Category Archives: Practicum

Quick practicum tip: avoid profiling students in your classroom

I can’t believe how fast time flies. I am now half way into my third practicum  – which began in September as a pilot project. Interestingly, my practicum schools have all be located near busy downtown Toronto. That means, you are bound to teach students from all sorts of social locations.

In an academic setting, we all have preconceived notions of what a “strong” student looks like. If educators are profiling students based on their “looks”, they are in for a surprise. Students will be flying under the radar: academic strengths that go undetected from students profiled as no likely to be academically strong and education gaps that go undetected from students deemed to look “like they get it”.

Papers are published about underrepresented populations all the time, and certain racial groups are always categorized as groups under-served in education. Not every classroom we teach in is like the papers we read. We shouldn’t categorize our current students by race and ability which would alter our attitudes towards them.

Go into practicum believing each student can be motivated and give students an opportunity to make an impression on you before you decide for them!

Thinking back: Teaching High School and University

by Susan
Master of Teaching


As university graduates, many of us have been out of high school for at least 4 years. One big question I constantly ask myself is “What level of students do I want to teach?”. High school teaching offers a more personal learning environment while university teaching brings research into the classroom. Below is my account of some of the differences between high school and university based on my experience as a student teacher in a high school and as a teaching assistant in university.

High school class of 30 students

Time: 75min

Attention span: intervals of 15 – 75 min

Number of Hands-raised (questions/participation): ~2-5 times per student (nearly all students participating)

Troubleshooting behavioural issues: lots

Coaching and repeated instruction/direction: LOTS

University lab/tutorial of 30 students (first and second year undergrad)

Time: 60 – 120 min

Attention span: ~2x that of high school students

Number of Hands-raised (questions/participation): ~2 – 5 times per student (less than 50% of students participating)

Troubleshooting behavioural issues: little to none

Coaching and repeated instruction/direction: a few…lots only when it’s needed

Parent-Teacher Interviews: The Cherry On Top To My Practicum

by Susan
Master of Teaching

With November and my first practicum behind me, I am quite sad I couldn’t stay to finish the unit. My colleagues in my cohort are also feeling the same post-practicum withdrawal and we all agreed we just can’t get enough of teaching!

Parent-teacher interviews marked the second last day of my practicum. It was the highlight of my month as a student teacher. Although I had taught a mere 6 classes to my two grade 10 classes, I had gotten to know them by name, by their voice and even by their hand-writing!

What surprised me the most was the fact that I was able to articulate at parent-teacher interviews the dynamic their child brings to the class, their strengths, their next steps. I realized how much I knew about each of my students from the short period of time that I had been in their classroom and the parents seemed to appreciate that I did not just know their child by the grade they were receiving in the class.

À bientôt practicum!

Late Start Days – What it means for teachers

by Susan
Master of Teaching


While in elementary school and high school there were days where I stayed at home as a student because is was a Professional Activity/Development day (usually a Friday). Other days I got to sleep in because school started later in the morning due to Professional Learning Community (PLC) projects for teachers. As a teacher, there is no such thing as a late start morning or a Friday off.  If anything, these days are mandatory for teachers to come together as the entire faculty -not just as departments- and discuss goals and challenges for the school year.

During my practicum this month, each Thursday is a PLC late start day. This means a portion of the morning schedule is dedicated for teachers to work on their PLC project and classes begin later in the morning. At my practicum school, the PLC topic is focused on teacher learning and how that may impact their leadership with students. The teachers are divided into groups that focus on a subtopic and each subtopic must have goals that are measurable and a method of inquiry to meet the goals.

Topics include Equity, Well-being for students, Well-being for teachers, Well-being for bridging interactions between students and teachers and Achievement. Being a part of the PLC groups shed light on to secondary issues that haven’t been discussed in class.

