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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Grahamstown, South Africa


Greetings from Grahamstown, South Africa! This semester I am so fortunate to have two International Pre-Practicum placements! Both schools are just down the street from Rhodes University, where I am studying. Balancing the two placements, some volunteer work, a full course load, and travel will be a challenge, but I am excited to be able to experience so much in my 5 months here!


The first school, which I will be visiting on Thursday mornings, is Victoria Primary School. VP is an all-girls, fee-paying, public school. This means that the government does give funding to the school, but that the students are also required to pay fees. These fees are lower than private schools’, however they are still usually too high for many South African people to pay. Girls can apply for scholarships to cover some of the fees. Some students that go to VP live far away. Out of the nearly 400 students, 45 girls from Grade 1 to Grade 7 board overnight in the school’s Hostel.

At VP, I am in Miss Dixie’s Grade R class. There are 19 students, aged 5 to 6-years-old. Many of the girls speak Xhosa or Afrikaans at home, but all of VP’s instruction is in English. In Miss Dixie’s class there is also a classroom aid and an assistant teacher.

On a typical day, the girls arrive between 7:00 and 8:00. Miss Dixie has different activities spread out on the tables that the students rotate between. These activities help the girls’ fine motor skills. After they are finished, they go outside to play. The playground has many different activities: swings, hopscotch, chalk, a jungle gym, a makeup salon, jump ropes, and hula-hoops. Miss Dixie has focused many of this term’s outdoor activities on improving the girls’ gross motor skills. For example, they see how long they can hold themselves up on the monkey bars. The school day ends at 12:30 for the Grade R girls.

The other school that I visit is the Good Shepherd School. I will be there every Friday from 10:00 until the end of the school day, at 13:45. Good Shepherd is a co-educational, no-fee, public school. All of these students come from Grahamstown’s township. From what I have learned, during Apartheid, this part of town was where the Black and Coloured South Africans were required to live. In South Africa, “coloured” is the appropriate term for someone of mixed race. The township is the still the poor area in Grahamstown. The South African government gives many people in the township their homes for free. The newer township homes have running water and electricity, but many of the older Apartheid-era homes do not have these basic necessities. Instead they rely on outhouses and community faucets.

Most township schools in South Africa are located in the townships themselves. The Good Shepherd School is different in that it is located in the middle of Grahamstown. It’s great location has allowed it to build good relationships with surrounding private schools. For certain needs, the private schools are able to provide them with assistance, often for things like extra-curricular activities. The Good Shepherd School also has a lot more resources than the average township school because they have support and resources from the Good Shepherd Trust. The trust owns the private property where the school is located. The South African Department of Education rents the property from the Trust. Because the Department of Education only hires 7 teachers for 7 grades, the trust also pays for additional staff. They even have a brand new computer lab with 40 desktops for the students to use. It’s an amazing space for the students and a great resource for the teachers!

Good Shepherd has about 300 students in Grades R through Grade 7. Nearly all of the students speak Xhosa or Afrikaans at home. Good Shepherd teaches them in English from the beginning, though. This school has a government-sponsored meal program. They provide all of the students with breakfast, snack, and lunch daily.

At Good Shepherd, I will be in Ms. Herring’s English classroom. She is responsible for teaching Grades 4 through Grade 7 on a rotating class schedule. Each grade has only one class, with about 35-38 students per level. Thankfully, because of the computer lab, the teachers are sometimes able to split classes in half. They teach half of the students, while the other half can work independently in the computer lab. The students arrive at school around 7:00. Most classes involve book work and class discussion. The students have workbooks that they do activities in for homework too. Ms. Herring tries to keep all of the grade levels on the same topics to make it easier to plan all of the different lessons. For example, all of the students are learning about novels now. Each grade’s lesson is executed somewhat differently.

I am so excited to learn more about these schools and all of the students this semester! I really enjoyed introducing myself to the students. Most of the kids thought my accent was funny, but I know I will need to repeat myself often so they can understand me. I also really enjoyed getting to know all of the students. The Grade 5 Good Shepherd students had made travel brochures for South Africa that I was able to read. This was so much fun for me to learn more about their country, while also gauging their English abilities.

