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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Differences Observed at Maria Luigia

Throughout my time at Maria Luigia, I have observed many differences between Italian and American school system.
Some logistical differences I have learned about are the Italian school system including their testing system and activities. The students I teach are in the “Scuola Secondaria di Primo Grado” section of Maria Luigia, meaning they are between the ages of 11 and 14. They attend at least 30 hours of schooling each week. Their school hours are between 8am and 1:30, and they also have school on Saturdays. The students at my school do not participate in after school activities or school clubs like most American students do. The formal classes such as “Maths,” English, Italian, History must follow the Ministry of Public Education’s instruction on lessons. There are no “study halls” or “free periods” like there are in many American schools. The students I teach seem to have less homework but more tests than I had in American school. They can have up to five tests or assessments each week. At the conclusion of each term, students receive report cards. At the end of their third year in the “Scuola Secondaria di Primo Grado” students take a big test that encompasses Italian, Math, Foreign Language and Science. If students pass this test, they receive a “Licenza di Scuola Media” which certifies that they can continue onto high school.
            The primary language at Maria Luigia is English. This has challenged me in so many ways, and has taught me a great amount of language learning and development. Throughout my lessons, I always remind myself to speak slowly so that my students can understand what I am saying and hopefully be more comfortable to participate and engage in my lesson. Living in Parma where not many people speak in English for the past few months, I have experienced the difficulty of learning a new language. This has helped remind me to put myself in my students’ “shoes” when planning a lesson and executing it.  It has been helpful that Italians are more dependent on facial expressions and gestures for communicating than Americans are. My students sometimes presented in English to me about themselves and also about Italian culture and customs. Hearing them attempt to present fluidly in English opened my mind to the particularities of English and helped me notice weak areas where students struggled and needed support. I would try to adjust my lessons to include focuses on where students struggled. In English, there are so many irregular verbs. My students often struggled with the verb tenses of the verb to write. Often, my SP would have me simply read off the verb tenses from a verb list. Although I saw the benefit of students hearing the verbs, I felt frustrated that this exercise did not go beyond to check for student comprehension or clarification in a deeper way.

The general atmosphere of my school feels more relaxed than the American schools I have attended and those where I have completed my pre-practicums. Just walking from one class to my next with my SP, she will walk leisurely, stop and talk to numerous people in hallway. In my mid-semester conference with my SP, the topic of what makes a good teacher came up and it was interesting to hear her take (which really is a common opinion). She emphasized how a good teacher must be patient, be understanding, create a good relationship with her students and must overall love students. It was so nice to be able to have this conversation with her because I agree on all her points, and appreciate how she makes an effort to put what she believes into action.

Culture and Social Justice

I believe teaching abroad will absolutely impact my responsibility to “Promote Equity and Social Justice”. My interactions with my students have been so enriching to my view of culture, equity and social justice. Teaching abroad has really made me reflect on my teaching philosophy. It has shown me how education can change the trajectory of a student’s life and how students can absolutely thrive and grow in a classroom. Education can be a vital mobility channel for students who are predisposed to a cycle of poverty. I am more aware of the differences that gender, race, religion, social status can be divisive differences in educational settings no matter which country students attend school. Inequity is unfortunately present in countries around the world. As a teacher, I will always have to fulfill my responsibility to promote equity and social justice, and consider the ways in which I can serve students who have less access to education.
             Teaching abroad has allowed me to learn so much about Italian culture, and also share some North American culture with my students. From my student teaching form and my meetings with my SP, she was aware of my interests and places I have traveled. She wanted me to share these with the class. After I conclude my lesson in each class on Thursdays, I have an open discussion with my students. So, after my lesson I taught about earthquakes, I was able to further elaborate on it with personal experience of a time I experienced an consequence of an earthquake- a tsunami while I was travelling. Students seemed fascinated by my anecdote of running uphill as fast as I could as an 8 year old to escape the tsunami in Thailand. They were motivated to ask questions in English about this. In a short conversation with my SP after this lesson, she thanked me for helping the students make steps towards overcoming their shyness and their anxieties about talking and asking questions in English. Sharing in culture has furthered my appreciation for learning about different cultures. I now truly see that when considering curriculum decisions, teachers can build on the diversity of students and their prior experiences in their classroom. Creating a learning environment that facilitates thoughtful and respectful conversations with multiple and various perspectives is so important.
In one of most recent lessons, I presented to my students about how I celebrate Christmas. Following this, each student shared with me his or her Christmas and holiday traditions. I learned so much about the individuality of each of my students just in this conversation about which holiday they believe in and celebrate, and how they celebrate it. One student whose family immigrated to Italy from Indonesia expressed his uncomfortableness in Italy during Christmas time- a time where the majority of Italians celebrate Christmas by attending Church. Student A’s family practices Islam and does not celebrate Christmas so he shared with me and his class some facts about the holiday of Ramadan. This was such an awe-inspiring moment to witness as many of his classmates respectfully expressed that they were not aware of his family’s background. This was an enriching moment for everyone in the classroom as it created an opportunity for everyone’s voice to be heard.
 I believe that my presentations I create each week for my lessons have allowed my students to gain a deeper understanding of, awareness of, and openness to North American culture. I encouraged students to participate by sharing their own ideas and responding to others in classroom discussion In a similar way, I will be able to teach my future pre-practicum students about the Italian school system and what my Italian students taught me.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Bittersweet last day

