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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Typical Day in Bath, England

My typical Tuesday at St. Andrew's C of E Primary School starts with a one minute walk from my flat to the school, such a great commute! I get to the school at 8:30am and immediately start tidying up the classroom and helping out my teacher, Miss. Sandey, with photocopying, stapling, and anything else that she may need. Then the kids arrive around 9am and they have an hour of choir with the music teacher in their classroom. Music is a huge part of the culture at St. Andrew's and the kids really enjoy getting to start their day by singing goofy songs. After music, the kids have a warm up activity where Miss. Sandey usually asks them to write a paragraph on their individual white boards using adjectives, similes, and other forms of figurative language to describe a picture. The kids love being able to be creative with their responses and usually create elaborate stories around the picture, which is great to hear.

After the warm up, the students have a quick math or literacy review, the subject of the lesson between math and literacy fluctuates every week, but it usually consists of a review of what they have been learning in anticipation for their upcoming assessments. After this, the students have a break where they can go and play outside for about 10-15 minutes while I work with the teacher on setting up for the next lesson. After the students have come back in from break they have at least an hour of guided reading. About a third of the class consists of ELL students, so those students get to sit with either Miss. Sandey or the TA and do specialized guided reading practice. Then my job during this time is to circulate through the remaining readers and listen to them reading aloud for 10 minutes each. I am supposed to engage with them while they read by asking clarification questions as well as give them feedback on how they are reading and what they can work on in order to improve. I find this to be a really helpful practice because you can really tell what ability level the students are at when you ask them to read aloud to you. It also allows me one-on-one time with many of the students, which is always enjoyable for me.

After guided reading, they head to lunch and extra recess for about 40 minutes. During this time I usually work with the TA on getting the art lesson prepared for the remainder of the day. The TA is a little bit hard to work with because she is unaware of the fact that I have taught before so instead of putting me in positions where I could be really useful she gives me all of the grunt work that she does not really want to do. Art is not my speciality, so I don't feel completely comfortable taking the reins anyway, but I usually dread art at the end of the day because it usually just includes 2-3 hours of cleaning and setting up materials when I could be sitting in on teacher development sessions or following around the kids on their day when they are not in art. Then after art, school gets out at 3:30pm, which is when I usually leave to go home, unless I have a meeting with my supervisor or my CT.

Overall, my daily experience at St. Andrew's has been a positive one. The students are wonderful and the teacher, Miss. Sandey, is one of the best that I have seen. It has been a pleasure to get the opportunity to see her run a classroom because she is really great at commanding the attention of her students, using effective teaching tools, and giving her students the personalized attention that they need. One of my biggest challenges with working at St. Andrew's has been my experience working with the TA in the classroom. She is a very nice lady and wants to see me excel, but she gives me so much clerical and cleaning work to do throughout the day that I spend very little time watching lessons. Because of this, I don't feel like I am learning as much as I could be at St. Andrew's, but Miss. Sandey ensures that I am involved in the classroom, which I appreciate.

St. Andrew's reminds me of a Boston Public School in a way because of how diverse the student body is. Almost all of the students in my Year 5 class are multicultural, bilingual, sometimes even trilingual, or are ELLs. This diversity is very much like the schools that I have taught at in Boston, which has helped to make my experience extremely rewarding and valuable. Getting to work with students from a wide variety of backgrounds has always been great for me, and getting to continue this work at St. Andrew's has been an amazing experience.

Friday, March 13, 2015

English as a Second Language

One of the main reasons I wanted to study abroad in Spain was to practice and hopefully perfect my Spanish. In my mind the complete immersion would magically allow me to become fluent. After spending time at Colegio I have come to realize that yes immersion is helpful but the most important aspect of language fluency is how you are taught.

My students are docked "points" if they speak in Spanish during an English lesson. They are constantly told that this is for your future. If they complain or are annoyed about a test or memorizing more vocabulary the teachers remind that this is what it takes to become fluent. The entire mentality is very different from the U.S. Here English, or French or Germany is taught as a second language--adding to their Spanish. In the U.S., generally, Spanish or French  is taught as a foreign language. A language that might be useful to know some words should you travel there but always knowing that English will be your back up.

