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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Equity and Social Justice

By studying in Spain and taking a Spanish Cultures course, living with a host family with an 8-year-old son, and taking part in this practicum, I have come to learn about "Proyecto Bilingue" or the Bilingual Project taking place in all of Spain. The government is making an effort to transition the entire nation, through the education program, to a bilingual society. Watching the news and interacting with various types of people, there is no doubt that Spain is going through a major economic crisis right now. The unemployment rate is at 22% and rising and jobs are limited. It is essential that Spaniards know how to speak an additional language in order to seek work abroad. However, they significantly lack in foreign language skills because of the Franco regime when he made Spain a strictly monolingual nation. In the classroom and my conversations with the teachers, students, and parents of the program, I have come to realize that the recent Bilingual Project has great goals for Spain and a good foundation set but it requires time and a lot of improvements. Spaniards have high, idealistic expectations for the program but are frustrated with its current form and are anxious to see results. 
  Teachers working in schools with bilingual programs are now required a certificate of proficiency in English, which can be obtained through a teacher training course called the CAP (Certificate of pedagogical expertise). This is simply a course with 40 hours of theory training and 30 hours of tutored practice. This is clearly not enough to learn a new language, let alone teach with the language. Many of the schools do not have proper English trainers or bring in native English speakers  (like me) who only come in once or twice a week. 
  The content taught at both the Primary and Secondary levels, as well as in English, is another aspect of the Bilingual Project that is causing some issues with the program. With the new English aspect added to education, a lot of "content", and teaching practices are lost. Content (science, environment, arts, etc.) is being taught in English and thus there is a fear that students might learn some English, but not enough to understand the content, and therefore they are actually not learning even what they would normally learn in a Spanish-language environment. Marcos, my 8-year-old host-brother, is currently learning science still in Spanish in his school but Sol (my host mom) complains that he does not know enough English and gets frustrated with the teacher. She wants Marcos to be learning everything he has to in science but she believes that he should be learning it in English. She often wants to switch schools. However, I know from my own observations and attempts at helping him with his homework that If he was to be learning what he was learning in Science in English, then none of the content would get through.
 On top of all this, the confusion with the UK and American English is added. The resources of this project seem to be coming from both countries and can be very confusing to the children. These kinds of lack of organization and need for improvements in this much needed system make me think about where Spain as a nation is headed. 
It is now officially the educational system's job to  teach Spain's children how to speak another language so that they can be brought out of the economic crisis and be a more international and global "player". But, with all these problems and need for improvements with the current system in place, it is hard to just sit back and see a struggling system continue to struggle. My teaching abroad experience has made me realize just how important a bilingual education can be to a nation and the need for soon-to-be teachers like us to take the responsibility to make it function properly.

San Rafael Infantil Group: Classroom Management

I have the privilege of being placed in two different classrooms during my international practicum- the 4-year-old classroom and the 5-year-old-classroom. It doesn't seem like a big difference, but it really is. When I walk into the 4-year-old classroom, there is order. I can feel like Ruth, the CT, and I have some control. The students are polite and their smocks are clean. The room itself is very organized and the students respect its contents. However, on days when I am with the 5-year-olds, all hell breaks loose. Students are running, pushing, shoving, shouting, and dancing all around the classroom. They grab the class monkey puppet and stretch its poor body when fighting over who gets to hold it. They have never been taught what the classroom rules were or what was expected of them by the teacher so they don't understand me when I say, "Yous shouldn't be doing that". Speaking to my CT, Ruth, she says that the atmosphere of her class during English is largely dependent on how the regular classroom teacher runs the class and how much control they have. Because the students are so young, they don't have a background or foundation of how school should be so they look to the teachers. The students need very clear expectations and instructions of classroom behavior and in this case, the 4-year-old classroom teacher delivered hers effectively, and the 5-year-old classroom teacher failed to gain control of his classroom from the beginning. Ruth says no matter how hard she tries, it is impossible to have the same kind of control in both classrooms if the regular classroom teachers don't partake in it.
However, Ruth has some classroom management strategies that I noticed that she brings to both classrooms, whether or not they react or not. I noticed that she is constantly keeping them busy and intrigued so that the students don't have time to misbehave. She has every minute occupied with something whether it is planned or not. I have also noticed that with such young students, she does a lot of physical activities with the kids. It excites them and also releases a lot of their pent up energy that could be going towards misbehaving behavior. She also uses the abilities and "personality" of the class to manage. The 4-year-olds love positive encouragement and praises so she has the students line up with their completed work so that she can individually look at each one and say "Good work!" She doesn't usually use any punishment or discipline in this classroom because they are so effective with the positive reinforcements. The 5-year-olds get very excited by 'performing' in front of their other peers so Ruth will reward good behavior with allowing the students to help with the lesson or come to the front and be with the class puppet. Those who misbehave are not allowed to participate and are separated from the group and forced to sit alone at their desks.
These varying forms of classroom management in the two different classrooms have been so interesting to observe. When Ruth tells me her frustrations or praises at how the regular classroom teacher manages the classroom, I see how important it is to be in control, and how it can effect other teachers as well.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Maria Luigia

