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Friday, June 1, 2018

Teaching Methods Collaboration After-School

Nishimachi International School is not only extremely dedicated to teaching its students, but also teaching its teachers. Every Wednesday, faculty participates in school-wide presentations on diverse teaching methods that they have experimented with in their classrooms. I luckily prac on Wednesdays, so I have been able to observe how teachers from different grade levels and subjects areas can introduce teaching strategies that are universal to education. Teachers usually collaborate in pairs or a team to experiment with strategies in their classroom, and then work together to share their findings via presenting student work and using google slides for showcasing data. At Nishimachi, teachers share their knowledge with each other and thus foster a community of educators who are passionate about trying new things and taking risks.

One presentation I found really enjoyable was on the learning process of typing on a computer. A 5th grade teacher spoke about the new program called TypingClub, which is a website that allows students to practice their typing speed and accuracy skills for free online. Teachers can make class accounts for students and immediately see their progress. The 5th grade teacher uses TypingClub in her class, and pointed out that her students like to compete with each other, as well as herself – making learning all the more fun. Interestingly, the program does not differentiate its typing levels by grade-level, so students can learn at their own paces.

Another presentation I enjoyed was how teachers at Nishimachi implemented creative workshops in their classrooms. The presenters gave us visitors individual ipads to watch a video about the structure of the workshop. The video emphasized  the importance of students learning to be curious. That is, students need to develop metacognition skills on not only developing curiosity about a particular research topic, but also learning the steps involved for creating a research project of their choice. Students first must think of a researchable question, then conduct research, create a presentation, and share their research with their classmates. I was even able to see how my SP conducted her creative workshop with the 2nd graders - I viewed the students’ presentations that ranged from samurai and Japanese trains all the way to presentations on architecture, soccer, and horses. While some students made google slides presentations, others made poster boards and games. Overall, students were extremely excited to be “research experts.” The creativity workshop is important because it proves that students can learn, and are willing to learn even more, when they have some choice in the content. I really valued being able to see the workshop firsthand and learn through the faculty presentations.

In some ways, the weekly teacher faculty presentations are creativity workshops in their own right. Teachers get to decide what aspect of student learning they want to research about, and then become experts in technology programs and other student learning strategies (readers’ workshop for instance). It is so crucial for teachers to learn what each other is doing in the classroom, so more schools should host such teacher presentations.  

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Teaching Personal Narratives & Descriptive Lang with Cultural Diversity

I was able to teach my 2nd grade students about personal narratives while also connecting with their cultural backgrounds. I showed the students a slide show of pictures from my trip at Mt. Takao – a famous mountain in the Tokyo region – as I read my personal narrative about my climb up the mountain. I wanted my personal narrative to focus on a small moment I have had here in Japan so that my students could connect with my experience. About half of the students in the class are Japanese students, while the remaining are half Japanese/ White, half Japanese/ half African, and White. The topic of Mt. Takao connected with the students’ cultural backgrounds because students could see pictures of the mountain’s beautiful landscape and religious shrines that are part of Japan’s narrative. Japanese students were able to see their own cultural practices, while the international students were able to learn about them. 

As I showed students the slideshow of pictures, I read them my personal narrative. One of my objectives for the lesson was for students to demonstrate understanding that a personal narrative is an entertaining experience that happened in the past, consisting of different events. Students were able to directly visualize the events in my narrative – the start of my climb, the shrines, the statues, and finally the view at the top. Another objective of my lesson was for students to identify “showing” vs. “telling” language in my narrative. I wrote sentences such as “the sun’s rays made the trail even glow,” and “My legs were suddenly able to switch from walking to running!” Students were able to recognize that in the former sentence, instead of simply writing “the weather was nice,” I showed that the weather was nice by describing what the sun made the mountain look like. In the latter sentence, identified that I was showing my new energy for climbing the mountain, without just saying “I had more energy.”

One of my favorite examples of showing language was that “Statues of different deities stared directly at me.” When I read students this, I showed them a picture of the statues. Some students smiled because they recognized the cultural significance of the statues, while some asked questions regarding what a deity is. I asked students, “Can statues really stare at you?” I told students that I wrote the statues stared at me in order to show how I believed that they were somehow telling me to persevere up the mountain. Students were able to grasp that descriptive language is about showing one’s feelings and even breaking away from reality. After the lesson, students started writing their own personal narratives with descriptive language. I was pleased that one student wrote that he “felt like a fish” and “was in a blue world.” I could tell that the student was describing how he felt in water with making comparisons and describing the scene outside just telling his reader that he was in water. The students overall achieved the objectives of my lesson and were excited to write their own personal narratives. I’m excited to see what they’ll have accomplished at my next visit!  

