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Monday, September 26, 2016

Embracing Culture at Copenhagen International School

My practicum is at Copenhagen International School, an elementary-secondary school in Denmark with both students and staff from all over the world. Being in an international school creates an interesting dynamic- while aspects of the culture of Denmark are certainly integrated into the school, it is more focused on providing students with a global education. So far I have spent three full days in a second grade classroom with 21 students from over a dozen countries.  It’s easy to see the influence that being in an international school has on the classroom; one wall contains a huge world map with markings of where all the students are from. Morning greetings in all of the student’s native languages are posted on the board and each morning one greeting is chosen for a student to share with the rest of the class. From the first day I arrived, my CT encouraged me to ask the students about where they were from and I have loved talking with them about all of their different experiences in various countries around the world. A big part of CIS’s vision and mission is to teach students to respect and embrace differences in cultures in order to equip them for a global citizenship beyond school. It’s interesting to see this play out in the classroom, as students are often chattering happily both to other students and to teachers about where they are from and excited to share experiences that they and their family have had.
I was able to see an example of CIS’s dedication to teaching their students about global unity on International Peace Day. The whole school day was dedicated to various peace related activities and entire school projects. Presentations were given about the meaning of peace and what it looks like throughout the world, emphasizing how students see peace in their families and cultures. I’m glad I was able to witness this day as it was interesting to hear about different ideas of the meaning of peace from the point of view of children from so many different cultures, and to see one of the many ways CIS encourages students to adapt a global perspective.CIS further includes the many different languages and cultures present at their school by providing after school and weekend classes for specific cultures. The students have told me all about how they learn on the weekends at Japanese school or Dutch school. My CT explained to me that CIS thinks it is important for students to continue to learn about their own language and culture in order to further their education.
While the impact of being a global community at CIS is clear, there are also influences that come from residing in Denmark. For example, in their 9 day class cycle students have a Danish lesson 6 times where they learn not only the language but also about Danish culture and holidays. Several of these holidays are celebrated at the school in events that the whole family is welcome to join.
The teachers too are from all over the world and discussion in the staff room as well as in professional development reflects this. Teachers talk about how the path to become a teacher is so different all over the world, and what experience they have gained from the different countries they’ve been in. While the participants in discussions come from several continents, staff meetings still take place in a circle around a candle in the Danish fashion of “hygge”- a warm atmosphere, relaxation, and calm discussion.
My classroom at CIS is certainly different than any classroom I have previously been a part of, and I am excited to see how this global inclusion changes my perspective on teaching and the vision that I have of a my future teaching style. I also hope to expand my ability to educate all students, since with students of so many languages and from various countries differentiation and the provision of various means of learning are extremely important. While some students are native English speakers, some do not speak English at all. I have very little experience in this area and hope to learn from my CT. So far I have loved my time in a Danish classroom and I am excited to see what the rest of the semester holds!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Final Reactions

I have officially completed my international practicum and am sad to leave my Anatolia family behind as I spend my last few days in Greece. Towards the end of my student teaching experience I was given multiple opportunities to teach full-class lessons on new vocabulary and engage the students in fun review activities to help prepare them for their final examination. These lessons were very casual, as I did not create detailed lesson plans, as I normally would have for my courses at BC. My classroom supervisors gave me free reign to teach the vocabulary and review material in any way I choose. I found the students really enjoyed when I created interactive PowerPoints to help review vocabulary. I believe this was most likely I was able to include a lot of visuals and they were eager to come up to the Smartboard and engage in different activities. Some of these activities included fill-in-the-blank and matching exercises. I also made the conscious decision to include personal information in my lessons as well. For example, one lesson I taught was all about hobbies. In my PowerPoint I included what my own hobbies were, including pictures of me doing those particular hobbies. I felt the more the students knew about me, the more interested they would be in my lessons, and the more open they were to sharing information with me about themselves.
After the class sessions were over the classroom teachers would give me feedback about my lessons. They often commented that in order to include all students in the lessons, I could call on those who were not raising their hands to answer questions or participate in the activity. I understand it is important for all of the students to be involved, but I did not feel comfortable calling on students who were not willing to engage because I did not want to put them on the spot or make them feel uncomfortable. This pushed me to think of new ways to make sure all of the students were engaged. In my next lessons, I engaged the students in group-activities, where each student was given a particular job within their group. For example, in a group of four, one student was the timekeeper, one student was the scribe, and so on.  This method worked very well when it came to engaging all students and making sure they were all actively learning.

