Featured Teacher Spotlight: Learn from Jane Shiu

Last week, we shared Part 1 of our Featured Teacher Spotlight: a Q&A with Jane Shiu that explores Jane’s background and her time at Sci Academy. This week, we dig deeper into our conversation with Jane to reveal more about her course, Computer Literacy, her strengths, and the skills she has gained in the classroom over the last several years.

We invite you to learn from Jane in the questions that follow! If you haven’t yet, be sure to refer back to Part 1 of her interview on the blog, and rewatch the Teacher Feature video to learn how her teammates and scholars think of Jane as a teacher and a colleague.

One thing that came out in your Teacher Feature was that you are a very strong planner. How do you approach planning?

In planning, I ask myself (a) what do kids need to practice or learn how to do, and (b) how can I get them practicing as soon as possible. I ask myself what are the core skills to this lesson, and what does an assessment of these skills look like? What do children need to be practicing? When I plan, I ensure that my practice and my assessment are aligned, and that the rigor is the same. My lesson plans at this point look very different from when I started. This class doesn’t fit as well into a 5-step lesson plan. At this point, what I submit for my lesson plans is more of an outline of what I will do, with a much greater focus on the actual practice that kids will be doing.

What advice would you give to someone who is in a similar place to where you were 5 years ago regarding lesson planning?

I would say maximize your amount of practice – the more practice the better. Stop talking. Have kids work! I think there’s a fear that leads teachers to feel they need to spoon-feed students and tell them exactly what to do. Actually no – bring your talking down to as little as possible, have kids practice and give them feedback. You don’t need long and elaborate INMs — what you need is to have children practicing and grappling with the content. Make them think and do the heavy cognitive lifting! Be sure the practice you are giving them is good practice – that it’s what they should be doing.

The Teacher Feature highlighted your very strong connections with parents. What advice would you give other teachers on how to building those relationships?

I think the big thing is: don’t be scared. I didn’t have very much confidence when I was a first year teacher. Who was I to tell a parent what to do? I was 21 years old and fresh out of college! I didn’t have faith in my expert power because I wasn’t an expert. What I needed to do was still have confidence in myself knowing that I was someone who cared about [a parent’s] child and wanted them to be successful. I should have realized that and therefore would have felt more comfortable communicating with families, knowing that my students’ families and I wanted the same thing – to see the student be successful. First year teachers can be really scared about contacting families (understandably so!), but communication is so important. At this point I have taught and advised long enough that there is a degree of expert power. I present myself in a way that communicates that I’ve done this awhile – both as a teacher and an advisor. I don’t have all of the answers, of course, but I have pretty good ideas of what works and doesn’t work.

One strength highlighted about you that didn’t make the final Teacher Feature cut was about how you approach providing individual feedback in class. Can you describe how you maximize the feedback you give to your students?

With a lot of the computer based practice, I will give scholars a series of items or problems they need to complete. I will check their work and literally draw a check on their page. A certain number of checks will lead to a specific grade. So as I am checking, I circulate, go up and down the aisles, looking over shoulders and checking off work. In those moments, I’ll help kids figure out how to fix things, and I give them that advice as I circulate. It’s important to know exactly what you want kids to do, and have practice that aligns to that. The breakdown is very clear to children so they know what they need to do to do well in this class. I will let kids come in after school to make up the class work. 10 checks is a 100, 7 is a 93, etc. It’s very clear to kids that they have until this day to get everything done. I put grades in very frequently so kids realize what they got, which helps.

Additionally, I look at my gradebook every morning before school and highlight the names of anyone with a D or F on my daily attendance sheet. I make sure to check in with each of those students during class and ensure they know what to do and are set up for success.

What’s something you did differently this year than other years to impact your class?

I’ve incorporated more realistic, applicable projects this year. For example, our first unit was on professional emails. It was a really short unit, but at the end, I had students look at actual emails that Soraya Verjee, the Director of Human Capital at CA, had received from applicants (the names were removed, of course). Students had to evaluate the emails for professionalism and email Soraya their recommendations. They are currently working on a project to wrap up our Excel unit; they are designing our upcoming January college trip and have had to learn how to use Google Maps and hotel booking sites!

Do you consider your course a blended learning course? What parts of it are blended? What is your take on blended learning in general?

The way semester 1 is designed, no. Semester 2 will have some coding, so that will be more blended, as we will learn coding via online sites. I think blended learning has a lot of potential to be great, but it’s not a silver bullet. Rather, it takes a lot of planning and a lot of strategic thought to make it really impactful for children. I think that technology is often interpreted as just throwing a bunch of ipads at kids and then seeing huge growth… However, the tech itself won’t make the change. It requires teachers being really thoughtful about how to use the technology.

Where do you think teaching is as a profession? Where do you want to see it go?

In most places in the United States, teaching isn’t a highly respected career. It’s viewed as something people do if they can’t cut it anywhere else. Standards for most education schools are incredibly low – which partially explains why we have children who can’t write or do math very well – their teachers didn’t have a strong grasp on those skills and couldn’t teach it well… When I first began teaching, I was at times embarrassed to identify as a teacher, because I thought people would assume that I colored with children and sang songs and other nonsense, and wasn’t capable of doing more “rigorous” work like being a doctor or investment banker.

But I think when schools like Sci Academy prove what is possible and what really good teachers can do, that’s pretty exciting. I’d like to see education be on the same level of prestige as being a rocket scientist, or a lawyer – the same prestige as getting into a top tier med school, law school, etc. I’d love to live in a country in which our best and brightest in college are shooting to be teachers, and our schools of education are transformed, requiring applicants to meet extremely high standards. I’d love a world in which if you’re a teacher you are really, really good, and people know that. Your kids will be learning a whole lot more.

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