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Monday, November 28, 2011

Similarities and Differences in U.S. and Scottish Schools

While studying abroad and student teaching Glasgow, I’ve noticed quite a few similarities and differences between schools in Scotland and in the U.S.  The first major difference is that children go to school much earlier in the UK.  The school I work at has a full time nursery for very young students and its first organized grade level (primary one) is made up of 4 and 5 year olds.   The students in these classes are able to focus surprisingly well for their age, but it seems like the majority of their day is spent playing and doing more creative exercises.  I definitely see the benefit of exploratory learning, but it I think the system of preschool and kindergarten in the U.S. may be a more effective way to educate children who are so young. 
Another difference between Scotland and the U.S. is the amount of freedom giving to students during the school day.  In the morning before school starts parents drop their children off outside in the school yard with no adult supervision.  In the U.S. most schools would not let students play outside unsupervised because of the liability issues.  During recess the entire school goes outside at one time with only maybe 6 to 7 teachers supervising them.  I’ve noticed that outside of school parents seem more relaxed and less overprotective of their children.  They appear to trust their children with more responsibility at a younger age. 
            Even though the primary school I work at is very different form the schools I’ve experienced in the U.S. there are still some similarities between the two systems.  One I’ve noticed is the way literacy instruction is structured.  Students in the early primary levels are learning the alphabet along with the corresponding sounds for the letters.  The teachers use a commercial reading program for some of the literacy instruction and then also read their own selected stories in class.  Another similarity is the pressure teachers feel from higher authorities.  Schools in Scotland have the same pressure to have students pass tests and reach certain levels by specific times.  They also have the added pressure of school inspections and evaluation by the education authorities that run them. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Typical Day in Maria Luigia

I currently teach 8 different classes a week with 4 different teachers, so it gets a little hectic at times. Once I step into the classroom I always greet my students and ask them what they did over the weekend to help them practice speaking in English. Then I would have to ask my Cooperating teacher what I have to teach for that class. She would tell me either what she taught already so I can go over her lesson or something random to talk about, for example, one of my teachers wanted me to talk about the emergency service in America. A whole hour on 911, the police and firefighters? Isn't there something else that is more productive? It was mind boggling to me but it was in their textbooks, so i guess it is important for their curriculum. It is hard to always think on the spot of a lesson plan for my students. It seems as if in Italy, teachers do not have a strict curriculum that they have to follow and can do whatever they want in class. I know in America, some schools mandate that the teachers send in their lesson plans weekly to ensure that they are using all the appropriate techniques and teaching the required topics.
It is also very difficult to manage the class because it does not seem like they listen or care about what the teacher is saying. I think they are so used to the teacher talking and them talking over him/her and ignoring what she says. I do not tolerate this at all so it is hard to discipline the students. Looks of disbelief and confusion, take over the students' faces when I tell them to be quiet and that only one person can talk at a time. They are not used to the idea. However, even though it is tough teaching, I love being with the students because it is true, kids do say the darnest things, especially in Italy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Teaching at San Rafael

Today I taught two English classes at San Rafael. My CT did not ask me to prepare a lesson ahead of time, but rather asked if I would take half the class for the period to read their current novel and review for the test with them. I was very excited to have the class and see how they worked with me. We began both classes by forming a circle in order to set up a good environment for group reading and classroom discussion. My cooperating teacher told me that they needed to finish the book in preparation for their test on Friday, so we began with a quick summary of what they had already read, and then continued to read aloud (myself and the students) throughout the class. Every page or two, I would stop the class, the students would ask questions and we would talk about the plot together. The students in my first class had a very high English level and participated freely throughout the entire class. However, the students in my second class had a very difficult time understanding what they were reading and seemed to be very far behind. With this class, it was a struggle because I had no materials or planned assessments to help them better understand the book. According to my CT, they were supposed to have the entire book read, but when I asked the students, only one student had read past chapter 2. It was clear that they simply did not understand the plot and a lot of the vocabulary words which deterred them from reading, so I decided to go back to the beginning of the book and do a chapter-by-chapter review with the students. When I clarified certain vocabulary words, characters, and events taking place in each chapter, the students quickly gained a better understanding of the book, and began to ask questions to show interest in what they were reading. I think the main problem that I saw with this group was the fact that there were no extra materials or reinforcers such as classroom discussion, informal assessment, etc. to help the students understand the book. For example, it would have been very helpful for the students to have a vocabulary sheet, a list of important characters, and a story map to fill in while reading. Teaching these two classes was a good opportunity for me to see what teaching strategies work in an ESL classroom.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Australian Culture

