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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Teaching in a Different Language

Teaching abroad and teaching in America, I have found many similarities and differences. The biggest difference for me, since I am teaching in Spain, has been language. While in Colegio Maristas 90% of the instruction I observe is given in Spanish. The other small percentage is given in English during English class. However even during English class, Spanish is used frequently either to explain the English directions or for classroom management. The use of Spanish in the classroom was completely foreign to me having taught in Massachusetts, where Question 2 has ruled that the majority of instruction must be in English. I have therefore spent lots of time observing how various subjects, such as Math and Language, are taught in Spanish.

Another difference I found at Maristas compared to my previous pre-practicums, is the relationships between teachers. At my previous sites, every classroom was pretty independent. While teachers had shared planning time, that seemed to be the extent of their collaboration. At Maristas, the classrooms seem very dependent and connected. Other teachers walk into my CT’s classroom frequently to ask her a question, advice or even to just say hi. The three teachers of segundo de primero (equivalent of first grade) collaborate extensively, so that the students all learn the same material across content areas. The teachers also have “Apoyo” which translates to support. During Apoyo, teachers whose students are in a special like gym class, help other teachers by tutoring a student who needs extra support. The student’s teacher tells the Apoyo teacher what to work on and there is always communication between the two. To me, Apoyo exemplifies the collaborative relationship the teachers have at Maristas, something very different than what I have seen in my pre-pracs in Massachusetts.

One similarity I was surprised to find between Maristas and my previous experiences was an integrated classroom. At Maristas, there are students with special needs integrated into the classroom. I have seen this at a previous site, at the Angier School in Newton. Talking to my CT about it, she explained that the teachers at the school feel it is important to integrate students with special needs into the classroom so that they are socialized with typically developing peers, and so that their peers understand that there are people with special needs. Just like at the Angier School, students with special needs at Maristas are fully integrated into the classroom. Additionally, the students are developed a personalized or modified curriculum based on their needs. Although Maristas has integrated classrooms, my CT told me that as in the US, not all schools have the same policy. Some schools, like the BPS schools I have worked in, have separate classrooms for students with special needs.

Another similarity I found was a lack of Social Studies instruction. At my previous three pre-pracs I have seen limited to no Social Studies instruction. I have noticed the same phenomenon at Maristas. During my time at Maristas I have only seen Social Studies instruction twice and for a short period of time. I have noticed a map of the world in the classroom with certain countries highlighted; however I have not seen the students use it or my CT reference to it. Additionally, there is no time allotted for Social Studies on the class schedule. The schedule includes Language, Math, Gym, Science, Religion, Music, and English but not Social Studies. Although I have not asked my CT about it, I am interested to know why there is such a lack of Social Studies education.

Friday, April 8, 2011

English in Spain

While I benefit from being in Spanish classes in order to maintain my use of the language and observe interactions in the language, it is a change from Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language, as it is instead the native language. The students focus a lot on morphology and syntax, both which I can't quite remember learning quite in depth in middle/high school. Each session that I spend at Maristas, the students begin the class with either vocabulary or syntax in their Language and Literature classes. It is interesting to observe the variety of structures between the different levels since I am in 3ESO classes and 1 Bachillerato, and the sentence structures are more complex in the higher level classes (1 Bachillerato). I try to follow along with the students as I observe how they break down the components of the sentence both on the board and on the paper. One interesting difference that I have noted is that the students use two pens- both for their work and for exams. The structures of exams have specifically interested me, since the students are given several sentences and they are to copy them down and break them down with another color, rather than each receive an exam as I am accustomed to seeing in the US. They are also graded very rigorously, since obvious errors result in zero credit for the sentence though each sentence is only worth 2 points to begin with (out of 20, but grades are on a scale of 0-10 with a 5 as a passing score). Though I am not knowledgeable enough of the material to grade them myself, I have glanced over the exams before they were passed back in order to understand the content of the exam and how they were graded.

