Introduction and Overview
The first full unit I will teach in my student-teaching placement will be on Islamic Civilization for a 9th Grade World History course. One of the lessons in my Islamic Civilization Unit plan was on the Beliefs of Islam, which focuses mainly on the Five Pillars of Islam. I chose this lesson to complete in class as my “micro-teaching episode.”
My Islamic Civilization Unit Plan is situated between a unit on the Byzantine Empire (before Islam) and the early Middle Ages in Europe (after Islam). The main overarching theme of all three units is changing patterns of civilization in the Western world after the fall of Rome (more specifically, the Western Roman Empire).
Before planning the unit I looked to the WH1 Virginia SOL curriculum framework to see what was required for my students to know. I used the essential questions, essential knowledge, and key understandings that my students would need to know as a guidepost for constructing my unit plan and my lesson. The main unit goals, thus, were for students to know about the geography, origins, beliefs, turning points, and achievements within early Islamic civilization. My lesson on the Beliefs of Islam is the second of five lessons, each which focused on a different particular SOL standard. The first lesson, related to the WHI.8a SOL which asked students to describe “the origin, beliefs, traditions, customs, and spread of Islam.” So my first lesson focuses on where Islam originated, how it originated, and who founded it. Since the standard is dense, I decided to spread the content over two days for students to become more familiar with the content. This second lesson on the beliefs of Islam focus specifically on the beliefs, traditions and customs of Islam. More particularly, it focuses on the Five Pillars of Islam, which is identified as Essential Knowledge in the SOL framework.
Since the SOL language asks students to describe these beliefs I decided to have a short min-lesson on the Five Pillars of Islam, include a short children’s song on the Five Pillars, and then have students complete five different illustrations which required them to illustrate their own understanding of each pillar.
Video: Using the Five Pillars of Islam Children’s Song to try to enhance understanding and retention.
Reactions after Teaching
After teaching the lesson I thought it went as smoothly as I expected. Each step was well thought out, planned, and executed as I thought it would. There were only two things I didn’t expect: first, I did not anticipate that my peers would have so many questions about the picture of mosques I showed (see video below); and, second, it took my peers less time to complete the Five Pillars of Islam Illustrations Strips than I originally planned (which is to be expected with college students).
I was also happy to know that both of my objectives- identifying facts about mosques and describing the Five Pillars of Islam- were met. From the work the students produced on their illustration strips, it is clear that they were able to define each pillar and then create an illustration which represented each pillar. Then, on the exit slips during the closure, almost all students identified the mosque as the place of worship for Muslims. My assessment was designed to be a way for students to summarize the lecture, but to also create their own interpretations of the content through drawing. I think this worked well to align with the standards. Additionally, I think it helped when I both modeled an example and, then, allowed students to share their work on the document camera (view the video below). This served as differentiation, as another way to reinforce the content learned, and as a strategy to encourage student involvement.
After watching the video of myself teaching I continue to notice that I have a definite classroom presence. My voice I use during class is loud enough for everybody to hear and it is usually authoritative and knowledgeable. However, I also found that my persona is also open, so that students do not fear opening up or asking questions. A second thing I noticed is that I go far beyond what is just written on the lecture slides. While students do have notes, there is additional information I talk about that is not written on the slides themselves. I also noticed that some of the most engaging times for students were during the slides with pictures of mosques where I talked about Islamic art, and also when I provided students with the opportunity to share their work with the class.
Comments from Peers
The responses I received from my peers after the lesson were overwhelmingly positive. One area that received attention first was the lecture portion of the lesson, particularly the use of images in my lecture. One of my peers mentioned how it helped her to make connections between the notes and the content by being able to see pictures that related directly to what I was talking about. She, and others, particularly liked how I used pictures of beautiful mosques from around the world to talk about mosques as places of worship and to also make addition out-of-note comments about Islamic art. My peers also noted that they liked the use of illustrations as an activity to review the lecture content and create their own interpretation of each of the Five Pillars. They also appreciated the opportunity to share one of their drawings with the class by using the document camera. When they shared each drawing, I also made sure to ask each one of them what the pillar was, what it meant, and to explain their drawing to the class.
However, my peers did point out some areas where I could improve in my lessons in the future. One of the main areas they focused on was pausing to ask questions of students during the lecture. They noted that I could have planned and included more opportunities for students to answer and ask questions than I did. Even though I inserted questions in my power-point, they did point out that I skipped some of them. One possible solution that was suggested was to ask a different student each day to pay attention to the questions at the bottom of the slides and tell them that if I skip it to let me know so I can go back and ask the question.
