Eva Charkowske, a 7th – 8th grade teacher at Morey Montessori Public School Academy
What keeps your students aiming for success in the classroom?
A lot of learning in the classroom is self-guided and I find this allows students to be successful in learning. Lessons are connected to their lives and the students prioritize their own work for the day. Students are also motivated to be successful in the classroom by being able to participate in special activities, such as our Service Learning Trip.
How do you remind your students of the expectations you have?
My students know that my expectations will always remain the same, so it is easy for them to recognize if they are or are not meeting my expectations by simply posing the question, “what are my expectations?” They typically are able to then state what should be done and correct themselves. We have a daily classroom meeting where we discuss classroom problems, suggestions, comments or concerns the students or myself may have. This designated time allows for daily reminders of expectations of their work and behaviors at school. On Fridays, we hold a formal meeting in which we are able to discuss in depth any issues and go over the expectations again.
Your students seem to take an active part in the classroom. In what ways are they active in their learning?
Daily! Students have a variety of activities they are expected to complete and it is their responsibility to prioritize their own work and complete it in a timely manner. My lessons are also based on discussions. I want my students to be able to think about what they are learning, so I use a discussion format in my lessons that guide students to make their own reflections and inferences about the subject. Peer teaching is also highly encouraged in the classroom, acknowledging the variety of strengths among the students. Often times, students initiate teaching one another while I am teaching small-group lessons.
With such independent students, how do you incorporate teamwork into your classroom?
I aim daily to incorporate some sort of group or whole class activity in which the students work together to accomplish a common goal. Students also participate in a community activity every week where team-building is the primary goal.
In what ways do you build a family-like atmosphere in your classroom?
The fact that the students are within the same class all day naturally helps build a family-like atmosphere, as well as small class sizes. We also take time out of our week to acknowledge one another. This is done through “kudos”, thank-you’s, compliments, and encouragements. Students can silently give “kudos” by writing it on a sheet of paper and placing it in a box. These are then read at the end of each week. Also, each Friday, our formal meetings begin with an encouragement circle and end with thank-you’s and compliments when each student participates.
What’s the secret ingredient?
I believe the “secret ingredient” in our class is our ability to treat one another with respect and take responsibility for our actions. I use the words “respect” and “responsibility” frequently when speaking with the students and demonstrate these character traits by how I treat them. This allows us to maintain a safe learning environment in our classroom where everyone has a role.
How do you keep your students interested in learning?
Middle school is a tough age to keep students engaged in academic learning, but they are all about trying to figure out the world and where they fit into it. The most frequent questions I get from my students when we begin a new unit are “why do I need to learn this?” and “when will I need this in real life?” My aim with each unit is to challenge students to answer these questions on their own, discovering what parts of life the information impacts. I want their learning to come alive for them, so we put a lot of what we are learning in terms of the here and now.
How are creativity and innovative thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
Students are coming up with creative ways to solve problems within the classroom daily. I highly believe in teaching students to think. This is also demonstrated through “Passion Projects” where students research topics of interest such as historical or current events, science theories, or social/political issues. Each student is encouraged to create a “Passion Project” that teaches their fellow classmates something they find important. Recently, I had students create projects about bullying, mental illnesses, the importance of art, and the impact of the Cold War.