Part 2: The Student Teaching Assignments

  1. Overview of the Assignments
  2. Orientation to the Placement
  3. Assignments
    1. Student Teacher Files
    2. Inquiry Into Community, School, and Classroom
    3. Typical Day Observation: “Shadowing” a Student
    4. Observation of Other Educators
    5. Weekly Schedule
    6. Daily Lesson Plans
    7. Lesson Analysis
    8. Emergency Lesson Plans
    9. Personal Philosophy
    10. Video Analysis
    11. Journal Writing
    12. Peer Consultation/Observation
    13. Individual Learner Project: Response to Intervention
    14. Unit Plan: Inquiry into Teaching and Learning: Planning, Teaching, and Reflecting
    15. Short Term Student Teaching Abroad Assignments

1. Overview of the Assignments

Your assignments are designed with respect to your developmental needs and abilities, and aim to provide you with an opportunity to reflect on your work and to promote your personal and professional development. The timeline for completing specific tasks and assignments may vary somewhat by cohort. Your university supervisor will provide you with a syllabus that specifies the exact requirements of the experience and the timeline for completing tasks and assignments.

2. Orientation to the Placement

After the placement is secured and conveyed to you, it is important to get to know more about the community, district, school building, mentor teacher, and students. Building a strong relationship with the mentor teacher should be among the first of your goals. A positive first impression makes a difference! After receiving permission from the university supervisor, you should initiate communication with the mentor teacher by phoning or emailing the teacher at the school. If possible, you should visit the teacher at the school prior to the start of your student teaching.

In addition to building a relationship, initial contact with the mentor teacher is an important opportunity to gather and exchange some critical information. You are required to provide your mentor teacher with a copy of the Student Teaching Handbook. Some additional items to consider are:

  • Exchanging of phone numbers, email addresses, and mailing addresses;
  • Confirming the expected date, time, and location of the first day of student teaching;
  • Becoming familiar with the mentor teacher’s daily and weekly schedule;
  • Discussing what courses, subjects, units, topics, etc., will likely be taught;
  • Determining whether curriculum materials such as texts, software, district curriculum guides should be picked up prior to the start of student teaching;
  • Asking for a copy of any school or classroom rules, guidelines for classroom management, and other policies, relevant to managing the learning-teaching environment;
  • Other items as suggested by the university supervisor.

Note: University supervisors often require student teachers to send a written communication, thanking the mentor teacher for his or her willingness to host a student teacher. A copy of the letter is to be sent to the university supervisor, as well.

3. Assignments

3.1. Student Teaching Files

There are many assignments, tasks, forms, and other paperwork associated with the student teaching experience. You are required to keep all of this paperwork organized and accessible. You, the mentor teacher, or your university supervisor may use the paperwork at many different points during the experience, especially during the conferences about performance and for preparation of the student teaching performance portfolio. Therefore, it is essential for you to have an efficient organizational system. Some student teachers purchase and use a portable file box or large accordion folder for this purpose. Others find a three ring binder with labeled tabs to be sufficient. Your university supervisor may require a specific type of filing system.

3.2. Inquiry Into Community, School, and Classroom

The purpose of this beginning phase of student teaching is to help you to become familiar with the community, the school, and your assigned classroom context. You will need to locate and review documentation and Internet resources about the community and school. Beyond a web search, data about the community and school can be obtained by unobtrusive observations and brief, informal interviews with key community and/or school personnel. Although some of this information can be collected prior to the start of student teaching, much information can only be collected after the student teaching practicum has begun.

The “Orientation to The School” assignment, found in Appendix J., helps you to become acquainted with school personnel and operational procedures. The data collected will be useful in understanding the school and its resources, opportunities, and challenges.

A written summary/report following the outline below, accompanied by any relevant supporting
materials, including “Orientation to The School” assignment, observations of other teachers, and shadowing a student should be completed by the date specified by your university supervisor.

The summary should include:

  • Community and district-level information/factors (e.g., rural/suburban/urban, population demographics, dominant community business/influences, potential resources available for your teaching, etc.)
  • School-level factors (e.g., academic environment, school philosophy, physical layout, school initiatives, strategic planning goals, involvement of parents, areas of promise and problems, etc.)
  • Classroom-level factors and student characteristics (e.g., classroom layout, demographics, formally identified special needs such as learning or physical disability, informally identified needs such as shyness, accommodations described in IEPs, classroom learning environment, academic and behavioral expectations, etc.).

