feeling and am looking forward to come back on Tuesday.
Day 2: 09/18/2007
Prior to my experiences in class today, I want to mention some general distinctive features about the American classroom. There is a telephone, a DVD player, the teacher’s laptop and a video projector in it. Hence, there is no shortage of multimedia equipment.
The first 20 minutes today were useful today to lead a small talk with my mentor. Meanwhile, the 9th graders watched TV on the big screen (CNN News). Those who didn’t watch TV got some of their homework done. Every now and then, Mr. Esslinger told jokes to his class. It gave me the impression that he still seems to act young. He has a tremendously good touch with his students. Yet, as stated before, there is no loss of respect despite his juvenile and casual behavior.
When the 6th period began at 1.15 p.m. the teacher made clear that the bell was the sign for everybody to get seated immediately. He started his lesson by reminding them of their organizational duties. Afterwards, he distributed a homework assignment and told that it was due by next week. Then he went on inserting the movie which is related to the book they read (“The Crucible). As the class couldn’t come to silence, he warned and them by announcing another activity instead of the movie. During the movie, he explained important scenes to the class to make sure they apprehend it. All the students remained seated during the movie. When the students became too loud, he announced clearly that “there is too much talking going on right now”). He deemed it as his responsibility to take care of a silent atmosphere. Repeatedly, Mr. Esslinger pointed out that the movie was only partly fictional in spite of weird elements. Everybody was allowed to ask random questions very freely throughout the whole movie. I had the impression that few students seemed to be somewhere else with their thoughts. This was probably due to the tiredness and the darkened room. One or two students sometimes napped. Another one read a book (I wasn’t sure whether it was the book related to the movie or another one). The teacher did some work at his laptop once in a while. Two girls wrote notes to each other underhand. They were therefore not capable of concentrating on the movie at all. Yet, their mime revealed their fear of being caught by their teacher. Towards the end of the movie, my mentor reminded his students of the time period during which the movie takes place (1680s, Puritan England, Massachusetts). Unfortunately, the movie reached its climax at the end of the lesson. The teacher halted it, gave a quick summary and an outlook and then dismissed his students who were out in an instant.
With regard to the assigned action research my mentor teacher and I, we decided irrevocably to investigate the homework problem since both of us are eager to find a solution to this seemingly eternal problem. We have not yet come up with an appropriate measure, yet he made sure we can start collecting baseline data soon. By next week, the first homework assignment will be due.
Day 3: 09/20/2007
The continuation of the lunch break period went on similarly to my first two days at high school. The 9th graders had the chance to accomplish some homework. Those who didn’t do that, chatted to each other. I had the opportunity to talk to my mentor on the action research again. As he told me about the predominant problem of incomplete homework in 10th grade, he would like to find a means to make them fulfill all of their assigned homework. However, he told me, there were some students who didn’t do any of their homework. We still couldn’t opt for a definite method to try to abolish the problem. Though, we made a shortlist consisting of two measures. We thought about dividing the class into small groups at the beginning of the lesson. In these small groups, every students would have to present his homework to the rest of the group. It might raise the students’ intrinsic motivation as they would feel that their homework had an audience. It wouldn’t remain unread. Another possibility is to show the class graphically how their homework performance affects their grade. For me, this is more or less extrinsic motivation though and therefore I would prefer the former method.
