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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Yet another Scoil Bhride...

Hi, my name is Kelsey O'Neill, and I have been student teaching for the past few weeks with Emmy in a 2nd grade class. As the girls before me have noticed, the school is very laid-back and more free-flowing. One of the most obvious places to notice this atmosphere is actually in the staff room, which has a minimum of ten teachers in it at once. The faculty all just go to socialize, load up on biscuits, cookies, tea, and coffee (which they keep stocked!) and relax during breaks. In most of my other pre-pracs, teachers have often used at least some of their breaks to plan lessons or go over assignments. Here, however, they actually treat their breaks as breaks.

The classroom is also more informal, especially with the interactions between the teacher and students. Often, instead of raising their hands and waiting to be called on, the students will just call out "Teacher!" (they refer to her as teacher rather than Ms. Bogan) or just walk up to the board where the teacher is explaining something. I have found this to be a positive and negative aspect in the classroom. In some ways, it is nice in that the students are allowed to be more interactive in the classroom. They can be heard more easily, and if there is a question or some confusion, rather than trying to explain their thinking to the teacher, they have the freedom to actually show her and point out on the board what is on their mind. In other ways, however, this can be disruptive if it is done too frequently. Our teacher has been careful to monitor the extent to which this is done, but sometimes with second graders, it can be hard if there is not consistency.

As Emmy mentioned in her post, the SMARTboard is in the classroom, and it is used very often throughout the day. It is really cool to see kids that are only seven or eight can easily maneuver their way through an activity using the technology. By using the SMARTboard for things like simple math problems, that can simply be done on the white board, the teacher allows the children to get more accustomed to it, and therefore they are comfortable using it for more complex activities. This is by far the best interdisciplinary use of technology that I have observed so far in my teaching career.

So far it has been very interesting, and I am looking forward to discovering more similarities and differences as I go on!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Scoil Bhride

Hi, my name is Emmy Burkhard. I am also studying in Galway, Ireland and doing my student teaching at Scoil Bhride. I have been placed in a 2nd grade class, along with another BC student, Kelsey O’Neil. We have been working with the class for several weeks now and have already gotten to know the school and the students quite well!

In my time spent at Scoil Bhride I have noticed several differences between this school and previous schools that I have taught at. Some of the first differences that I noticed were regarding the structure and community of the school. When we first visited the school to meet with the principal everything was very laid back. He was very friendly and welcoming and very flexible in accommodating our requests to the best of his ability. As we toured around the school I was surprised by how friendly and welcoming all of the teachers, staff and even students were. Everyone seemed happy to have us there and eager to welcome us into the community! There is a great sense of community between the teachers, as can be seen in the large and always crowded and chatty staff room. This is very much a reflection of the Irish culture, or at least the culture in Galway that I have experienced so far. Not to say that the other schools I have worked at in the States were less welcoming, but overall I felt that the sense of community was not as overwhelmingly radiant in my past experiences as here.

I have also noticed several other interesting differences within the students’ school day. For example, the daily schedule seems much more flexible and fluid than other schools I have worked with. The students receive all of their academic instruction within their single classroom and it is all instructed by their single teacher. At least at the second class level, they do not switch classrooms for different subjects or even leave the classroom for specials. (I was surprised to see they even eat their lunch in the classroom!) The day just flows from one subject to the next, with only 2 breaks- one morning break for snack and recess and one afternoon break for lunch and recess.The schedule is relatively stable, following a routine and order of subjects, but there is room for variability and flexibility where necessary. I think this flexibility is beneficial to the students and the teacher, because it allows the teacher to adjust the schedule as necessary to fit the students needs and ensure she is able to fully complete her lessons. I think this scheduling works well in this classroom because the variety of teaching methods that my CT incorporates in her lessons help to keep the students engaged and active learners, making what could be a very long day, go by quickly.

Despite these differences there are also many similarities between Scoil Bhride and other schools I have taught at in the past. The classroom that I am in is made up of a diverse group of students with many students from traveler families (as they are called here). The students have various langauge backgrounds and home cultures. In addition the students have different educational backgrounds and educational needs. This diversity resembles many of the other schools that I have taught at. I enjoy teaching and working with this diverse group of students and am making an effort to learn about each student’s background and home life on some level. Similarly to the other schools I have worked at this school uses a pull out program for students who need extra help with language or certain academic areas. Several students are pulled out througout the day to receive the more direct attention they require. I do not know much about the resources available to these students or the quality of the extra help they are receiving, but I would be interested to learn more about this as the semester progresses. In addition to this my CT also uses many similar teaching methods and behavior management techniques to those I have observed in previous experiences. She uses behavior and homework charts to document and hold students accountable for their actions and work. The class is very well behaved, and she is very well respected by the students. She uses a variety of teaching methods in her instruction, creating fun engaging ways for the students to get involved. She has a SMARTboard in her classroom that she uses very often for various purposes. Song is also a big part of the curriculm here. This reminds me of several of the other schools I have worked with where song is a popular practice and fun method of teaching.

