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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.

Observation of a Lesson Taught By My CT

Journal #3

            This past Tuesday I was able to go back to Scoil Bride for my 9th time and I observed a phonics lesson taught by my teacher. This was the first time I had witnessed a phonics lesson because I normally go to the school on Wednesdays, which allows me to witness math, reading and Gaelic instruction, which is the Irish language. The phonics lesson started with my teacher going over a familiar sound, “aw”. She first wrote the sound on the board and asked the class to raise their hands if they knew how to say this sound. One student raised their hand and answered her question correctly. My teacher then went on with the lesson by explaining that this one sound could be written in three different ways, “a”, “aw” and “al”. My teacher asked the class to take a minute and think of example words that could be put into these three categories for the sound “aw”. One by one students raised their hands and contributed example words like “hawk”, “all”, “walk” and more. As each student contributed a word, my teacher repeated the word and stated why a word belonged in a certain category. After about 10 minutes of students contributing example words, my teacher thanked all the students for their words and then asked the students to get out their phonics notebooks. This was a common aspect of the lesson, so the students understood that this meant opening their notebooks to the next available page, creating three lined columns and waiting for a new list of words to be written on the board. Once this new list of words was written on the board, the students would then separate the words into the three different sounds, “a”, “aw” and “al”. My teacher wrote 10 words on the board utilizing all three sound types and the students set off to work on categorizing the ten words into the proper column. I was amazed at how fast these students were able to get focused and start working on the task at hand, but this most likely due to the fact that it is the last week in April and they have been doing phonics since the beginning of the year. My teacher and I circulated the classroom looking over the student’s shoulders to make sure students were working on the assignment and that they were not in need of any help. After another 10 minutes, my teacher reminded the students that once they were done with categorizing the words, they were to use 4 of the words in a sentence and while they did so, they should try to incorporate some examples of adjectives. Unsurprisingly, this assignment was easier for some students than others, so after students had finished both the categorization of words and their four sentences, they were then instructed to read a book silently. I am not sure if I have mentioned this in my first post but my class has many learning disabilities, mainly dyslexia, so though I would describe my students as fairly bright for first grade, some assignments can prove to be frustrating and more time consuming for some of the students. My teacher is very good about circulating around the students that might need a little more attention when lessons involve potentially confusing concepts like similar sounds in different words. My teacher has a very strong sense of pacing for her students; in fact I would say one of her strengths is tapping into when students are struggling with concepts or when they are breezing through another concept. I have enjoyed watching her teach lessons because she seems to really understand her students and though learning disabilities can add some road blocks in a lesson, she rolls with the pauses and confusion from her students very gracefully. I hope to emulate that sort of understanding of my student’s needs in my next practicum in the fall. One thing I have struggled with in the past is pacing during a lesson, so I am hoping to work on that next semester!