My biggest challenge right now will be to learn all of their names. I am usually pretty good, but I have nearly 180 students to get to know between the two schools! Also, many of the names are beautiful Xhosa and Afrikaans names that I have never heard before. The Xhosa language is particularly difficult for me because it has three different “click” sounds that I have to learn. I feel terrible asking the children to repeat their names over, and over again. I think it is extremely important for me to learn their names in order to interact with them. With class lists, name tags, and plenty of practice, hopefully I will learn them all!

Both Miss Dixie and Ms. Herring have been really welcoming, supportive, and flexible. This week I will start teaching lessons. It’s much quicker than I expected, but I think jumping into this experience will be so worthwhile!

- Allison Irwin

Monday, May 12, 2014

Classroom Management

Hello everyone, sorry for the delay here in my blog post—things have been a little off with my scheduling at school because the students have been on field trips, and one of my normal days was a National Holiday in Italy. Thus, I have just finally returned to school this week after a week or so break. However, I am back in action and ready to talk about school!

Today I thought I would focus on the issue of classroom management, which we all know is one the most fun topics out there for teacher. Well, perhaps not, but it sure is an interesting topic to discuss, so I thought I would just go for it. I find it particular interesting for me to discuss classroom management because I have been working with two separate teachers at the San Benedetto School. There are many differences in the classes I see, both in terms of age, English ability, and behavior and demeanor in general. My first CT, who teaches the younger students, has the benefit of working with a class that is pretty well engaged, behaved, and quite good for the age in their English speaking abilities. In contrast, my other CT has an older class with many behavior problems, a lack of interest in English, as well as a pretty low proficiency in the language. This makes for an interesting discussion on classroom management philosophies, for both teachers have different ones and see different results.

In my first class, my CT walks up and down the aisles, and addresses students individually by their name when she asks them questions about the material on the board. Students will answer her (most of the time) in a polite manner, to which she responds, “Very good!” and then moves on. When she notices that students in the back are not paying attention and fooling around, she calls their name and asks them to respond to one of her questions in the lesson. There have been mixed results with this approach. Sometimes the student feels embarrassed and answers the question, and they stop fooling around. Other times the student has not known the answer because they were not listening, and they sit in silence because they are too embarrassed. Finally, there have been instances where the students have given her an attitude, and refused to give an answer. There is one particular student in general who can be quite difficult, and she has to address his behavioral problems every class. In fact, during our last class, she asked him to leave the room and come back later. Now, this exchange was down in rapidly fast Italian, so I missed out on some of the finer details. He may have been sent to the Principal just three doors down, or somewhere else, I am not sure. In either case, the student left for 15 minutes and sat in the back of the class where he didn't really speak for the rest of class.

In a bit of a contrast, my second CT has classes that are often like that one student, expect multiplied by 15 or 20 kids. One of the classes of older students is generally well behaved, while the other is what my CT has said is the worst behaved class he has ever had during his teaching career—so take that into consideration. This CT is a younger teacher, a male in his late 20s or early 30s. He seems like he is well liked by his students, and is a cool, nice guy. As a result, some of the students are way too casual with him, and do not take him seriously. When students misbehave and he yells at them to quiet down from across the room, they simply just do not listen to him and continue to yell, scream, and hang out with their friends doing as they wish. I truly do not know what else my CT can do to firmly discipline his students, or how to control them. He tries many different strategies, but I think at this point in the school year, he is just exhausted by them, as they do not treat him with respect as a person, let alone as their teacher. When I have taught that class, I have been pretty disappointed with their behavior, but because my lessons are a bit more “fun,” because I am a guest and we talk about American culture to enhance their English instead of boring grammar (sorry Maddie, I know you’re an English major) so I sometimes have their attention a little more. Nevertheless, they are a rowdy crowd and tough to control. My CT actually recommended that I just stick with his better behaved class rather than adding this class too, but I find it important for me to expose my self to less than perfect situations.


So, from here is my last week in Parma and thus my last week at San Benedetto. I will do a blog post later in the week where I give a final wrap up of the semester for you. Hope you’re all doing well!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lesson Reflection 2

My first lesson, in its almost two hours of length, started strong but did, with the introduction of an activity students were not well-enough prepared for, crumbled a bit at its end.  My second lesson, because it was extremely short, did not have the opportunity to get to a stage where it would crumble, but I don't think that it would have had I been given more time.

While the 11th grade is an extremely small and quiet class, with seven students when full and four at the time of my lesson, the 10th grade is slightly larger and a lot chattier.  Having an easily distractible class for 35 minutes is far from ideal.