I am looking forward to the rest of my time at Scoil Bhride and am excited to continue noting differences and similarities!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Schoil Bhride!

My name is Meredith and I am currently studying in Galway, Ireland. I am teaching at Schoil Bhride in a "senior infant" classroom. This is the first difference between American schools. The class is kind of like Kindergarten, but students range from just turning 5 to just turning 7. Academically, they are around kindergarten level and are learning basic reading, writing, counting, addition and subtraction. I have never been in a class this young before, so it is very interesting to be working with students who are just learning these basics. We have full hours of reading, writing, math and Irish language, but we also have music time, or singing or nursery rhymes the children recite, making the day so much fun!

My CT made a schedule for me so I have a student or a group to work with during each block. Usually, I work on fine motor skills with two students during writing time, which is something I never got to do in my previous placements with older students. I never realized how difficult this is for younger students. I also work with a few ELL students during reading. One interesting thing to note is that the first languages that are common in this classroom are Eastern European. When I asked about ELL students in the classroom, I was surprised to hear where they were from since this is uncommon in the U.S. My class has students from Latvia, Poland, Russia and India. The most common first language, besides English, in my classroom is Russian. This is very different from my previous placement where over half the students spoke Spanish as their first language.

My CT has made the class so much fun for everyone. Although the school is labeled as disadvantaged, we have a smart board in the class. For math, the students play on the smart board with addition games with dice, or counting games where students feed teddy bears. This makes math time much more engaging. I know having a smartboard in every classroom is a luxury in the U.S., but it is very useful for these types of activities. They sing some nursery rhymes which are the same as ours, but one I found funny was "10 fat sausages sizzling in a pan" to the tune of "10 little monkeys jumping on the bed."

Aside from being told I have a funny voice, the students seem to really enjoy learning about America. For most of them, this is their first experience with American culture and they are full of questions about differences. Once they learned that what they call a "rubber" was called an "eraser" in America, they have not stopped asking about differences in linguistics. Many of the students have written about wanting to go to America during their free-writing time. I think having someone in the classroom from another country has added an excitement to their day and kept them engaged.

This week, I have an interview with the principal for a class project, and I can not wait to hear about more differences in the school systems!

Lesson Observations

Going into my sixth week of student teaching at Scoil Bhride, I have had plenty of time to observe a variety of lessons taught by my CT. As I have mentioned in my previous post, I am in a 5th grade class. My CT keeps the majority of her class under control at all times. She has a few children that get taken out every day for specific areas because they are such a distraction to the rest of the class that she needs them absent in order to have a meaningful lesson. She remains very calm throughout the day, and her students respond very well to that. They don’t get out of their seat without raising their hands and asking permission. Just like an elementary class, the students do have trouble talking among themselves and knowing when to stop in order for the teacher to teach her lesson.

Each subject begins with homework correction. The homework seems to be done on the honor system. My CT never goes around to check and see if it’s done, but she does expect them to have it completed and be able to answer if she calls on them. If, in some cases, she realizes that the homework is not done, that specific student stays in for recess to finish the homework, even if their parent writes an excuse not, which I think is a valuable lesson for the students to learn. She explains to them that the homework must be done before they come to school, and even though their parent may excuse them with a note, they need to take responsibility for their work and stay in to complete it. I haven’t seen any of the students argue with her, because they understand what is expected of them, and I feel that that is one of the most important aspects of a classroom. All of my CTs have told me the importance of setting expectations and goals for the classroom, and with those, there will never be miscommunications.

With the few students taken out throughout the day, I think the classroom size is very manageable. Because my CT has her class for the entire day, some subjects are longer than others, which does cause for distractions. If my CT has math last longer than an hour, which she has done a few times since I have been there, the students start to get antsy and begin talking to one another. Aside from the two recesses the class gets each day, my teacher rewards them with breaks throughout the day.

One thing I noticed that is very different from any other school I have observed in is that the teachers are free to leave and go to the staff room whenever they want. On multiple occasions, my teacher has left her class for five minutes to grab coffee or make a phone call. The first time she did this, I was worried that class would act out, but they are well disciplined and just sit there and work on the assignments at hand. During each subject, some students are pulled out for reading help, math help, and woodwork. Four boys in my class are pulled out for an hour and a half every Wednesday to go to wood work, where they work with a teacher on building model cars and other fixtures of their choice.