Classroom Management

I’ve found the management of my classrooms at North Melbourne Primary to be very similar to the management of the classrooms I’ve been in in the US. My prep and year 1 classrooms each have about 20-25 students and one head teacher. In my early weeks, I noticed that not many of the teachers have consistent assistant teachers in the classroom, which is something I was used to seeing at my old elementary school in NY. Despite there only being one teacher, both classrooms function very well and utilize their set guidelines and expectations on a daily basis.
These sets of guidelines and expectations are depicted in posters and signs around the classroom, some of which the teachers have established themselves and some of which the students and teachers created together. This took place in my year 1 classroom, such that the students and teacher came up with a list of expectations for behaviors and actions that should and shouldn’t be displayed in the classroom. I’ve noticed this in classrooms back home, and I really like the concept because it shows the student’s that their opinions and feelings are valued, and overall creates an atmosphere that encourages collaboration. My Year 1 SP will often refer to this co-created list of expected behaviors when a student or the class is out of hand in order to manage the classroom behavior. In addition to these sets of guidelines, both teachers use a warning/disciplinary system by giving different warnings to specific student’s inappropriate behavior before actually punishing them. I’ve noticed that they typically start off with a verbal warning, proceed to writing a name on the board, markings next to their name (such as an ‘x’) for more moments of disruptive behavior, and finally a punishment, which usually involves missing playtime. Yet after the student(s) has/have been reprimanded, my SPs always talk to them just to explain why their behavior bothered the teacher, and ask them how they can improve their behavior in the future.
After reflecting on classroom management, I recognized the importance of communication between the students and teachers when managing the classroom. When it comes to establishing classroom rules and expectations, communication is key. I’ve seen both my SPs at North Melbourne actively communicate goals, expectations, feelings, and rules to their students and though the kids may not cooperate right away, they learn and know a little better the next time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Cultural and Linguistic Diversity at a Japanese International School

This semester in Japan, I am teaching at the Nishimachi International School located in Motoazubu,
Minoto, Tokyo. The Nishimachi International School is quite unique in Japan, as students and teachers
alike come from diverse backgrounds. 50% of the students hold Japanese citizenship, as well as 50% hold
dual or multiple citizenships. 45% of the students even hold U.S. citizenship (Nishimachi’s website:
https://www.nishimachi.ac.jp/page.cfm?p=507). It is well known that Japan is 98% ethnically Japanese, so
it is very special and encouraging to see Japanese and international students learning together. The school
is quite welcoming and students have freedom to collaborate with their peers during classwork. Unlike the
majority of Japanese students in the nation, Nishimachi students do not have to wear school uniforms.
Students’ freedom to have a choice in what they wear is just one example of how Nishimachi is unique in
terms of celebrating students’ diversity, differences, identities, ethnicities, and languages.

At Nishimachi, classes are taught in English. I teach in both a second grade and first grade class.
Particularly in my second-grade class, I have noticed that the native Japanese speakers switch between
English and Japanese with each other. Usually the native speakers will speak Japanese if they are excited
about something or if they need to ask one of their classmates a question. It is amazing how quickly the
students can switch between the two languages. Surely some of the main reasons are that some students
are biracial and speak both Japanese and English at their home. Also, English is a means of teaching
instructional content. In other words, English is the means by which students learn math, social studies,
science, and of course reading and writing. Students are learning and using English to learn about issue in
their world and as a tool for expressing themselves. Recently, students wrote poems based on a drawing
of a boy outside. I was overjoyed by how well the students developed their writing with descriptive
language, similes, and metaphors. In a nation where English is “learned” mostly through rote
memorization and grammar, it is spectacular that students at Nishimachi can learn English in creative and
expressive ways.

