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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Australian Culture at St.Ignatius

My first experience at my international practicum was unlike any teaching experience I have ever had before. St.Ignatius College is located on the northern side of Sydney and is unbelievably beautiful. As I walked up with Heather Kozin, the other BC student teacher with me, I could not believe that this was a school for boys from fifth to twelfth grade because it seemed even more beautiful than most colleges I have seen. Our supervisor came to meet us and he extremely nice and supportive. He came to Boston College to get his masters and said that he absolutely fell in love with Boson. After talking about BC and catching up on our experiences in Sydney thus far, he took us on a tour around the campus. The school sits on a peninsula and is surrounded by beautiful views of the water. He told us that some of the boys live on the other side of the water and ride their boats across the water for school everyday- definitely something I have never heard of! He also explained to us the difference between public and private schools in Australia. He said unlike the US where there are many great public schools, most of the public schools in Australia are not so good. He said that the public schools are mostly just for academics and there is no way to get involved or participate in anything outside of the classroom. He also said the resources in public schools are very limited, similar to what we see in urban schools in the US. Out of the four main private schools in Sydney, St.Ignatius is the lowest with a tuition of $20,000 a year. He said some of the other schools can go up to $40,000 which was amazing to me. Because tuition is so high, there are very high expectations from the parents. It was very interesting to hear that although there are many parents who have very high expectations for academics, there are even more who want their sons to excel in sports. I always felt like sports was very important in the US, but it is nothing compared to the importance of sports in Australia. People love there sports more than anything here and by sending the boys to schools such as St.Ignatius, they are increasing their chances of playing professional sport. At St.Ignatius however, they are the most well-rounded school with equal emphasis on academic and sports. Adam explained to us that their main goal is to make these boys good men by the time they leave.

This focus on being “good men” was very evident as the day continued. Adam brought us over to the junior school which is grades five and six and we went into the faculty room where many of the teachers were on break. All of the teachers were unbelievably friendly and everyone was telling us that we were always welcome to come into their classrooms. It was nice to see such a strong community amongst the teachers feel so welcomed by the faculty. We then went off with a fifth grade class to their library class. The librarian apologized to us in advanced because she was not feeling well and did not have an exciting lesson planned but it was not a problem at all because I still found it interesting! She was using a smart board to go over referencing skills with the boys. She had a bunch of different information such as the publisher, author, year of publication, etc., on the board mixed up and had the boys come up and try to put them in the correct order for a bibliography. It was really cool to see how excited the boys were to go up and move the words around simply by just touching them on the board to try and come up with the correct way. After the lesson, the boys had free time to read. I ended up sitting in a corner with a bunch of boys who were doing a trivia quiz game. They were so funny with their questions about America for me. They knew way more about the US than I expected them to know and I was also surprised with how many of them have been to the US. They were all so friendly and so excited to talk to us.

After library we went back up to the faculty lounge for lunch. They got lunch delivered and insisted that we ate with them. It was a treat to have fish and chips for free! Through lunch we got to talk to a lot of the different teachers about how they like teaching at the school and they all seemed to love it. They spoke very highly about the boys and all had such pride in the school. Through all my experiences in Australia the people have been very friendly, but at this school the friendly culture of Australians was extremely obvious. They even told us that they would ask around to see if any teachers were coming from our area to give us a ride to school in the morning! After we finished eating, Heather and I decided to go outside to hang out with the boys for their recess. As soon as we walked out, boys started coming up to us and shaking our hands to introduce themselves. Never have I seen boys this young be so outspoken and friendly, it was wonderful! They were playing all different kinds of sports including rugby, cricket, and American basketball. It was interesting to see how even though they were playing rough and being competitive, they were also very kind to each other and there was no fighting occurring.

After lunch the whole fifth and sixth grade had an assembly. The head of the junior school lead the assembly by asking the boys to raise their hands and share their intentions of anything they want to pray for. I was surprised to see how eager the boys were to participate but it was very nice to see. After this, the head of sports for the school came to the front and ran through the weeks accomplishments in sports. The boys stood up when he mentioned individuals and everyone clapped for them and their accomplishments. The head of the school then stood up again and went through merits that the boys received through the week and each of the boys got to stand up for acknowledgement. It was interesting that the boys received so much praise for their various accomplishments but I think it was wonderful. Not only were the faculty applauding for the boys but even their peers were giving them praise.