I find it strange how my cooperating teacher sits at her desk and waits for me when I am a little late to class. The students are up and running around, screaming on the top of their lungs, but she doesn't mind. She just waits for me to get there and to start my lesson. It seems as if the Italian education system doesn't have a strict curriculum the teachers have to abide by. I teach every time I go to class and was never able to observe a lesson by my CTs and every time I arrive, my CTs make up something on the spot for me to teach. One time she even wanted me to talk about the transportation system in America. I found my self struggling. Do I talk about the Subways? The T? Buses? And another time it was about policemen, firefighters and the 911 system. I was always baffled as to why she would pick these random topics. It is also especially hard to think of lesson plans on the spot.
I follow 4 English CTs and found a few of them are not proficient in English, which is odd because how are you to teach a language when you don't know it yourself? Today was my last day to see a class so I told them that I would miss them. Then my CT told the class to repeat after her, "You will miss us too!" At first I was confused, but soon realized she was trying to say "We will miss you too!" My host mom told me when she was 17 she was already licensed as a primary school teacher and it was very easy to obtain. Hopefully the school system changed and only qualified people can be teachers now.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Similarities and Differences in U.S. and Scottish Schools

While studying abroad and student teaching Glasgow, I’ve noticed quite a few similarities and differences between schools in Scotland and in the U.S.  The first major difference is that children go to school much earlier in the UK.  The school I work at has a full time nursery for very young students and its first organized grade level (primary one) is made up of 4 and 5 year olds.   The students in these classes are able to focus surprisingly well for their age, but it seems like the majority of their day is spent playing and doing more creative exercises.  I definitely see the benefit of exploratory learning, but it I think the system of preschool and kindergarten in the U.S. may be a more effective way to educate children who are so young. 
Another difference between Scotland and the U.S. is the amount of freedom giving to students during the school day.  In the morning before school starts parents drop their children off outside in the school yard with no adult supervision.  In the U.S. most schools would not let students play outside unsupervised because of the liability issues.  During recess the entire school goes outside at one time with only maybe 6 to 7 teachers supervising them.  I’ve noticed that outside of school parents seem more relaxed and less overprotective of their children.  They appear to trust their children with more responsibility at a younger age. 
            Even though the primary school I work at is very different form the schools I’ve experienced in the U.S. there are still some similarities between the two systems.  One I’ve noticed is the way literacy instruction is structured.  Students in the early primary levels are learning the alphabet along with the corresponding sounds for the letters.  The teachers use a commercial reading program for some of the literacy instruction and then also read their own selected stories in class.  Another similarity is the pressure teachers feel from higher authorities.  Schools in Scotland have the same pressure to have students pass tests and reach certain levels by specific times.  They also have the added pressure of school inspections and evaluation by the education authorities that run them. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Typical Day in Maria Luigia

I currently teach 8 different classes a week with 4 different teachers, so it gets a little hectic at times. Once I step into the classroom I always greet my students and ask them what they did over the weekend to help them practice speaking in English. Then I would have to ask my Cooperating teacher what I have to teach for that class. She would tell me either what she taught already so I can go over her lesson or something random to talk about, for example, one of my teachers wanted me to talk about the emergency service in America. A whole hour on 911, the police and firefighters? Isn't there something else that is more productive? It was mind boggling to me but it was in their textbooks, so i guess it is important for their curriculum. It is hard to always think on the spot of a lesson plan for my students. It seems as if in Italy, teachers do not have a strict curriculum that they have to follow and can do whatever they want in class. I know in America, some schools mandate that the teachers send in their lesson plans weekly to ensure that they are using all the appropriate techniques and teaching the required topics.
It is also very difficult to manage the class because it does not seem like they listen or care about what the teacher is saying. I think they are so used to the teacher talking and them talking over him/her and ignoring what she says. I do not tolerate this at all so it is hard to discipline the students. Looks of disbelief and confusion, take over the students' faces when I tell them to be quiet and that only one person can talk at a time. They are not used to the idea. However, even though it is tough teaching, I love being with the students because it is true, kids do say the darnest things, especially in Italy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Teaching at San Rafael

Today I taught two English classes at San Rafael. My CT did not ask me to prepare a lesson ahead of time, but rather asked if I would take half the class for the period to read their current novel and review for the test with them. I was very excited to have the class and see how they worked with me. We began both classes by forming a circle in order to set up a good environment for group reading and classroom discussion. My cooperating teacher told me that they needed to finish the book in preparation for their test on Friday, so we began with a quick summary of what they had already read, and then continued to read aloud (myself and the students) throughout the class. Every page or two, I would stop the class, the students would ask questions and we would talk about the plot together. The students in my first class had a very high English level and participated freely throughout the entire class. However, the students in my second class had a very difficult time understanding what they were reading and seemed to be very far behind. With this class, it was a struggle because I had no materials or planned assessments to help them better understand the book. According to my CT, they were supposed to have the entire book read, but when I asked the students, only one student had read past chapter 2. It was clear that they simply did not understand the plot and a lot of the vocabulary words which deterred them from reading, so I decided to go back to the beginning of the book and do a chapter-by-chapter review with the students. When I clarified certain vocabulary words, characters, and events taking place in each chapter, the students quickly gained a better understanding of the book, and began to ask questions to show interest in what they were reading. I think the main problem that I saw with this group was the fact that there were no extra materials or reinforcers such as classroom discussion, informal assessment, etc. to help the students understand the book. For example, it would have been very helpful for the students to have a vocabulary sheet, a list of important characters, and a story map to fill in while reading. Teaching these two classes was a good opportunity for me to see what teaching strategies work in an ESL classroom.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Australian Culture