Reflecting back on last semester when I gave another micro-teaching episode on the Causes and Effects of the Peloponnesian War, I can tell that I’ve come a far way. There were things that I did well in last fall’s lesson that I continue to do- engaging lectures, creating assessments which build understanding and check for it, and strong classroom persona- and there were things that I needed improvement. One main way I’ve improved is finding a note-taking style that fits my needs and the needs of students. Last semester my notes were simply my power point slides printed with lines beside them for additional notes. None of my peers wrote down a single note. After it was suggested I think about using slot notes I transitioned into that for this micro-teaching episode and will use it in my teaching this semester.
One area I will need to continue improving is in the area of asking questions during lecture. Asking questions during lecture serves a variety of purposes. First, it keeps students engaged in the lecture instead of being passive note takers. Second, questions can push students to make connections between the current lessons content and past content learned in class. Third, but certainly not the last, it helps teachers to quickly check for understanding. One way I’ve tried to improve on this is to put questions inside my power point slides to ask during class. Usually I’ve bolded them and inserted them at the bottom of most slides. Even in my lesson I skipped over a few, so within the classroom I might ask a different student each day to pay attention to this and to stop me if I skip over one without asking.
Between my experiences in the classroom and delivering lessons for my peers, I have realized how valuable providing models and examples for students really is. I remember reading last semester in Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and jay McTighe that differentiated instruction does not just help students with needs, it helps everybody. Providing models is differentiated instructiong, but I’ve found that it truly does help all students. In my lesson I provided a model for my peers during the Five Pillars of Islam Illustration Strips activity and I know that it helped them understand the directions more clearly, along with giving them an idea of what they needed to do. Providing models is something I will seek to do as much as possible in my classroom this semester.
Additionally, I hope to continue to find ways to make my lectures as engaging as possible. As mentioned previously, one of these ways will be to focus on improving asking questions to students. Not only will I plan out these questions and insert them into my lecture, but I will also give students responsibility by asking them to check if I am asking them or not. Furthermore, I will continue to search out and use engaging images to relate to the content. From my time working in museums, I know that images have power and will usually be remembered by visitors longer than reading text will. My goal is to use images to allow students to make connections between notes, lecture, and content.
Finally, I will continue to find ways to allow students to demonstrate and share their work with the class. Students often become disheartened when their work is only seen by the teacher. However, if students know that they will have the opportunity to share their work, they often put more effort into making their products and ensuring that what they have is correct. Sharing work even gives me, the teacher, an opportunity to review what was already learned.
Video Analysis and Reflection:
- What is the extent of classroom involvement (e.g. are the same students doing all the talking)?
Classroom involvement is medium to high. Not all the same students are doing the talking. During the warm-up, I received responses from a handful of students, but made sure all students could share their work at the end. So every student was able to talk or present during class at least once. There was one or two students who were the most vocal in asking questions of me during lecture. In the future, I should work on giving students more opportunities to ask questions of me.
- Are the students engaged in the lesson? How can you tell? What do students’ facial expressions and body language tell you about your instruction?
Students are engaged the lesson. I know this due to their responses and questions during the lesson. There were a high level of questions being asked throughout the presentation. When talking about mosques and showing pictures of them, students frequently rose their hands to ask me questions and often would react to the slideshow pictures. Students also were quick to volunteer to present their work to their classmates (see video below again).
- What kinds of questions do you ask? Can all questions be answered with a single word? How long do you wait for responses? Do you ask students to explain and/ or defend a particular answer or approach? Do you ask students to compare or evaluate alternative interpretations or strategies?
Most of the questions I asked in the lesson tended to be recall questions from prior knowledge. For example, when talking about the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, I asked what other two religions considered Jerusalem holy. Students answered Judaism and Christianity. I asked a follow up, why do they consider the city Holy? Students responded that Christ was crucified there and that the Wailing Wall was there, which was once part of the Temple of Solomon. However, I did not ask students to compare or evaluate alternative interpretations of anything during my lesson.
- Were there any opportunities for students to ask questions? How would you categorize the students’ questions (e.g. did they indicate confusion and a need for clarification or understanding and extension)?