After the assembly we attended a sixth grade class on religion. It was very interesting to observe this class because I have never been in a Catholic school setting. The lesson was on lent and the objective was to get the boys thinking of ways they could “fast” without just giving up a certain food or a toy. The teacher had the boys think of behaviors or habits that it would be beneficial to do without. The boys came up with ideas such as swearing, being rude, being selfish, complaining, etc. The boys then had to come up with their own statement which they wrote on a scroll to hang up in the classroom. With the scrolls hanging around the room, it was supposed to be a reminder to the boys about their statement so that they can try to keep their commitment. While observing this lesson, I noticed many of the same teaching strategies that I have seen in the US. When the boys were doing things at their desks that they were not supposed to the teacher had them stand up for a few minutes. I also noticed when a boy was talking the teacher asked him to leave for a few minutes and come back when he was ready to get on task. The classroom was set up similar to many classrooms I have seen where the boys were sitting in rows in pairs. It seemed to be effective because the boys could collaborate with the person next to them but they were spread out enough that there was not constant talking. The biggest difference in the school was autonomy that the boys had. They did not have to ask permission to go to the bathroom and were responsible for getting to their classrooms without the teachers guiding them. They did not seem to take advantage of this autonomy and it actually made them seem very mature.

Overall, it was a great first day. I am very excited to get in and observe more lessons. I am also looking forward to teaching lessons while I am at St.Ignatius because it seems like the faculty will be very supportive of me.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


This Friday Kelly and I completed our first day of teaching at a school called Riverview in Sydney, Australia. Riverview is a private all boys Jesuit school located in a quiet suburb on a gorgeous campus. The institution is made up of two separate schools, one with students years five and six – where Kelly and I are placed – and the other with students years nine through twelve. While some of the students board on campus, others ride their boats to school or arrive by public or personal transportation. I was shocked not only by the beauty of the campus but also by how welcoming every member of the Riverview community was. All of the boys went out of their way to introduce themselves to us at recess, and share different knowledge they had about America or ask us questions about America or our time spent in Australia. The head of the school also had Kelly and I speak at the afternoon meeting to welcome us and all of the teachers were thrilled to have us in their classrooms observing and teaching. After only an hour of being there, I knew I was in for an incredible experience!

In the morning of our first day Kelly and I spoke with our practicum coordinator who told us all about the school and explained how, just like Boston College, Riverview strongly focuses on the Jesuit ideal of educating the whole person. After our introduction, Kelly and I spent time in a fifth grade classroom before lunch and a sixth grade classroom after recess. In the future, Kelly and I will be teaching in either fifth or sixth grade classes and will be working with a variety of different teachers. While the fifth grade class Kelly and I attended did library work, we had the opportunity to observe a religion lesson in the sixth grade class. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to speak with the teacher specifically about how he planned for the lesson, but I did notice that he put quite a bit of thought into the lesson because it ran incredibly smoothly and was timed very well. The topic of the lesson was lent, and the teacher began the lesson by asking students to read an excerpt about lent and find the definitions for different words relating to lent. After the students had time to get dictionaries and find definitions on their own, he then went over these definitions with the class. Next, he asked students to read different behaviors people can give up or alter for lent that will benefit others, and asked students to come up with some of these on their own which he recorded on the Smartboard. For example, one student said he could give up complaining by thinking of others who are less fortunate than he is. Finally, the teacher had the students choose one behavior they would like to give up for the remainder of lent and had them record and decorate their sacrifices on scrolls that he planned to hang up in the classroom. Based on these observations, I found the lesson very similarly structured to lessons I have observed and taught in America. Like my previous experiences in America, the teacher included a range of activities in one lesson to cater to various different learning styles allowing students to express their knowledge through writing, speaking and drawing. He also switched from class work to individual work to group work and used different teaching strategies to ensure that all students had the opportunity to reach the lesson’s objectives. During the lesson, the students sat at their desks arranged in pairs, which is also very much the same as the American classrooms I have worked in. The materials were also comparable to those in America, such as the Smartboard, worksheets, dictionaries and religion workbooks.

