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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Creative Lessons in the Classroom

Last Wednesday I went into St. Andrew's as usual, excited for a morning that was going to be different from a normal day at school. P5W had been working on projects about Ancient Roman lifestyles and culture. They had had three weeks to create a mini research project about an aspect of Ancient Rome that they were particularly interested in, and create a visual to complement their posters. The students got to choose their own topics because my CT really tries to give her students as much autonomy as possible within their classroom. However, many of the students ended up picking similar topics; girls chose clothes/fashion and boys typically picked something to do with gladiators or the army. One girl did food and made fried cheese and honey balls, which apparently were part of the cuisine of wealthy Romans! The entire morning was spent having other classrooms come in and learn about the projects, and then we improvised chariot races and gladiator matches in the classroom! Additionally, each of the students was assigned a role within Roman society (patrician, citizen, freed-person, or slave) in order to facilitate groups for the various activities.

I was very impressed with how the fifth graders handled being labeled as a "patrician" or a "slave". Throughout the day, the "slaves" had to be last for the activities, or sit on the floor as opposed to on the desks or in a chair. However, none of them complained about their lower status, and instead jokingly offered their assistance to the patricians in the classroom. I feel that this scenario would never happen in America, where the children assigned to be slaves would complain and whine about not being first all the time. I also have reason to believe that some American parents would have something to say about their child being labeled a "slave".

This difference seems to come from the fact that in this particular classroom, my CT emphasizes the fact that everyone in the room is an equal part of the classroom and how it operates. There is a strong focus on learning how is best for each child, as well as tailoring units and themes to what this group of students wants to learn. In many American schools, especially public schools, there is too much of a focus on grades and testing to allow for the promotion of the joy of learning.

We had this week off from prac because St. Andrew's had their fall term break, but I'm looking forward to going back next week!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Placement at Colegio Menor in Quito, Ecuador

I am doing my practicum at Colegio Menor de San Francisco de Quito.  Colegio Menor is a bilingual private school just outside of Quito.  There is both an upper school (middle and high school) and a lower school (elementary school) on the campus.  However, I am working strictly in the elementary school with a fourth grade English Language Arts teacher.  As I attended public school and my first practicum was at a public school, this experience is something completely new for me.
I visit Colegio Menor every Monday and Wednesday for three hours.  While I appreciate being able to consistently fit this time in my schedule, I wish that I were able to attend more frequently.  An interesting aspect of the working in a bilingual school is that the students rotate teachers based on subject.  Thus, on Mondays, my teacher only works with one class.  However, on Wednesdays, she switches between two different classes.  It was definitely a challenge for me to get used to this schedule.  It also took me longer to feel as connected with the class that I only see for about 2 hours on Wednesday.  Although I now understand my CT’s schedule, I still sometimes get confused with the various different switches the students make throughout the day.
Aside from the schedule, a typical day of teaching in my classroom is pretty similar to one in a school in the United States.  We begin each day with a greeting.  Then, we will work on reading, grammar, and writing.  Every other Monday (Tuesday for the other class), the students go to the library for 45 minutes.  Teaching ELA in a bilingual school has definitely helped highlight some of the common errors and difficulties that non-native speakers have with English.  I believe this will assist me in meeting the needs of these students in the future.
I am very fortunate to have a cooperating teacher that has a similar teaching style to my own.  She also trusts me and thus, gives me more responsibility.  In fact, starting next week I will be teaching at least an hour every week.  I cannot wait to continue to challenge myself and grow through this unique experience.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