One topic that caught my attention, in particular, was teacher well-being. The issues brought up in the subgroup was marking load and that teachers are bringing their lesson planning and marking home with them. In any particular school day, teachers are constantly readjusting their lessons, working around field trips, absences, assemblies, you name it and on top of that running errands and organizing papers and grades for at least 100 students. The prep period that teachers have each day is maybe enough time to collect your photocopies, answer some emails and attend a meeting or two with the VP or a parent. Not to mention, the many responsibilities before and after school making sure students are supervised and behaving on school property. So where does that leave time for evaluating student work and putting together the next lesson?

I often hear about mental health and well-being in the context of student burn-out but on the flip-side teacher burn-out is an issue no one seems to address openly. Instead, people (non-teachers) often talk negatively about a teacher’s workload and “easiness” of their job. I think until you have been in a teaching position, the job isn’t just teaching the same material and giving out homework every day. Teachers need to feel human, especially if they want their students to be able to relate to them. Some ideas to support teacher well-being include: staff retreats, staff vs. students sports and provide little things like occasional breakfast/luncheon to get teachers through the day. At the end of the day, I believe a teacher’s well-being is partly determined by the appreciation and support the school shows for their teachers.

You can read my post on PA Days HERE.

Lesson planning differences: Practicum vs. My Teachables Course

by Susan
Master of Teaching


Earlier this month, I started my first practicum in the MT program. A month and a half has gone into preparing me on theory and practise teaching. In this post, I will talk about my take on lesson planning in the OISE classroom and during practicum.

Resources for Learning Materials

All of my instructors shared useful resources from ministry documents to specific lesson activities available online for teachers. However during practicum, I am overwhelmed by these additional resources and when and how to incorporate it into my lessons. For my first teaching practicum, my AT was kind enough to share with me her worksheets and the textbook used in the class. In future practicums I definitely plan on using the additional online resources by having a list of activities prepared ahead of time so it doesn’t feel overwhelming when the practicum begins.

Lesson plan structure

A great thing I noticed in my classes at OISE was that many of my instructors had gone over what to include in a lesson plan and how to incorporate aspects of the course they were teaching into it.

In my general science teachable class, there were 3 lesson planning activities. They ranged from learning to incorporate questioning as a method for effective student learning to carrying out a micro lesson in 7 – 10 minutes to planning a hypothetical unit in science.

In my Fundamentals of Teaching class, my cohort had weekly observations in grade 7-12 classrooms at UTS in the month leading up to November practicum. Each week, the focus for these observations change according to a concept taught in class.

I was able to observe:

  • a senior chemistry class for overall lesson structure
  • an intermediate drama class for lesson environment and space
  • a senior biology class for transition of activity to activity, and
  • an intermediate math class classroom management of different lesson tasks and activities

What I did in the preparation for practicum at OISE was more challenging than lesson planning in an actual classroom. That is because being in an actual school where the lessons are a continuation of what I taught the previous class, I have the entire 75-minute period to carry out a full lesson and I have a realistic idea of what type of expectation I should have from my students and that influences my lesson plans. That being said, in a real teaching environment, I am faced with more time management and classroom management issues that a perfectly planned out lesson or monthly unit plan cannot foresee. Don’t fret, this is just another opportunity for me to observe how long students can hold their attention performing a particular task and communicating with students in a form other than delivering a lesson.

PA Days – What it means for teachers

by Susan
Master of Teaching


Normally I would be sleeping in on a PA day as an elementary or secondary student but on a beautiful Friday morning in November, I am attending my first PA Day as a student teacher at my practicum school. Here is what a PA Day looks like for a teacher:

9AM: Refreshments and minds-on

Just like how we try to engage our students with an introductory activity, the facilitators this morning used iPads to anonymously survey our idea of “What does 21st century learning look like?”

Learning goals this morning:

  1. C/STEM – how to engage students in “real-world” 21st century C/STEM problems
  2. Brainstorm how it looks like in the classroom
  3. Explore available resources

9:30 AM: Learning goal # 1 – Using newspaper headlines to generate questions and using a Q-chart to categorize questions.

Ex: “Rio’s waters are so filthy that 2016 Olympians risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete”

Generating questions allow students to gain Factual knowledge, Predict, Understand and apply, Analyze and Apply, and Synthesize and Evaluate. These categories all fall under Bloom’s Taxonomy of Higher and Lower Order thinking.