When the first students of 10th grade entered this afternoon, they came by my place and led a conversation with me. The contact to the students is thus becoming increasing daily. My mentor commenced the lesson by reminding his students of their homework which was due on Tuesday. He then continued by showing the rest of the movie without any further announcements. The only thing he suggested was:”Make sure you read the book. Don’t think you can get away without reading it just because we watch the movie.” When he left the room to bring away some books for two minutes, chattering started in every corner of the room. Silence reappeared with the teacher returning. During the movie, there was an unusual casualty to be registered. Lots of talking could be heard. Mr. Esslinger did not intervene at all today – to my surprise. Obviously, he did not have to since it became quiet again after a few minutes. When the movie became very thrilling, some students started to chat and predict the forthcoming happenings. “Shut up!”, exclaimed a boy funnily in the first row. The majority of students was totally captured by the movie. Suddenly, a girl stood up and told her teacher that she felt sick. He filled out a note for her and told her to go to the school’s sickroom. She returned only five minutes later with the note in her hand. The teacher had a quick look at it and threw it away. Apparently it was not a serious disease. However, a couple of students couldn’t keep sitting still on their chair any longer. They became more and more nervous. With the movie coming to its end, students explained single scenes to each other. A boy had the last word in this lesson:”I believe I won’t read the book ‘cause that was the most depressing ending I’ve ever seen.” The others laughed and left the room after the bell rang. The very student I quoted went on talking to the teacher and was really shocked by the movie’s ending. A guy was hanged with the rope. Mr. Esslinger pointed out the movie’s historical background and that all those happenings were not fictional. He told the boy to read the book notwithstanding. Eventually, this boy seemed to give in and agree after he had resisted for quite a while in an astonishing way.
I left high school today having in mind one of the moments during teacher life which I will probably never forget. It was such an impressing feeling to perceive how this boy honestly felt about the movie and how he told his feelings unhesitatingly to his teacher.
Day 4: 09/25/2007
First of all, let me mention some more general findings upon American school life in comparison to Germany. The clothes are a little more casual than they are in Germany. For instance, it is not unusual at all to show up with sports shorts. In addition, there is an automatic pencil sharpener in the classroom which is absolutely typical for the United States of America. The stereotype of laziness is confirmed (I’m just kidding). My overall impression after four visits at an American high school concerning the level of difficulty is cloven. This is because of the wide range existing between very smart students and exceedingly untalented ones. In Germany, students are separated into three types of school after elementary school according to their level. The intermediate level is called “Realschule”. This type of school seems to be similar to American high school. A German professor from Samford University approved my assumption. He taught at a German grammar school for one year and is therefore familiar with the level of both the American and German Educational system.
The lunch hour continuation of 9th grade went on in a silent atmosphere. All students left a mark of fatigue. Some of them did their homework as usual, others read a book, and a few only tattled with each other. Another student talked in an extremely easy way with Mr.Esslinger. He told him about his favorite subjects and that he couldn’t care less about some other subjects. Their “coach” (that’s the way they address him) is more or less a good friend of them. That’s how it should be, to my point of view.
There was once again a very funny atmosphere at the beginning of 6th period. Many students were late, though. When Mr.Esslinger entered the room, calmness arose. He managed to start funnily, yet didn’t lose his natural authority which his appearance sprayed all over the room. Firstly, the students had to pass up their homework. There were six students who forgot to do their complete homework or forgot to bring it to class even though my mentor reminded them of it several times. Anyhow, he did not discredit those, instead, he gave them another chance to pass it up. Yet, he repeatedly told them that it was graded. A guy told him that he “read that entire book last night!” He wanted to show his effort to the teacher. While homework assignments were brought to the teacher’s desk, I ask the boy who was complaining about the movie’s depressing ending the last time whether he had finally read the book. I was surprised to hear him reply with a cheeky smile in his face: “No. I returned it and got my money back.” He was not kidding when he announced his proceedings last Thursday. But he had approved to read the book eventually on Thursday. That’s why I was that surprised. I couldn’t believe it. I do not even know whether Mr.Esslinger got to know about his change of decision. I did not tell him about it as I was unwilling to sneak on this decisive young man. My mentor went on in the textbook and was very easy once more, but changed his behavior as soon as he the class became too annoying. Nevertheless, most students chuckled throughout the whole period. In my opinion, many students could do better at school if there was a little more earnestness in class. For sure, it is not easy to concentrate after a long day of school, but they should at least be forced to concentrate at the beginning of the lesson. Few students seemed to observe me the way I did observe them which made me a little bit uncomfortable. When another teacher interrupted for a moment and asked Mr.Esslinger to come out real quickly, the class used their chance to start talking to each other untamed. They told many jokes and fire questions at me which I answered patiently. The class got a little bit more serious at some points of discussion and debated actively. Later on, the teacher told them sad stories about slavery. Some students still laughed and were funny. This was too much for their “coach”. He clearly advised them to behave more maturely since they were dealing an evil part of history which was gave no reason to laugh at all. This furious announcement had a lasting effect. The class followed their teacher’s explanations attentively until the bell rang.
