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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A day in the life of a Spanish pre-practicum student

A typical day at my placement begins at 9:15 in the morning. I arrive to school and meet one of my co-teachers, Paul. With Paul I go to the 4th year ESO class (equivalent to sophomores in high school) for two periods, meaning I see all of the students who are in this year of school. After these two classes we have a 30-minute break, where the students play in the courtyard and the teachers often go down the street to a cafĂ© to get some coffee or tortilla (Spanish omelette). Afterwards, I come back and I go with my other co-teacher, Marta, to the 2nd year ESO students (equivalent to 8th graders) for a conversation class where the students are mostly working on projects and activities to practice their speaking and practical language. After this, I go back with Paul to the 1st year ESO (equivalent to 6th and 7th graders). These students are in their first year of having separate English classes, however they already have had English lessons throughout the entirety of their elementary school so they are beginning to work with more complex tenses and vocabulary. To finish off the day, I go to the opposite end of the spectrum with Marta and the bachillerato students who are juniors in high school. By working with all these years of students, I am able to see the students and their levels of English during every year. It is also very interesting to see how the skills learned and practiced during the 1st year ESO eventually give way to the bachillerato students.  

Normally while I am in the different classrooms I take on a variety of roles. For the two older groups of students, I worked with small groups of about 5 students and taken them out of class as a group to have small conversations and practice speaking. I would have the students tell me about themselves, what they liked to do, who was in their family, and what their favorite trip they have ever been on is. This way, the students felt comfortable trying to express themselves as much as they could while using different verb tenses to correctly describe situations. I loved getting to know the students and trying to relate some of their stories to my own life and other stories I had heard from students. At times, I would also use this time with the small group to practice a specific aspect of the class that they had been working on, whether that was a new verb tense or a new set of vocabulary.

Along with taking out small groups, I would also help the teachers during the class with their lessons. On two occasions I was able to teach the entire vocabulary lesson myself, going over the words with the students and leading the activities. Even if I was not teaching the lesson directly, oftentimes the students would have activities to practice their skills and I would walk around the classroom helping out the groups. I would help the teachers with some of the American equivalents to the British vocabulary words they were learning. Also throughout the semester I got to see the students in different levels taking tests, and my co-teachers allowed me to look at the tests, and after I helped to correct them as well, both with multiple choice and fill in the blank answers as well as grading the older students’ essays.

Throughout the semester I have also worked with one student in particular. This student is actually from a local town in Massachusetts (I also grew up in Massachusetts) who just moved to Spain to live with his mom. Despite growing up in the States, he was struggling in the English class as he spoke English natively and wasn’t taught the names of specific tenses and British vocabulary words. It has been very interesting getting to work with him and figure out what the best way to help him and how to help improve his scores. In a way, I think it was also nice for him to have someone from home to talk to, since he is only now adjusting to life in Spain. I’ve really enjoyed helping him and working through this interesting situation of helping a native English speaker in their English class.


Every week has been interesting seeing how I can help both the teachers and the students. By taking on a variety of different roles in a wide range of age groups I have gained insight into the entirety of the teaching of English to Spanish students. This was not something I necessarily expected to be a part of my international pre-practicum, but I am so thankful to have been able to have this diverse range of experiences.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Recognizing and Appreciating Diversity in South Africa

           During the past few weeks, the students in my class have been learning about South Africa, its culture, its many languages, its geography, its history, and more. This unit has been interwoven into many subjects, helping students gain a better understanding of and appreciation towards the country they live in. I have loved being in the class during these lessons for many reasons. One reason is that it has been interesting comparing South African history lessons in a South African school to American history lessons in an American school. In my own experience, U.S. history can often be presented in a very egocentric way in some schools back home. I think that it is important to address the struggles that our country still faces as well as to acknowledge and appreciate the diversity in cultures and lifestyles across the U.S. and the world. Living in a fairly homogeneous town, I grew up with a very limited understanding of diversity and my education classes, among other experiences, at BC as well as my experiences at St. Joseph’s have helped me realize how important it is to help students understand and embrace diversity early on. In my class at St. Joseph’s, my CT has done a great job with this. For example, she often reminds students that although St. Joseph’s is a Catholic school, it embraces all forms of religion and she encourages students to share their diverse beliefs with the class. During her history lessons, she discusses how moments of South African history have influenced different people of different cultures in different ways. I really appreciated the way she taught these lessons because it helps students understand the past and current struggles that their country faces in a way that acknowledges the variety of effects the history has had on such a diverse population.