10:30 AM: Learning goal # 2 activity – Engineering Design Problem Based Learning. Teacher groups sharing their water filters designs and materials used to build the filter.

It was funny to see the activities are being unravelled, teachers like students are eager to touch materials laid out on tables and are becoming growingly restless waiting for the instructions to be over and get started. To tackle this challenge, each group had to design a water filter based on a given country and GDP. This activity was exciting as the departments faced off against each other. As a science teacher, there was a combination of health, chemical and engineering expertise in my group. We touched on topics from science to politics and the United Nations. It was nice to see some friendly inter-departmental competition and banter.

The activity drew links from the real world such as finances and literacy rates between different countries. Groups that were assigned countries with low GDP were also given instructions that were less legible than countries with high GDP and high rates of literacy.

11 AM: Learning goal # 3 – 21st century competencies document

Interestingly from the minds-on activity, I knew this document would come up somewhere in the presentation! It is a document I am currently reading for my issues class as part of my service learning project (SLP). So stay tuned for that!

Well that concludes the morning session. The afternoon session will resume after lunch and it is more self-directed as teachers will be given a number of workshops to choose from.

12:30 PM: Mark verification for report cards and comments.

1:30 PM: Finding trends in student absences across courses

2:30 PM: Departmental meetings

This last portion of the day brought science teachers together to discuss administration and curriculum in the department. Science teachers seem to be the most organized of the teachers. Everyone was so excited to order new school supplies and organize the chemical storage room (because safety is a top priority!). We also discussed roles in the department such as unit leaders that can serve as mentors for new teachers on units they may not be familiar or just to keep other teachers who are doing the same unit on track with similar content, labs and assessments.

Before today, I had always imagined a PA day as a day where teachers just sit together and get lectured by the principals for an entire day! I was very surprised at how interesting the day was and I hope this was interesting for you too.

Practicum Highlights: Week 1 and 2

by Susan
Master of Teaching


Week 1:

The first week of practicum was meant to be to low pressure. As a teacher candidate on my first practicum the week 1 was mostly observation and adjusting to the classroom and the school. This is also the time for me to get to know my associate teacher (AT), note her routines and start thinking about the lessons I will be teaching.

My AT is super on top of her lesson planning and I work well with her because I am a bit of a compulsive organizer. So rather than sitting and observing all through week 1 of my practicum, I was able to jump into several group activities the students were working on. They were finishing the biology unit with a heart and frog dissection – my favorite part about biology- and I got to help students with hands-on teaching and learning.

Although this block of practicum is 20 days, the school is non-semestered. By the time I begin teaching in week 2, I have 7 lessons and in that time, I will need to give 1 to 2 quizzes, maybe a lab, and a half chapter/unit test.  So half way through the week, I gave my students a diagnostic checklist in preparation for the chemistry unit which I will be teaching solo, to give me an idea of how to structure the first review lesson and the pace I should be going at with my class. At the end of week 1, the students finished their biology unit with a test and I got to run the bell ringer portion of the test using frogs dissected and labelled by yours truly.

Honestly, after the first week, I couldn’t wait to begin teaching solo because the comfort level was there.

Week 2:

I started the week off by having my lessons prepared and photocopying done. The exhilaration from the week before carried over to week 2. I looked forward to starting a new unit with my grade 10s and I was doing it solo. I had discussed with my AT that I was comfortable teaching an entire 75 minute lesson by myself from the get-go because of my previous experience as a teaching assistant while in university. Now teacher candidates have the option to slowly work towards teaching a full 75 minute class by starting out with co-teaching, co-planning lessons and slowly inserting themselves into the classroom so they would be comfortable leading the class.

