Early career teacher Maddie Cotterell says new teaching professionals can fast track their development by being reflective and seeking advice.
The reception teacher at Mt Barker South Primary School in South Australia talked to literacy experts Phil and Sharon Callen on The Teacher’s Tool Kit For Literacy podcast about how early career teachers can make an impact with their literacy practices in the classroom.
She encouraged emerging teachers to reach out to colleagues for information, tips and guidance.
“In my first year, I was like a duck in water. I was paddling frantically underneath, but trying to look all cool and calm collected … So I think that for early career teachers, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I think you have to get out of that mindset of trying to just be a duck and looking like you’ve got it all under control,” Maddie said on episode 12 of The Teaof being repetitive when necessary and reflective of your practices and how they engage your students.
“I’m constantly reflecting on my practice and how the children respond to my practice. So quite often I’ll do a lesson and I’ll sit there at the desk afterwards and go, ‘alright, I’m going to try that again tomorrow, and I’m going to do it like this tomorrow’,” she said.
“I’ve actually taught entire units again, because I’ve just felt they haven’t matched what I was hoping for. So I’ve gone back and gone from a different angle because it’s a reflection on, ‘okay, I’m going to teach it a different way. I’m going to see if the children connect with it this way’.
“When we were doing a phonological awareness, I found that the children weren’t grasping the concepts … so I went back and I did the whole unit again, and the outcomes from the second time round were so fantastic. And it really did just clarify to me that it is okay to do it again.”
It was this reflective process, along with insights from Sharon Callen, that pushed Maddie to make positive changes in her classroom, such as by building a classroom library or having more involved Read Alouds, which had an immediate impact on the level of engagement from students.
“[I saw] these kids aren’t engaging with the books because I’m not showing them that there’s an interest in it … I went straight to the class, our school library, borrowed a stack of books, put them in [the classroom library] and then straight on Seesaw (app) and asked for donations from families to really stock it up,” Maddie said
“You build the interest, the engagement is naturally going to follow. So when children were seeing their parents bringing in books and donating books and seeing how excited I was about these beautiful picture books … my interest naturally spilled over for these children in the classroom.
”I’ve always done Read Alouds. But I think making the Read Alouds a lot more engaging and providing more opportunities for people to call out and engage with the text [is more effective], whereas before it would be a bit more, ‘okay, come in, we’re going to relax’.”
Maddie also urged teachers not to make assumptions on the capabilities of their students, especially those in reception.
“One thing that I have done very purposefully is read a chapter book. Initially I went, ‘no’, it’s not something that I would have ever considered doing with five and six year olds. I felt the comprehension and all of those things may have been too beyond them. Boy was I wrong, and I’m very pleased I was wrong,” she said.
“Don’t put limitations on these children. Don’t ever make assumptions that things might be too complex.”
Finally, Maddie discussed the ‘every child, every day’ concept and empowering students with ‘first person’ vocabulary.
“The six pieces of ‘every child, every day’ are every day, every child chooses something he or she wants to read, every child every day reads with understanding, reads with accuracy, hears a fluent adult reading, writes about something personally meaningful, and gets to talk about their reading and writing,” Sharon explained.
Maddie added: “Using [first person] language with the kids is so empowering and gives them that accountability as well. Like I am that every child every day, that is me, so therefore this is what I’m going to do to be a good reader and a good writer … it actually gives them that desire to be that person, to be that child every day.”