Overall this follows the philosophy of education that I have observed in Spain (or at least in Madrid). Education is a priviledge. Education is the job of the students. Education will depend on how much effort you put in. There is less micromanaging and the students by and large are very mature and self-motivating. There are less excuses made for the students and by the students.

For example, student B, in my fifth grade class, did not complete the English exercises from the week before. I anticipated that he would have created a story but instead he simply looked the teacher right in the eye and said "I did not do it. I am sorry, next time I will be sure to do it." The teacher responded with "Well I am disappointed. This will affect your grade. Do not let it happen again". There is almost a coldness to teaching but that doesn't diminsh the care the teachers feel for the students.

Comparing the teaching philosophies and expectations of Colegio and BPS is interesting and leds me to wonder what would happen if we implemented aspects into BPS, namely the addivitive bilinugalism.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

School and Show Business in Ireland

Hello from Cork, Ireland! I have been student teaching at Scoil Mhuire for several weeks now, even though this is my first blog post. My placement began earlier than others as another BC student completed her practicum at Scoil Mhuire last spring, making it a lot easier for me to organize. By the third week of my time in Ireland I was already in the classroom. It felt great to be back working with students and really helped make Cork feel like home!

My introduction to Scoil Mhuire was unique in that I began just as the school was making its final preparations for a musical to celebrate its 60th anniversary. With all the commotion surrounding the show, the teachers were very enthusiastic about me helping as much as possible. I eagerly accepted and, in addition to taking on some backstage responsibilities during the musical, I have been teaching lessons each week and supervising lunch/recess. I have even started a pen pal system with my practicum class from last semester!

I will discuss the musical and lessons later on, but first, a proper introduction to my school is in order! Scoil Mhuire (pronounced Skol Vera) is a small all-girls school in Cork city. The students come from all over the county as Scoil Mhuire is the only private all-girls school in the city. I am working with 5th class (the Irish equivalent to 5th grade), which is made up of 13 motivated, creative and incredibly chatty students.

Scoil Mhuire’s small size combined with the fact that it is Catholic and all-girls means that my experience teaching at Scoil Mhuire has been very different than my experiences in Boston Public Schools. One of the most pronounced differences I have observed is the style of teaching. Students have textbooks for each subject and I have found that most lessons here are taught directly from these books. The lessons tend to involve a short introduction to a new topic, which my CT reads aloud from the book, followed by some short exercises. I have found this approach to differ greatly from my experiences in Boston.

The learning in my classroom is also very focused on homework. A typical maths lesson, for example, begins with a review of the previous night’s homework, followed by a brief introduction of the next topic in relation to the next homework assignment, and ends with my CT going over the first problem of the homework to ensure that everyone understands. This reliance on homework is something I have not experienced in an elementary classroom before. Students in my classroom at Scoil Mhuire always complete their homework and almost every one of them brings the books back to school the next day, making this style of teaching possible. However, I believe placing so much emphasis on homework could have negative results, particularly as it prevents teachers from addressing student misunderstandings. Additionally, Scoil Mhuire’s students are privileged in that they have the time and resources to complete their homework each night. This is certainly not true of all schools and makes me think about my experience in Edison K-8 in Brighton last semester, in which only a handful of students completed their homework each day. I look forward to talking to my teacher about homework to find out her reasoning behind it as well as what happens when students do not complete it.

In addition to being centered on books and homework, most of the work students do in my CT’s class is silent and independent. This can be quite a challenge as the girls in my class LOVE to talk and are constantly sharing anecdotes, asking questions, and naming celebrities I somehow resemble. I am interested to see what happens when, in some of my upcoming lessons, I ask the students to work in groups to complete their assignment. I have not seen them work in this way before so I expect I will have to give a thorough introduction to the dynamics of group work.