During my time at South Coogee Public School, I got the chance to go to two all-school assemblies.  Both of these assemblies were great opportunities for me to see everyone in the school, not just my 1st grade class.  The first assembly I went to was an award assembly.  My CT told me that this assembly is held bi-weekly.  Every teacher can reward his/her students with a blue star award.  Once a student has earned a certain amount of blue stars, he or she is given a bronze award at this assembly.  A certain amount of bronze awards leads to a silver award, which then leads to a gold award.  I really liked this idea because it connects each individual class to the school as a whole.  Students get the chance to be rewarded not only in his or her own class, but also in the entire school.  I noticed in my classroom that students work really hard to get these blue star awards. 
            The other assembly I saw was on my last day at South Coogee Public School.  The older students (5th and 6th grade) did a song and dance show about Australia for the younger students.  Watching this assembly was a good way to finish off my time at South Coogee.  The show incorporated many different aspects of Australian culture, including their Indigenous people.  When thinking back to my own elementary school experience, I remember having assemblies about American culture and singing American songs.  This assembly was very similar except it was with Australian culture.  The theme of this assembly was the Earth (the land of Australia).  The previous assemblies had been about the water and air surrounding Australia.  The students sang songs about keeping Australia clean and pollution free.  This was a great learning experience for the younger students because it taught them useful lessons while encouraging Australian pride. 
            Both assemblies opened up by students acknowledging the Aboriginal (native people of Australia) tribe whose land South Coogee Public School is built on.  I thought this was very respectful for the Aboriginal peoples to be acknowledged.  Another teacher told me that this acknowledgement is done at all social gatherings in Australia.  After this, everyone stood to sing the national anthem of Australia.  This reminded me of saying the Pledge of Allegiance in the U.S.
            I’m very grateful for my opportunity to teach at South Coogee Public School.  I loved observing the similarities and differences between Australian school and American school. My CT was wonderful, as were my students.  The knowledge gained from my international preprac is invaluable and I’ve definitely learned some things I can bring back to the U.S.!

Friday, November 11, 2011


Italy's culture is very, very laid back. Italian's motto is definitely "Live life to the fullest!" Even on the first day in Florence, when I was walking around exploring the city, my friends and I came across an outdoor dance. When we went, to our surprise the average age there was in the 50s-60s. And this culture is definitely shown in their schools. When I walk into my 11-13 year old student's classrooms, they all always laughing and chattering away, ignoring what the teacher is saying. The teacher would tell them to "Shut up" and nothing would change. When I teach it is very frustrating because once the students have any chance of talking to their peers they will, even if they are all the way across the room. They will scream. I had to implement the counting down rule to this class, which i usually use for younger students, where I count down from three and once I get to one, everyone should be silent. The first few times it worked perfectly but later on they continued talking. I could tell the teacher was very frustrated. I feel like the students have a lack of respect for the teachers, the teachers say one thing and they do the opposite. But sometimes I think it is because of the teacher's lack of discipline that the students act this way.

Also I feel that Italians love creativity. During one of my Halloween lessons, I wrote them a poem on the board and told them to copy it. The teacher told them to be "creative" with their writing. I was confused at first but soon realized that she wanted them to write in different fonts, such as 'scary letters' as one of my students told me and also in different colors, so every letter would be a different color. I was shocked. What should of taken 5 minutes maximum took 20 minutes to write because of their creative writing. It is definitely not a bad thing but instead of using the extra time to read and learn English, they were practicing their calligraphy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

San Rafael: Classroom Management

Throughout the past 6 weeks, I have had the opportunity to observe and teach several different classes and grade levels at San Rafael, and have noticed that classroom management in the Spanish classroom is one aspect of Spanish schools that greatly differs from classroom management in previous classrooms I have observed in the United States. During my first few visits to San Rafael, I noticed that my two cooperating teachers placed less emphasis on classroom management than what I have been exposed to by my cooperating teachers in Boston, which made for a very different learning environment.

One of my cooperating teachers, who I have spent the most time with, teaches the oldest students in the school, equivalent to seniors in high school. Her class is about 18 students who have all chosen to take English instead of French (every student has to choose either English or French). Although the size of her class is ideal for a language class, she still faces issues of classroom management every day with her students. My CT has a hard time getting her students to focus and actually speak English in this class. According to my CT, these students have all been in school together since they were 3 years old, and thus are all good friends. Therefore, trying to keep the students attention during the lesson is a challenge for her, because many times the students have their own side conversations in Spanish, with no regard for what is going on in the class. When this happens, my CT asks the students to continue working and only speak in English, but her requests sometimes go overlooked and the students continue to speak in Spanish.