British Culture in the Classroom

           From the moment I stepped into the classroom at Manorcroft, I noticed that the atmosphere of the classroom was very formal, and it wasn’t just because of the British accents. I was not too surprised however, because everything in England seems to be more proper than it is in America. For example, every morning and afternoon the register is taken. Miss Cornick will say, “Good morning” and then the each student’s name. The student is expected to say, “Good morning” in return. Hearing this made our American practice of saying, “here” during attendance seem very informal. Moreover, if students are talking during the register or during an assembly, they have to stand for the remainder of it as a punishment.
            Another indication of the school’s formality is students’ handwriting. Students must join their letters so that it looks like cursive but doesn’t have the tricky letters that are hard to write. Unlike in America where students learn cursive as an additional, fancy, way of writing, that is how British students are taught to write from the beginning. I felt really self-conscious the first time I had to write for students on the white board in my own cursive handwriting. However, I can say that I am beginning to pick it back up again with all the practice I’m doing at Manorcroft.  
            This past Friday was Manorcroft’s annual Harvest Festival. Year 4 (third grade) students acted out the story of the Harvest while all the other students sang the songs. While I was standing there watching my students sing these songs, such as “Pray to our Lord” and “Lord of the Harvest,” I was surprised to hear such a strong religious presence in a non-private school. Then I realized that, unlike in America, there is no separation of church and state. I had become so accustomed to separating the two that I completely forgot that there is no split in England. These songs were the only sign of religion I have seen in my time at Manorcroft so far, but it seems that the teachers do not have to be as careful as to completely separate the two.
            The British culture is also reflected in the curriculum; as they focus on one specific topic at a time. In America it is pretty common to have a science and social studies lesson in the same day. Here, the entire half-term (about 7 or 8 weeks) is dedicated to one or the other. The topic this past half-term was “Under the Sea,” and students did not learn about anything history related. But, this switches in the upcoming half term as students will be learning about “The Great Fire” and will not be learning any science.  Miss Cornick explained that it allows for a more focused curriculum and easier planning because she can plan every Topic activity and lesson for the half-term in advance.
            Finally, the non-academic aspects of school are also quintessentially British. For example, every day for lunch students have a “warm dinner.” This usually consists of meat, a vegetable, and a cake or jello. There is no other choice of lunch; every student gets the same meal. Additionally, for gym class, students must change out of their uniforms and into gym clothes that are kept in their gym kits, bags that are brought to and from school each week. And, during the autumn and spring, students also have swimming once a week. Parents do not pay tuition for their kids to attend Manorcroft, so it was really interesting to hear that the school offers swimming, especially during school hours. I’m sure that as I continue visiting Manorcroft, I’ll discover even more ways in which the British culture is reflected there. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Teaching in Austria vs. Teaching in America

Hello again! I am back to share some more of my experience teaching in Austria. After four weeks in my classroom, I feel much more accustomed to the Austrian school system, my classroom, and the language barrier. Now that the students know to expect me each week and I am no longer a strange face, I have started to build a stronger connection with them. I also have started to work on my ability to get  a grip on classroom management in a class where we do not share a language (definitely a challenge). Through these experiences, I have noticed many differences and similarities between teaching in Austria and teaching in America.

The difference that stands out to me the most and interests me the most in the structure of the actual school system. Kindergarten is not required in Austria. Formal schooling begins in first grade when pupils are required to complete four years of elementary education in a Volksschule. After these four years, teachers are given the responsibility of choosing which students are gifted and will go on to Gymnasium (the 12 year college track) and which students will go on to vocational preparatory schools (which can end after a total of 8 years of schooling). The students that go on to Gymnasium receive the "Matura" university admission certificate after they complete their final exams. The initial shock after learning about this system was that after FOURTH grade student's futures were being decided for them by their teachers. This tracking system is very different from what we have in our general K-12 American public system. In our system, it seems that schools prepare all students to go to college and encourages them to follow this track. While I do not agree with making college seem like the only option after high school (I do not believe college is for everyone), this tracking program at such a young age takes almost all of the choice out of the individual student's hands. I do not know enough about this system to really say what kind of an impact it makes and how students feel about it. But I do know that it is very different from what I have experienced before and that it took me by surprise. One particular piece of this system that I have experienced is the Volksschule. What I find most interesting about it, is that teachers teach the same group of students for all four years. So the class stays together for 1st-4th grade with the same teacher. This is different from an American elementary school class where each year you get a new set of students and you teach the same grade. I asked my CT how she liked this system and she said that she loved it. She could not imagine teaching the same material year after year like they do in American schools. She also likes that she gets to build strong relationships with the students and knows them and their learning styles so well. This system, while it does have its faults, seems pretty appealing to me and seems like it could be very beneficial to students learning.