3.3. Typical Day Observation: “Shadowing” a Student

You can experience the school day from the student’s perspective by following the schedule of a specific student or class throughout the day. It is important for you to become acquainted with a cross section of the school. Data gathered during the shadowing and subsequent reflections will enhance your understanding of the school’s culture. Your supervisor may ask you to submit a written report of your shadowing experience. This experience is especially valuable for secondary education majors to complete.

3.4. Observation of Other Educators

Observations of other teachers in and out of the assigned grade level or subject area can provide useful insights. Sometimes student teachers placed in a middle school setting wonder what it is like to teach high school seniors. Student teachers who primarily teach high performing students might like to visit a classroom with predominantly lower performers. It also can be useful to observe other professionals in the school to gain insight into how the whole school functions. The guidance counselor’s office, special education classrooms, ELL classrooms, and athletic facilities are just some of the places to find other educational professionals to observe. Both the mentor teacher and university supervisor should approve all observations of other educators before the observation takes place.

You may be asked to prepare a journal entry or a brief report based on observations of other educators. It is recommended that you complete most observations early in the semester before assuming a full-time teaching load. Observations of other educators should be requested and arranged in advance.

Professional courtesies and protocol should be observed, which includes thanking the person who provides the observation setting and, as always, maintaining confidentiality regarding what may be seen and heard in these observations.

Early observations in the mentor teacher’s classroom help you to become familiar with the classroom environment, learning student’s names, recognizing classroom procedures, practicing systematic observation, and building teacher inquiry skills. Observations are most productive when made with a stated purpose or focus. You are expected to define (with the guidance of the mentor teacher and/or university supervisor) specific aspects of the situation to be observed before beginning the observation. Approaches to observation are included in Appendix I., and can be adapted for observations of experienced teachers. Data collections should be part of every observation, followed by an analysis appropriate for the observation’s focus.

3.5. Weekly Schedule

Each week, you will submit a weekly teaching and activity schedule to your university supervisor, according to a specific format. The schedule should accurately reflect the general daily schedule and specify activities for which you are personally responsible. The schedule helps in the organization of your work and assists your supervisor in planning an efficient observation schedule.

3.6. Daily Lesson Plans

As a Penn State student teacher you are required to demonstrate the ability to effectively plan and implement learning activities and assessments in the classroom. Lesson plans assist in the identification of specific learning outcomes, materials, procedures, and assessment techniques to be used in planning effective lessons. Lesson planning is a process composed of many decisions. All teachers spend time thinking about a series of important instructional decisions before their lessons begin. The written plans are evidence that this thinking process has occurred. The written plans also provide a window into your thinking about teaching and learning, as well as allow the mentor teacher and university supervisor to assist with your development in that area.

Experienced teachers plan lessons in many different ways and at many different times. Experienced teachers often do not produce formal written plans for the lessons they will teach. This fact does not suggest poor planning, but the importance of such documentation for the individual teacher. At the same time, many experienced teachers believe that producing a written plan, in fact, improves their planning and, subsequently, their teaching. As experienced teachers, they understand the process of lesson planning thoroughly, and plan lessons in more informal ways.

Beginning teachers and prospective teachers, however, are still in the process of developing an understanding of lesson planning and learning about the multitude of factors that must be considered in planning high quality instruction. Therefore, Penn State expects all student teachers to engage in the process of planning. You document your planning in the form of written lesson and unit plans.

The development of the written lesson plan serves three purposes. First, it stimulates and strengthens the mental process of planning a lesson. Second, it provides concrete evidence that you have considered important decisions and factors in planning. This then fulfills the third purpose: the detailed planning makes your thought process explicit so that your mentor teacher and university supervisor can help you plan more effectively.

Written plans are required for all lessons and learning activities that you expect to implement. Your mentor teacher must approve your lesson plans in advance. (A typical window is at least 24 hours in advance of teaching—but may vary by mentor.) Advanced planning provides a point of discussion with your mentor teacher that can facilitate cooperative planning, clarification and trouble-shooting. If your written lesson plans are not submitted at least 24 hours in advance, your supervisor may recommend that you not teach the lesson.