Though it has been a change to see Spanish being spoken as the native language, another change has been Teaching English as a foreign language. The 11 year olds are energetic and look to me to properly pronounce words and read aloud segments from their book in order to give them an "authentic experience," which allows for me to contribute more to the classroom environment. I have been able to learn language teaching strategies that I can apply to my Spanish classroom, such as a Picture Dictation. Miguel put me in charge of drawing a picture then describing to the students, in English, what was present in my picture so they would draw what I had on my paper. This activity is a good listening comprehension activity, since the students need to listen and focus on the vocabulary in order to replicate what I had. I drew a simple beach scene with clouds and birds in the sky, the ocean below with waves and swimmers, and people on the beach and a volleyball net. As simple as my image appeared to be, I realized the immense amount of detail that I needed to use to describe my picture to the class, such as "There are 4 birds in the sky- 1 on the left, 1 between the first and the second cloud, and 2 on the right." This exercise allowed for the students to use different vocabulary in addition to implementing directional vocab as I described the location- what a task! Overall, the students did well with the task and I will keep this exercise in mind as a useful strategy. The only surprise I got with many of the pictures were animals in the water- which as it turns out, the students thought of Whales when I said Waves...so we had a beach with 5 whales in the ocean. It was a good opportunity for me to figure out how to correct the students, though the cooperating teacher guided the correction, and the students wound up using their native language to ask me if I mentioned "ballenas" (whales). Though I believe in using the target language for instruction, opportunities such as these show me the students' reliance on their native language for clarifications and I see this as appropriate in order to aid in the students' comprehension. This classroom environment has allowed for me to expose the students to the target language more and I serve as a model for them with pronunciation and vocabulary so they can build on their knowledge of the English language. It allows for me to interact with the students as well as compare the strategies to those that I use when teaching a foreign language, only with relation to Spanish rather than English though I use this classroom as a model.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Prompt 3- Culture at The International School of Paris

Although I’ve been in gay Pa-ree for about three months now, I only started my international pre-practicum two weeks ago. Happily, I had plenty of time to soak up some French culture (including more than my fair share of crêpes and pastries), brush up on my French conversation skills, and acclimate myself to classes in a French university before diving into the new and unfamiliar world of teaching in a foreign country. Having already spent so much time in France, I was more than ready to experience and learn from the differences between an American high school and a Parisian “lycée.”

My director has set me up at the International School of Paris, the only English-speaking school within the limits of the city. This institution offers three International Baccalaureate programs: the Primary Years Program (through grade 5), the Middle Years Program (grades 6 through 10), and the IB Diploma Program (grades 11and 12); as my coordinator has explained it to me, the school buys into these programs, adheres to their set curriculum standards, and is observed every few years to ensure continued effectiveness, according to program guidelines. The building in which I observe classes twice a week, located at the foot of a wide, stone staircase overlooking the famous Seine river (I only wish my high school locale had been so scenic!), houses grades 6 through 12. Because of this, I sit in on classes in a wide range of age groups, a new experience for me because I formerly taught only grades 9 through 12.

As the ISP is an international school, my students come from all over the world. For instance, in the first classroom I observed - a small English course consisting of six students - I met individuals from England, Ireland, Morocco, Brazil, and the south of France. And that was just my first class! In other classes, I’ve met students from as far away as India and Japan. Because of this cultural mix-up, the hallways of the ISP are constantly filled with a pleasant mélange of accents and languages, giving one the reassuring impression of finding oneself in a safe, accepting environment where different cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds are valued and respected by all. Coming from an American high school, where all of my classmates shared relatively similar upbringings, I can only imagine the broader world-view these students gain simply from attending their school and interacting with their peers. Even lunchtime must be a lesson in cultural awareness!

Of course, the academic program accommodates these cultural and language differences. In the Middle Years Program, students are expected to take six subjects. Most of them, including humanities, science, math, art, technology, and physical education, are taught in English. Students must also take an English class and a French class, but they can choose to take these classes at the A Level (indicating mother-tongue or strongest language) or the B Level (for students who are still learning the language); however, one must be taken as a language A and one must be taken as a language B. Students also have the option of taking a third language at level A or B, an accommodation for those students whose mother-tongues are neither French nor English. The options for a third language are Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, and Chinese.

