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Friday, June 24, 2011

A Typical Day in Scoil Bhride

In my second grade class at Scoil Bhride, each day typically has a basic schedule that is followed, like many American schools. However, since my CT was very energetic, and obviously second graders are as well, things tended to get a little hectic, so the schedule was not always followed exactly. The teacher loved to jump around from subject to subject, which made sense because of how easily the students were distracted. However, sometimes it seemed that the students were so slow to transition from different activities that the teacher rarely got through all of the planned material. At first, I just assumed it was a crazy day, but by the end I realized that was just a typical day in our classroom.

The day usually began with morning work or independent reading, during which time the teacher, Emmy, and I would go around checking the homework from the night before. We then usually began guided reading with the entire class, and then would break off into three groups (each teacher leading one group) and do an activity with the reading. Then, we would begin Irish. Each week there was usually a theme for the Irish words that the children were learning. For example, one week it was vocabulary related to television shows, one week it was vocabulary related to shops, and one it was vocabulary related to music. It was interesting sitting in on a language I knew nothing about. Even though I had done it many times before with Spanish in other schools (since I never took Spanish), Irish was much more difficult to help the children with. At least with Spanish, I could typically figure out how to pronounce the words. With Irish, the spellings and pronunciations never seem to match up, so it was much more difficult to walk around and help students.

Then the students would go outside to play, and when they came back they would pull out their lunch boxes and begin to eat for about ten minutes. After that time was up, the teacher would have them put the food away and they would start with another subject. After their second recess, the kids would then have another fifteen minutes or so to finish their lunches. It seemed very odd and a bit of a time-waster for the students to have to eat their meals in chunks, rather than just give them a solid block of time to finish eating. However, after the kids were finished, math would begin, and would go for about an hour. This was often hard to get through, since they spent so much more time on math than during any other subject. By the end, the kids were usually ready to be done, and they typically spent the last twenty minutes doing independent reading or working on homework. The typical day in Scoil Bhride was often hectic, but still fun and exciting at the same time. Thanks for reading!


AUS vs USA: Comparing Education Systems

Apart from the obvious differences such as the flip-flop of seasons and the adorable accents my students have, Australian culture overall draws a lot of parallels to American culture.  The language is the same (aside from a more readily apparent British influence here), appearances are similar to those found in America, and the cultural values are similar to those emphasized in America as well. 

As far as education is concerned, the Australian system and the American system have a lot of similarities.  The day is structured in pretty much the same way in the both countries where students go through a series of subjects like English, Math, Reading, and Art, and concepts such as spelling are revisited at intervals throughout the week.  The dynamic between the students and their teachers is also very similar to that found in American primary schools.  Students see the teacher as the definite authority figure in the classroom and seem to respect whatever decisions their teacher makes.  At the same time, however, they are encouraged to share their views with the teacher and with one another so that each can learn from the other.

The main differences I have noticed between Australian schools and American schools is the attitude of the teachers and the independence of the students.  Students, even in year one, here lead themselves to activities, deliver messages to teachers, answer the telephones, and help each other out by taking other students to the nurse, etc.  Even on my first day here, two year one girls led me on a tour of the school.  In America, this task would have most likely been delegated to a teacher or other member of the administrative team.  Teachers here seem to be much more relaxed than teachers in America as reflected by their casual attire, delegation of tasks to students, and lack of any real lesson plans.  The lessons that I have taught in America have all had to be thoroughly planned out on paper whereas here the teachers rarely know what they are doing the next hour of their day.  They take each lesson as it comes and develop plans on the fly.  I’m sure there is some formal observation that needs to take place, but I have not seen any – even in classrooms where there is a student teacher.  I’ve really enjoyed this atmosphere as a student teacher because it makes everything seem so stress-free and relaxed, but I do not know how well I would do in a classroom without a little bit more planning ahead.  I admire these teachers’ ability to be so spontaneous and hopefully I can learn a little from them and bring that sort of atmosphere to my future classroom.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Classroom Management at South Coogee

Over the past few months that I’ve been at South Coogee Public School, I have observed many different teachers and teaching styles.  My teacher is very soft-spoken and in the nine days I have been in her classroom, I have yet to see her raise her voice.  Her class can get noisy, but she quiets them down with hand motions and techniques such as getting the children to follow her clapping pattern.  Matters of discipline are handled on an individual basis based on each child’s needs.  For example, there is a student in this classroom that has a behavioral disorder that causes him to act out when he gets a little bit frustrated with his work.  My teacher handles his behavior by calmly pulling him aside and talking to him instead of yelling at him in front of the class.  This strategy seems to work best for him whereas other students require a firmer “no” from my teacher when they are doing something wrong.  