            My experience at Anatolia was very different from my other pre-practicum experiences. Since I was not able to spend an entire day with one specific class, I was not able to experience their daily schedule, observe different subject lessons and activities, or learn new classroom management techniques. However, student teaching in a classroom of a different culture was a very rewarding experience. Some of the major differences that I have recognized during my time here was teacher and student interaction. My classroom teachers were very casual with their students at times. For example, they would tease them in a joking manner or make silly comments to them as well. I believe the relationship between teachers and students in America is much more formal than those I have seen in Greece. In addition, there was not a lot of classroom management techniques incorporated within the classrooms. In American classrooms, teachers usually have multiple methods of classroom management techniques implemented in their classrooms. In Greece, I noticed the students got very out of hand at times since there was no classroom management and the teachers had no way of controlling them besides raising their voice.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Typical & Long-Term Lessons

Both teachers I work with rely heavily on the English textbook, workbook, and grammar books in their daily lessons. They usually begin each class period checking the homework in either the workbook or grammar book that was assigned the previous night. Then, they will focus on a particular page of the textbook to teach that day. The class period ends when the teacher assigns homework exercises for that night. Though the teacher’s focus on the same chapters each week, they do not teach the same pages, or assign the same homework assignments each day. They go about each chapter in a way that fits their teaching style and their students’ learning abilities. One teacher I work with likes to begin each lesson by having a conversation with her students. The conversation will allude to what they will be learning about that day, but she does not come out and tell them this in the conversation. For example, if the grammar lesson that day is about the usage of the words ‘can’ and ‘can’t,’ she would say something like this: “This weekend I was on a boat and went water skiing with my friends. I also tried to wakeboard for the first time, but I fell into the water each time I tried to stand up. I learned I can’t wakeboard, but I can waterski.” She would then ask the students what they can and can’t do, making sure they use each word properly before reviewing the material in the textbook and completing other exercises with the words ‘can’ and ‘can’t.’ The other teacher I work with is very good at providing examples to her students to explain grammar and vocabulary. She is able to relate each vocabulary word to the students’ background knowledge in order to make it more comprehensible. If the word allows, she will either demonstrate it or ask the students to come up with another example to describe the word. Both teachers use different teaching methods that are different, yet very effective. Neither teacher uses Greek to explain or teach English vocabulary or grammar. All of the English classes are taught completely in English and the students are required to use English throughout the class as well.

            In regards to long-term projects, the students have been engaged in a pen pal activity with American students beginning at the start of the year. This project focuses on enhancing the Greek students’ writing skills and creative thinking, as the letters are written in English and each student’s conversation varies from the other. The students love communicating with the American students. They send pictures of themselves to one another and have truly become friends over the course of the year. Not only does this project enhance the students’ English writing abilities, they have also learned more about the American culture. Knowing I am American, the students would often ask me questions about various aspects of the American culture depending on what they have discussed with their pen pal. For instance, one student’s pen pal wrote that they spend their summers in Cape Cod, but did not explain where Cape Cod was or what was special about it. The student asked me where Cape Cod was and I was able to explain to them that it was a town in Massachusetts with wonderful beaches. If it were not for their pen pal project I would have never thought to tell them about Cape Cod and they would never have had any questions regarding it. The students have learned a lot from their pen pals and have been exposed to smaller aspects of the American culture that are not commonly known in foreign countries. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Incorporation of Culture and Current Events