Additionally, the expectations my CT has for her students are not firmly set which I believe makes classroom management more of a challenge for her. For example, one day the students were to all bring their homework sheets to class to go over with the teacher and then work on in groups, but no one brought their homework to class. When my CT realized that no one brought their materials, she decided to change the lesson completely with no consequences for the students who didn´t bring their work. Clearly agitated, but with no choice, she turned the lesson into conversation groups. I think the lack of clear expectations make it difficult for my CT to keep the students focused and engaged.

After observing this particular class several times, I was able to plan my own lesson and teach the class. Being able to observe what classroom management techniques work for these students and which ones don´t helped me to plan my lesson accordingly.

Seeing how classroom management works at San Rafael has really helped me to observe and put into practice different techniques to best manage a classroom. Although different from the United States, this has been a very valuable experience to see how classroom management affects the students learning environment.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Classroom Observation at San Rafael

Last week I observed three English classes at San Rafael paying particular attention to the planning and delivering of instruction, classroom challenges that my cooperating teacher faces teaching, and different teaching styles I observed.

To begin, it was very interesting to compare and contrast my observations in Madrid to previous lessons I have observed in the United States, and how these similarities and differences affect the classroom environment and student learning. One of the main aspects that surprised me while observing my CT deliver instruction was that each lesson lacked clear learning objectives. My cooperating teacher began class by having the students open their workbooks to go over homework exercises, and then continued on with the lesson doing various grammar exercises, partner work, examples on the blackboard, etc. This is very different from the lessons I have observed in the US where my CTs would start with an opening activity to get the students engaged, and introduce the learning objectives for the lesson so the students clearly understand what needs to be accomplished during the class. Throughout the whole lesson, I felt as though my CT didn’t have a clear objective or goal in mind for what he wanted to accomplish, making transitions between workbook exercises/group work/etc difficult and unorganized. Additionally, when a new concept was presented, there were no activities to reinforce the material. The entire class consisted of doing various activities out of the workbook and on the blackboard. Thus, the way my CT plans and delivers instruction is very different from what I have observed previously in classrooms in the United States. I think part of the difference in the delivery of instruction is due to the challenge my CT has with managing the size of his class. All the classes I observed were at their full capacity, with about 35 students in each of all different language abilities. For this reason, my CT struggles to manage the students and create activities that will create a suitable learning environment for everyone.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Maria Luigia

I just recently started my international pre-prac because I was in Florence for a month and now I am in Parma for the rest of the semester. From the first day I walked into my placement, I instantly felt the difference. When I walked in the class was loud and rowdy with students walking around and talking to each other. The teacher tried to calm them down, however it seemed like she wasn't even there. Finally when they were able to settle down I introduced myself and I asked them if they have any questions about America or me. They instantly asked me if I had a boyfriend or how old I am while chuckling and goofing around. The teacher had to stop ever few minutes to remind the class to be quiet. The students were around 13 years old and probably were going through the rebelling stage. I was shocked when the teacher started screaming "SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!" I never heard that in my life. That's when I knew I had to step in. I told the class that in America, there should only be one person speaking at a time and if the teacher is talking then everyone has to be quiet and listen attentively. The students stared at me and then turned around to talk some more. My CT had to translate what I said to make sure they understood and even when they did, they didn't care. So I decided to implement what I do when I teach my 2nd graders. I told them that since they can't be quiet when the teacher is talking, I will start a new rule. I will count up to 3 and when I reach 3 everyone needs to be silent. 1-2-3. The students started counting the numbers along with me. 4-5-6-7-8.. This is not what I expected. When class was over, my teacher apologized and said that this was her "worse" class. But soon realized even though this was her "worse" class, the relaxed culture here enforced the students behavior.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Observing Classes at San Rafael

This week at San Rafael I observed three of my cooperating teacher’s classes, and realized even more so just how different a classroom in my Spanish school is different than the classrooms of previous classrooms I have observed in the United States. To begin, the students in the three different classes were 12, 13, and 14-years old respectively and all three classes were English language classes. One of the first differences I noticed was the way my cooperating teacher began class. Instead of a more formal introduction to class with a greeting and laid out objectives, my CT just told the students to quiet down and open their workbooks and then started going over some of the homework exercises. The classes were pretty well behaved and thus, followed directions pretty well with minimal side conversation. The whole class was spent going over homework exercises, doing other workbook exercises in class, and then going over those. Each of the three classes worked out of their workbook the whole time. Thus, the way my CT plans and delivers instruction is different from the more structured and varied activities I have seen in my previous classrooms. In addition, the materials in the classroom are different since the main material is a workbook and a chalkboard. In my opinion, the lack of materials is a challenge that my CT teacher faces. I am not quite sure about the financial grounds the school stands on, but it does not seem like money is plentiful, especially since Spain is in an economic crisis currently. Thus, the access to materials such as computers, different resources for lessons, materials available to students, etc., seems limited.