Another teacher I have observed here has a very different classroom management style.  She is much louder by nature, but she is also much quicker to raise her voice with this classroom.  When students act out, she usually addresses the behavior in front of the class and does not calmly address matters privately with each student.  This only serves to escalate the noise level of the classroom, causing other students to act out or become upset.

Classroom management is a very hard thing to master, and I think different strategies work better with certain classes than with others.  For this class, in particular, I think the first strategy seems to be the most effective.  My cooperating teacher does not use any real forms of time-out or punishment; instead, she modifies students’ behavior by changing their seats, pairing them strategically with other students, etc.  Her students, and I would venture to guess most students in general, seem to respond much better to these strategies than to the louder forms of discipline.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thinking Outside the Box

One of the things I think often gets neglected in schools is encouraging the development of creativity and imagination.  So much emphasis seems to be placed on standardized testing and assessing skills in the core areas of Math, English, Science, and Social Studies, that areas like art and music often get pushed aside.  At South Coogee, I have found that these areas of development are emphasized just as much as the development of skills in core, testable subject areas.  Art is displayed everywhere around the school (like the map of Australia below), and children are given awards for artistic ability just as they are for excelling in areas like math.  

Perhaps because of this emphasis on the development of creativity and the use of imagination, the lessons I have observed here seem to be much more interactive and evoke the use of higher-order thinking.  Instead of teaching to some sort of standardized test, my teacher spends a small portion of time delivering content knowledge and the other portion of time encouraging students to think outside the box.  For example, she will deliver a lesson on spelling then encourage students to come up with similes using the words instead of just regular sentences.  Exercises like these require students to use analysis and synthesis - the highest levels of thinking on Bloom's Taxonomy.  She also likes to exercise each student's imagination throughout her lessons by asking questions such as, "here is a clothespin, give me 10 uses for it without mentioning the common uses such as hanging artwork or hanging up clothes."  The kids get really involved in her lessons, and they have wonderful imaginations and creativity because of it.  These skills are just as important to develop as skills in core subject areas, but they are often neglected in the other schools I have seen.  It was refreshing to see that here, and I wish more teachers would adopt similar practices.

No Worries: Australian Culture Reflected in Schools

Spend one day in Australia and you'll hear the phrase "no worries" probably more than you've ever heard those two words uttered together in a lifetime.  This simple phrase sums up what the Australian lifestyle is all about.  Australians in general tend to be very relaxed, friendly, and welcoming and this culture is reflected in many areas of the South Coogee Public School education system.

Part of the reason why I believe Aussies have such a good attitude towards life is because of the beautiful weather and scenery that surrounds them most of the year.  Beaches are everywhere in Australia, and even during the peak of winter, temperatures only drop to the low 40's.  The Australian appreciation for the outdoors is reflected in the layout of South Coogee Public School.  Recess is always outside, rain or shine, and lunch and snack are also taken outside.  In addition, kids congregate outside before and after school as they are waiting to be picked up by parents who also wait outside (not inside or in cars like one often sees in the US).  There is a big emphasis on physical education and not being "cooped up" inside all day.  Thus, there are three food/recess breaks ("crunch and sip" where students are only allowed to eat fresh fruit and water, "little lunch" where they can have a healthy snack, and "big lunch") during the day and usually at least a half hour of fitness.  I think this really helps the kids focus during the time that they actually spend learning in the classroom, and I think it also contributes to the fact that Australia has a much smaller obese population than in the US where children seem to need commercials now to encourage them to go outside and play.