The only challenge my teacher faced during this lesson was classroom management, which is where I observed the central difference between his teaching style and the teaching styles I have observed in America. Whenever a student did not listen to instructions or failed to stop talking when he was told to, the teacher had him stand up until he was ready to focus again. I had never seen something like this in America, and was surprised at how well it worked and how little distraction it caused in the classroom. I think that this is an excellent strategy, especially when working in an all boys classroom, because it allows students to stretch their legs and take a break when they are feeling antsy instead of punishing them and forcing them to remain seated and still. The teacher also assigned more homework to a student who failed to listen at the end of class, which was always a threat that I had witnessed in America but that I had never before seen enforced. Despite this difference in classroom management strategies, I did not yet observe any striking differences between Australian and American teaching styles but am sure that in the future I will discover more.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Similarities and Differences

Normally, my second class teacher is very hurried, so Emmy and I do not get a lot of down time to talk with her. However, since I went on a different day this week, I was able to observe an atypical day. Every week (not on the days we usually go to Scoil Bhride), the students have swimming at a local gym for about 45 minutes. This was very helpful, because not only did I get to watch the children learning in a different setting, but it also gave me a casual, relaxed atmosphere to talk with my CT. We talked a lot about the similarities and differences of American and Irish schools.

One of the main differences that I noticed right off the bat is that Ireland, or at least this area of Ireland, does not have the typical private or public schools that we would normally think of. Basically, all schools are public, and they are all Catholic, though a fair amount of students are not actually Catholic. My CT made it seem like religion was not too pervasive in the school system, since it is a public school. However, it is hard to tell, since in the class Emmy and I are in, the students are working towards their First Communion in a few short months, so much of their time is devoted to learning the prayers. While the children are not forced to take part in the Catholic aspects, it is so interesting to me that this school is essentially like an American public school. It seems to reflect the laid-back Irish culture in that parents do not seem to complain that their children are exposed to Catholicism when they did not sign up for that type of school.

One similarity that I noticed was that this school, which is considered disadvantaged (though I never would have guessed), like many of the American disadvantaged schools, has a lot of recently immigrated students. Many of them come from northern Africa or eastern Europe, and some of them are currently in the process of learning English. Also, at this disadvantaged school, along with many in America, a large number of students come from single-parent homes, or have parents that are currently in jail. I was shocked about hearing about some of the home lives that many of my students came from. One difference I noticed is that unlike in America, where underachieving schools usually receive less funding, my CT told me how they actually get more funding here, which actually makes sense. Twice a week, they have math specialists that come into the school and work with students to help increase their achievement levels. In America, it was only the wealthier schools I taught at that had the extra support from specialists that came in multiple times a week. The Irish system of doling out school funds definitely seems to make more sense to me. However, another similarity to American schools that I noticed was that it is typically the same four or five kids that are pulled out during certain subjects. In nearly every school I have taught at, it tends to be the same group of kids, in each subject, each day, that get pulled out. Although it is understandable that certain children who need help likely struggle in all subjects, it does seem that being pulled out so consistently can give the children a complex when they are put back into the classroom for those subjects.

It has been really interesting observing the classrooms, and seeing just how similar and different they really are!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Typical Day... and My Last Day

As I have stated before the students in my class at Scoil Bhride do not switch classrooms or teachers for different subjects, rather all the instruction is given by my CT within the classroom. On Wednesdays, the days that we visit, the students do not even leave the room for specials. They have two breaks from instruction during which they eat a snack and their lunch and then play outside. In addition to this they also do art in the afternoon, but this is taught within the classroom by my CT, and because it is last in the day is often only rewarded to the students if they were able to get through all that was planned for the day.

There is no rigid schedule that the teacher must follow because the students spend the whole day in her classroom. This allows for maximum flexibility in planning and scheduling instruction for the day. My CT tends to follow a general schedule doing Spelling and Religion in the morning, followed by Irish, Science, Math and Reading. While this tends to be the general pattern of subjects, several of the days that I have observed, she has strayed from this pattern. Therefore there really is no typical day. Some days she will spend more time on certain subjects as she feels necessary, while other days subjects will not be included in the daily instruction at all. Sometimes she will incorporate Handwriting practice into the schedule as well as Creative Writing where time allows. She generally does a homework check as the first thing in the morning, however, on some days that are slower getting started or more kids arrive tardy she will complete a homework check during break rather than wasting additional time. Her instruction also varies greatly from day to day using various techniques and methods such as reading and math stations, partner activities, class activities, direct instruction, instruction using the SMARTboard, work in workbooks, etc. The variety of instruction is used to maintain the students interest while also choosing the best method to fit the objective and available time of the lesson. She tends to do a lot of group activities and stations on Wednesdays also to take advantage of having Kesley and I in the classroom.