Last Friday was my last day at my placement. They had a math field day which was exciting. Students were given different games to play that had to do with working together as well as different mathematical operations within those activities. I was stationed at the jump rope activity where each group had to decide together which three students would jump rope for twenty seconds each. Everyone had a role: three people jump roped, one person timed, and one person wrote all the data. After they wrote down all their data and how many number of jumps each person did in their twenty seconds, they had to add all of their jumps together to see what the total was.

It was interesting to see all the different levels of skill in jump roping. More students were actively willing to be one of the jump ropers, whereas others would let his or her peers take that role because they knew they would not be able to jump as much as the others. Afterwards, the teacher in charge of that station asked us, those who were supervising the children, if they had been working well together, what they did when they had disagreements between calculations or the number of jumps each person made, as well as if they were able to come to a conclusion as a group. The score was out of two points and the teachers at the end of the day were going to see how well their students did as a whole. It was also great because the students were not all in the same classrooms thus they got to know each other through doing all these activities together. It was also great because the students' parents were there helping out. It really was a blessing to get to meet the parents of the students I teach. They were genuinely so kind and went out of their way to speak to me and get to know me. One mother had actually attended Wellesley College and we bonded over how cold Massachusetts was compared to where we were both from, which was Washington and California. She also asked me about what to do when students are not willing to cooperate in the classroom because they feel like their class is too easy. I gave her an explanation as best as I could and told her everything is situational and depends on how everyone involved (parents, teacher, student) would like to deal with it.

Since my placement was in three different locations over the course of five weeks, I could not make as close of relationships as I had wanted. I was already expecting this going into my internship but I did get really close to the teachers at my first placement. I don't know if it's because they were the first school I was at, if it was because of the small close-knit community the teachers have, or because they were the youngest grade I taught, but they were definitely my favorite school. In all of the placements, everyone was so kind and welcoming and willing to help me out though. After each placement, I would say goodbye to all the teachers and the headmistresses. The first location actually told me to come back whenever I wanted whether it was to just talk or help out so for my last day of my internship, I went back to say goodbye. You can really tell that the school cares about nurturing their students and providing them with the necessary resources as well as incredibly competent and caring teachers. I loved my placement and wish that I could work somewhere like here again in America. It was such a wonderful opportunity for me and I already miss all the students and teachers!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Social Justice

     I think that teaching abroad will absolutely impact my responsibility to "Promote Equity and Social Justice." In particular, it is very easy for me to draw comparisons to the ESL classroom that I did my first prac in at Brighton High School. A lot of the social justice issues that I saw in Brighton, I experienced here in Italy. Certainly, on a much lower stakes scale, but for the first time, I felt what it was like to be in a country where my native tongue is not the majority language.
     Furthermore, I did not know a single word of Italian when I stepped off the plane in Florence, which might have been poor preparation on my part. I have a pretty strong background in Spanish, which definitely jumpstarted my learning, but can now be confusing when you learn the subtle differences between the languages. Now certainly, if I walk into a store or a restaurant in Italy and speak English, there will be someone there who knows enough English to get me by. I do not have to know Italian. I thought about this compared to my job as a hostess as a restaurant. Previous to this experience, if someone had walked into the Bonefish Grill and spoke to me in Italian, we could not helped him or her. At all.
    In the classroom, my biggest difficulty was when a child would not understand something. I could see the confusion on his or face, and recognize "Non lo capisco" but if he or she asked me a question in Italian, there was a very limited chance I would be able to respond or answer it. This made me more dependent on my CT, who would sometimes have to translate, or would just go over my head and answer the question in Italian. From a teaching standpoint, this makes assessments much more difficult to see. However, from a student standpoint, this is terribly frustrating. If my CT was not there, it would be a situation where a student needs help, has focalized that he or she needs help, and is unable to receive it, because I do not know his or her language. In all of my Spanish and Italian classes, my professor has been fluent in English as well. This raises a lot of questions about our ESL system. Should there be a classroom model where the teacher is fluent in the native tongue as well? Logistically, this would be very difficult to get a teacher and classroom space for the hundreds of languages in the world.
     I think that students who are learning a foreign language, especially as a necessity to immigration, there needs to be a better system. A model that includes "Survival English" for the first two weeks perhaps, filled with common everyday phrases and situations they might encounter. My CT at Brighton taught a lesson on police brutality - and printed up and laminated a card for her students to hand to the police if they were ever in an altercation. It included information like "English is not my first language." "I have the right to remain silent." "I have the right to a lawyer." And other very important ideas and rights that they would not have access to without this card, simply because they can't express those rights in the correct language. Then, perhaps moving on to a traditional grammatical plan. However, I find the use of translating to be very effective in my Italian classes and here at San Giuseppe so I am a little discouraged at its lack of use in ESL classes in the US.
     This experience has really made me want to look into the ESL educational policies more, and perhaps consider teaching an ESL classroom, where I believe I would have huge asset because I understand the incredible difficulties of living in a country where you can't make yourself understood without a lot of dedication and hard work.

