Monday, March 08, 2010

You got questions? I've got answers.

I thought it'd be fun, while in the midst of my job hunt, to share the application questions and answers I gave. If anyone has instructive feedback or would like to share their answers, please respond with a comment.

Please describe what you would do in your classroom or school setting to meet the needs of culturally and racially diverse student populations.

I would first meet the needs of a culturally and racially diverse student population by recognizing and working to overcome barriers of language and experience. I would choose texts that address diversity and engage students in authentic discussions, using open-ended questions to draw out connections between the texts and their lives. I would also design showcase projects that celebrate cultural and family heritage. Cultural and racial diversity provides a rich gold mine of teaching opportunities.

In every classroom there are many children at varying levels of ability. What instructional strategies would you use in order to prepare lessons and instruction to meet the needs of these children?

Communication is a major component of any instructional strategy to deal with children of varying levels of ability. The teacher needs to communicate with special education teachers, para-professionals, parents, and counselors, and know the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Modification of lessons should either provide assistance (such as post-it notes or underlining key passages in a required reading) or play to the student’s strengths (such as letting a kinetic learner “act out” a paper from an outline instead of submitting a written essay.) The key to modification is to try and communicate the original lesson, but in a way that students of varying abilities can grasp and retain.

Please describe how you would use technology to improve your effectiveness as an educator.

Effective use of technology in the classroom is a way to augment traditional lessons, ease communication, and streamline labor-intensive processes, like grading. I will use video and television programming to add to a literary discussion or to make a vivid scene in the book come alive. But I will never just show a video and not require feedback or analysis from the students. Rarely will entire movies be shown.

I would love to have an overhead projector that hooks up to my laptop. I would use Powerpoint to augment lessons and replace my poor handwriting. I would also use a word processing program to edit sentences and paragraphs, and use the “add comment” and “show changes” feature to edit papers.

If an online grading system is available, I will use it, keep it updated, and publicize its availability to parents in a formal letter and at conferences. Parents should be able to go to a web site and find a monthly plan for the class and a weekly schedule, including homework and due dates, as well as find out how their child is doing overall in the class and on specific assignments.

What are the three most important pieces of information you would like to know about your students, and how/why would this information impact your classroom instruction?

1. The most important information I will learn about my students will come from their writing. The first day of class they will do a free write. They can write about anything they want, but it has to be at least a half page long. From this I will learn what their interests are, but also their strengths and weaknesses as writers. This simple introductory lesson will tell me what common grammar and mechanical issues must be addressed first, and also lead me to research topics they bring up and compile a bibliography they can use in future research papers and essays.

2. Through class discussion, reading surveys, and guided writing assignments, I need to glean what kinds of movies and TV shows students watch, the lyrics of the songs they are listening to, and, of course, the books and magazines they read. This knowledge, when divulged by me, will allow me to appear hip, but more importantly allow the class to make extant and direct connections between their culture and classical and modern literature and poetry.

3. The third thing I will do is have the students fill out a learning styles survey. This will influence many classroom factors: seating, small-group assignments, differentiated instruction and evaluation techniques. I like focusing on learning styles because it builds on a student’s natural strengths and inclinations rather than pointing out deficiencies and coping strategies.

What is the purpose of assessment? When and how will you assess whether or not students are learning?

Assessment used to be a test of memorization. Rote knowledge, the minutia of facts and names, is ever so fleeting, and hardly necessary in the digital age. Assessment should test skill sets and critical thinking skills. For example, in teaching the writing process, students self-edit and edit the work of their peers. Not only is the teacher assessing the final work, but also the student’s assessment of their own and other’s work. Informal and formal assessments are built-in components of the writing process. Final essay drafts, group presentations, whole-class discussions, and, yes, even written tests, are used to assess knowledge of a lesson or unit. Often the most surprising and dramatic self-assessments occur when a student looks through their class portfolio and compares a rough draft to a final draft, or an essay written in May to one written the previous September.

What would you want a former student to share about what he/she learned in your class ten years after having left it?

If a former student were to come back 10 years later and share what she learned in my class, I would want her to tell the class that she learned how to write and communicate effectively and that she got A’s on all of the papers she wrote in college because she followed many of the writing and editing processes she learned in my class. I hope she tells the class that literature and poetry do have a connection to the real world and that analyzing these works will help them develop critical thinking skills and gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the human condition.

Student success can be measured on an individual basis. Success can be seen in a frustrated learner who struggles, but eventually grasps a difficult text. Or success is found in a shy, but intelligent student, who musters up the courage to defend his or her view in a group discussion. Or it is in the student from a troubled home life who manages to make it to school on time and turn in his or her homework.

What are your three most important reasons for wanting to be a teacher/educator?