From my observations I feel that my CT has done a great job of keeping a flexible schedule in her classroom to allow for distractions of special days and school events. Last week for example, the students spent a large chunk of the day practicing for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Because of the extra time dedicated to this practice, there was less time spent in the classroom. Therefore my CT decided to do review practice in many of the subjects, rather than attempting to cover new material in a shortened period of time. Today was also a less typical day, as it was Kelsey and my last day, and the class was also preparing for a school assembly on Friday and their First Communion which is quickly approaching. Despite all of these interruptions to instruction, she embraced these distractions. In the morning the students took the time to practice their songs and skit for the school assembly. They also then had a practice for their First Communion in the church during the afternoon. Despite the busyness of the day she still managed to fit in a small celebration for our last day. Rather than trying to fit in all of the subjects, she decided to cut out Science, Religion and Art for the day, and focus more closely on Spelling, Math and Reading. I think this flexibility helps the day to run more smoothly and benefit the students more directly. I hope that I will be given such flexibility in designing my schedule and planning instruction, because I think this is often the best way to meet the students’ needs and teach to the class rather than following a rigid curriculum and schedule.

Today was my last day at Scoil Bhride. It has been an amazing experience and I am lucky to have been given the opportunity to work in such a wonderful school community. I have learned so much about the education system in Ireland and will benefit greatly as a future teacher from the insight I have gained. It has been a great journey. Thanks for reading, I hope you have enjoyed!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A different perspective...

Today, I was able to observe the other senior infant classroom. This gave me a chance to compare the two teachers and classrooms. There were many similarities between the two of them, but what was most surprising to me was how many differences there actually were.

Both senior infant teachers are excellent at engaging their students and using their culture. The teacher today exemplified this with the use of a cheese sandwich for writing. She actually made cheese sandwiches in front of the class. Although this doesn't sound very appetizing to me, this is a favorite of the Irish children. She made sandwiches with bread, butter and cheese then sliced it up for the class. They had to write step by step instructions focusing on words like "spread" and "bread." The students loved it, especially since they got to eat cheese sandwiches as they wrote!

Although the activities were similar, especially with math and the smartboard, the atmosphere in the classroom is completely different. First off, the desks in this classroom are in a horseshoe. Any teacher knows what a different dynamic this creates than a classroom with desks in groups like the other class has. The students all face the teacher which creates less distraction, but also discourages group work. The students do not work in groups unless they are moved to the back table. This is very different than my other class which has a group activity for almost every lesson. As I mentioned in a previous post, my other CT utilizes the space in front of the smartboard, even though there is no rug space. Since the class is in a horseshoe, there is no need to do this, so the students stay in their seats. I would assume this would make the kids fidgety and inattentive, but the atmosphere in the classroom is quiet and orderly. Where my other CT gives the students a little freedom to be silly before putting a stop to it, this CT scolds any behavior right as it begins. While she does this in a nice way with a look or gesture, she still makes sure every student is in line. I think this makes the class run smoother and helps to manage their time, but it definitely takes some of the excitement out of the activities.

While I think both teachers are excellent, it surprised me how different their classroom atmospheres were. It was really fun to get a chance to compare the two this week!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Experiencing the Irish Culture through a not-so-typical day at Scoil Bhride!

It is easy to describe a typical day in the 5th class at Scoil Bhride. In the last nine weeks that I have been observing, I have noticed very little change in the schedule for Wednesdays. The days, even to me, seem really long. I think the days seem so long because the students never switch classes, and my teacher is able to manipulate the schedule so that she can teach each subject for as long as she wants. The day will normally begin with Irish, and then transition into Math, and then English. The only thing that splits up these lessons is the two brief breaks that the students get to go outside. The same kids are pulled in and out of the class throughout the day, and one child with special needs works with a specialist in the back of the room independently for the whole day.

Instead of going deeper into a description of a typical day, I want to tell you about another experience I have had. One thing I found interesting was my not so typical day! My first eight weeks seemed to be identical and routine, however, being in Ireland around St. Patrick’s Day has created some not-so-typical days in my class. In March, I have been fortunate enough to experience Irish culture at its finest. As you all know, St. Patrick’s Day is March 17th. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is recognized as a national holiday, in which all schools have off. At Scoil Bhride, the students are encouraged to take part in the annual Galway St. Patrick’s Day parade. Throughout March, the students have been practicing for this. It is very important to all of the students, as they are all given different roles. Being the older kids, my class was given instrumental roles. The majority of the 5th and 6th classes play the tin whistle, while some also play the drums and accordions.