One thing I learned after delivering my first lesson was how much longer the lesson turned out to be than I had anticipated. In my mind, I was going to introduce myself and hand out photocopies in the first 10 minutes, give a 20 minute PowerPoint review, followed by a 20 minute activity and a 20 minute lesson on the chalkboard with time left over to assign homework and prep for a quiz the next class, but I had about 10 more minutes of chalkboard notes to go when the bell rang. That meant I had to move the quiz to two classes and save the homework for the next class.

I taught the same lesson with my afternoon grade 10s and realized I got through the same amount as my morning class. This was a relief because it wasn’t due to the students slowing the class down or my delivery but the number of things I had jammed into one class. Going forward I have a much better sense of the amount of material and activities to put into one class. This will be put to the test soon enough because every week my practicum has a late start day and classes will be cut shorter than normal.

Stay tuned for my next post on lesson planning!

Shake it off: Practicum Jitters

by Susan
Master of Teaching


If you had the chance to go back to high school, would you do it again? For intermediate/senior teacher candidates (TCs), it’s most likely “yes!”.

With Fall practicum occurring in the month of November, TCs will do just that – return to high school! My experience back in school has been quite an eye opener. It seems as though students are given much more autonomy in schools and teachers are sometimes “competing” for the attention of their students over personal devices such as cellphones and laptops. Or maybe because I am now looking at high school through the lens of a teacher and not as a student.

I will be teaching the chemistry unit in a grade 10 enriched science class, so my expectation of the students will be high and I’m sure the students expect a high quality delivery from me as well. Right about now, some nervousness is starting to creep up. I’m asking myself “Am I creative enough?” and “How will I keep these kids engaged?”. Luckily, I have an experienced associate teacher (AT) who will be mentoring me as I get to know the school, her department and her students.

The jitters disappeared just as fast as they crept up because the weeks leading up to this first practicum was full of advice. My classes not only prepared me for my teaching subject like how to plan a lesson with ministry requirements in mind but also understanding the basics in adolescent psychology, fundamentals of teaching and issues related to secondary schools. Not to mention everyone in my cohort (including the instructors) is so supportive of each other. We gathered together after the first observation and found that many of us all shared the same concerns and nervousness. To top it all off, one of my classmates had the brilliant idea of having us write “warm fuzzy” letters to everyone in the class and placing them in envelopes with our names on it. We took our warm fuzzies home and read them the night before heading out to our practicum school once again. Reading all the nice comments from everyone reminded me of all the good qualities I have as a teacher and I am more confident than ever starting my practicum!


Practicum time? But school just started last month…

by Susan
Master of Teaching

Got questions? Ask me:

A month ago, this program and all the people in it were new to me. Now that I have become much more familiar with everything and everyone – we are getting separated! (Keep reading to find out why)

As a MT student, October is full of milestones – academic and professional.

Academic Milestones:

I am excited to have received a couple of graded assignments returned to me (they are also the first grades received in grad school!). Personally, the feedback reaffirms that I made the right choice coming to this program and it gives me time to grow and improve. Some of these assignments include oral presentations and making/delivering a lesson plan. I think these are two essential skills teacher candidates should have under their belt going into a practicum.

In my research class, I had submitted a rough draft of my annotated bibliography. Some of my interests going into this included: science literacy, STEM education effectiveness and career exploration in STEM, STEM in pop culture and media, etc. Recording my reviews helped me see where my research question was headed and I had great peer feedback.

Professional Milestones:

OK, I said that my peers and I are getting separated – but it’s only temporary 🙂

What am I talking about?

Practicum! Yes, practicum is just around the corner and October has been full of excitement about where everyone is headed and what subjects everyone is teaching. So practicum is about a month-long in November and February each year. This is when teacher candidates are placed at different schools and school boards around the GTA to gain practical experience in their teaching subjects. Prior to the practicum, I get a taste of my host school’s atmosphere and met my associate teacher (AT). These are observation days usually a week or two before the placement. My associate teacher – the person who mentors me – is super knowledgeable and teaches grade 12 biology and grade 10 science (my forte!).

Although I won’t be seeing my classmates in class for nearly a month, I am looking forward to the first day of practicum because begins on Halloween and I am glad my placement will start off in such a lighthearted way!