1. Teaching involves being an active and giving participant in the community. In my previous career as a newspaper reporter, I had to be truthful, accurate, and find out information that the public needed to know. As a teacher, I have a greater responsibility helping students find out information on their own and interpret what they find.

2. Teaching is fun. Planning and presenting lessons, and fostering a creative environment for students to learn lets me be creative in profound and surprising ways. More importantly, I help foster student creativity and give them the tools and guidance to hone their skills. No two days are ever the same. Even repeated readings of the same text bring new insights. Students never fail to surprise me with their insight and energy.

3. Teaching is a natural byproduct of an academic lifestyle. I have read a lot of books and written scores of articles and papers. I have expert knowledge to share based on a lifetime of experiences.

How much do you want to know about your students to be most helpful to them?

I am constantly looking for ways to make the lessons I plan relevant and interesting to my students. To do this, I listen to their conversations before class, ask about the books I see them carrying, and even ask to look at I-pod play lists. I’ve discovered that if I can reference what we are studying in class to what they are interested in, this strong connection helps reinforce content knowledge they need to know.

What three things do you most want to know about your students?

1. The most important information I will learn about my students will come from their writing. The first day of class they will do a free write. They can write about anything they want, but it has to be at least a half page long. From this I will learn what their interests are, but also their strengths and weaknesses as writers. This simple introductory lesson will tell me what common grammar and mechanical issues must be addressed first, and also lead me to research topics they bring up and compile a bibliography they can use in future research papers and essays.

2. Through class discussion, reading surveys, and guided writing assignments, I need to glean what kinds of movies and TV shows students watch, the lyrics of the songs they are listening to, and, of course, the books and magazines they read. This knowledge, when divulged by me, will allow me to appear hip, but more importantly allow the class to make extant and direct connections between their culture and classical and modern literature and poetry.

3. The third thing I will do is have the students fill out a learning styles survey. This will influence many classroom factors: seating, small-group assignments, differentiated instruction and evaluation techniques. I like focusing on learning styles because it builds on a student’s natural strengths and inclinations rather than pointing out deficiencies and coping strategies.

What do you need to know in order to begin your lesson planning for a class or group?

Before I begin a lesson or unit plan, I need to know what the learning goals are and how they fit into the departmental and school plan, and what state learning standards I wish to address. Next, I need to know students’ knowledge base and experience with the skills needed and activities we may do in the lesson. This can be accomplished through a formal survey and in-class discussions. I then need to research all related topics to be covered in the lesson, including how other teachers in the school and elsewhere have taught the material. With supplementary and primary materials in tow, I can then begin to plan the lesson or unit plan.

What four key components do you believe you must include in your plan?

Four key components I must include in a unit or lesson plan are a statement of purpose, writing activity, small or large group activity, and reading comprehension activity. The statement of purpose is a way to let the students know why we are doing the lesson and the educational goals that need to be achieved. Nearly every writing activity follows a multi-step process, including multiple drafts, peer editing, and one-on-one tutoring with the teacher. Most writing is included in the student’s class portfolio. I always include a group activity into my lessons, but clearly delineate tasks individually to ensure all students participate. Reading comprehension activities include vocabulary exercises, whole-class editing and discussion of sample sentences and paragraphs, and relating supplementary materials to the main text.

When you think about your students, in what major ways do you most want to influence their lives?

I want to help my students become better readers and writers, develop critical thinking skills, and give them an outlet for creative expression.

What two core teaching/learning strategies do you most use to achieve this result?

One core teaching strategy that I use is a strong emphasis on the writing process. Every writing assignment goes through many drafts. Keeping a portfolio of student work in the classroom also gives students a tangible means to track their progress. Another teaching strategy I use is individual and small group presentations. Students own their own learning when they teach their classmates.

Please describe your philosophy of education.

As an educator, I believe I am a facilitator of knowledge. Experience has shown that a lecture-based, passive-learning teaching style is not effective in the 21st century. Instead, I try to design lessons that help students find knowledge on their own. I am a friendly guide, marking signposts along the way, sometimes leading the way, but giving students enough freedom and latitude to choose their own paths.

Describe any skills or job experiences that contribute to your qualifications for the specific position for which you are applying.

Direct job experiences related to my application include student teaching as a 7th grade language arts teacher at Huntley Middle School, DeKalb, IL, fall 2007. I also completed a long-term (9 weeks) assignment as a 6th grade language arts teacher at West Middle School, Rockford, IL, from January to March 2004. Indirectly related job experiences include almost 4 years experience as a reporter and editor at three daily newspapers.

Describe how do you actively engage middle school students in the language arts classroom.

The first thing I do to engage middle school students in my language arts classroom is to meet them outside the door each day and greet them as they enter. This helps me get a gauge of their moods and quell problems before they escalate. Each class begins with a preparatory warm-up activity, such as a daily oral language exercise or journaling.

