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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Classroom Management at Maristas

Classroom Management has always been the area that delivers me the most trouble. While I have had control over the class during my previous three practicums, I always felt like the presence of the teacher greatly helped due to the respect between the class and the CT in addition to the respect formed between me and the class. Here at Maristas, since I spend the majority of my practicum observing the classes and the interaction between the students and my CTs, I have payed particular attention to classroom management in order to learn more techniques. Respect between the students and the teachers is extremely evident in Maristas, though it does differ from US schools since it is more of a personal relationship where the students call the teachers by their first name. I have redeemed my name within the classroom rather than remaining Ms. McGovern- or in reality, SeƱorita McGovern.

The students normally sit and settle down once the teacher enters the classroom, since the teachers move classes instead of the students. As the teachers conduct their classes, they general manage the students by glancing around and looking directly at any student causing a distraction to signal for them to stop, and it works. In other instances, I have hear the teacher use a form of 'shh' to briefly indicate they want silence, and the class helps out by shushing the students. The cooperation is incredible and makes a difference, but I am not accustomed to such simple techniques.

The various classrooms and teachers that I have been in at Maristas have used the same techniques. The 1 ESO students, in which I consistently observe English and occasionally sit in on math, are more active when I enter the classroom but settle down once Miguel joins me, as they know the day's lesson is going to begin. Throughout the various lessons that I have observed, students respond to questions when called on and readily participate. The community that I have observed at Maristas is very close-knit and I thoroughly enjoy being a part of it and being given the opportunity this semester. It has broadened my perspective on how schools function and gave me the chance to experience general learning in another language and learn more about Spanish in addition to many aspects of teaching.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Beginning Experience in Singapore: A Reflection on the Education System and Culture in Singapore

Hi. My name is Lily Liang and I studied in Singapore with Maggie Li. I have completed my 4 months exchange program and am now reflecting on my practicum experience there. We both attended the National Institute of Education in Singapore, and thus, we took courses with some of the thousands of teachers-to-be. The students at NIE were either new student teachers or veteran teachers who had came back to further their education.
Maggie and I had been placed at the Pioneer Primary School. The education system in Singapore is definitely worth mentioning in this first post, because it is very different compared to the education system in the United States. Primary school is from first grade to sixth grade. Secondary school is from seventh grade to tenth grade. Junior college is from eleventh to twelfth grade. Similar to the States, students will enter University at 18. (However, usually, male citizens would tend to choose to complete their mandatory military service before entering University.) One controversial difference between the education system in the States and Singapore is the streaming process in Singapore. Streaming is the act of separating students based on their academic ability. Official streaming starts at the end of P6 (sixth grade) after they have taken their PSLE (the national exam), where they are separated into four streams: Special, Express, Normal Academic, and Normal Technical. 10% of students stream into Special, 20% into Express, 60% into Normal Academic, and 10% into Normal Technical. Normal Technical students are usually streamed into vocational schools, where most would not attend universities, but instead start an early career. Singaporeans believe that streaming has positive aspects in that it gives all students the opportunity to become someone. Streaming has lowered the rates of students dropping out of school. It gave students motivation and belief that they can contribute back to society. Teachers work hard teaching to the academic ability level of the students.
One Singaporean (Hokkien dialect) word I learned is Kiasu. Kiasu literally means “fear of losing”. This is quite reflective of the culture in Singapore. Singaporeans are always competitive. I have talked to many Singaporean students and they feel that they are always pressured by Kiasu. Parents always want their children to be in the top level. They would push their children to study. Teachers whom I have talked to stated that children are more likely to commit suicide due to stress. An average day of a Singaporean student’s life consists of classes from 7 A.M to 4 P.M. They would then go home and eat dinner. After dinner, they would usually have tutoring sessions, where parents would hire a tutor, usually a student from NIE, for extra lessons. Their days repeat from Monday to Saturday. Parents want their children to be part of the Special Stream. Students have the ability to move to higher stream after the first year of streaming.
Students have to excel in every subject. English, Math, Social Science, Natural Science. In order for students to excel in every subject, teachers also have to be excelling in the subjects they teach. This is thus the reason why teachers specialize in subjects. Teachers usually specialize in two subjects. I have always been asked which subjects I am specialized in, however, I always explain to them that it is different in the States where teachers learn all the subjects. When a teacher specializes in one or two subjects, they would know more about that subject, and thus students would know more. This is similar to the high school concept in the States. Teachers would move around in the school, going to different classrooms to teach. Students will stay in their homeroom to learn all the subjects. Even though they stay in the own classroom, the classroom is quite bare. It is not filled with as many colors as the American elementary classrooms. The classrooms also do not have many learning resources visible. There are 40 individual blue desks that are split into 3 columns that all face the front. The classrooms are filled with a minimum of 40 students. Some students may leave to take the same subject that is more suitable for their level. There is a teacher’s desk in front that holds the computer and the visualizer, a machine that has the technology similar to a projector. There is a very lengthy white board in front, with two bulletin boards right next to it. There are small cabinets to hold some dictionaries and the students’ journals. The classroom is quite plain and gives the feeling of strict and disciplined learning, very similar to the culture in Singapore.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Typical Day at Maristas