After the lesson had finished, we talked about the action research real quickly. My research assistant said that he would correct the class’ homework and make them pass up two or three more assignments by next week, so we will be able to start collecting multiple baseline data by next week. I was glad to note that we are on schedule.
Day 5: 09/27/2007
Another general difference on American schools compared to German schools at the beginning again. In the United States, every teacher has an own classroom and therefore has lots of private belongings in it, too. The students have to change the rooms. In Germany, it is the other way round. It is the students who spend about 80 per cent of their schedule in their classroom. Thus, the teachers move the room hourly. There is not a lot of space for personal belongings. In the staff room, teachers hang out during vacant lessons.
Today, the 9th graders watched a baseball match on the screen. But it was not of general interest, so many students did not really watch it. Lots of them played cards on the floor or did some homework. My mentor had some work to do at his laptop. There were no events worth mentioning in those 20 minutes.
The students of 10th grade try to talk to me more and more. Prior to the lesson, some come by and ask me random questions about Germany. They appear to be quite interested in other countries. When the bell rang, a mere six students could be found in the room. It became fuller quickly, though. Today, Mr.Esslinger chose to play the so-called “Review Game” which must be very popular with the students. As the name says, it’s a playful method to revise facts of earlier chapters. That’s the way it works. The teacher asks multiple-choice or true/false questions which are supposed to be answered by one student only. The others are not allowed to whisper the solution to the student who is in the spotlight. If so, the teacher has to subtract all of the points the class has gained so far. Mr.Esslinger played this game with his other history classes before on this day. It is a little competition among all 10th grades. However, if the student manages to guess a correct answer, the class receives one point. Additionally, the student has the chance to score another point by throwing a little softball into the wastebasket which is located approximately 15 feet away. Each student is asked two questions. The points will be added up and then divided through four at the end. The solution of this division is the number of bonus points which the class receives. I don’t exactly know the meaning of those bonus points, but they seem to be of some importance to the students, since one boy exclaimed earnestly at the beginning towards his fellow classmates:”Hey, we need those bonus points!” There were no books and exercise books permitted. The atmosphere was relaxed, a little bit like in the TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire?” Most of the questions were doable. The teacher suspended the game for a moment when he perceived the atmosphere as too loud by shouting “listen up!” As just mentioned, this game caused a casual atmosphere. Students laughed at each other and so did Mr.Esslinger and me. It was not discriminating at all, some answers were simply were ridiculous and therefore generated laughter. One student even rolled on the floor laughing. All of them really enjoyed this welcome variation of everyday school life. To condense the whole, I would say that such a game is a good thing to do every now and then. It loosens the mostly rigid school schedule and provides complacency among both the students and the teacher. Yet, there are aspects to be criticized from my point of view. I sensed the mood as too hilarious. The effect of learning almost disappeared since hardly anybody paid attention to the solution of the answers. They could have been fixed on a sheet, by the way. This might have consolidated them in students’ memory. But on the whole, the positive aspects of that game outweighed the negative ones and on this account it was a very good choice of my mentor teacher. His students probably wouldn’t argue this statement.
As usual, I finish my journal by talking about progress on the action research. Frankly, we did not make any progress today because the homework assignments have not yet been corrected. However, by next week, we will have several homework assignments corrected and therefore it’ll be possible to collect most of the baseline data.