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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.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Dublin International Practicum

This semester I was very lucky to student teach while I was abroad in Dublin, Ireland. I was able to observe and become a part of a third grade class at St. Andrew’s College, a catholic, private, and preparatory school. The male teacher I observing has been a teacher for over twenty years and displays a great joy for teaching that makes it easy to understand why his students are so eager to learn and love being a part of the classroom environment he has created. My CT was playful and joking with his class but also developed respect from his students that allowed him to still be an authority figure in their eyes. It is easy to see that my CT knows his students really well and about each of their individual needs as learners. For example, we would have conversations about which student would require the most extra attention from me and which were capable of focusing on their own. Other things I noticed about my CT and his classroom was the similar use of technology to enhance learning that I observed in my first practicum experience last year. The classroom was equipped with iPads for all students, a smart board for presentations, and an ELMO projector. My CT utilized this technology in many ways to enhance learning and present material in new and interesting ways for his students. He definitely recognized the benefits of using technology and thus was adept at using it in exciting ways. For these reasons, it was easy to recognize similarities between Irish and American schools and teachers. I am not sure what I was expecting but do not think I was expecting to find the two school systems to be similar in so many ways.  
My time teaching abroad also exposed me to some of the differences between the American school system and those of other countries. The first main difference I noticed was my CT’s reliance on lectures instead of group work or individual quiet working time. In most of his lessons, my CT stood at the front of the classroom and spoke with the help of a powerpoint or other presentation on the smartboard to help guide the class. My CT facilitated engagement in the lessons by calling on students and structuring it as a back and forth. However, I was interested because I never saw the class broken up into groups to discuss an assignment or work together to solve a problem. I also did not see individual work very much unless it was an exam. This teaching style was very different from what I saw during my first practicum but seemed to fit my CT’s personality as well as the nature of the classroom that he had created. Another difference I observed was this school’s emphasis on cultural studies. The students learned two languages, either Spanish or French as well as learning the Irish language. It was very interesting to observe an Irish language lesson because it is such an interesting language. It is law in Ireland for the language to be taught in schools in order to preserve the language that had been dying out with the prevalence of the use of the English language in the county.

All in all, with the similarities and differences I observed between American and Irish school systems, I cannot decide which I find to be the most effective. I think for the most part it depends on the teacher’s abilities and personality to determine which teaching style would be most effective. Depending on which learning style a teacher is most comfortable with will help determine if they are effective in their classroom. I learned a lot during my time in Ireland and from watching my CT and I am excited to bring this information back with me and apply it to my future practicums at BC.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

End of the Year Thoughts

This semester has presented me with a great opportunity to view the education system through the eyes of another country, and has left a lasting impression on me.  I loved the time that I was able to spend in my CT's classroom, and learned/reinforced teaching strategies that I have been learning at my time at Boston College.
My cooperating teacher provided me with good insight on how to maintain a controlled classroom.  She likes to keep a quieter classroom, and achieves this by constantly having the kids doing an assignment or worksheet.  When they first walk into the classroom, a Do Now is already up on the smartboard, so they put away their things quickly and begin working on it.  When they're done, they either help those that aren't done around them or read quietly in their seats.  Next, during lessons, my CT is either teaching the lesson, or they are quietly working in their workbooks.  This is a technique I hope to use in my classroom, have the kids always focused on something so they don't think to act out.  My CT is firm but kind, a quality that is vital to any successful teacher.
I also recognize the great opportunity that I was given to be able to work at St. Andrew's College.  This private school provides their students with a top quality education and hires incredibly capable teachers.  I am very lucky I was able to shadow Ms. Powderly for a semester and see how she incorporated technology into her classroom.  I have yet to be in a classroom where a smartboard is available for daily use for every teacher.  Technology is an important part of the future of teaching, and my CT showed me several programs that can be used to help teach a lesson.
Also, being in an Irish classroom itself was so incredible.  Something unique to all Irish classrooms is that in elementary school across the country, every classroom teacher has to be able to teach Gaelic to its students as a way to preserve Irish traditions.  At the end of Irish students' secondary school, there is a test to ensure that the student has retained enough knowledge of the Gaelic language to ensure that this Irish custom endures.  The pride that Irish people have for their traditions of the past is touching.
I loved my time teaching abroad, and I feel lucky that I was provided with this unique opportunity.