A typical day at Maristas begins at 9 am. The students usually arrive in the classroom before the teachers and myself, and are expected to begin their morning work of handwriting. This surprised me at first, because at all my previous placements the teacher always arrived before school started to prepare for the day. After ten or fifteen minutes of handwriting, the students usually move on to math where they have been focusing on story problems involving addition, subtraction and multiplication. First the students solve three problems individually, and then the class reviews and corrects them together on the chalkboard. After math, the students usually move on to reading where they take turns reading aloud from their current chapter book. This is usually when I do my morning routine with the students to help them practice their English and/or read them a story in English. Having been in their desks for two hours, the students then go to gym class which is followed by recess. After recess they have two more hours of class however I leave to attend my own afternoon classes.

Throughout the past weeks, what I have been struck by routinely is the advanced level at which these 7 year olds work at. It is especially interesting when I compare them to the first graders I worked with in a Boston Public school last semester. As I said, the students at Maristas are working on story problems in math that have to do with addition, subtraction and multiplication. The majority of my students from last semester, while one or two could do simple multiplication, were working with mastering subtraction. The students at Maristas also seem advanced in reading; currently they are reading their third novel since I started teaching there. My students from last semester read leveled texts that were no longer than 10-15 pages and with little text. While there is certainly a range of achievement, the class as whole is able to comprehend what they are reading and strategies to solving math problems. When I asked my CT about the students’ advanced level, she commented on how students at Maristas (a private, Catholic school) are more advanced than other schools and how at other schools she has taught at she had to move at a slower pace and, for example, would still be working with students on learning to read. This sounded more similar to the level at which I worked with students last semester, leading me to think the discrepancy has mostly to do with the individual schools and economic backgrounds, and not that all Spanish 7 year olds are more advanced.

Working at Maristas the most challenging aspect has been discipline. Although discipline is something I have always worked on throughout my pre-pracs it has been a particular challenge to discipline in Spanish. Going through elementary school in the U.S. exposed me to the language of discipline in the classroom; I was surprised when I realized that discipline doesn’t translate as easily as I expected. Disciplining in Spanish involves a whole set of vocabulary that I wasn’t familiar with, in addition to cultural factors which involve how students are managed. It has taken awhile to get used to but I am finding it much easier now to manage the classroom. At the advice of another teacher who had a similar experience with teaching in English, I found that sometimes not saying anything at all is more affective. Today the teacher stepped out of the room for a few minutes and left the students doing work “silently”. I watched as a particularly chatting boy started playing with his friends. After a few seconds he noticed me watching him, and with only the raising of my eyebrows he blushed, embarrassed to be caught off task, and went back to work silently.