But, as it turns out, I didn't need to worry.  The students were reading The Kite Runner and my lesson plan involved reading chapter 17 aloud before assigning small, opinion-based paragraphs for students to write in the remaining time.  However, my CT did not cover chapter 16 in the class before, so I ended up editing my lesson plan on the spot (something which, by now, is second nature to me).

I ended up spending most of the class period reading both chapters, not even finishing the second.  Because the lesson involved sitting and reading along with me, I had no problems with maintaining my students' attention.  However, in order to keep some semblance of a lesson that teaches rather than just reading aloud, I stopped with two minutes to spare, asking students to write down the prompt that they would need to finish three more pages of the novel to fully understand.  I told students to finish the prompt for homework, after reading the unfinished three pages, but this caused a bit more confusion because I would not be there to collect the homework and, unknown to me, the 10th grade, unlike the 11th grade, does not usually have homework assignments mid-week.  They also do not usually do their readings at home, though my CT took the opportunity to tell students that this would be changing (though even the 11th grade does not read the books during the school week - they are given the books to read over winter break and are expected to have finished them before returning for a second semester).

I'm trying to find a moral to my first two lessons, and ultimately I think that's its just that I didn't know the students and the classroom life very well before planning lessons.  I don't think that the unforeseen differences between what I've seen before (as a teacher and a student) necessarily is derivative of the cultural differences between countries, especially since this is an international school that uses the IB program.  I think, more than anything, my lack of preparation has to do with the strange schedule I've been meeting with this practicum: I spent a little, concentrated amount of time in the two classrooms and haven't let the students and their classroom habits settle in yet.  I also haven't had all the downtime to talk to my CT that a full school day would allow.

Excuses aside, I have one remaining lesson where I will be teaching a poem to the 10th graders.  While preparing for it, I'll try to gain more information about the class I'm entering before finalizing a lesson plan.

Lesson Reflection 1

While not specifically required of an international practicum, I knew before coming abroad that I would want to try teaching lessons abroad.  Thankfully, my CT this semester has been extremely helpful and accommodating, allowing me to teach two lessons thus far, with a third coming soon.

Both lessons I taught at ISL introduced new challenges for me in my student teaching career, though not necessarily because of the cultural differences of a different country.  Firstly, I only stay at ISL for one grade's English class, as opposed to remaining at the school for the entire day like I did last semester.  Not only do I not see the same lesson taught multiple times like I did last semester, but I also have split my days between two grade levels, meaning that with two days left, I have only seen the 10th graders twice and the second time I met with them, I taught the lesson.  Having to teach to students I barely know seems extremely difficult, but I cannot help but feel that it's like taking the practicum training wheels off, since I will be teaching students I've never met before on every first day of school.

The school itself also supplied me with new challenges.  At ISL, there are 35 minute blocks and the class periods I have shadowed have been one, two, or three blocks long.  My first lesson, to the 11th graders, was three blocks long, lasting a whopping one hour and 45 minutes.  My second lesson, demanding in its own way, was one block long and lasted only 35 minutes.  Considering all my previous lessons were somewhere around 50 minutes to an hour long, dealing with new time constraints while maximizing time and keeping students engaged was a challenge I'm not sure I met.

For my first lesson, the longer one, I was introducing a discussion of the second generation of characters in Wuthering Heights.  I began the lesson asking students to brainstorm characteristics and quotations of both first and second generation characters and then asking them to join a discussion comparing first and second generation characters.  Then, utilizing a previous assignment that my CT had given students, I asked a student who had compiled notes on the second generation's Catherine to share with the class, while others took notes.  Finally, I introduced a writing prompt, asking students to plan a three paragraph essay and then write one of the paragraphs.

For the first lesson, the beginning half went extremely well, as students began to open up with the informal discussion and were given ample time to write down things that they could then suggest in discussion.  However, the students were confused by the writing prompt and definitely would have benefitted from an example.  I did realize their confusion and I both reiterated the instructions to the class as a whole as well as working with almost all students one on one to develop their own ideas.  I had intended for students to grade each others' paragraphs in class, but because time ran over, they ended up taking each others' paragraphs home to grade for homework.  If I were going to teach these students again, I would try to incorporate paragraph writing as well, but with more emphasis on what will be required of them for IB tests and in a more straightforward and example-based manner.