Moreover, the idea of discipline is definitely different from that in the United States. In most of my previous classrooms, my cooperating teachers used different techniques to maintain a disciplined classroom and to keep students on task such as moving around the classroom, calling on students to keep them focused, etc. The way of keeping students on task is a little different here in Spain is a little different. If a student is talking out of turn, the teacher will make a comment about how he/she could not possibly be doing the activity if he/she is using her mouth to talk like that. The student does not take this comment as a mean one, rather goes back to working because he/she knows the purpose of the comment is to keep him/her on task. However, to the outsider observing the classroom it can come off as a little cold. The teacher explained to me that because the students sit in groups as a result of the cooperative learning technique the school follows, the students can more easily get out of hand and thus it is necessary to make sure students stay on task and do not talk in class by calling them out for it.

Another difference that I have mentioned in previous posts is the different attitude about grades and testing. Since there is not as an emphasized value placed on tests, the lessons are not as finely tuned or geared toward achieving a purpose. This attitude also affects the environment of the classroom. To me it seems less stressed about learning for a test and more about learning to learn. Participation in the class is very good and students are eager to answer questions if they know the answer. All in all, observing a class at San Rafael is definitely an eye-opening experience and very different from an American classroom.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Greetings from Spain!

Hello! I am placed at San Rafael in Madrid with the "Infantil" group and it has been lovely so far. Studying in Spain, living in Spain, and then being exposed to the education system here, I have been able to notice some cultural differences that exist both in and outside of the school. First difference (may not seem that significant, but it was to me at the time) I noticed was the "bobby's" that all of the young kids were wearing. In the Infantil age group, the students wear their uniforms and another smock-like robe over the regular uniforms. It looks much stranger than it sounds. It is checkered and made with very 'playful'-like (non academic) colors. The teachers are also wearing a larger version of this "bobby" over their normal clothes and I really feel like I am in a different world, let alone a different country. Of course, my first very insightful and thoughtful question to my CT is, "Why do students and teachers wear these smocks?" She replies very matter-of-factly, "So their clothes don't get dirty." Oh, okay. Makes sense.

This led to further conversation about how the Spanish school system works. Because of the growing ex-pat population and Spain's transition into a more global economy and culturally globalized nation, there is an effort to make all of the schools in Madrid bilingual. This is huge for finding adequate teachers who can speak and teach in English, finding native English speakers who can come in to teach and help out in the classroom, parents finding English tutors, and a change in the whole school system. I noticed in my second visit that here in Spain, they use a lot of resources and materials from the UK. Teachers are either from the UK or taught by the UK in English. The CT "read" a story to the students by playing a recording provided by the teachers guide. It was all in an English accent, complete with, "Mummy! Grah-ny!" It was very interesting to see not only the English language differences, but how much the CT went "by the book". The school is still in their very early stages of their change to a bilingual education so motions by the CT, materials, recordings, and lesson plans are all from the book. I guess these books make it more systematic and accessible to the "masses", or to all the schools of Madrid, where some of the teachers still may not be too comfortable with English. This specific school was lucky enough to hire an entirely different English teacher who came in and replaced the regular classroom teacher for an hour a day, but I can see how not every school can provide this. 

Random side note that I want to include: The students raise their hands with their pointer fingers. Very cute.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Lesson about American Thanksgiving

            Today I gave my first lesson in my class at South Coogee School.  Since the students are learning about different types of celebrations, my teacher asked me to teach about American Thanksgiving.  I spent time discussing with my CT what aspects of Thanksgiving she would like me to teach about.  She said she would like to hear about a basic history of the holiday, as well as any symbols and traditions that go along with the holiday.  Since these students have no prior knowledge of Thanksgiving, I had to keep all of my information simple and interesting.
            To begin my lesson, I asked the students to go around and say something they are thankful for.  I felt this was a good way to introduce the first-graders to the main theme of Thanksgiving: giving thanks.  Most of the students said they were thankful for their families and friends.  A few students even said they were thankful for their school!  After this opening activity, I showed a PowerPoint presentation with a few slides discussing the Pilgrims and Native Americans.  I used maps and pictures to illustrate what I was talking about.  I also did a slide that had Thanksgiving symbols, such as a turkey and a pilgrim hat.  I asked a few students to tell me what they thought the meaning of each symbol was.  I was impressed with the knowledge the students had gained during my presentation.  To close my presentation, I showed them a video clip of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.  I thought this was a good way to connect the history of Thanksgiving to the present day celebration.  The students loved the video!  The variety of visuals/activities during my presentation held their attention.
            After the presentation, I showed the students how to make hand turkeys.  They all traced and cut out their handprints.  The students then glued feathers onto their hand turkeys and colored them.  Once everyone finished their hand turkeys, my CT and I glued the turkeys on a poster that said “Happy Thanksgiving.”  The poster is now displayed proudly outside our classroom!  To close a successful lesson, my CT brought in apple pie to share with the class.  I explained to the students that apple pie is a common autumn food (I also explained that the seasons in the U.S. are opposite the seasons in Australia) in the United States and that many people eat apple pie at Thanksgiving.
            Overall, I really enjoyed teaching my lesson.  The students responded wonderfully to a holiday they had never heard of before.  My CT told me that most Australians only know about Thanksgiving from watching American movies so she enjoyed learning about the holiday from me.  The students were interested in hearing about my own Thanksgiving traditions with my family.  This lesson was a great way to share my own culture with my Australian students!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Classroom Management at San Rafael