Note: Please refer to the planning resources in the appendix.

3.7. Lesson Analysis

An analysis of lessons taught is critical to the development of teachers. You may be asked to prepare a written analysis of some or all of the lessons taught. As you reflect on the most and least effective aspects of the lesson and identify alternatives, you will develop abilities to inquire into your own practices that will foster continued professional growth and improvement. The analysis is conducted shortly after teaching a lesson. In an effort to analyze the effectiveness of the lesson, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • What did I learn through the process of planning and implementing this lesson?
  • What did my students learn? How do I know what they learned?
  • To what extent did I meet the needs of all of my learners? How do I know whether I have?
  • What did I learn about teaching and learning this concept?
  • What did I learn about managing the learning environment during this lesson?
  • What did I really like about this lesson?
  • What disappointed me about this lesson?
  • What alternative instructional and assessment strategies could I have used?
  • What will I do next?

3.8. Emergency Lesson Plans

You are required to prepare emergency lesson plans to be used in unexpected situations such as schedule changes. The emergency plans should be readily available for immediate use. The plans are written and contain the same parts needed in all good planning, such as objectives, materials, procedures, assessment of self and students. Emergency lesson plans may be independent of other lessons and need not be an integral part of the curriculum. The approximate length of emergency lesson plans should be varied (e.g., two or three plans to run between five and ten minutes; one plan for ten to twenty minutes; one for twenty to thirty minutes [or a class period]). All activities should be appropriate to the interest and grade level of the students.

You should be able to put an emergency plan into action smoothly and without hesitation. In fact, the emergency plan should be developed well enough that any teacher could put the plan into action. Therefore, all materials should be ready to use without additional preparation. Activities for an emergency plans may be challenging and thought-provoking (e.g., mind benders or mazes) and/or may be intended for one or more of the following:

  • Relaxation
  • Appreciation
  • Recreation
  • Developing creativity
  • Reinforcement of a skill
  • Reinforcement of facts needing later recall
  • Enrichment
  • Greater breadth of application and/or understanding in any knowledge area previously present

3.9. Personal Philosophy

All student teachers bring beliefs about learning and teaching to the field experience. These beliefs might include the way children and teenagers grow and develop, the purposes of schooling, the nature of learning, teaching, educational programs, and school climate and structure. This platform of beliefs is often based on one’s own experiences in schools and upon learning principles or theories studied.

At the beginning of the practicum, you will be asked to express your personal philosophy in writing. You likely prepared a philosophy statement in courses prior to student teaching—it would prove helpful to take it out and review it when planning for instruction and interaction with students. You may find inconsistencies due to the fact that teaching is a process of continual inquiry—changes and modifications in philosophy are considered healthy and necessary.

The student teaching practicum provides you with opportunities to test your beliefs and to determine the extent to which your aims or goals can be realized in your school. Activities to help clarify beliefs about teaching and learning can include:

  • Observing experienced teachers to identify instances of effective teaching strategies and methods
  • Discussing and reflecting on these teaching strategies or methods with the mentor teacher to determine why these practices are used and to identify the underlying learning principles
  • Using analysis/observations of classroom implementation and interaction by the supervisor and mentor teacher.

Near the end of the practicum, you should examine the philosophy written earlier in the semester to determine which beliefs prevailed. You may be asked to write a revised philosophy of teaching and learning that is appropriate for a job interview.

3.10. Video Analysis

Analysis of a video or audio recording of a lesson taught provides you with an opportunity (a) to reflect more intensively on teaching and learning; and, to (b) to use systematic observation to assess teacher-learner behaviors. The focus of your video may be on your own performance, or the performance of your students (or your interactions with students).

Prior to your recording of a lesson, you must become knowledgeable of any district policies regarding video or audio recording. Your mentor teacher can help you learn of school policy.