The relaxed, "no worries" Aussie attitude is also reflected in South Coogee's education system through the way in which teachers treat their students.  I've been teaching in a first grade classroom, so the kids are only 6 yet they lead themselves to lunch and back on time without any guidance from the teachers.  A loud bell announces lunch and recess start and end time, and the students are expected to go down there, eat their lunch and partake in recess, and come find their class when they're done.  This is a stark contrast to the summer camp atmosphere I'm used to in the US where we are required to count our kids everywhere we go and need to always make sure that there is a counselor in front of the line and in the back of the line.  Students at South Coogee also act as messengers between teachers, and I think this helps them develop responsibility and a lot of other essential skills like learning how to communicate properly with adults.  

The pick-up portion of the day is also very relaxed and structure-free.  Parents come get their kids and usually wave to the teacher that they are leaving, but there is no signing out required and I've never seen anyone have to show identification.  At camp, we were always required to check I.D. and make parents sign their kids in and out - they were essentially putting their children's hands in ours and we'd do the same once they came for pick-up.  It was a very strict system to ensure no children were lost, yet I have never heard of an issue at this school despite the structure being so relaxed.  These observations have made me realize that the rigid structure that we find in schools today might not be so necessary, and it has given me a lot to reflect upon for when I return back to teaching in the US.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Prompt 4- International School of Paris

Since the academic schedule at the ISP changes daily, I’ve been thrown into whatever classes are available for me to see at any given time. Because of this, I have observed classes of various subjects, at all grades and academic levels, taught by different teachers. Experiencing such variety has exposed me to many different classroom atmospheres and teaching styles. According to my observations, it seems that as long as a teacher utilizes a combination of kindness and strictness to manage his or her classroom, these varying atmospheres and teaching styles can work with equal effectiveness.

In general, the classes I’ve sat in on at the ISP are relatively small in size. Usually they range from about six to fifteen students (in fact, fifteen students has been the largest class I’ve seen). Because of this small number of students, there exists a certain intimacy in the room, both among the students themselves and between the teachers and their pupils, which I have rarely seen in classes in the States. Teachers at this school seem to have fewer issues with behavioral problems; they run their classrooms in a more relaxed manner, and there is more room for occasional banter in between activities, while there seems to be little learning time lost.

At the start of class, students meander in and are usually seated and ready to begin shortly after the bell sounds. There will be some start-of-class conversation; the teacher will ask his or her class about their weekends or they will briefly chat about a recent movie or book. Then, to get the class’s attention on-task, most teachers utilize opening activities. For instance, one teacher went around the room and had each student name a literary device that started with the first letter of his or her first name. Another teacher made up a game in which she assigned students a character from the book and had the class ask him or her questions about the chapter they read the night before, to which the student had to answer from the POV of his or her character. Still other teachers begin by explaining the class or unit objectives; one teacher handed out a worksheet on which was written the chapters they would be reading and the terms and ideas they would be learning in the next few weeks. Although different teachers prefer different activities, almost all of them seem to use techniques for grabbing their students’ attention at the beginning of class. This is because, when kids are interested and paying attention during class, it is less likely that they will act up out of boredom or lack of structure.

The same principle goes for the rest of class time. The English teachers I have observed vary between lectures, PowerPoint presentations or worksheets, group discussions, group activities, personal presentations, etc. because this variation keeps the information interesting. When, during a class I observed, students’ attentions began to wane while they worked individually on essays, the teacher spontaneously decided to change things up. She paired off students and had them ask each other three questions about their partner’s thesis, as a way of both prompting students to see their paper topics from a new viewpoint and of delving deeper into their own ideas. In this way, the teacher regained her pupil’s attentions and helped them better their essays. Keeping class activities fresh seems to keep students interested and thus reduces behavioral problems.

As far as rules and expectations are concerned, strictness in the classroom varies from teacher to teacher. In general, most teachers will allow occasional chatter in between activities or during group activities but will raise their voices and call for attention when the talking has gotten out of hand. Similarly, most teachers ask that pupils raise their hands when they have something to say but won’t become too upset if an occasional student calls out something without asking permission. In fact, most teachers will joke around with students who call out humorous or insightful comments.

