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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.

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