The focus for analysis should be identified first. You can then view the video, collecting relevant data from the viewing, and, then, prepare an analysis. The analysis should include any appropriate documentation (e.g., copy of the lesson plan, copy of a data summary sheet, a complete analysis). The following components should be included in the written video analysis:

  • Description of the area of focus and indication why this particular aspect of teaching was selected;
  • Explanation of the rationale for the focus, and careful consideration of principles of learning and best practice;
  • Collection and organization of data related to the focus from viewing the tape one or more times (e.g., chart of some other approach to systematic data organization);
  • Summary of the findings and discussion of their meaning;
  • Discussion of any unexpected discoveries that merit attention;
  • Setting of specific goals for improvement and listing of at least two specific changes to be made that will help you to achieve identified goals.

Some areas for analysis might include:

  • Response to students’ answers (use of positive reinforcement statements; verbatim repetition, allowing students to elaborate on their answers or other students’ answers, seeking a correct response if a student’s answer is incomplete or inaccurate).
  • Teacher clarity (in giving directions, explaining content through task analysis, making explanations relevant to the process or the product, pacing).
  • Types and frequency of praise and encouragement.
  • Student engagement in small group activities.

Note: It is often helpful for you and your mentor teacher to view the video together.

3.11 Journal Writing

Keeping a journal during student teaching encourages reflection in a less structured format. Entries may include experiences, reactions, activities and learning related to the art of teaching. It may be a reflective document that brings together events, reactions, and response to the school day. It also may be a tool for communication with the supervisor.

Suggested topics for reflection in the journal include:

  • Comparison of teaching and management strategies among observed teachers;
  • Thoughts about topics as parent/teacher relations, faculty interaction, and student affairs;
  • Discussion of classroom/behavior management strategies;
  • Reflections on abilities to work with special needs students, or with small and large groups;
  • Insights about attitudes toward teaching and educational concerns;
  • Periodic self-assessments in the areas of professional growth and development including knowledge about children and teaching;
  • Descriptions of peak experiences, crisis, surprising occurrences or other events which appear significant to professional growth;
  • Reactions to current professional literature or research.

2.3.12 Peer Consultation/Observation

Observations of peers as well as experienced teachers can give you new perspectives on teaching and provide you an opportunity to network and collaborate with others to improve your teaching skills. A useful strategy is to engage in a three-part observation cycle which includes: (1) the pre-observation conference—to determine what the observer should look for and collect data about; (2) the actual observation; and (3), a post-observation conference—what the observer saw and what it means to be the teacher.
Note: please see Appendix I for some suggested observation strategies

3.13. Individual Learner Project: Response to Intervention

This semester long teacher inquiry project requires you, in collaboration with other professionals, to identify an exceptional student, gather data, analyze the data, prescribe and implement adaptations, and evaluate the resultant effects. In addition to providing valuable assistance to an individual school student, this inquiry project aids in developing your sense of efficacy as a teacher.

With confidentiality always a priority, you will consult with other professionals such as learning support teachers, school psychologists, and school counselors. You will research the student’s background and report on the student’s current level, strengths, and weaknesses at the beginning of the semester. After doing background research, you will clearly define the targeted goal, and gather baseline data on your student. You will then create an instructional plan for that student, identifying strategies to achieve these goals.

You will continue to gather data as you implement your plan of intervention. Throughout this project, you will reflect on the strategies that you use and analyze their effectiveness. If your initial intervention does not work, you are encouraged to try other intervention strategies.

Note: Your university supervisor will provide you with detailed guidelines appropriate for your specific classroom setting.

3.14. Unit Plan -- Inquiry into Teaching: Planning, Teaching, and Reflecting

Once oriented to the community, school, and classroom, the focus shifts to greater collaboration with your mentor teacher for planning, teaching, and assessment. You will engage in activities ranging from assessing or tutoring individual students to working with a small group to co-teaching the whole class. You also will participate in tasks such as preparing new instructional materials, grading, etc.
While there will be many opportunities to plan, teach, assess, and reflect during student teaching, all Penn State student teachers plan, teach, and assess the impact of a standards-based unit. In consultation with your university supervisor and mentor teacher, you will develop a unit of instruction that lasts for a recommended minimum length of ten lessons, depending on the context. This core assignment has several major components:

Component #1: Inquiry into the Curriculum The following sub-components should be clearly identifiable:

  1. Identify Standards: Identify district and state academic standards that should be met by students upon completion of this unit of instruction. PA Academic Standards can be found at (Click on “Academic Standards” along left column and follow the links to relevant subject area) as well as through the “Standards Wizard” on Taskstream. These standards provide a framework to help teachers identify teaching and learning priorities and are necessary in guiding the design of curriculum, instruction, and assessments. Another valuable source can be the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Standards Aligned System (SAS). Information about SAS can be found at the following URL:
  2. Specify Learning Outcomes: In order to meet the specified district and state standard(s), what will the students need to know, understand and be able to do? Understanding is more than just textbook knowledge and basic skills. Understanding involves sophisticated insights of concepts and abilities. What concepts or “enduring understandings” should students develop by the end of the lesson sequence? In addition to the “big ideas,” what key knowledge/facts and skills should students demonstrate to meet the learning outcomes of the unit?
  3. Develop Assessment and Instruction Plan: Now that the end is clear, it is time to design the means for getting the students there. Using the standards and specific learning outcomes that were identified in (A) and (B) as the starting point, develop an integrated instruction and assessment plan of at least 10 lessons that builds on community and school context information and is aligned and keyed to the learning outcomes and standards specified above. At this point in the planning process, the instruction and assessment plan may take either of two forms: 1) a block plan that briefly states the specific learning outcomes, learning activities, formative assessment strategy, and key materials for each lesson; or (2) fully developed lesson plans for each day using the lesson plan format agreed upon by you, your mentor, and the university supervisor. If the block plan format is used in planning the unit, fully developed lesson plans for each lesson will need to be developed at least 24 hours in advance. If the fully developed lesson plan format is used in planning the unit, the daily lessons will need to be revised as necessary to adapt to student learning and the actual progress of instruction during the course of the unit. The revisions to the lesson plans should be completed at least 24 hours in advance. Note that it is expected that the instructional plan for the unit meaningfully integrates instructional technology as appropriate for the learning outcomes and for the school/classroom context. You must consult with the mentor while developing this plan to be sure it can be implemented in the assigned classroom. See various planning and assessment resources in Appendix L.
    Assessment is the act of determining the extent to which curricular goals are met, as well as analyzing the events and responses to your lessons that could not have been predicted. (Often the unexpected proves to be the most enlightening.) How will the teacher know if students have developed the understandings specified? What is accepted as evidence that students have developed the desired understandings? By planning assessments while planning instruction, the assessments can serve as teaching targets—helping to sharpen instructional plans to be sure they meet intended outcomes.
    The assessment plan must include:
    1. Pre-assessments (diagnostic) to help you understand what students already know and are able to do and/or “diagnose” learning needs;
    2. Ongoing assessments (formative) that are used during the unit to monitor the development of understanding and provide data that help “to inform” you of the next instructive step;
    3. Post-assessments (summative), which may consist of selected response items (e.g., multiple choice, matching), constructed response items (e.g., short answer, label diagram, concept map), assignment artifacts (e.g., essay, drawing, journal entry), or performances (e.g., oral presentations, debate). In addition, informal assessments such as observations or clinical assessments such as an interview, think-aloud, or “science talk” are also suitable forms of post-instructional assessment. Post-assessments “summarize” student learning.
  4. Plan the Learning Environment How have you encouraged an inviting, motivating, and productive atmosphere in your classroom? What included procedures address effective us of class time and resources, respond to potential student questions and concerns, and deal with off-topic or off-task behavior? The plan for the learning environment should be central to each lesson plan.
  5. Differentiation. In addition to external standards and local school district expectations, you also should consider the specific needs of students when designing learning and assessment experiences. Therefore, you are required to:
    1. Identify the students who may have difficulty with your lesson, or who have displayed the ability, background knowledge, or interest to quickly learn this type of lesson.
    2. Consider and then document how you could adapt or accommodate for those students for each lesson in the unit.
  6. Plan the Learning Environment. How have you encouraged an inviting, motivating, and productive atmosphere in your classroom? What included procedures address effective us of class time and resources, respond to potential student questions and concerns, and deal with off-topic or off-task behavior? The plan for the learning environment should be central to each lesson plan.