Another quality that differentiates Scoil Mhuire from the schools I have worked at in Boston is its strong sense of community, which became clear to me during the school musical. As I mentioned previously, Scoil Mhuire was in the midst of a production of Practically Perfect Mary (a remake of Mary Poppins) when I arrived. On February 6th the entire school came together to perform in front of a full audience of family and graduates. It was quite the production; students had been rehearsing for months and staff had been planning and developing the play since the summer. I felt very lucky to be involved in the show because it allowed me to see how Scoil Mhuire worked. There was a real sense of camaraderie throughout the show and students were all supportive of each other. I saw older students playing with and helping younger students, revealing the family-like environment the school creates. Additionally, it became clear that all of the staff and students not only know each other’s names, but also know personal information about one another and talk as friends. There is a real sense of unity at Scoil Mhuire that I have not always felt as strongly in my BPS placements.

Although Scoil Mhuire is very different to my other practicum placements, it is not unlike other schools I have experienced. For the past year I have occasionally substituted in St. Paul School, a small Catholic school in Wellesley, MA. St Paul School and Scoil Mhuire are very similar in terms of their sense of community and the emphasis they place on books. For this reason, I think some of Scoil Mhuire’s traits come from its religious nature and its size. Interestingly, Scoil Mhuire is most similar to the school I attended when I lived in England. The sense of community fostered by assemblies and whole school activities was a defining quality of my school in England and is also true of Scoil Mhuire. Additionally, both schools encourage personal relationships between students and teachers and have a laid back approach to management. These similarities are likely due to the influence of the several English teachers working at Scoil Mhuire, particularly the Headmistress. In light of this, my experience teaching at Scoil Mhuire might not be a quintessentially Irish experience. That said, it is certainly a wonderful experience and I look forward to going each day to learn, teach, and hear which American movie star I look like that day! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

¿Hablas Español?

My first day at Colegio Highlands Los Fresnos in Madrid, Spain and all of my expectations were proven wrong. I am working with the 7th grade and the 5th grade during their English lessons. Colegio Highlands is a network of Catholic, private schools from preschool to secondary (middle school). Both Colegio and schools in the US separate the students by grade--here in lies the only similarity.

At Colegio students' attend school from 9am until 5pm with a 2 hour lunch break during which they have their "after-school"activities. The students are in separate single-sex classrooms--for example I am teaching in 5B boys but there is also a 5B girls. Additionally the school emphasizes a bilingual education which they achieve by hiring teachers who only speak English--except in reality all of the teachers speak Spanish but the English teachers have spent a long amount of time in an English speaking country and are "from that country". My 5th grade CT is from "England". It is interesting to me that all of the students buy into this when the teachers clearly know Spanish and speak English with a Spanish accent.

The students were told that I am from America and do not know any Spanish. I promptly messed this up when I answered a question that a student asked in Spanish. After which the students proceed to ask me over and over ¿Hablas Español?---do you speak Spanish? I was rather impressed with their dedication as they tried to trip me up and get me to say something in Spanish--one student said "Say hola in Spanish." After much convincing they finally decided that I do not know enough Spanish--little do they know, I know enough Spanish to understand everything they are saying!

My next challenge came shortly after--explaining the difference between "isn't" and "doesn't" as question tags. I discovered quickly that I do not know the proper grammar terms--i.e. modal verbs, auxilary verbs, collocations, question tags. Both of the my CTs quickly discovered this as well and stopped asking me to define what they meant (thankfully!).

During my time in the classroom I am a walking English dictionary, a pronunciation expert and a speed talker. I am constantly asked "what do mean" which is their way of asking "what does this word mean." I always hear the question with aprehension. Sometimes the word is simple to define like "hurricane" others not so much--words like "should", "ought to", "must" are much harder. As a native speaker, both the teachers and the students are constantly asking how to say things correctly. Although according to the students I have a Wisonsin accent, subsequently they were shocked when I explained I was from Connecticut. Additionally, as a native speaker I know I speak quickly--but according to the students I speak "without breathe". I am working on speaking much slower and enunciating as much as possible. By the end of the day everyone seemed to understand me!

I look forward to spending more time at Colegio and practicing my skills as an English teacher to a whole class room of ELLs! I am sure come next Tuesday the students will be ready with more "why americans do ____" questions. (They refuse to believe that 28 degrees F is cold...among other crazy American things).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

UK vs. US Schools

I just finished my first day of student teaching in Bath, England yesterday at St. Andrew's Primary School in the Year 5 classroom (comparable to 4th Grade in the states). My experience in the school was similar to American schools stylistically and conceptually; however, pretty different in a variety of ways. I found myself throughout the day debating in my head whether or not UK or US schools are better because the value system is pretty different, at least at my school.

