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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Teaching and Final Thoughts About Beechen Cliff

During my final day at Beechen Cliff, I taught two lessons. The first was

observed and for a class of Year 7 students, and the second was with a small group

of Year 10 students. Both lessons went well overall, but there were definitely some

things I would have done with the Year 10 students if I had more time or was better

about spending the time I did have. The Year 7 lesson went smoothly, but I wish I

spent more time on the first part of the lesson than I did. With both of these lessons,

I have learned yet again the importance of time management. When I have taught

lessons in the past, I have had a problem with not having enough planned for the

class period, and rushing through certain activities. This semester, I think I have

gotten better about structuring my lessons. Now I just need to work on figuring out

exactly how much time I should spend on each segment—specifically trying to

spend more time on the important elements of the lesson, and less on the activities

that are less substantial.

I have really enjoyed student teaching at Beechen Cliff overall. All of the

English teachers were very welcoming, and they engaged in conversations about

teaching and my past experiences in schools often. In my past prepractica, I spent a

lot of my break time with either my supervisor or the other student teachers.

However, in this time around, I ate lunch in the English department’s staff room, and

therefore was able to interact with the teachers and listen to some of their thoughts

about teaching and Beechen Cliff as a school. It seems like a lot of the teachers are

happy at Beechen Cliff and enjoy teaching the students there. A few have mentioned

to me that they wished they had more freedom in their curriculum planning. It

seems that many find the National Curriculum a little rigid, and aren’t happy with

the extent that they have to teach to the GCSEs.

I have also really enjoyed working with the students at Beechen Cliff for the

most part. Many of the students are very insightful, and several of them are very

funny when they strike up a conversation with me about Compton, the Red Sox, and

Donald Trump. They have a lot of really interesting things to say, but I wonder if

they are not engaged by the way some of the teachers instruct the material. Many of

the teachers tend to deliver their lessons and only ask students to copy things down

or write for an extended period of time. I think the students find group work

stimulating, as well as projects, but I rarely see this in classes.

Beechen Cliff was an insightful experience for me because I got to not only

witness a British school, but also an all boys school. I have enjoyed exploring the


implications of both.

The Importance of Shakespeare in the UK's English Curriculum

There is one unit at Beechen Cliff that spans all years and all academic levels:

Shakespeare. Every year, the students can be sure that they will be learning at least

one Shakespeare play. In Year 7, the emphasis is on A Midsummer Night’s Dream,

Year 8 is an adapted version of Othello, Year 9 is Romeo and Juliet, and Year 10 is

Macbeth. I have not really observed many Year 11 classes, but I would be shocked if

they did not study Hamlet. These plays are often the subject of a unit of work.

Of all of the ways the teachers handle how they deliver this unit in its

entirety, I thought the Midsummer Night’s Dream unit was most effective. Each class

in Year 7 individually studied the play, pairing it with scaffolds and videos so that

the students, who are still pretty young, would understand. Then, each class was

assigned a scene from the play. Within the classes, the students would be grouped

with five or six other students. Each would choose a character from that scene to act

out. Then students were given the opportunity to rehearse this scene as if they were

performing it to a wide audience. Students were encouraged to bring their own

creativity into the play, acting out the scenes in whatever way they saw fit. Each

group would then perform their scenes to the rest of their individual classes. The

teacher would decide which group performed the scene best, taking into account

how well they understood their lines and how enthusiastic they were in the way

they presented their characters. Once the teachers decided which group was best,

those groups would perform their scene in front of the entire Year 7 on a stage. The

scenes would go in order, so that each class is represented and each students gets to

witness what watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be like.

I thought this unit was an effective one because the classes I observed were

always very engaged in rehearsing their scenes. The other Shakespeare units do not

interest the students very much. In the Year 9 class I participate in on Tuesdays,

many students have told me that they do not understand the language in Romeo and

Juliet, and that the plot is too confusing to grasp. They have only studied the play by

looking at the lines and analyzing them. Perhaps if the students were given the

opportunity to engage with the play in a more creative and personal way, they

would like it more.