Student participation is required. In past classes, I called on students randomly using two cans and popsicle sticks with their names on it. This method ensures all students participate in discussion and its random nature keeps students from feeling they are being "picked on."

I also strive to keep my room visually appealing, with class rules clearly posted and as much student-created visual art as I can find room for.

Describe how you promote critical thinking in your classroom.

Thanks to my previous profession as a newspaper reporter, I have learned how to ask open-ended questions and try to engage students in authentic discussions, where they examine facts and details and draw their own conclusions. I try to avoid initiation-response-evaluation (IRE) types of evaluations and leave fact-finding to group or individual activities. Rarely do I accept a student's initial answer, but ask for more explanation with follow-up questions.

How you reach and engage struggling middle school readers?

I have used many methods to reach and engage struggling middle school readers, including cloze, context clues, chunking, and summarizing. This helps struggling readers grasp difficult texts.

Another way to engage struggling readers is to find out what they like to read, watch on television, and play in video games, and find school and age-appropriate related readings to foster even more reading. Comic books, graphic novels, and popular young adult fiction contribute to higher level reading comprehension that can be applied later to more difficult canonical texts.

Describe the skills or attributes you believe are necessary to be an outstanding teacher.

An outstanding teacher has to be a good listener, be prepared for whatever situations may arise, be alert to what each individual student's needs are, and be creative to make the lessons interesting and engaging to the students. In addition to developing an expert knowledge of the subject area, outstanding teachers share their enthusiasm and natural curiosity for the subject matter. Strong interest is contagious.

Classroom management is also key to outstanding teaching success. An organized classroom promotes an attitude of professionalism that the students notice. Quick turnaround and thoughtful feedback on grades also lets students know how professional the teacher is and respects the effort students put into the work.

How would you address a wide range of skills in your classroom?

Assessment tests are effective tools to help teachers adapt to individual and whole class instructional needs. Close analysis of assessment and other tests helps me discover problem areas to build lessons around. Lessons can also be adapted for individual students based on this feedback. Assessment is always ongoing, from one assignment to the next. Once problems are identified, lessons can be modified, discreetly, so as not to stigmatize the student, to help with specific problem areas.

Describe your teaching style.

My teaching style focuses on student-centered learning. I try not to ever speak for more than 10 minutes without student feedback. I believe in fostering authentic discussion by asking open-ended questions and ask follow-up questions to clarify student responses. Small and large group discussion will be a regular component of my classroom. Students will also give presentations and participate in daily oral language drills. A random observer will most likely find me in the classroom listening to student presentations are mingling around the room facilitating small group and individual activities.

I use assessment tools to tailor my lessons to class and individual needs. Units will be designed to cover all aspects of school and departmental curriculum guidelines.

Grades will be kept up to the minute. If an online grading system is available, ideally parents should be able to check their child's grades daily and know it is current. Attentiveness to classroom management tasks, including posting behavioral expectations and following through on a behavioral plan of action, provides a stable, calm environment ripe for learning.

How do you measure student success?

Student success can be measured on an individual basis. Success can be seen in a frustrated learner who struggles, but eventually grasps a difficult text. Or success is found in a shy, but intelligent student, who musters up the courage to defend his or her view in a group discussion. Or it is in the student from a troubled home life who manages to make it to school on time and turn in his or her homework.

Student success is measured most objectively in test scores, but most other measures of success do not fit on a pie chart. While ongoing assessment is crucial to obtaining objective measures of student success, individual victories will eventually bring those numbers in line.

Why did you choose teaching as a career?

A love of language and learning are the primary reasons I have decided to become a teacher. Two aunts are educators, and their exciting tales of the profession also motivated me to consider education as a career. When I was a sports editor at the Antigo Daily Journal in the late 1990s, I covered all high school sports. This was my first adult exposure to secondary education and adolescence. I discovered then I have a natural rapport with school-age children and love being in an academic environment.

My experiences as a substitute teacher, clinical observer, and student teacher have helped hone my pedagogical and classroom management skills, but an innate love, curiosity, and ehthusiasm for the subject matter remains my greatest strength. Fostering that enthusiasm and then seeing what students discover on their own -- the illuminating moments of gained knowledge -- are the reasons I chose teaching as a career.

Describe how you have differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all students in your classroom in your prior experience or student teaching. Provide specific examples.

I will provide three examples of differentiated instruction I have used in the classroom over the course of the current school year.

Post-it Notes and underlining -- Students who have a problem with reading comprehension get Post It notes attached or segments underlined to their assigned reading to bring extra focus on the main ideas.

Required tutoring -- A tutoring service is available at my school. For larger writing assignments, I require many of my struggling writers to visit the tutor and show a signed paper along with a written summary explaining what they did with the tutor.