A significant amount of time is devoted every day for them to practice independently and together. This is something that the kids truly take pride in. I was fortunate to sit in on some of the practices and it was breathtaking to watch. I had only ever seen these students in a classroom context, at their desks working academically, but seeing them in a different medium was such a cool experience. I was amazed at how well they sounded. They were focused and excited. The music teacher has been working with them a lot, and they all take her very seriously. They carried their instruments around proudly and were very eager to tell me about the parade and their importance in the ceremony. Today, which is the day before the parade, all of the students participating in the parade gathered outside in the parking lot. They marched around the neighborhood of the school proudly rehearsing the songs for the parade. Cars and busses pulled over and waited as the kids crowded the streets with what was essentially the “dress rehearsal” for tomorrow. Many of the residents living around the school came outside on the sidewalk to listen to the music and support the kids. Some of the other student teachers and I were able to march with them as they practiced. I am happy that the school puts such an emphasis on community and taking part in the parade for their community and representing their community. I’m really excited to see them marching tomorrow in the parade!

This will be my last post as I finish my observing next week. It has been a very eye opening experience observing in another country. I am excited to continue to read this blog and learn about everyone else's experiences! I have learned a lot from both my CT and from the students, and I look forward to taking my experiences with me and using them to improve my teaching styles and improve me ability to adapt to the needs of all of the children I will encounter.

Thanks for reading!


Monday, March 14, 2011

Lessons and Classroom Management

I observed a science lesson this week in my classroom. This was very different from any I have seen in previous placements because of the nature of my classroom. First, my school does not have a separate science classroom or science teacher. Second, since my class is four and five year olds, the lesson had to be very teacher centered for classroom management purposes. Still, I was very impressed with her ability to conduct an experiment and involve the children in self-discovery.

First, my teacher called the students to a circle on the floor. She filled a baby bathtub (which she had to provide herself) with water. She explained to the children what an experiment was. This prompted a lot of chatter and excitement. However, my teacher handled this really well. She sat and waited for a few seconds, looked at her watch, and waited patiently. Once the students realized she was not continuing, she had their full attention. The experiment itself was pretty simple because they are so young. My CT used a few different materials and asked which absorbed the water. The students then talked about absorption and what it meant to absorb. They tested each one in the pool. They recapped which absorbed the water and which did not.

I did not see the follow up to this lesson, but I did see my CT's tentative lesson plan (she had very informal lesson plans, another difference from my previous placements). The students were going to discuss which properties absorbed water and which did not. Students were then going to offer up some ideas for other things that might absorb water. Some of the more reasonable suggestions would be tested.

I think the structure of this lesson was a very good idea, and also similar to what I have seen before and what I have learned in my natural science methods classes. The teacher presented the scientific concepts, demonstrated with an experiment, then let the students think critically to come up with further ideas. Although the students probably would have had a hard time doing the experiment themselves, they got a chance to experiment and see the process for themselves.

Another thing I noticed this week is that my teacher builds in a movement break in the middle of every day. The senior infants get 2 yard breaks a day (basically recesses), but my CT says she has found they still get antsy. Sometimes their movement breaks are pretty simple, such as hand motions with a song. This week, it was more elaborate and the kids got up and danced around the classroom along with a song (you can see this in the picture). She lets them get loud and excited for these few minutes, then when they return to their seats they focus well. This is something we have discussed in quality conversations and methods courses, but I have never seen it executed in a classroom. I think this is because the teachers I have observed in MA seem very pressed for time. This could possibly stem from more strict state standards. After observing it, I think it actually helped my CT with time management because the lesson to follow ran smoothly with few interruptions. I think I would definitely consider incorporating this into my daily routine in my classroom.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Classroom Design and Management

In comparison to several other schools that I have worked with I have found the classrooms at Soil Bhride to be of comparable size. The classrooms are all fairly large with a good amount of walking room between tables. All of the classrooms that I have been in, the students sit at table groupings, rather than having their own individual desk. One thing about the classroom setup that differs greatly from most younger elementary classrooms I have been to in the States is the lack of rug space, or floor space for teaching. From my experiences I have noticed that many classrooms in America, especially the younger elementary grades, have a carpet area where students often sit in a circle for reading or during mini lesson instruction. My clssroom at Scoil Bhride does not have this, however. Prior to being in this classroom I had always really liked this typical setup and found it a good way to get kids to move around. However, after watching many lessons without this added element my feelings towards this design have weakened. I think there are benefits to both models and from what I have seen in the classroom, it seems to work well not having this extra space because no time is lost to transitioning students from their seats to the rug and redirecting attention as they make such transitions. My CT takes advantage of the setup of the classroom with the group tables, and often will have students work together with partners or groups at their tables. My CT also has taken advantage of the great amount of wall space and has created a bright and welcoming classroom environment. The walls are decorated with many student projects and helpful resources for the students to refer to. In addition a SMARTboard covers one wall and a whiteboard covers another.