The IB Diploma Program is designed to prepare students for university anywhere in the world, as virtually every country recognizes the validity of the IB diploma. Students are expected to take six classes: Language A (literature in English, French, Japanese, Korean, or a self-taught language), Language B (second language), Individuals and Societies (history, economics, or geography), Experimental Sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.), Mathematics, and Art (music, visual arts, theatre arts). Students can take these courses either at a standard level or a high level. Generally, they choose one subject from each area of study and, at the end of two years, are tested internally in these chosen subjects; those students who attain a certain cumulative score on their tests will receive the IB diploma and will thus be qualified to apply to university almost anywhere in the world.

I love that the ISP fosters a multi-cultural environment. The program requires that students learn in English and that they have at least a basic understanding in French, while also cultivating knowledge in other languages and recognizing the various cultural backgrounds of students. It may not be a quintessentially “French” experience, but from my three visits to this school I already appreciate the diversity and the cultural respect that are encouraged within an international setting. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Culture at Saint Ignatius College, Riverview

While Saint Ignatius College closely resembles the mission and values at Boston College, the school’s culture is unlike any other primary school I have previously attended or taught in. Saint Ignatius is a Jesuit middle school and high school, and therefore strives for the ideal of educating the whole person. One of the first things my supervisor told me was that the school’s central desire was to raise young gentleman for others. Although academics certainly still remain central to education at Saint Ignatius, the administration places more stress on social, physical and moral development. When I attended middle and high school I felt immense pressure to perform well in school and the teachers and administration at the schools I attended always taught us that school comes before all else. It was not until I set foot on Boston College campus when I began to experience the philosophy of educating the whole person and the mission of creating “men and women for others.” Both Saint Ignatius and Boston College therefore place emphasis on community service and acting for the good of all in an academic context.

The culture of Saint Ignatius College is not only affected by the Jesuit ideals it was made for but also by Australian culture itself. In America, all schools are highly structured and students, at most schools, must follow a strict set of rules and take on the traditional “student role” in order to be successful. Australian classroom life is much different, in that all of the teachers and students are much more laid back. After all, the Australian motto is, “No worries, mate!” Stemming from this relaxed phrase that defines Australian culture comes more freedom for students in primary education settings. Teachers are also much more willing to change their original plans as new things come up. For example, on my second day at Saint Ignatius all of the teachers in the staffroom told Kelly and I that they were more than happy to have us in their classrooms teaching whatever we wanted to teach, whenever we wanted to teach. At the end of the day, the teacher’s classroom we were in also had Kelly and I speak at the end of the class to close the day instead of following his normal schedule of ending the class with an afternoon prayer. Another difference I have noticed between Saint Ignatius school culture and my cultural experience in American primary education is the student-teacher relationship. While students display a high level of respect for their teachers just as they are expected to in America, I believe that students and teachers have a much more personable relationship in Australia than in America. The teachers are always willing to talk to students about personal experiences and seem open to developing true friendships with their students. I believe that this helps students feel more comfortable and confident in the classroom, and thereby helps them reach higher levels of achievement in all respects of their education.

Along with the laid back and friendly atmosphere, Saint Ignatius culture is also highly centered on sport. In a class I am taking at the University of Sydney, called “Sport and Learning in Australian Culture,” my professor had all of us write down who they thought the most influential American was. Answers ranged from presidents to legendary war heroes to famous figures who fought for the rights of others. Very few people named a sports player, which directly made my professor’s point. He explained that if you asked the same question to a classroom of Australians about the most influential Australian, every single answer would be an athlete. While sports certainly are a large part of American culture, in Australia, sports define culture. The centrality of sports in Australian culture is seen clearly at Saint Ignatius, as almost all of the boys participate in sport at school. During recess the boys group together to play a variety of different sports including cricket, basketball and rugby. Most of the conversation the boys have either with each other or with the other teachers and myself also involve sports and their experiences with sport. For example, when Kelly and I closed the class by talking to the students about what we are doing in Australia we also let them ask us any questions they wanted. After over fifteen kids eagerly raised their hands, the only types of questions we had to answer involved American education and American sports. Another observation I made about the influence of sport in defining the culture at Saint Ignatius is that during the all school assembly the head administrator asked students to stand up who had performed well in sport or who had made a sporting team so that all of the other students could acknowledge their accomplishment and applaud them. Coming from America where education is incredibly structured and academic-focused, teaching in Australia where the laidback motto and sporting culture strongly influences education will be a very different but incredibly fun and valuable experience!