When a pupil needs to use the bathroom, he or she will usually get up and leave, without having to ask. Sometimes during group activities a teacher will briefly (for no more than five minutes or so) leave the room to do something, because he or she trusts the class to stay on-task. This relaxed disciplinary style results in a comfortable and friendly environment in which students enjoy themselves during class but also know the behavioral line they shouldn’t cross.

When that line is crossed, however, when there is too much talking, when students’ attentions are not fully focused on the task at hand, when there is too little participation during class activities, then most teachers will crack down. I have seen several teachers wait silently for their class to focus their attention before continuing a lesson and I’ve seen teachers raise their voices to regain control. One teacher took five or so minutes at the end of one class to lecture her students about the necessity of completing one’s homework at home, of bringing one’s materials to class, and of paying attention during lessons, because all of these things are reflected in one’s grade. This small speech was meant to gently remind pupils of the expectations she has for them in class.

However, I have never seen a behavioral issue at the ISP get extremely out of hand. I’ve never seen a teacher move a student’s seat, or send a student to the office, or give a student a detention. Of course, in any teaching institution there will be some behavioral issues. However, because the classes at the ISP are so small, because the teachers there take a relaxed view towards discipline, and because the kids seem to be interested in their lessons, there is little need for harsh disciplinary action. In general, classes here seem productive and well-behaved.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Ocio Culture

Living, studying and teaching in Granada, Spain has allowed me to experience the Spanish culture and how it influences different aspects of the Spanish life. A large part of the Spanish culture is known as ocio, or in English leisure. The people in Spain truly enjoy their leisure time, and do so in many ways. They go out for walks, drink coffee, go out for drinks or tapas, go to discotecas, watch and play soccer, and go shopping. This influence of ocio has left the Spanish culture much more relaxed than the American.

This relaxed culture and atmosphere is visible in the classroom through teachers, students and the relationships between teachers and students. Overall, teachers are more flexible and more able to make changes to their schedule, and although they followed a schedule, they did not seem to feel pressured to rush through a curriculum. The general attitude of the teachers was more relaxed also; my CT once told me that school is just part of our lives and there are other experiences just as important. Although they value education, it is also clear that they value life experiences and ocio time as well. My CT for example, felt that it was very important for one of the students to travel to Vietnam with her parents when they were adopting her new baby sister. Although the student missed 2-3 weeks of school, my CT considered it an important life experience and readily prepared work for the student to do while traveling so that she did not fall behind in class.

Influence of the ocio culture can also been seen in the relationships between teachers and between students and teachers. At Maristas, the teachers have very open working relationships and will walk into each other’s classrooms at any point during the day. After a quick knock a teacher will just walk into the classroom to borrow something, ask a question or even just chat with a college. Sometimes my CT would stop in the middle of a lesson to chat with the teacher next door when he entered the room to borrow materials. This interested me a lot because in lots of classroom in the United States it has seemed to me that teachers guard their classroom as their territory and don’t necessarily want other people walking in whenever. I liked the more relaxed feeling between teachers at Maristas and seemed more conducive to collaboration.

The relationship between students and teachers also demonstrated the influence of culture. The teachers who “monitored” recess spent the time talking, hardly watching the students and overall seemed more relaxed and less anxious than the watchful eye of American recess monitors. Additionally, there is a closer physical relationship between teacher and students in Spain. Just as the overall Spanish culture has greater physical closeness than the American—people greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks—the classroom culture does as well. Teachers will hold students’ hands walking down the hall, kiss the tops of students’ heads and exchange kisses on the cheek. Repeatedly, little girls would grab my hand and hold it as we walked down the hall or back from recess together and occasionally when I left for the day a little girl would come up and say, “Adios Marga... un beso”, and give a kiss on both cheeks. At first the physical closeness felt odd to me but as I became accustom to Spanish culture it felt more natural, to the point where my first instinct when greeting someone was to reach out and kiss them, not shake their hand. It was in little acts such as this that I realized how culture affects everything so much, our day to day lives and the schools where we learn and teach.