I think the biggest similarity I have noticed is teaching style. While many aspects of the classroom, culture, and management are very different than america, teaching style seems to be pretty similar. In general, students sit in rows or small groups. The teacher stands at the front of the classroom and has a chalkboard and posters to use behind her. Students raise their hands to be called on when the teacher asks questions. The overall format is that the teacher stands in front and lectures while the students sit and pay attention. Obviously, in an elementary classroom it is more interactive then just a lecture, but that is the basic frame. Collaboration is not often seen in the classroom. I find this similar to my experience teaching in elementary school in the United States. In upper grades in the US I know that more collaboration is involved but also a lot more straight lecturing is involved. I am not sure how the older grades function in Austria. But, it does seem like the teaching style and format has some similarities in elementary school.

Everyday I see small similarities and differences from my own experiences in America and what I see here in my Austrian school. These are some of the biggest things I noticed and that I thought people might find interesting to read about! I am loving the fact that I am, overall, having such a different experience here then I have had in the US. It is definitely opening me up to new experiences, ideas, and possibilities in the classroom.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Teaching in Spain vs. Teaching in the U.S.

            Since being in Spain I have noticed a lot of differences in how people interact, some that I’ve come to embrace and some that I’m still getting used to. So, before I went to my placement for the first time I was expecting to see a very different experience than what I am used to in the United States. While I did notice a lot of differences, I was also surprised to see that there were a few similarities as well.
            First, I will give a quick overview of my school. It’s a Catholic school that is partially funded by the state. There are students ages 3 to 18 there. One obvious difference that I noticed was the organization of the different levels. First, they have levels equivalent to pre-school/kindergarten. Then, there is what we would consider elementary school. The difference comes when there is “escuela secundaria” and “bachillerato.” “Escuela secundaria” is what we would consider middle to halfway through high school, around 10 or 11 years-old to 16 years-old. In Spain, this is as far as one has to go in their education. They can then choose to enter “bachillerato” for two years. This track is for students who want to go to the university and are therefore more motivated students. These students have to have an idea of what they want their major to be by 16 because they have to either choose a science track or a humanities track for “bachillerato.” To me, this puts a lot of pressure and stress on kids to know what they want to do early on, which may make them choose without really exploring their options. However, it does help them to get an early start on topics that interest them. I, however, have not been able to really see how this works as I have been working with an English teacher in the “escuela secundaria.”
            Another difference that I have found is that the teaching style in my placement is much more teacher-oriented rather than oriented towards student collaboration. In every classroom all of the desks are in single-filed rows facing the front of the classroom. In the lessons that I have observed, the students took turns answering the book’s questions, reading paragraphs from the book aloud, and working on worksheets individually or sometimes with a partner. However, this may only be the method of this individual teacher, not the entire school. There is some opportunity for discussion for this students when they leave in groups of five to participate in discussions with the American volunteers in English for 30 minutes, but it is not as integrated into the curriculum as it has been in my experiences at schools in the United States.
            One difference that I enjoy about this school is that instead of the students changing classrooms for their different classes throughout the day, the teachers change classrooms. I think that this allows the students to have a constant learning environment and not have to waste as much learning time transitioning. This also might be the reason that there are very few posters on the walls in the classrooms.
The students also have a half hour break in the middle of the day to go outside, eat a snack, and talk to their friends. This takes the place of lunchtime in the United States since they eat lunch after school here as school ends at 2:30pm and the Spaniards generally eat lunch around 3pm.  After the break, they have five minutes of relaxation with music and then a prayer. I think that this schedule helps the students transition from the burst of energy they got from the break into being in a calmer state in order to be ready to learn.
While there are many differences between this school and the schools I have seen in the United States, there are also some similarities. For example, the collaboration between teachers is valued as much as it is in the United States. There is a board in the teacher’s lounge to make announcements and to coordinate schedules. Teachers also meet in the teacher’s lounge and coordinate their lessons, like I have seen in the United States. For part of my pre-prac I take out students from their classrooms to give them lessons in English that are more discussion-based. When I do this, they are not always in English class. I think that this shows the collaboration of teachers across subjects much like is encouraged in the United States.
The expectations of students are also the same. Like Catholic schools in the United States, students receive demerits for not wearing their uniform, not doing their homework, not bringing their textbooks, causing too many disruptions, etc. While the students call their teachers by their first names and are more comfortable talking casually to a teacher, there is still a respect for and obedience to the teachers as authority figures like in the United States.

At first I was expecting my experience in a Spanish school to be completely different from what I’ve seen in the United States. While I have seen differences that have expanded my ideas about teaching, I am very happy to see that the two countries are not that different.