During my time at South Coogee Public School, I got the chance to go to two all-school assemblies.  Both of these assemblies were great opportunities for me to see everyone in the school, not just my 1st grade class.  The first assembly I went to was an award assembly.  My CT told me that this assembly is held bi-weekly.  Every teacher can reward his/her students with a blue star award.  Once a student has earned a certain amount of blue stars, he or she is given a bronze award at this assembly.  A certain amount of bronze awards leads to a silver award, which then leads to a gold award.  I really liked this idea because it connects each individual class to the school as a whole.  Students get the chance to be rewarded not only in his or her own class, but also in the entire school.  I noticed in my classroom that students work really hard to get these blue star awards. 
            The other assembly I saw was on my last day at South Coogee Public School.  The older students (5th and 6th grade) did a song and dance show about Australia for the younger students.  Watching this assembly was a good way to finish off my time at South Coogee.  The show incorporated many different aspects of Australian culture, including their Indigenous people.  When thinking back to my own elementary school experience, I remember having assemblies about American culture and singing American songs.  This assembly was very similar except it was with Australian culture.  The theme of this assembly was the Earth (the land of Australia).  The previous assemblies had been about the water and air surrounding Australia.  The students sang songs about keeping Australia clean and pollution free.  This was a great learning experience for the younger students because it taught them useful lessons while encouraging Australian pride. 
            Both assemblies opened up by students acknowledging the Aboriginal (native people of Australia) tribe whose land South Coogee Public School is built on.  I thought this was very respectful for the Aboriginal peoples to be acknowledged.  Another teacher told me that this acknowledgement is done at all social gatherings in Australia.  After this, everyone stood to sing the national anthem of Australia.  This reminded me of saying the Pledge of Allegiance in the U.S.
            I’m very grateful for my opportunity to teach at South Coogee Public School.  I loved observing the similarities and differences between Australian school and American school. My CT was wonderful, as were my students.  The knowledge gained from my international preprac is invaluable and I’ve definitely learned some things I can bring back to the U.S.!

Friday, November 11, 2011


Italy's culture is very, very laid back. Italian's motto is definitely "Live life to the fullest!" Even on the first day in Florence, when I was walking around exploring the city, my friends and I came across an outdoor dance. When we went, to our surprise the average age there was in the 50s-60s. And this culture is definitely shown in their schools. When I walk into my 11-13 year old student's classrooms, they all always laughing and chattering away, ignoring what the teacher is saying. The teacher would tell them to "Shut up" and nothing would change. When I teach it is very frustrating because once the students have any chance of talking to their peers they will, even if they are all the way across the room. They will scream. I had to implement the counting down rule to this class, which i usually use for younger students, where I count down from three and once I get to one, everyone should be silent. The first few times it worked perfectly but later on they continued talking. I could tell the teacher was very frustrated. I feel like the students have a lack of respect for the teachers, the teachers say one thing and they do the opposite. But sometimes I think it is because of the teacher's lack of discipline that the students act this way.

Also I feel that Italians love creativity. During one of my Halloween lessons, I wrote them a poem on the board and told them to copy it. The teacher told them to be "creative" with their writing. I was confused at first but soon realized that she wanted them to write in different fonts, such as 'scary letters' as one of my students told me and also in different colors, so every letter would be a different color. I was shocked. What should of taken 5 minutes maximum took 20 minutes to write because of their creative writing. It is definitely not a bad thing but instead of using the extra time to read and learn English, they were practicing their calligraphy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

San Rafael: Classroom Management

Throughout the past 6 weeks, I have had the opportunity to observe and teach several different classes and grade levels at San Rafael, and have noticed that classroom management in the Spanish classroom is one aspect of Spanish schools that greatly differs from classroom management in previous classrooms I have observed in the United States. During my first few visits to San Rafael, I noticed that my two cooperating teachers placed less emphasis on classroom management than what I have been exposed to by my cooperating teachers in Boston, which made for a very different learning environment.