Component # 2: Teach the Unit

After the unit is written and approved by your mentor teacher and university supervisor, gather necessary materials and supplies and begin teaching. Before teaching the unit, make arrangements to be formally observed at least once by your university supervisor and once by your mentor teacher. Formal observations provide useful information that can facilitate improvement as a teacher. In some cases, the supervisor or mentor may expect that at least one lesson be videotaped for self-analysis and/or that a journal be kept wherein you reflect on each lesson taught. In addition, use of observational data in Component #4 permits an assessment of your own teaching during this unit.

Component #3: Inquiry into Student Learning

This inquiry requires you to analyze and use student assessment data to characterize what has been learned during the unit. There are two parts to this inquiry.

  1. Whole Class Assessment: The purpose is to organize and analyze assessment evidence in order to draw conclusions about student achievement of each of the specified learning outcomes. The best way to conduct this kind of assessment is to examine and compare pre-instructional assessments and post-instructional assessments targeting the same concept of understanding. It is not necessary to report analyses for each individual child. Rather, you should aggregate assessment information of the whole class to show what students learned and are now able to do. What patterns of performance are evident in the assessments? Are these the results expected? In what areas did the students perform best and worst? What misconceptions, if any, are revealed by the assessments?
  2. Individual Student Assessment: In this sub-component, the task is to organize and analyze assessment evidence for at least one student identified with special needs, exceptionality, etc. The purpose is to demonstrate your ability to monitor and interpret the academic performance of an exceptional child and reflect on your own ability to differentiate instruction. What patterns of performance are evident in the assessment? Are these the results expected? In what areas did the student (or students) perform best and worst? What misconceptions, if any, are revealed by the assessments?

Component #4: Inquiry into My Teaching

The purpose of Component #4 is to scaffold your reflection on your own development as a new teacher. There are three parts to this inquiry.

  1. Overall Self-Assessment: Provide an overall assessment of teaching strengths and limitations during this unit of instruction. The “Teacher Education Performance Standards” (see Appendix A) in the areas of Planning and Preparing for Student Learning, Teaching, Analyzing Student Learning and Inquiring into Teaching, and Fulfilling Professional Responsibilities are used to guide the reflection process. You are to indicate at least one strength and one limitation for each of the four performance domains. Examples from lesson plans, formal observations, videotapes, student assessment data, peer observation notes, etc., can be used to illustrate each strength and limitation in each of these performance areas.
  2. Perception of Effectiveness with Exceptional Student: You are required to assess the effectiveness of adaptations and accommodations made for an exceptional learner and provide reflections on the effectiveness of the instructional differentiation and resource adaptations utilized. Examples from lesson plans, formal observations, videotapes, student assessment data, peer observation notes, lesson analyses/reflections, etc. can be used to illustrate the assessment.
  3. Goal Setting: Student teaching is not the end; it is just the beginning of a rewarding career as a caring, effective educator. An appropriate conclusion to this inquiry into one’s teaching is to set achievable goals in each of the four performance domains for future growth and development.

3.15. Required Assignments for Short Term Student Teaching Abroad

  1. Assignments to be completed in U.S. Placement
    1. Inquiry into Teaching and Learning Project
      1. Inquiry into School and Community
      2. Inquiry into Curriculum
      3. Inquiry into Teaching and Learning
      4. Individual Learner Project
    2. Mid-semester Performance Framework Portfolio
  2. Assignments to be completed in International Placement
    1. Final Performance Framework Portfolio
    2. Weekly journal entries submitted via email to U.S. Supervisor
      1. Suggested topics
        1. Orientation to international school and community
        2. Comparison between PA school and host nation school (facilities, dress, student-teacher relationships, classroom management, assessment, etc.)
        3. Reflections on accommodations for individual learners in the host nation school
        4. Self-assessment of teaching, especially in reference to goals developed in PA placement
        5. Student/youth culture in the host nation (secondary) or views of childhood/children in host nation (elementary)
        6. Cultural views on education in host nation (parental involvement, government support, private vs. public schools, etc.)
        7. Reflection on the entire semester (How have you grown and changed? What have you learned?)
        8. What conditions in an international setting would encourage you to teach outside the United States?