There were limited opportunities for students to ask questions. There were only two times where I stopped to pause and ask students if they had questions. First, was after my brief discussion on mosques, and the second was after talking about the Five Pillars of Islam. Part of this was connected to the large amount of questions students had during the presentation, but another part, and a much larger part, was my lack of pausing to ask students if they had questions.
- What roles (e.g. expert, facilitator, co- learner) did you play in the videotape? Was each role appropriate for the situation?
The two main roles I played during the lecture were of expert and facilitator. When I played the role of expert I was going through my mini-lecture and talking about the images on the board. I played the role of facilitator during the Five Pillars of Islam Illustration Strips activity when I walked around the room, asked students if they needed help or ideas, and then coordinated them sharing their products on the document camera.
- What kinds of tasks did you ask students to do? Did you capitalize on their previous knowledge and experiences?
First, in the Just Do It, I ask students to compare the images of a synagogue, a church, and a mosque. I ask students to think about what their purpose could be, who they could have been built by, and what is significant about them. This involves guessing on their part, but they also activated prior knowledge and life experience to complete this task.
Second, students were tasked with completing slot notes, which is not a deep thinking task, so I tried to incorporate questions into my slides to build upon the content on that slide. Usually I did this by trying to activate primary knowledge from a previous unit.
Finally, I asked students to illustrate understanding. I did this by asking them to translate each pillar of Islam, but to also illustrate what each pillar meant to them.
- What instructional opportunities did you take advantage of? Why?
I took advantage of the questions which were asked by students to talk about Islam and Islamic culture. Students asked questions about individual mosques and whey they looked a certain way. For example, a student asked a question about why the Dome of the Rock looked the way that it did. My response was that the Dome was heavily influenced by the structure which inhabited that space before, which was the Temple of Solomon. Additionally, I reminded her that Islamic religious art contains no depictions of people, so the Dome of the Rock was covered in murals. Additionally, one student asked if it was possible for anybody to go to Mecca. I responded that it was not, to enter the city you have to be a Muslim. I explained that because this was a holy site, Muslims believe that only Muslims should be able to enter it.
- What instructional opportunities did you not take advantage of? Why?
Unfortunately, I feel like I could have taken the opportunity to talk about what followers of Islam believe in more depth and we could have compared it to the other Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Christianity. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about followers of Islam and what they believe and doing this might clear up any misunderstandings my future students may have.
- What evidence did you see of the students taking intellectual risks? Does the class look safe as an environment for getting something wrong? Do students talk to each other as well as to you?
The main way I saw students taking intellectual risks was when students asked questions during lecture. Some students may have been uncomfortable asking these questions, but some students asked them during the time that I assumed the role of expert. When I didn’t know an answer, I was fine with saying that I didn’t know and then, during the illustration strips activity, I looked up the answer and then reported back to the class what I found.
- Do you push students to take risks, to speculate, to offer conjectures about possible approaches, strategies, and interpretations?
The only way I pushed students during this lesson, was to form their own interpretation of the Five Pillars of Islam by asking them to illustrate what each pillar meant. This gave students the ability to represent the different pillars in illustrations that they understood.
- Were the learning goals for the lesson clear and achieved? Did you adjust your lesson so every student could achieve your goals? What is the evidence for you answers, both in the videotape and from other sources?
Yes, the learning goals for the lesson were achieved. The main goals of the lesson were for students to identify mosques and illustrate their understanding of the Five Pillars of Islam. Evidence for understanding came directly from student responses on the 3-2-1 Exit Slip and from the Five Pillars of Islam Illustration Strips. To ensure that all students could achieve these goals I made sure to model an example of the Five Pillars Illustrations on the documents camera. This way students could see directions on their worksheets, on the board, and then also see examples of what student work could look like.
- Explain how your design and execution of this lesson affected the achievement of your goals? (Think about anticipation in handling student misconceptions, the unexpected questions from students, the unanticipated opportunity for learning you captured, or your planned strategy and its outcomes in the lesson.
I designed this lesson as a way for students to understand more about Islam through lecture, images, and through illustrations. From this group of students I did not anticipate many misconceptions to be held, however, for my placement class I did anticipate misconceptions. One way I tried to subvertly counter these was to include images of Muslims around the world. For example, one of my images show American Muslim soldiers in uniform praying on a military base, while another shows Muslims in Dublin, Ireland eating after fasting. My goal was to show students that Muslims are not only everywhere, but that they were also just like us. Additionally, I anticipated questions about mosques and Mecca and used those as opportunities to talk beyond the content and to clear student misconceptions.