Classroom management is probably the aspect of Spanish school that is most different from that of schools in the United States. In my previous pre-practicum in Boston, my cooperating teachers definitely emphasized classroom management more so than my two cooperating teachers do here as well as other teachers in general. Since San Rafael is a school for children of infant age to 18-year-old students the classroom management, setup, and structure seems to vary widely.

In terms of one of my cooperating teachers, his classes are relatively large, at around thirty-five students, who all sit at desks in rows and the size of the class seems too big for the size of the classroom. There is a blackboard at the front of the room, which all of the student desks face, and windows along one side of the room. When the teacher enters the room he usually has to ask the students to quiet down a couple of times before they start paying attention, but after that they listen. In this English language class, students usually work from a workbook while the teacher stands up in the front of the room at the blackboard.

In a different cooperating teacher’s class, there are only seventeen students of eighteen years of age, in a classroom that is large enough sized for the class. The eighteen-year-olds in this class are the oldest students at the school and are in their last year of secondary education. According to my cooperating teacher, they are placed in this specific English class because it is the only foreign language class available that works with their schedules. My cooperating teacher has a harder time of getting this particular group to focus and to speak English instead of Spanish in class and among themselves. Students digress more easily into side conversations in their native language, Spanish, and are less willing to try and speak English than some of the younger students at San Rafael. My cooperating teacher will ask each student individually if they are digressing or speaking Spanish to try to speak in English, but the students will usually return to speaking Spanish after a few minutes.

My cooperating teacher never raises her voice at the students, but does become exasperated at times when they do not follow instructions. For example, the other day my cooperating teacher had assigned a vocabulary worksheet for homework and wanted to go over it, but only a few of the students had brought it to class. My cooperating teacher was obviously annoyed at the fact that very few people had brought it to class, but it didn’t seem like there was any expectation for the students to have the homework in class with them. Thus, she changed the lesson to conversation groups instead.

The classroom management at San Rafael is definitely different than the classroom management I have observed in previous pre-practicums, which makes the learning environments different too. Whereas in the United States I have observed the motivation to learn for many students to be a grade, in Spain the students who want to learn do so for the sake of learning. Since there is less of a focus on outcomes and result-based outcomes, students seem to care more about learning because they are interested instead of for receiving a grade. Being able to observe both conceptions of classroom management has definitely been a worthwhile experience in terms of seeing what aspects of each classroom works and which don’t.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

San Rafael: Student Teaching in Madrid, Spain

Hello! My name is Katharine and I am studying secondary education and Hispanic studies at Boston College, with hopes of becoming a high school Spanish teacher. This fall, I am spending my semester abroad in Madrid, Spain and am using this blog to highlight some of my student teaching experiences during my time here! Although I want to teach Spanish, this semester I am student teaching in an English language classroom at Colegio San Rafael in Madrid.

Throughout my first two weeks at San Rafael, I have noticed several similarities and differences between teaching abroad and teaching in the United States in terms of teaching styles, class structure and size, and student/teacher interaction. To begin, the teaching style that I have observed at school is very different than that of the US. This semester I am working with two CT’s in different English classes, and I have noticed that the style of teaching is very laid back and the lesson plans are less structured causing class work or activities to change or be altered during the class. In contrast to the United States, the teaching style I have observed in Spain is one in which the teachers and students are not focused on a final assessment or an end result, rather they are focused on what they are learning that moment in the class and why it is important to them. I think since there is not much emphasis on a final grade or exam, students are more willing to work in the classroom solely because they want to learn, not in order to pass a final or get a good mark at the end of the year. Thus, although the laid back attitude of the teachers and classroom structure is very different from that of many teachers and classrooms in the US, it seems to have a positive influence on the students’ learning.

Additionally, I pay particular attention in observing the students at my placement and how the class size and teacher interaction influence their learning. The average class size of the English classes is about 20 students or less per class. In a language class, I think it is very important to maintain small class sizes so that all the students feel comfortable with each other and are willing to participate without anxiety or fear of making a mistake. From taking 6 years of Spanish, I know that speaking out during class in a different language can be very frightening for fear of pronouncing a word wrong or completely misinterpreting a question, but I observed that my CT’s have worked hard to make the classroom as comfortable as possible for the students. Additionally, in some of the younger grades, the classrooms are organized in groups of 3 or 4 students in a new cooperative learning approach. As a foreign language teacher, it is vital to create a supportive classroom that meets the needs of the mixed class, and I believe having smaller groups of cooperative learning communities is a great way to do that. In my past pre-pracs, I would arrange the classroom in groups or circles when doing language-learning activities because it gives students the chance to learn from and with their peers, while creating a comfortable environment necessary for learning. Thus, it is interesting to see the approach the teachers at San Rafael take in terms of class structure.