So far I have been very impressed with the classroom management techniques that my CT uses. The children in my classroom are very well behaved. Initially I thought this might be attributed to the school as a whole, but the more I have been involved at the school I have noticed that not all the students seem to be as well behaved. In my time at Scoil Bhride volunteering at the homework club I have noticed, and heard from my peers that also participate in the homework club, that there have been a good deal of behavior problems. Initially I was very surprised to hear this as I thought the students we very well behaved. However, after more time at the school I noticed that much of this good behavior must have been because of the classroom management techniques and respectful community environment my CT has created in the classroom. She never really raises her voice, because she rarely is given a need to. She addresses behavior issues with the individuals or the class in a very calm way, explaining to them why their behavior is not acceptable, or how they are not meeting the expectations. This is all done in a very respectful manner and the students therefore receive this discipline respectfully and take responsibility for their actions, changing their behavior to meet the expectations she has made clear. I have seen this style of classroom management to be very successful and I think it is a valuable style for me to observe, given that I am a much more soft spoken person, and often use a similar approach when working with students in the classroom.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lesson Observation

The lesson I observed today in my second grade class in Galway, Ireland was certainly different than anything I ever observed student teaching or experienced in my elementary school career. Since our class is full of 7 and 8-year olds, they are practicing for their First Communion (I never went to or taught at a Catholic school). The students have been practicing their prayers at home, but occasionally the teacher will go over them in class to make sure the students are on track, which was what today's lesson consisted of.

My CT began the lesson by having the students open their religion books, in which they had copies of the prayers for First Communion, with their parts highlighted. She pointed out specifically which two prayers she wanted the students to recite, and then they all read it aloud together. She helped them to practice repetition, which clearly helped some students to solidify the phrases. Then, she had each of the students look at the books silently for about 5 minutes. That way, she gave the students explicit instructions on what to look at, and then encouraged them to work on it individually. Although the students will eventually be saying the prayers altogether at First Communion, she told the students that after the 5 minutes, she would be testing each person. She also made it clear, before they started to study the prayers on their own, how important this knowledge would be for their future, their parents, and their community. By emphasizing that learning these prayers would make them an important part of the church and community, the teacher helped some students understand that the learning was practical.

After the individual reading period, the teacher went around one-by-one and had each student read the two prayers aloud. Many of the students struggled, although some more than others. Since Emmy and I have been in the class for many weeks now, we have a general gauge of what level of achievement most students are at. For many of the students that struggle, the teacher prompted them more than other students when they would get stuck or say a wrong word. For some students, this prompting was just the little push they needed, and then they were able to finish the prayer. For others, they just kept repeating each guiding word as it was given to them.

As kind of a reinforcement of the importance of the prayers and First Communion, a priest came in at the end of the lesson and gave the ashes to the students (since today is Ash Wednesday). This excited many of the students, and it helped prove how important these prayers are going to be. Overall, I think this lesson worked to show the students the importance of the prayers, and hopefully encouraged them to go home and practice.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Reflection of Irish Culture at Scoil Bhride

The culture of Ireland can be seen in the school environment of Scoil Bhride in several ways. Firstly, the friendly and welcoming school community is very much a representation of the people of Ireland. There is a very close sense of community within the school, particularly between the staff, as they collaborate often and share break times all together in the staff room. The staff and students were also very welcoming and friendly towards us, as we began working with the school. They appeared to be genuinely interested in getting to know us and making us feel a part of the community.

In addition to this close community, the school is laid back in many senses, as I have found many things in Ireland to be. There is not much of a rigid schedule that teachers follow in their classroom, but rather the lessons tend to flow from one subject to another following a general pattern and timeline. Several times different students have had to leave class to go to various appointments. The school seems to be very flexible in terms of this allowing students to come and go throughout the day. They also seem lenient on tardiness, as students often continue to arrive 10 or 15 minutes past the school start time.

Beyond the structure and community of the school, the Irish culture is reflected in several of the subjects taught. Firstly, all students take Irish as a second language. Irish is taught as any other second language would be taught, teaching students to read, write and speak the language. The study of this language is valuable in many senses as it helps to keep the language and culture alive. In addition it provides the students with skills and practice in learning a new language, exercising an important part of the brain. By starting to teach Irish at a young age, it helps students to develop a foundation of Irish during the time when it has been argued the brain is most suited to learn a new language.

