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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.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Promoting Equity


An important skill for a teacher to possess is the ability to promote equity and social justice within their classroom. Different ways a teacher can do this is by grouping students of different learning abilities and genders, modifying activities for students of different abilities, and discussing the issue of equity and justice in the classroom. Teaching abroad has given me an even better understanding of why this is important and will be helpful as I continue on to further pre-practicum experiences. Teaching abroad showed me that there are inequalities in every classroom, even in different countries, and teachers must be prepared to address these.
My CT and I were able to identify the students that struggled in different areas and needed special attention or extra reminders. One of us always had our eyes on these students to make sure they were keeping up with the class and trying their best without giving up. My CT’s classroom was a place where the students were comfortable with each other and felt safe making mistakes, something I think is very important to promote equity.

My experience abroad will definitely help me be even better at promoting social justice. From years of observing schools in America to being able to observe a school in Dublin, my experiences may go beyond some of my fellow practicum students. This makes it necessary for me to share what I learned and observed while abroad and bring this information with me to my future practicums.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

One Day In Dublin

Something I noticed within my first few days at my placement in Dublin was that the class operated in a smooth fashion because of my CT’s emphasis on routine in the daily schedule so the students always knew what was expected of them. Quickly, I began to pick up on the same routine that the students were expected to know and be prepared for. A typical day in this third grade classroom started with morning work and catch up. Every student had their own math activity book with activities by day that they were expected to finish during this time. The worksheets built on whatever math material the class happened to be learning at this time and served as a practice guide for a basic assessment each week on Friday. This routine was pretty well established by the time I began visting the school in October and most of the students did not require a reminder. Establishing a routine for the morning time when students are slowly trickling in to the classroom helps to avoid common problem behaviors that arise during transition times. With this procedure in place, my CT and I could focus our attention on those students that needed a few extra reminders and a push to get into the school mindset.
            The rest of the day was divided into typical subjects as literature, writing, math, social studies, and languages. I noticed that my CT had established a classroom in which the students always knew what was expected of them – when one subject ended and it was time for a new one, students knew what books and material to put away and what to take out. There was a very well established sense of order in the classroom, created by my CT through his enthusiasm and love for teaching that was infectious in his students and in me as a student teacher.

            One thing I found very interesting to be a part of the curriculum of this classroom was a drama period. This was never a subject I experienced in my elementary grade schooling in America but it was something that was emphasized in this school. Even though this was not something I was used to seeing in a third grade classroom, I grew to appreciate why it was a useful lesson for the students. The lesson split the class into different groups who were each given a different prop and had to create a television commercial for it; after each performance, the class gave each other constructive criticism. The lesson was beneficial for the class to use their imagination as well as to practice giving feedback. The lesson was also eye opening for my CT and me because we were able to see students working somewhere other than a classroom environment. It was interesting to see some students who typically do well in the classroom not perform as well in this environment and on the other hand see some students who struggle in the classroom flourished in this dramatic setting. In particular, one student my CT and I were watching one student in particular who took charge and showed us abilities we had never observed before in the normal classroom environment. My observations in this classroom showed me the value of having routines and procedures and place while also sometimes using different methods of teaching to appeal to all different learning styles.

Culture in an Irish School

How is the culture of the country you are teaching in reflected in the school?

            Teaching abroad in another country made me notice many of the cultural influences that affect a classroom. The school that I was student teaching in while in Dublin prides itself on being an international school with a mixture of nationalities and cultures. The third grade classroom I was in was full of American, Irish, British, and French students. The school website describes itself as a “community over1,300 students, teachers and support staff, drawn from Ireland and 40 other countries. There is a distinctly international atmosphere in the school.” With such a diverse and widespread student body, the school is able to encourage tolerance, understanding, and appreciation of others.
            A manifestation of the school’s desire to build community through a celebration of cultures comes from its emphasis on studying a wide array of subjects. The school is very multicultural and even in the third grade the students were learning at least two languages. American students at the school took American history in addition to one language in order to help them understand the history of their home country. It was clear to me that this school had a very big emphasis on promoting culture and differences in its students.
            Something I learned about in my Irish history classes is that there is a big emphasis in Ireland on a revival of the Irish language. With the arrival of the British in Ireland and their rule over the island until 1920, the use of Gaelic steadily dwindled until only small pockets of people in the west of Ireland use the language in their everyday use. When more and more people began fighting for Irish independence throughout the 1900s, many people believed that the country should return to the use of Irish as the national language. When Ireland became independent, it became national law for all government announcements to be made in Irish and in English and that all students were to be taught Irish in schools. When I was student teaching at this school, it was very interesting to observe a lesson where Gaelic was being taught to the students. These students had been learning Gaelic since at least first grade and some students even spoke it at home with their parents, so they had a very high knowledge of the language (more than I did with Spanish in third grade). I think that this shows the emphasis on Irish culture in Irish schools and how seriously they take their cultural history.