Recently, the students at Anatolia have been practicing for a charity performance to benefit the Syrian refugees that have been arriving in Greece over the past few months. The performance is open to everyone in Anatolia’s surrounding community and has a small admission fee. The performance is a short play that describes the difficult life in Syria. It explores why there are so many people choosing to leave their homes and what they hope to find in Greece and other parts of Europe. The play was written and organized by a group of teachers at Anatolia and it is spoken in both Greek and English.
I was very interested to learn about this performance. At first, I found it surprising that such young students would be speaking about a topic that is not only a difficult subject to begin with, but one that is highly political as well. The teachers I am working with explained to me that most of the students are very well aware of the refugee crisis, as it is constantly in the news and a hot topic among Greek people as well. Instead of keeping the students in the dark, they felt it was important they are well informed about what was going on in their home country, especially because more and more refugee camps are currently opening in Thessaloniki. Since the issue is highly political, they explained the play simply tells a story that describes the current situation, and does not make any political statements regarding whether or not Greece should be letting in so many refugees.
I was very touched the teachers went out of their way to not only educate their students, but to do something that benefited the thousands of refugees that are currently in need. However, I still had a few questions about Greece’s involvement in the refugee crisis considering Greece is in an economical crisis at the moment as well. The teachers explained to me that Greek people have a very strong sense of community and can also relate to the situation of the refugees. They told me it was not that long ago that the Greek were under the reign of the Ottoman Empire and were refugees themselves. Even though the Greek people are struggling at the moment, they are doing as much as they can to help the Syrian refugees.
Unfortunately, I was unable to see the play myself, but I was blown away by the charitable efforts of the students and staff at Anatolia. This particular situation showed me that the teachers at this school are devoted to educating their students in all aspects of life, not just the given school curriculum. Knowledge of current events encourage critical thinking and teaches empathy, two skills that are extremely important not just to have in school, but in life as well.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Order to the Chaos - posted for Emily by Lindsay

This semester is certainly the most different prac experience that I’ve ever had. On top of the fact that I’m teaching in a different country, I am also placed at a pull-out program for “high ability kids”, called the ALM’s program. Although I only have one SP, I technically have two different classes—one with fifth graders, and another with fourth graders (There is also an ALM’s program for the sixth graders, but they do not have ALM’s on my prac days). The ALM’s program focuses more on critical thinking and communication instead of content knowledge, which makes the lessons very interactive and hands-on.

Since the ALM’s program is a pull-out program, the students do not stay with my SP the whole day. Each grade level only has 2 hours of ALM’s every week. However, they still receive homework and assessments for this program (most assessments would be based on projects and reflective worksheets, like the 3-2-1, instead of tests since content knowledge is not the focus of the ALM’s program). Although I only spend 2 hours with each grade, I somehow find myself more overwhelmed at the end of each session that I normally would be after a whole day of prac in the US. Maybe it’s the fact that the past two weeks I have been there there is always something “chaotic” happening, such as making sure all 8 boys in the fourth grade properly and quickly painted their castle walls or making sure all the food for the Medieval feast are warm and neatly placed. My SP also has a very face pace and a scattered mind, adding to the “chaotic” vibe. She has set classroom procedures, such as morning greetings and starting the lesson on the classroom carpet, but she also still struggles to identify each of the students by names (she would openly do so as well, asking the students to remind her of their names).

Even though I have only had two visits, I can already tell that I am going to learn a lot from this experience. My SP is very welcoming, introducing me to the other teachers and sharing with me the school’s history, and is very willing to help me meet the ACTions standards (even though she is legally not supposed to do so). Her not knowing the students that well also does not seem to affect her teaching at all. The students respect and listen to her, and she is able to still keep them at high expectations. Although I do feel like the 4 short hours can be crazy, I am excited to see what other adventures I will have with my SP!