One similarity that I found was that the set up of the classroom was very similar to what I am used to. All of the students were clustered into desks, and the school day was organized much like an Elementary school in America. They have periods throughout the day with different classes (including math, english, PE, etc.) and they start at 9am and end at 3:30pm every day. Although this is a pretty basic comparison, I was not sure going into it how similar the set up of the day would be, and I was very pleased when it was something that was familiar to me.

Another similarity that I have found between US and UK schools is the amount of care that the teacher has for the children. There was a tragic car accident that happened in Bath the other day where a bus spun out of control and killed four people. I was happy to see that the teacher sat all of the students down in a circle and gave them ten minutes to reflect, talk about their experiences, and pray for the families of those who had died. It is so important to give kids the opportunity to feel comfortable talking about their feelings and experiences because it not only builds your trust with them, but it creates a safe space within the classroom and allows for respect amongst the teacher and the students. I found this to be a similarity because the care for the students and the respect for their ideas and opinions was evident throughout the day and it was definitely nice to see.

I've found that one of the greatest differences between US and UK schools is the emphasis on discipline and the importance of its utilization in the classroom. I found British students to be more polite and eager to work than American students. They were the most well-behaved class that I have ever worked with and they, in general, were respectful of the classroom and of each other. However, even though they were extremely well-behaved, I was surprised by the amount of discipline that they were given throughout the school day. No one was allowed to talk at all throughout the school day, even when they had a bit more leisure time, and the misbehaving students were, in lack of a better term, "shamed" in front of the class for their behavior. One of the teachers who came in had a list of "good" and "bad" students and she would update it as the class worked. One student made a whistling noise at one point during the class and was added to the "bad" student section of the board. I found that to be kind of harsh, and the student got extremely upset and refused to do her work after that point. This experience has led me to believe that the disciplinary values in UK and US schools are vastly different. While discipline is extremely important in the classroom, and students and teachers need to be respected at all times, I think that there is a definite balance between being too lenient and overly exerting your authority on students. If I was the head teacher, I would have probably ignored the whistling or at least given her a small warning in private, because it was not a detrimental distraction to the rest of the class.

Another huge difference that I have found is the lack of separation or specialized focus on students who are intellectually, emotionally, or socially challenged. My school has one teacher per grade and about 25 kids in each class and no special education program is present, this results in full inclusion amongst every grade level. While inclusion is great, and necessary for some kids to feel completely normalized, I do think that going about inclusion in the wrong way can be detrimental socially and academically for the kids who require more specialized attention. About half of my class are ELLs, about a third have emotional and/or social problems, and a few of them have learning disabilities such as severe dyslexia and ADHD. The makeup of this class is similar to what I have experienced in Boston classrooms, so I expected there to be a similar amount of support for all of the children. However, this was not the case at all. There was outside support for the child with dyslexia, as he got to leave the classroom and go to a special reading teacher while the rest of the class worked on their guided and independent reading. However, I did not identify any differences in support when it came to the work that they did in class. All of the students had similar expectations and standards in terms of their behavior and their work, which I found to be kind of frustrating. For instance, one girl in my class (Student D) has severe emotional and social problems that my teacher made a point to tell me about on the first day. However,  she would get yelled at for behaving inappropriately during class and when she would cry I was forced to leave her alone and not console her or solve the problem. I am so used to the amount of support that students with disabilities receive back in the states that it made me very uncomfortable when I was not allowed to comfort her. While this does go hand-in-hand with the school's expectations of behavior, I do not believe that full inclusion in terms of how you treat the behavior of children is the best way to go about things.

Overall, this school was very similar in the way that the classroom was run and organized; however, the values and practices of the school were vastly different from what I am used to back in the states. I think that it is important to solve emotional problems with children as well as allow kids to be themselves in the classroom without giving them too much leeway. I am confident that a balance can be made in terms of how much you expect from a child as long as they are respectful of you, their classmates, and their academics.