           Another reason I have enjoyed being a part of the class during these lessons is because it has helped me learn more about each student and his/her culture, beliefs, and experiences. After observing and helping out with a few history and geography lessons, I decided to teach a lesson on what diversity is in a more relevant sense. Although students had been learning much about their country as a whole, I thought it would be important to help them understand how diversity applies to every single person, including each and every student in the class. We started by going over what we have learned about South Africa so far – its nine provinces, its major cities, and its eleven official languages. We then started narrowing in on Cape Town, its different towns, different neighborhoods, and different schools. Together, we came up with a list of what can make people different. The students started with physical differences: skin color, eye color, hair color, age, height, weight, etc. I then encouraged them to think about differences that you might not be able to see on the outside: family structure, religious beliefs, jobs people may have, types of homes people live in, languages, hobbies, etc. While creating this list, the students began discussing ways that make each one of them unique. For example, one student mentioned how her parents speak very little English and that she speaks Xhosa (one of the eleven official languages in South Africa) at home. Another student mentioned that he lives with just his dad and that his mom lives in a different home. Many other students shared similar, yet unique experiences of their own, realizing that while two students may be connected in some ways, they also have many differences between them. The students then discussed reasons why they think diversity is a good thing and why they like being unique. We concluded the conversation with an activity which gave students an opportunity to draw their home, their family and friends, and/or the things that they like to do and then share these drawings with the class. Many talked about the people that they consider family and what they enjoy doing with these people.

           This was definitely my favorite lesson and class conversation so far at St. Joseph’s. Not only was it interesting for me to learn about each student, but it also gave the students the opportunity to think about how they are all unique and why they can celebrate this diversity rather than be ashamed of it. In a country where there are still significant political and social issues surrounding race, class, and gender, I think it is important for youth to begin having these discussions so that as they grow up, they will hopefully be able to recognize the social injustices that exist and feel empowered to help mitigate these issues. For this reason, I would definitely like to teach this lesson on diversity again in the future. I also think it would be interesting to compare the conversation on diversity I had with the second graders at St. Joseph’s with the same conversation I may have at different schools in the U.S. I feel very grateful to have had this particular experience here in South Africa and would love to observe the similarities and differences in perspectives on diversity from students of different parts of the world.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Culture of Spanish Schools

The Spanish culture definitely has an influence in the classroom designs and the structure of schools.

Time in Spain works very differently than time in the US. Breakfast is light, lunch is a big meal around 2:00/2:30, and dinner is multiple courses around 9:00pm. The day is extended by these late times, and it affects every part of your day. When I first got to Madrid, the sun did not set until fairly late at night, so your whole day feels longer because the sun is out, and you are out doing things until much later, only settling down for the night and eating dinner at 9:00. Because of these drastic differences from the US, it should not be too surprising that the Spanish school day is very different as well.

For students at La Salle in Madrid, school starts at 8:30. On Wednesdays and Fridays school ends at 2:30. However every other day of the week, the students get out at 1:30 with an hour and a half to go home and eat lunch (because this meal is so important), then the students return to school for classes from 3:00-5:00. This difference in schedule is possible because of the different structure of the typical Spanish day. Morning classes are normally 55 minutes, and afternoon classes are 1 and a half hours. This day lasts longer, and students are physically in school for longer than many schools in the US. For the months of September and June, students get out of school at 2:30 every day, but throughout the rest of the year they are in school until fairly late in the afternoon and early evening.