Test help -- While students are all required to take the same test, I will let some students take the test home or allow them to have open notes while taking it.

Describe your career goals five years from now.

In five years, I plan to continue teaching English, language arts, or social studies. By this time, I will be involved in coaching baseball or tennis and leading a filmmaking or writer's workshop after school. I may also be in charge of an award-winning student newspaper or yearbook. Unit plans and lessons will be built on prior successes and I will have a huge filing cabinet full of lesson plans and related materials.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

My most outstanding attribute as an educator is that I embrace technology as a tool to further educational goals. During this past school year I have using wiki pages to foster in-lab discussions and posted lesson plans and all related documents on a blog page (http://mrlocascioenglish.blogspot.com). DVD’s of student-created videos are available upon request.

What do you want to accomplish as a teacher?

First and foremost, as a language arts teacher, I want to promote reading and writing, stressing their importance in future careers by tailoring lessons to real-world applications. I want students to come away from my classes with the skills necessary to function in an increasingly syntax-oriented society. Activities I've successfully implemented in my language arts classes already include filling out mock job applications, conducting interviews, writing letters to the editor, and using Windows Movie Maker to create public service announcements. Integrating technology into the curriculum and making the teaching content relevant to student interests also helps them connect to literature, grammar, and other "canonical" aspects of language arts. More importantly, this type of curriculum development prepares students to use language arts skills beyond the classroom.

How will (do) you go about finding out about students attitudes and feelings about your class?

I find out student's attitudes about my class by greeting them at the door when they come in and asking them how they are doing on particular assignments. When I design a writing lesson, I often integrate individual conferencing into the curriculum. It is during this one on one interaction that students share their ideas and opinions about the assignment and the class. In addition to making one on one interaction a key component of the curriculum, I will sometimes gauge attitudes and experiences on an assignment by moderating whole-class discussion. This helps air common problems and complaints students may have.

Please explain how your past personal and professional experience make you a quality candidate for the position for which you are applying.

Past personal and professional experiences that make me an ideal candidate for the positions I am applying for include four years employment as a daily newspaper reporter. This experience required me to collect and interpret information for public consumption, and interview public and private figures each day. More importantly, this prior career experience was a job that required me to uphold the public trust.

Becoming a teacher has allowed me to use my editorial and research skills to help students become better readers and writers. The reason I continue to seek out a teaching career is I have enjoyed seeing students show marked, tangible improvements in their writing and reading comprehension skills. I’ve also enjoyed accessing new and existing technologies, such as Powerpoint and Windows Movie Maker, to augment class instruction.

What personal characteristics do you bring to this position?

Enthusiasm is the most important personal characteristic I bring to teaching. I am very interested in helping students achieve their academic goals and give them individual attention to help them succeed. Another personal characteristic I bring to teaching is a sense of wonder. When a student writes about or discusses a topic that is unfamiliar to me, I will use all my powers of research and inquiry to learn about the topic. Teaching involves an exchange of information between student and teacher. In the best teaching experiences, everybody learns.

Describe your knowledge and experience in working in an educational setting. (This was used on an application to Rock Valley College, hence the mention of the school’s newspaper in the first sentence).

After a career in journalism that began as a reporter and columnist for The Valley Forge, I returned to graduate school at Northern Illinois University in 2005. As a graduate assistant, I taught three sections of first-year composition and worked as a tutor at the university’s writing center. After earning my master’s degree in English, I taught freshmen English at Elgin High School, Elgin, IL, and language arts at Canton Middle School, Streamwood, IL, in a split-school assignment during the 2008-09 academic year. Most recently, I have been a substitute teacher for DeKalb Community School District 428.

8 comments:

Dr. Sanford Aranoff said...

I'll tell you what I think is important about teaching. This is to understand how students think, and build from there using the basic principles of the course. The stress must be on the principles, their applications, verifications, and conclusions. See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better" on amazon.

Dad said...

BRAVO Greg!

marry said...

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!
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Selina said...

WOW! Thank you so much. This was really helpful to get a grasp on what I should/want to say in questions and interviews. Ironically enough, I found this on Google and am also a NIU alumni. Thanks again and good luck with the job hunt!

Anonymous said...

Wow your comments are way better than mine! I thought my responses were great and then..... I read yours. Great!!!!!!

Melissa said...

Fantastic! I loved being able to get an idea before answering my own, as sometimes I just get stuck!

Thanks!

Lauren said...

This was very helpful! I will be graduating from NIU in just a few days and am applying for jobs now. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Well, now that I read your questions I realized that I wrote too much! I wish I could give concise to the point answers, but I can not. I wrote like six paragraphs for each question!!! LOL .. I hope that will not affect my application