One of my cooperating teachers, who I have spent the most time with, teaches the oldest students in the school, equivalent to seniors in high school. Her class is about 18 students who have all chosen to take English instead of French (every student has to choose either English or French). Although the size of her class is ideal for a language class, she still faces issues of classroom management every day with her students. My CT has a hard time getting her students to focus and actually speak English in this class. According to my CT, these students have all been in school together since they were 3 years old, and thus are all good friends. Therefore, trying to keep the students attention during the lesson is a challenge for her, because many times the students have their own side conversations in Spanish, with no regard for what is going on in the class. When this happens, my CT asks the students to continue working and only speak in English, but her requests sometimes go overlooked and the students continue to speak in Spanish.

Additionally, the expectations my CT has for her students are not firmly set which I believe makes classroom management more of a challenge for her. For example, one day the students were to all bring their homework sheets to class to go over with the teacher and then work on in groups, but no one brought their homework to class. When my CT realized that no one brought their materials, she decided to change the lesson completely with no consequences for the students who didn´t bring their work. Clearly agitated, but with no choice, she turned the lesson into conversation groups. I think the lack of clear expectations make it difficult for my CT to keep the students focused and engaged.

After observing this particular class several times, I was able to plan my own lesson and teach the class. Being able to observe what classroom management techniques work for these students and which ones don´t helped me to plan my lesson accordingly.

Seeing how classroom management works at San Rafael has really helped me to observe and put into practice different techniques to best manage a classroom. Although different from the United States, this has been a very valuable experience to see how classroom management affects the students learning environment.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Classroom Observation at San Rafael

Last week I observed three English classes at San Rafael paying particular attention to the planning and delivering of instruction, classroom challenges that my cooperating teacher faces teaching, and different teaching styles I observed.

To begin, it was very interesting to compare and contrast my observations in Madrid to previous lessons I have observed in the United States, and how these similarities and differences affect the classroom environment and student learning. One of the main aspects that surprised me while observing my CT deliver instruction was that each lesson lacked clear learning objectives. My cooperating teacher began class by having the students open their workbooks to go over homework exercises, and then continued on with the lesson doing various grammar exercises, partner work, examples on the blackboard, etc. This is very different from the lessons I have observed in the US where my CTs would start with an opening activity to get the students engaged, and introduce the learning objectives for the lesson so the students clearly understand what needs to be accomplished during the class. Throughout the whole lesson, I felt as though my CT didn’t have a clear objective or goal in mind for what he wanted to accomplish, making transitions between workbook exercises/group work/etc difficult and unorganized. Additionally, when a new concept was presented, there were no activities to reinforce the material. The entire class consisted of doing various activities out of the workbook and on the blackboard. Thus, the way my CT plans and delivers instruction is very different from what I have observed previously in classrooms in the United States. I think part of the difference in the delivery of instruction is due to the challenge my CT has with managing the size of his class. All the classes I observed were at their full capacity, with about 35 students in each of all different language abilities. For this reason, my CT struggles to manage the students and create activities that will create a suitable learning environment for everyone.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Maria Luigia

I just recently started my international pre-prac because I was in Florence for a month and now I am in Parma for the rest of the semester. From the first day I walked into my placement, I instantly felt the difference. When I walked in the class was loud and rowdy with students walking around and talking to each other. The teacher tried to calm them down, however it seemed like she wasn't even there. Finally when they were able to settle down I introduced myself and I asked them if they have any questions about America or me. They instantly asked me if I had a boyfriend or how old I am while chuckling and goofing around. The teacher had to stop ever few minutes to remind the class to be quiet. The students were around 13 years old and probably were going through the rebelling stage. I was shocked when the teacher started screaming "SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!" I never heard that in my life. That's when I knew I had to step in. I told the class that in America, there should only be one person speaking at a time and if the teacher is talking then everyone has to be quiet and listen attentively. The students stared at me and then turned around to talk some more. My CT had to translate what I said to make sure they understood and even when they did, they didn't care. So I decided to implement what I do when I teach my 2nd graders. I told them that since they can't be quiet when the teacher is talking, I will start a new rule. I will count up to 3 and when I reach 3 everyone needs to be silent. 1-2-3. The students started counting the numbers along with me. 4-5-6-7-8.. This is not what I expected. When class was over, my teacher apologized and said that this was her "worse" class. But soon realized even though this was her "worse" class, the relaxed culture here enforced the students behavior.