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Part 2: The Student Teaching Assignments

  1. Overview of the Assignments
  2. Orientation to the Placement
  3. Assignments
    1. Daily Lesson "Learning" Plans
    2. Inquiry Into Teaching: Planning, Teaching, and Reflecting
    3. Individual Learner Project: Response to Intervention
    4. Journal Entries
    5. The Penn State Education Teaching Portfolio
    6. Participation in the Field
    7. Participation in Seminar
    8. Required Assignments for Student Teachers Involved with Short Term Student Teaching Abroad

1. Overview of the Assignments

Your assignments are designed with respect to your developmental needs and abilities, and serve 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. After receiving permission from the university supervisor, you should initiate communication with the mentor teacher by phoning or emailing the teacher at the school. You are encouraged to visit the teacher at the host school prior to the start of your student teaching. 

In addition to building a healthy working 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 the website address of this 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 the courses, subjects, units, topics, etc., that 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. Daily Lesson "Learning" 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 document your thoughts. The written plans also provide a window into your philosophies of 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. Unlike you, experienced teachers often do not produce formal written plans for the lessons they will teach. Many experienced teachers believe that producing a written plan, in fact, improves their planning and, subsequently, their teaching.

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 teachingbut 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. 

3.2. Inquiry Into Teaching: Planning, Teaching, and Reflecting

3.2.a.   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.

A written summary/report following the outline below, accompanied by any relevant supporting materials, including the 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 may 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.).

Unit Plan -- Once oriented to the community, school, and classroom, your 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 many opportunities to plan, teach, assess, and reflect during student teaching, will arise, all Penn State student teachers plan, teach, and assess the impact of a standards-based unit of instruction. In consultation with your university supervisor and mentor teacher, you will implement a unit of instruction (Often simply called, “The Unit.”) that lasts for a recommended length of no fewer than ten lessons, depending on the context. This core assignment has several major components:

3.2.b. Inquiry into the Curriculum Note: 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. 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: It is expected that the instructional plan for the unit meaningfully integrate 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. 

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 targetshelping 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. Planning 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 interests, talents, and needs of students when designing learning and assessment experiences. Therefore, you are required to:
    • Identify the students who may have difficulty with the lesson, or who have displayed the ability, background knowledge, or interest to quickly learn this type of lesson.
    • Consider and then document how you could adapt or accommodate for those students for each lesson in the unit.

3.2.c. 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.

3.2.d.  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?

3.2.e. Inquiry into My Teaching

The purpose of this component 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” 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. 

3.3. Individual Learner Project: Response to Intervention

This semester long teacher inquiry project requires you to identify an exceptional student, gather data, analyze the data, prescribe and implement adaptations, and evaluate their 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 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.

3.4. Journal Entries (may include some or all of the following):

3.4.a. Observation of Educators

Observations of teachers and/or peers in and out of the assigned grade level or subject area can provide useful insights. For example, 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. Data collections should be part of every observation, followed by an analysis appropriate for the observation’s focus. 

3.4.b. 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 consider 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? What evidence do I have to support this claim?
  • What did I learn about teaching and learning this concept or skill?
  • What did I learn about managing the learning environment during this lesson?
  • What pleased me about this lesson?
  • What disappointed me about this lesson?
  • What alternative instructional and assessment strategies could I have used?
  • What will I do next?

3.4.c. Personal Philosophy

All student teachers bring beliefs about learning and teaching to the field experience. These beliefs include the way young people 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 teachingit 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 inquirychanges 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 of your beliefs prevailed. You may be asked to write a revised philosophy of teaching and learning that is appropriate for a job interview.

3.4.d. Video Analysis

Analysis of a video or audio recording of a lesson taught provides you with an opportunity to (a) reflect more intensively on teaching and learning; and, to (b) use systematic observation to assess teacher-learner behaviors. The focus of your video may be on your own performance, 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 (a) view the video, (b) collect relevant data from the viewing, and (c) 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, such as, (a) use of positive reinforcement statements; (b) verbatim repetition; (c) allowing students to elaborate on their answers or other students’ answers; or (d) 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.

Notes: (1) It is often helpful for you and your mentor teacher to view the video together. (2) Ask your supervisor to provide you with access to a SWIVL camera base with remote microphone that will allow you to track student conversations.

3.4.e. Reflective 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 your supervisor.

Suggested topics for reflection include:

  • Comparison of teaching and management strategies among observed teachers.
  • Thoughts and questions about topics such 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, crises, surprising occurrences or other events that appear significant to professional growth.
  • Reactions to current professional literature or research.

3.5.The Penn State Education Teaching Portfolio

The Student Teaching Performance Portfolio is a purposeful and organized selection of evidence that demonstrates how you have accomplished the performance expectations set forth in the Penn State Teacher Education Performance Framework. The portfolio is different from the filing system being maintained, in that the filing system contains all paperwork and related items for the whole semester. The Student Teaching Performance Portfolio contains evidence that you carefully select and extract from your files that demonstrate what you have accomplished as a student teacher. The Student Teaching Performance Portfolio is the natural complement to the Penn State Performance-Based Assessment of Student Teaching form. It is the place to assemble and reflect on evidence used to derive ratings of performance.

The portfolio allows you to:

  • Experience a professional portfolio process such as the one used in statewide beginning teacher programs in several states and used by experienced teachers seeking National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification.
  • Provide specific examples of work related to all performance standards to your mentor teacher and university supervisor for discussion and reflection throughout the experience, especially during the performance assessment conferences.
  • Have an organized collection of evidence of performance to use during job interviews.
  • Share evidence of accomplishments with Penn State faculty so they can assess the quality of the teacher preparation program.

Organize your portfolio around each of the performance domains in the Penn State Teacher Educational Performance Framework. The level of performance achieved in each standard should be addressed by referencing at least two artifacts contained in the portfolio, with reference to at least one piece required at mid-semester to make a compelling argument of performance to that point in time.

A significant value of the portfolio lies in your reflection about the process of selecting the artifacts you use as evidence to be included in the portfolio. A written justification will accompany each piece of evidence. Simply put, these justifications provide the rationale for its inclusion. Portfolios are most useful when they support your personal process of learning to teach, rather than merely the products of your learning.

3.6. Participation in the field (may include some or all of the following)

3.6.a 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.b. Emergency Lesson Plans

You are required to prepare emergency lesson plans to be used in unexpected situations such as schedule changes or absences. 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 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

3.7. Participation in seminar

All student teachers are required to participate in seminar.

3.8.  Required Assignments for Student Teachers Involved with Short Term Student Teaching Abroad

A. Assignments to be completed in PA Placement
1. Inquiry into Teaching and Learning Project
a. Inquiry into School and Community
b. Inquiry into Curriculum
c. Inquiry into Teaching and Learning
d. Individual Learner Project
2. Mid-semester Performance Framework Portfolio
B. Assignments to be completed in placement Abroad
1. Final Performance Framework Portfolio
2. Weekly journal entries submitted via email to PA Supervisor

Suggested topics:
i. Orientation to international school and community
ii. Comparison between PA school and host nation school (facilities, dress, student-teacher relationships, classroom management, assessment, etc.)
iii. Reflections on accommodations for individual learners in the host nation school
iv. Self-assessment of teaching, especially in reference to goals developed in PA placement
v. Student/youth culture in the host nation (secondary) or views of childhood/children in host nation (elementary)
vi. Cultural views on education in host nation (parental involvement, government support, private vs. public schools, etc.)
vii. Reflection on the entire semester (How have you grown and changed? What have you learned?)
viii. What conditions in an international setting would encourage you to teach outside the United States?