Also the Spanish in general are very open, direct, and expressive people. All of the teachers are called by their first name, which creates a slightly more personal relationship, but it can also make it slightly more difficult to be authoritative. When the students are working, they may begin to speak in Spanish because it is simply easier, and the teachers will remind them to get to work. Some of the students may make a comment back to the teacher, not necessarily a bad one. In general, the students are allowed to speak up and talk to teachers openly in a non-strict environment, with the teachers reminding students when it is time to get back to work (like many other situations I have observed in the US). This constant expressiveness and conversation that is typical of the Spanish is also highlighted in school where students are encouraged to work in cooperative groups together as much as they possibly can.

In terms of the classes they take, I feel like many of my Spanish students who may be middle-school aged are taking classes I would have been taking in high school, such as economics and physics. I suppose this also depends on where you went to school in the US, but in general, the Spanish classes seem more advanced than what we would be teaching children in the US. This is evident also by the fact that almost all students in Spain are exposed to English as early as when they are infants in school, so that by the time they are in 6th grade, students are learning many of the basic English verb tenses and already have a breath of vocabulary that they can understand the teacher when they only speak in English (this is compared to me only beginning to learn Spanish in 7th grade, starting with numbers, letters, and basic greetings).


Overall it has been very interesting to see how the culture I observe day-to-day is reflected in my classrooms, and I look forward to observing this relationship more closely.

How to Teach in Madrid

In Madrid I work with the head of the English department at La Salle, San Rafael. It is a school with students from infants to high school. The students start learning English in elementary school, but once they are in 6th grade they begin to take separate English classes with the two English teachers at the school. I spend most of my classes with the head of the English department, Paul, and I also have other classes with the other teacher, Marta. Since the students are older when they begin taking English, the students I work with range from 12 to 17 years old. This is a little older than the elementary age groups I have normally worked with but it has been very interesting to get a new perspective on a different group of students.

From the lessons I have observed, it has been interesting to see how closely the teacher adhere to the workbooks the students have. Unlike having a separate curriculum to follow, the teachers just have a company’s workbook for the students which they use for activities and exercises. The book often has smaller and more involved exercises which the students often complete in their cooperative groups. Paul was explaining to me that the students are supposed to be working in the cooperative groups as much as they possibly can. They will often work to complete some activity using the vocabulary and grammar they are learning. For example, the younger students once had to create a lost pet poster, using descriptive adjectives to describe in detail the pet they had lost. Some of the older students also had to create their ideal class schedule, deciding what classes to take, when to begin school, how long each class was supposed to be, etc.

In observing these lessons, I have seen how the teachers use the books as a source of material and exercises for the students, while they often gauge themselves if the students need more or less support, and accordingly they will decide how much of the information needs to be gone over in the whole group and how much can be practiced practically with their peers. The students like working in their cooperative groups, but at times it does make it difficult to have everyone stay on task. Once in the groups, it is easier for students to get distracted, or simply start speaking Spanish. The teachers will walk around and try to monitor the groups. Most of the comprehension check is done when students have to share their answers and what they have talked about.

This is a fairly similar teaching style from what I have seen in the US, however I think in the US teachers oftentimes do not rely so heavily on one book to help guide their lessons. Lessons in the US are more often taken from multiple different sources, or are more created by the teacher. I think part of it may be that I am working with older students, who have a little more regulations on the material they are taught due to the testing that occurs when they are in high school in order to get into university.


Even still, it has been very enlightening to be able to work with nearly every age group from 12-17 at La Salle, and I have been able to see how the progression of the teaching functions until the students get into their junior year of high school, where English class becomes optional. I am looking forward to being able to take on more responsibilities in my classrooms, teaching a few lessons, and continuing to see how the students grow and develop. It has been very interesting to compare to the US education system, and with time I am only getting more insight.