Finally, the teacher to student interaction in Spain is very different than in the United States, which affects the way the classroom functions. All of the students call their teachers by their first name, which creates an informal relationship between the teacher and the student. Also, many students do not raise their hand when asking a question, and treat the teacher as a peer. This is not to say that the students are disrespectful of the teachers, however the interaction is much more relaxed and informal than in schools in the United States. This affects how the classroom functions both positively and negatively. First, the informality of the classroom can make classroom management difficult. My CT expressed to me that she has a hard time controlling some of the students in her class because they do not think it is necessary to bring their materials to class, to do their homework, or to participate in classroom discussion. On the other hand, that same idea of a laid-back classroom setting is reflected in the informality between teachers and students, which brings positive results. I have observed that many students level of comfort with their teachers allows them to participate more freely in the classroom (especially important in a language class!) as well as feel comfortable asking the teacher questions or for help.

Overall, there are both similarities and differences between teaching abroad and in the United States in terms of teaching styles, class structure and size, and student/teacher interaction. For me, it is very interesting and educational to observe these similarities and differences and see how different techniques and approaches either positively or negatively influence student learning in the classroom.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My CT's Techniques

           After a two week school vacation, the students at South Coogee P.S. came back ready to start the fourth quarter of the school year.  The school year is split into four quarters, with this final quarter ending around Christmas.  The students spent the morning of their first day back writing in their journals and drawing pictures describing what they did on their breaks.  Some students stayed around Sydney and had play dates with each other while other students traveled to places such as Fiji, Bali, and Argentina!  I enjoyed listening to all the students tell about their adventures over the break.  I like how my CT transitioned the students back to school from their break with an activity that allowed them to discuss their breaks in an academic way.  One of the qualities that I most admire about my CT is her ability to incorporate academics with other activities (for example: crunch and sip for snack time/news sharing).
            My CT, as well as other teachers I have observed at South Coogee, has wonderful classroom management skills.  My CT never raises her voice in the classroom.  Even when the classroom gets rowdy, she always manages to quiet the students down while keeping her voice calm and at a normal level.  She uses sayings such as “one, two, three, eyes on me” to grab the students’ attention.  The students respond to her with “one, two, eyes on you.”  The students then know to stop what they are doing and give their teacher their undivided attention.  I feel that a teacher should be a calming presence in the classroom and not someone that the students are afraid of.  My CT does a great job of relaxing the students and keeping them on task without raising her own voice.
            I also learned that each quarter at school has a theme.  This quarter, the theme is celebrations around the world.  I was very excited when my CT asked me to prepare a lesson about American Thanksgiving.  She said that most Australians do not know anything about Thanksgiving because there is no equivalent of our Thanksgiving in Australia.  Since Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, I’m very excited to introduce my students to this holiday.  The teacher was asking me activities that I could do with the students as well as providing a basic history of Thanksgiving.  This is a great opportunity for me to explain a unique aspect of my own culture that these students might not otherwise learn about. 
            My class participates in a lot of group work everyday.  The teacher makes the groups so that the students get the chance to work with different kids.  I facilitated a reading group on my first day at the school.  This involved reading through a workbook with four students and helping them to answer questions based on the reading.  A few days later, I was in charge of a math group.  Each table in the classroom had a different math game and the students rotated from table to table.  My game was a math bingo game that tested the students’ addition skills.  The hardest part of group work is keeping the students focused on their tasks.  During the math stations, the movement from table to table sometimes distracted the students.  Whenever I got a new group at my bingo game, I had to remind the students to think about what they were doing and try and improve their addition skills.  The benefit of group work, however, is that I get the chance to work more closely with each student.  I get to know their academic strengths and weaknesses better.