In regard to the lessons I have observed, there is very little hands on activity or use of manipulatives by either the teacher or the students. My CT’s lessons consist of homework check, a short mini lesson in front of the class while the students sit at their desks, and then she assigns them problems in their workbooks. This occurs for math, Irish, and writing. The only hands on learning I have seen is during the reading groups. My CT has the class split into five separate reading groups that she meets with a few times a week. She has invited me to take a more active role in reading groups, so I have been working with students as well. They sit in a circle and read short excerpts from the book, and then do vocabulary work. They have a big wall in the back of the classroom called the “vocabulary wall” where they assigns new words for each week for the class to learn and use in their every day life. It becomes a competition for the students to try and use some of the words when they are talking to each other or answering the teacher. I am interested to see if manipulatives or hands on activities become more incorporated into the lessons in the next few weeks, because I feel that they could be very effective for this class. My teacher has given me permission to work with the class and teach a lesson, so I’m going to try and incorporate an engaging activity for them.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My first post!

Hi everyone! My name is Sarah Lamb and this semester I am studying in Galway, Ireland. I have been placed at a primary school called, Scoil Bhride. I have been placed in a "5th class" classroom, which consists of 19, ten and eleven year olds. After observing for three weeks already, I have begun to notice many differences, and even some similarities between a 5th grade class abroad and a 5th grade class in America. Because I was able to observe a 5th grade class for my first pre practicum in Newton, I am able to compare two 5th grade classrooms, and the differences between these two classrooms seem countless. The classrooms are run very differently, but throughout all of the differences, I am able to observe similar habits and routines between this classroom in Ireland, and my previous placements in America.

This specific classroom is in a trailer in the parking lot of the school. My CT has done a great job of making the atmosphere engaging and decorative, as the walls are covered in student work and bulletin boards with countless information. The desks all face the teacher, and are set up alone, whereas the past classrooms I have been in were set up with quads or other groups of desks which encourage collaboration. I have not seen any group work or collaboration so far in this classroom. Because my CT has her class all day, there are no bells that signal change of subjects, so she decides when to add or take away time from a specific subject. My first day in the classroom, the day seemed to focus heavily on math, while the next week, they spent almost two hours working on language arts. As rewards, my CT can allot time in her day to take the students outside for breaks, which allows them to run off some of the energy that has been built up all morning. My CT begins each subject with a mini lesson at the board, which has never lasted more than ten minutes, and then she assigns independent seatwork, which normally lasts close to thirty minutes. When she introduced fractions to the class, she assigned 100 fraction problems in their textbook that they were to do independently at their seat in silence. It’s been very interesting for me to observe this, because I have been in so many classes that strongly encourage teamwork and collaboration. It’s also interesting to see how the students react to this type of learning. I have noticed that some of the boys get antsy, but for the most part, there are no issues, and they call sit quietly and don’t disturb the class. I try to look around the room while this is going on, and I notice that they all get distracted and bored, but they never cause any disruptions.

Even though I have named a lot of significant differences, I have still be able to see similarities. My CT has made her classroom into a very welcoming environment, which is very similar to my previous CT’s. She hangs student work up on the walls, as well has bulletin boards for each subject. One wall is dedicated to math, which has student work as well as helpful hints and reminders for the students as they work with fraction. One wall is dedicated to their history lessons, and student work is hung as well as information and pictures about the Aztecs, which is what they are currently studying. Another wall is dedicated to irish. The students spend about an hour a day learning the Irish language, because it is not the native language of Ireland. Another similarity that I was surprised to see was during time allotted for reading. My CT has the class broken into four reading groups. Each reading group is reading a different book, however just from sitting in on the reading groups one day, I noticed even the highest reading group is very behind and are reading books that would be considered a 2nd or 3rd grade reading level in America. The students are all required to read silently for half an hour during the day, because my CT acknowledges that it will not get done at home. Students are rewarded for reading at home. The reading groups are run much like the ones I observed at Russell Elementary in Dorchester and Underwood in Newton. The reading groups are very much teacher-led, but the students are encouraged to read aloud, answer comprehension questions, and are tested on vocabulary. My teacher expressed how difficult is has been to progress these students further in reading because they don’t read at home, and any progress they’ve made through the year gets lost during the summers. This is a problem I feel can be seen just as much back in the States, and I saw at my previous placement at Russell.

I am excited to go tomorrow and hopefully be more present in the classroom. I think the first few visits are more observation and I will be able to play a more active role from now on.

Thanks for reading!