With this in mind, I planned my lesson for next Tuesday to engage the

students creatively. My CT was extremely helpful in providing me with the materials

I would need to deliver this lesson effectively. It is situated at a point in the unit

where students should understand Treasure Island’s characters and be prepared to

create characters that model the ones imagined by R. L. Stevenson. I am looking

forward to teaching this lesson and I hope the students find it engaging and


meaningful.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Notable Differences: Education in America and England

When I first decided to student teach in England, I did not think British education would differ very much from American education. Because the languages are the same and the culture is not too unfamiliar, I expected many similarities between the two countries in terms of schools. Along with partaking in the Education Tutorial at my program in Bath, I am taking a class called “Education in England.” This class, in combination with the prepracticum at Beechen Cliff, has allowed me to discern many differences between Education in England and Education in America.
For starters, the entirety of England follows a “National Curriculum.” Unlike the United States, which delivers the Common Core through the states, this curriculum must be followed by all teachers across the country to prepare students for the national tests in Year 10 and Year 11: the GCSEs. The GCSEs remind me of the MCAS tests I took as a high school student in Massachusetts. I think teachers have a tendency to “teach to the test” in regard to both of these exams, but I have noticed that teachers do more so at Beechen Cliff than in my high school. Once students are in the higher years, the class become more and more aligned with what they need to know for the test. In the Year 10 class that I observe, my SP often teaches poems she specifically says will be featured on the GCSE. We look at examples of strong answers to GCSE prompts in many classes. Teachers teach like this in the United States, of course, but not to the same extent. Many educators who I have spoken to at Beechen Cliff wish they had a little more flexibility in their curriculum and lesson planning that what the National Curriculum allows.
Another difference is the way religion is handled in schools. In the United States, there has always been a drive to separate church and state, which has naturally influenced schools to only discuss religion in historical contexts. But in England, the first schools were sponsored by Churches, and many still are. These “Faith” schools are not privatized the same way they are in America. As I mentioned in my last blog posts, classes often discuss religion, and in the English classes I have observed, we often look at poems with Christian themes. I think there is a critique to be made in regard to both American school and English schools in how they handle religious education. While schools in America rarely celebrate the variety and importance of religion, some schools in England can promote certain religions over others.

I have enjoyed exploring how education in America and England vary from one another. Small differences like uniforms (which are staples in public schools as well as private) and bigger ones like religion have been so interesting to notice. I am excited to find even more, along with the many similarities between schools in the two countries.

Introduction to Beechen Cliff Secondary School




Beechen Cliff is an all boys secondary school that sits on a hill overlooking the center of the city in Bath, England. The students begin attending Beechen Cliff in Year 7, and many continue on to the co ed “Sixth Form,” which is the final two years of high school, specifically meant to prepare students for university. At Beech Cliff, there is a strong presence of athletics, as the school encourages students to achieve both in class and in sport. I often see many students carrying field hockey sticks or playing basketball outside between classes, representing the active nature of the student body.
One difference that I have noticed between Beechen Cliff and the schools I have student taught at is that the schedule is much more stretched out. Students do not begin class until 8:45, and classes last for an hour. After each period, students have a ten minute break. This break is more than just passing time for students to get from class to class--interestingly enough, Beechen Cliff’s prospectus states that the reason for such long breaks between classes is to “encourage students to be active,” both promoting a sense of athleticism again and insinuating something about the way the teachers feel about the nature of male students who have sat at desks for too long. Likewise, the prospectus highlights Beechen Cliff’s unique ability to serve the needs of male students often, noting the library, which is “crammed with fiction specifically targeted at boys’ interests” along with the expansive breaks. While I think these notions have a tendency to oversimplify gender perceptions and values, the students overall seem to be pretty satisfied with the school’s structure.
There is a noticeable sense of community and cohesion among the students. In general, they are very respectful to their teachers and friendly with each other. They are gathered into Houses (yes, it’s just like Harry Potter), mixing with their classmates from other years, to attend tutor groups and assemblies twice a week. During these sessions, the students discuss current events, citizenship, religion, and general school news. In the Year 7 classes I have been observing, students have been preparing scenes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in small groups. Each class has been assigned a scene and each teacher has been assigned the task of choosing which of their small groups acts out the scene best. Once teachers have decided, the whole Year 7 will gather in the assembly hall to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream in its entirety, performed by the selected groups. While the Houses bring students from across the school together, I think this Shakespeare unit is an excellent example of how the students experience a sense of unity within their grade.
I am excited to spend more time at Beechen Cliff, both observing English lessons and teaching a few at the end of the semester.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Final Thoughts from Cape Town