In addition to Irish being taught as a subject, religion is also taught on a daily basis. I was very surprised initially to see the role religion played in the school considering that it is not a Catholic school, but rather a public school. This is very different from the strong emphasis in America on separation of church and state, where such religious education would not be accepted. It surprised me the first day to walk in to the school and see so many pictures and statues portraying religious figures, throughout the halls. Because I am in a second grade class, the majority of the students are preparing for their First Communion, which places an even greater emphasis on the religion class period of the day. While not all students are required to take part in these religious activities and practices, the instruction occurs within the classroom by the classroom teacher, therefore there are limited ways to avoid this instruction. On the days when Kelsey and I are in the classroom, we are at least able to pull out the students who do not practice Catholicism to work one-on-one in areas that they are struggling in, however, the other days the students have no such option. I would be interested to know how these children and families that are not practicing Catholicism feel about the emphasis placed on this religion within the classroom. I was also curious as to what age this religious education continues until. I wonder if it is just until the students make their Confirmation, or throughout high school as well.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


When I chose to come to Granada, Spain, I never imagined I would have the experience I am currently having. I opted to do a practicum abroad in order to enhance my teaching and benefit from further experiences within the classroom, especially by being within a Spanish high school. My name is Erin McGovern and I am studying to be a spanish teacher by majoring in Secondary Education and Hispanic Studies. Prior to receiving my placement at Maristas, I was convinced that I would be entirely in English classes though I requested a combination of both Spanish and English classes to heighten my experience. Before my first official day in the classroom, I met with the on-site coordinator who asked my preference and accommodated me well by placing me in Spanish Language and Literature classes initially.

I spend 7 hours a week at the school, which serves as both a primary and secondary school divided between two buildings that are connected by the patio outside. My 4 hours at the school on Tuesdays was initially split between two teachers, though now I am with 3 teachers in order to have an experience in an English class as well. The system in Spain is different, as the levels in the "middle/high school" is split up into 1-4 ESO and 1-2 Bachillerato. As I am in two 3 ESO classes with Juan, the students are between 14-15 years old, our equivalent of ninth grade. On Tuesdays, I spend one period with Miguel in a 1 ESO English class, so the students are about 11-12 years old- our equivalent of sixth/seventh grade. For the final period, I am in a 2 Bachillerato Lengua y Literatura (language and literature) class with Paco. The wide range of classes that I observe gives me a variety of opportunities to see different teaching techniques in addition to interacting with many students.

For the students, it is an interesting experience to have me within their school. From the moment I walked in, I observed that their are no lockers as I have been accustomed to seeing in the typical high school in addition to the fact that there were no students in the hall. As it turns out, the teachers move classrooms instead of the students. The students are grouped together and spend the entire day together rather than having different classes with different groups. Upon entering the classroom for the first time, I was greeted with smiles and an abundance of "Hellos" which I responded to with "Hola" in order to acclimate to the Spanish classroom. After briefly introducing myself in Spanish, I was directed to sit at the teacher's desk to observe for the period. It was strange to be doing observations from the front of the class for once rather than the back as I am used to when I am not moving around the classroom.

I was told that a large part of practicums here, especially with the higher levels, consists of observation, since it is largely instruction from the teacher and individual work on the part of the student. Juan, however, has taken advantage of having me within his classroom and asked if I could present to the students about the US school system in order for the students to get to know me better and to interact with the class. After three weeks of observations, I stood in front of the 3 ESO class to deliver an hour-long interactive presentation in Spanish. I asked for the students to feel free to interject with any comments and questions to make it more of a conversation rather than a lecture, which I also began by asking the students what they thought of when they hear United States. Responses varied from Obama to skyscrapers (rascacielos in Spanish) to hamburgers (hamburgesas in Spanish...that one's easier), all of which they said they have gathered from the portrayal in movies and television shows. My presentation allowed for the students to get to know me better and see that I can communicate with them in Spanish, and allowed for them to get a more realistic image of that which is shown in the movies. Since my first presentation last Thursday (February 24), I had another this past Thursday (March 3) with the 1 Bachillerato students.

While I delivered the presentation in the same manner with the guidance of the same PowerPoint that had different points and pictures to go with them, I had more confidence to present in Spanish. Though there is not a vast age difference between the two levels, the 1 Bachillerato students were less participative, though there are more of them- about 40 students compared to 28 in ESO. After finishing two presentations, I look forward to interacting with other classes by delivering the presentation three more times between other ESO and Bachillerato classes.