First Impressions of South Coogee Public School

            Hi! My name is Kelly and I am student teaching this semester in a first grade classroom at South Coogee Public School in Sydney, Australia.  Even though South Coogee is a public school, all of the students where uniforms everyday.  I learned from my CT that all schools in Australia, both public and private, require students to wear uniforms.  Wearing uniforms is meant to remind the students that they are in school and that their behavior and work should reflect where they are.  On my first day, my CT asked me to explain to the students how I had never worn uniforms in my schools in the U.S.  The students were very surprised to hear this and this discussion inspired the first-graders to ask me more about my life in America.
            Throughout my first day at South Coogee P.S., I tried to make comparisons in my mind about the differences between Australian and American schools.  My students here rarely sit in desks.  There is a lot of interaction and hands-on activities going on in the classroom.  They often work in groups.  They have a “morning tea break” around 11am which gives the students an opportunity to have a morning snack and play outside for half an hour.  Around 1:15pm, the students are given a lunch break for 45 minutes that allows more time to play outside.  My CT told me that Australians believe in movement and interaction by the students throughout the day.  They are still young and need to release their energy in a productive manner. 
            My CT also created an activity called “crunch and sip.”  This activity is snack time with news announcements made by a few students each day.  Every student is assigned a day where he/she writes up an announcement about any topic he/she chooses.  While the students have snack time around 10am, the students present their announcements.  I thought “crunch and sip” was a great idea because it gives the students time to rest and reenergize without completely shutting down the learning in the classroom.  The day keeps moving with the news presentations and keeps the kids’ minds thinking. 
            My favorite part of my first day was journal time.  After a spelling lesson, the students got their journals and were given 20 minutes to write about any topic they wanted.  I liked walking around to see what the students were writing about and some even drew pictures to go along with their stories!  One little girl came over to me when she was done and asked if she could read me what she wrote.  Since the public schools were going on a break the following two weeks, this girl wrote about her upcoming trip to America!  She was so excited to read me all about her plans for San Diego.  When she was finished reading me her journal, she asked if San Diego was near where I lived in America.  I said that San Diego was on the other side of the country from where I was from but I was still very happy that she was going to my home country.  Even though it was my first day at South Coogee P.S., I felt so welcomed by this little girl and the rest of the class.  These students had just met me, yet they were just as interested in learning about my life and culture as I was about theirs!

A Typical Day at San Rafael

Since I split my five hours over two days a week, I go to San Rafael on Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. after my own morning class and on Fridays from 9:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. However, there have been some random Wednesdays when my university classes have been cancelled and I have been able to go for some full days, which have been good to get a look at how a typical day of school runs at San Rafael. Generally, on Wednesdays I arrive at school while the kids are on their mid morning break which is from 11:10 a.m. until 11:40 p.m. Following the break I accompany one of my cooperating teachers to a series of classes that last until 2:30 p.m. and range in age from fourteen-years-old to eighteen-years-old. Most of the time the cooperating teacher will assign me a group to have a conversation class with students, since English class here in Spain resembles more of the equivalent to a foreign language class in the United States. The cooperating teacher usually advises me ahead of time some relevant lesson plan topics and I prepare some activities to facilitate conversation among the students and tailor the activity for each class I have, with the help of my cooperating teacher, based on the age and English language level of the students. Having back-to-back classes of varying ages makes it really interesting and educational for me to see the different English language levels and what types of activities do and do not work effectively for each level and each dynamic of the class.

I am fortunate enough to have to cooperating teachers and alternate weeks between them. For my other cooperating teacher, I usually have the opportunity to plan lessons about American culture by request of the cooperating teacher, for the entire class of students of eighteen years of age. This class has simultaneously yielded some of the most challenging and enriching experiences for me. For example, one of the first times I was in this particular class my cooperating teacher had me talk about myself and explain to the students what I was doing in Spain and tell them about my life back in the United States, about my family, what I study, etc. Afterwards, the students told me about themselves and were asking me all about the United States. Interestingly enough, the students were most curious about American politics and foreign affairs, which let to a challenging discussion for me and revealed to me a lot regarding the image of the United States abroad. I got asked questions such as why the United States is in Iraq, why the U.S. is in the Middle East and if they are there for only oil and money, why the U.S. spends more money on military arms than humanitarian aid, etc.

In addition, it was challenging to get the students to only speak in English, as is the purpose of the class. The students were extremely intelligent and well informed, but were struggling to say all they wanted to say in English, as their first language is Spanish. Thus, it was hard to keep them speaking English. At the same time, I could also recognize the frustrating feeling of having an observation or something to say in class but not being able to translate it well or spit out what I’m trying to say in Spanish because I feel this way all the time in my own classes, which are taught in Spanish. However, when a student would try and succeed in getting a whole question out in English with the meaning in tact and everyone else could understand what he/she was saying there was a common feeling of achievement and satisfaction, which was extremely exciting to see.

Equally enriching was when a student would ask a question about something in the United States that is different in Spain and I would explain how whatever it was works in the United States and then they would explain to me how it works in Spain and a kind of cultural exchange occurred. For example, a student asked me why there are so many flags in public in the United States, so I explained that hanging a flag is a sign of patriotism and a way to express it. The students then explained to me that people do not think of flags the same way in Spain because of the dictatorship and right wing political party of Franco, with which the national flag of Spain is associated. The party used the national flag as a symbol and marked fellow right wing houses and followers with the national flag. Thus, in Spain it is socially frowned upon to have a flag hanging in public, because it connotes association with the former dictatorship. In fact, one of the students had gotten in trouble once for bringing a flag to school. The only time that the national flag is generally seen is at athletic events.

Moreover, the class and I found this among many other differences very interesting and the whole discussion and exchange was very enriching. In fact, all my interaction with students and teachers and faculty thus far has been extremely positive as the teachers and faculty are very open to teaching and helping me and the students are open to learning. Thus, I look forward to the rest of my time and the interactions, both challenging and enriching, to come at San Rafael.