After four months at St. Joseph’s Marist College, my understanding of social justice and equity has expanded through observations in and out of the classroom, interactions with students, and conversations with my CT and other faculty. Recognizing differences in each student’s background, learning style, interests, and strengths and weaknesses played a direct role in how I interacted with each student in order to meet their diverse needs. For example, at the beginning of my semester there was one student who seemed to ask for help significantly more often than most students. I would end up spending a lot of time with the student one-on-one, helping him understand what my CT was teaching and guiding him in solving the problems correctly. Due to his consistent requests for help and the confusion that he communicated to me, I was too quick to assume that this student was in need of one-on-one assistance more than many other students. However, after working to get to know each student in the class, I realized that I was devoting more time and attention to this particular student because of his vocal and expressive need for help but that there were many other students who were just as much in need to one-on-one attention but were quieter and less likely to vocalize their confusion. Specifically, one student in my class rarely participated in class and when working individually, tended to guess on answers rather than ask for help. I realized that just because one student vocalizes her struggle less than another student does not mean that she needs less attention. In fact, I soon found in this particular case that the quieter student needed more one-on-one attention while the more vocalized student simply needed just enough attention to encourage him to try the work on his own. Although this will not necessarily be the case for every student of similar behavior, it did remind me how important it is not to make assumptions about each student’s strengths and weaknesses simply because of how they choose to communicate these to me.

My experiences at St. Joseph’s also emphasized the need to learn about each student’s background and develop positive relationships with their parents/guardians. One student was told at the end of the school year that she would be staying back a year and repeating second grade. This news, which is likely confusing and distressing for a seven-year-old, is something that needs to be addressed and explained in a very supportive manner. However, after talking with my CT about the situation, I learned that her parents had skipped multiple meetings with the teacher and administration to discuss the student’s plan for the following year and to make plan for improvement. When my CT asked the student in class if either of her parents had talked with her about repeating second grade, the student said that they had not said anything except that she has to stay back a year. My CT was able to give her positive emotional support, explaining why doing second grade again will be helpful and how it is nothing to be ashamed of. Although receiving this support from both her teacher and her family would have been beneficial, the situation helped me understand the various roles that a teacher plays in each child’s development. Had my CT not made an effort to involve the parents in this process or had she not discussed the situation with the student, this child would likely enter the second grade the following year with less confidence and motivation. Getting to know each student’s background, consistently making an effort to involve the parents/guardians, and constantly striving to meet the needs of each student, both academically and emotionally, are all important roles that I as a teacher will strive to achieve.


Overall, I have had such a positive experience at St. Joseph’s. I came to understand from a new perspective the importance of meeting the needs of each individual student as well as the role of the teacher in promoting equity and social justice in and out of the classroom. I look forward to taking the skills and lessons that I developed abroad and applying them to my future experiences as well as challenging myself to look at these skills and lessons from new perspectives and continue exploring new strategies. I am very lucky to have had this experience and am so grateful for being a part of the St. Joseph’s community!