A Typical Day at Instituto San Guiseppe

     My day starts with my 8:50 am Italian class that meets every day, Monday through Thursday. At 10:45, I speed walk the 20 minutes over to Instituto San Guiseppe, a private Catholic school in the outskirts of Florence. I officially start at 11:20, and there is actually a different student there, Jessica, who comes in the mornings. However, Jessica is not planning to be a teacher, she just wanted some volunteer hours. This can be a little confusing for my kids, who are in the 3rd grade because they don't see a difference between myself and Jessica - they think my CT is their teacher, and Jessica and I are there to play with them. Sometimes, it can be difficult to get them to settle down if I am giving a lesson that day.
     Usually, we start that English period by going over the children's homework from the last class. I do not have too much to do during this time, since I do not have a book and did not assign them homework, so it is a nice period to observe my CT and see how she interacts with the students, how she asks for volunteers or selects students, how she handles a wrong answer, and many other things. I also like to migrate and "stand near" any troublemakers - I might walk over and stand behind two children who are chatting instead of paying attention, just as a little reminder. Since they are still young, this is usually pretty effective.
     After homework, this is usually my turn to do an "activity" as my CT calls it. Usually, I either read a story and work on reading comprehension or I create a "photocopy" (worksheet) that introduces new vocabulary for the students and asks some review questions from the previous lesson. I did photocopies on weather, seasons, and time (months, days of the week, holidays). Today was actually my last lesson and tomorrow is a very big National holiday in Italy, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. To celebrate, I read them "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The vocabulary was a little more challenging than other books, especially imaginary concepts like a Grinch or "who-roast-beast," but the children really enjoyed the rhythm and intonation of the rhymes.
     Then, my CT takes over and she either delivers a lesson, or lately, we practice for their Christmas show, "A Christmas Carol" delivered in English for the parents before Christmas vacation. Finally, to close out the class, we sing songs in English. This is the children's favorite part and they always look forward to it. They have their favorite ones, that they always request: "Stardust!" I think they particularly like this one because it is an Italian-English pop mixup. It's a very effective way to raise participation and get them to speak in English, which is always more difficult than just comprehension. When I leave, after sining, my CT leaves as well. She is on a middle-school schedule almost, where the students remain in their classrooms but the teachers relocate when the period is over. We have a goodbye routine that we must follow. It involves saying goodbye to everyone and asking a few questions in English. Usually, this is something like "What are you doing this weekend?" "What's your next lesson about?" or "Did you like the lesson we did today?"
     A highlight is definitely when I walk in - the children are so welcoming, and I am always greeted by a chorus of "Hello, Miss Maggie!" that never fails to put a smile on my face. One thing that I have noticed is that the Italian school system is very particular about the way you address your teacher. My CT will not answer a child if he or she says "Maestra!" or "Teacher!" The requirement is "Miss" (or Mr.) first name. This is interesting to me, since in the US we usually would use the last name, out of respect.
      I usually have my lesson planned ahead of time. I send it to my CT by at least Tuesday for a Thursday class, and before I leave we discuss the topic for the next lesson. However, with the play it has been very hectic trying to organize the parent volunteers, so one time I showed up and my lesson was cancelled. The next time, she asked me to give a lesson completely from scratch with no preparation, so that was one of my biggest challenges to date. I definitely think that the planning process is a more informal in Italian education. However, this has some advantages like really being able to assess your students and not worry about sticking to a schedule.