Nishimachi teaches students according to linguistic diversity by teaching Japanese to all students. In each grade, students attend a different Japanese class according to their ability level. For the most part, native speakers are in one class and students new to the language are in different classes. I think that it is great that international students learn Japanese at such an early age; they can use Japanese to meaningfully communicate with fellow Japanese students, as well as Japanese people in their communities. Learning Japanese surely offers more opportunities for children to become more linguistically responsive to their Japanese classmates. All students at Nishimachi are learning an additional language in one way or another, and, as a teacher, I have to consider the needs of both native Japanese speakers and native English speakers. I have to make sure that the content is accessible, yet also challenging.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A typical day at N. Melbourne Primary

My Tuesdays begin with a weekly stop at the coffee shop around the corner from my apartment. From there, I walk about 10-15 minutes to my placement, and am greeted by the students and their parents as they start their day. The school days are divided into sessions, such that there is a session of subjects, usually two, at the start of the school day, one in between the two breaks (which consist of play and eating time), and another session of subjects after the last break.

I begin my day in prep, which is the equivalent of kindergarten, in Mike’s class. Though I am usually with a Year 1 classroom, my SP has a team meeting in the mornings so Mike offered to take me in. After the morning routine, we typically head right into reading. Mike and I each work with a group of students of the same reading group, usually the highest or lowest group of readers. When working with either group of students, Mike provides me with some background info on what they’ve read or worked on the other day and what the plan is for the new text I’ll read with them that day. This can be a little challenging at times because it is hard for the lowest group of students to follow what one of their classmates is reading aloud, so I often bounce back and forth between kids sitting next to each other and read through a page or two with them, and then move onto the next two. However, I enjoy working on their reading comprehension skills, which is usually more successful because they enjoy the conversations we have about making predictions and making text to self, to text, to world connections. Even though Mike has provided me with some guidance, I am still feel like I need to better organize and structure these small group sessions. After a quick bathroom break, we move onto writing. The task or topic varies, but Mike pretty much keeps the routine consistent. By this I mean the class gathers on the rug, discusses a book or topic, Mike incorporates a curriculum standard and learning goal, and the students return to their tables to apply what they’ve just discussed through pictures or words. Mike works with a few specific students at this time, and I walk around to offer help. I do so by sounding out words with the students and helping them expand upon their ideas orally if they’re struggling in the writing process.

All of the students then have recess at 10:40 and return to the classroom at 11:20. Mike has meetings at this point with his Prep team, so I return to my original Year 1 class with Svetlana. As the students eat part of their lunch in the classroom, Svet reviews her plans for the mid day session with me. The subjects are usually writing and numeracy. I’ve been able to see the students progress in their writing as they’re now beginning to write narratives and learning this genre of writing’s characteristics. This has been really enjoyable experience of mine while in Svet’s class, and reminded me of the semester long writing project we led in small groups as P2s. In regards to the numeracy sessions, I haven’t seen the students really develop in one specific area since it’s usually a different math topic every week. However, this could be due to the fact that I am only there once a week and miss out on the other math sessions. I’ve led some small group and whole class lessons in numeracy, but it can be challenging at times because my SP offers the opportunity for me to do so the day of. Though she provides me with a detailed outline and the lessons usually go over smoothly, it can be a bit stressful since it is so last minute. However, I’m thankful for experiences like these, as it helps me think on my feet and gain flexibility in my instruction.
After the afternoon break, I return to Mike’s classroom since the new semester changed Svet’s specials times so the Year 1’s have drama and Italian after their midday session. Mike usually teaches numeracy and history or another reading session. The preps are little more temperamental in the afternoon, as they’ve already spent a good portion of the day learning and socializing. I’ve noticed that Mike is more flexible when teaching these two afternoon subjects since it accommodates to the kids’ antsy behavior. For instance, our math session two days ago involved ordering of numbers on a number line. After the activity and worksheet, Mike just had each student use a whiteboard and told various groups of students to create number line starting at number “x” and ending at number “y”. He could have been reinforcing a previous lesson or skill in this activity, but I found the level of freedom and fluidity within the lesson to be interesting.

Though my Tuesdays can be hectic, I am able to learn so much from two amazing teachers and two enthusiastic, talented groups of students. The repetition of the schedules has also allowed me to reflect on how I conduct small and whole class lessons, determine what I need to improve upon, and how I can do so the following week. I’ve been lucky enough to develop great relationships with two classrooms throughout my time at North Melbourne Primary, and I can’t believe I only have two more visits left with them.