This practicum experience has allowed for me to observe difference classroom environments in addition to see how English is taught as a foreign language. While I have only been in the English class once, I look forward to seeing more methods for teaching language in order to contrast it with what I have implemented in my past practicum experiences. I look to be more involved in that classroom since it is more feasible, compared to the Spanish language and literature classes, though I have the ultimate goal of teaching a lesson with the aid of my cooperating teacher. The American cultural experience that I have offered the students thus far has made this practicum a valuable experience for both me and the students since we have a cultural exchange though I interact with them in their language. This is a further opportunity to build upon both my teaching and my Spanish skills.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lesson Planning

Lessons in my classroom are less formal than in other schools I have been in. My CT flows seamlessly between subjects and does not spend too long on each, which holds the attention of the class. The students switch classes for their reading groups, but they all know the expectations. When she says it is time for reading, they put away whatever they are doing, go get their folders and move to their spots. Reading is all done in group works. There is a reading specialist that works with the lowest group, my CT works with the next group, and I work with the top group. Even reading time switches quickly to hold the attention of the students since they are so young. They alternate reading pages, talk briefly about the book, do a quick writing assignment, then do workbook pages. All of this is done in an hour. This is different from every other classroom I have been in, where the teachers teach a lesson (such as modeling a reading strategy) where the students just listen, then the students do an activity based on it. Math is also very interactive. There is a support specialist who comes in. She does activities where the students count out loud, add based on pictures, or sing a song. Then, they break up into groups where the activities continue. For spelling, they sing songs and spell out loud. The lessons are never teacher-centered.

This picture is an example of my teacher's style. This lesson was to develop sound manipulation skills. The students heard a word and had to change the letter. For example, this word says "set" then the computer might say "wet" or "sat" and the students replaced the letter. My CT only spent a second or two going over the lesson. Then, she let the students do it themselves. When they were stuck or made a mistake, she would stop and reiterate the concept. I think this is particularly important because the students are so young. If she spent longer than a few
minutes talking at them, they would have a really hard time listening.

I also had the opportunity to meet with the principal this week for a project for a class. One of the questions for my project involved feedback and evaluation of teacher's teaching strategies. He said they are measured three ways: general school performance, grade level team performance, and individually. Individually, they are reviewed by peers and the support teams. I asked a specific question about standardized testing because this is a particularly important issue in the U.S. Teachers at Scoil Bhride are not judged based on their student's performance. When evaluated, review teams take into account who the students are, how the students performed in other classes, and teacher performance. I think this is extremely important to the atmosphere in the classroom. They are not teaching toward a test, so they make sure their class is interesting and every student is learning to their best ability. This is definitely a distinction in teaching style between Scoil Bhride and the schools I have been in for previous placements.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Classroom Management

One of the things I am always most interesting in observing during my student teaching experience is how the classrooms are managed. I believe that classroom management is the key to educational success in any given classroom. If the students understand what is expected of them both intellectually and behaviorally, they will have a better rate of success.

The CT I have been observing teaches 5th grade. Prior to this year, she taught the junior infants, which would be equivalent to pre-school. When she told me this on my first day, I was very interested to see how she ran a classroom of ten and eleven year olds after teaching four and five year olds for a number of years. My CT is extremely calm, but that’s not to say I haven’t seen her raise her voice to her students. She expects her students to do their homework, pay attention, and take an active role in each lesson.

The classroom consists of twenty children. The students’ desks are now set up in a “U” shape, and they sit in boy-girl order which was created to avoid any temptations for friends to sit next to each other and get distracted by side conversations. My CT will rearrange the seating order at any time if she feels that there is a bad match of students next to each other.

One thing I admire most about her is that she does not go back on her word in regard to discipline. She gives the students one, maybe two warnings depending on the rule broken. If she threatens them with “indoor” recess, or other punishments, she follows up on it if the students try to test her. I believe that is extremely important for managing a classroom successfully so the students will know exactly what is expected of the, and what the reciprocations will be if they choose to disobey.

My CT has a lot of authority in the classroom, and that is why I believe the classroom is run so smoothly and a successful learning environment for all of the students. Many students are pulled out throughout the day for different academic and behavioral reasons, so my CT is able to focus on specific groups of children who are all relatively on the same academic level. Because the class is relatively on the same level, my CT is able to create lessons that fit the level of the majority of students in the classroom. While I have been in the classroom, my CT has even created smaller groups within the class that allows me to not only work with the students, but allows them to get more individualized attention.

Although the students came into 5th grade at a lower academic level than they should have, my CT has created an environment that can cater to their needs and lead to a lot of academic success!