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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Spain/United States similarities and differences

Teaching in Spain is wonderful and I have been having an amazing time doing it. However, while I have seen many small differences between the education in Spain and ours, there are two things that have stood out. The primary difference that I have observed has had to do with student-teacher relations. In the United States, we are taught to call our teachers “Mr.” or “Mrs. /Miss” and only by their last names. This demonstrates respect and makes it clear from the beginning that teacher and student relationships have limits. Furthermore, most American students have also been taught, since childhood, that teachers are a major fountain of discipline away from home. This does not seem to be the case for students that go to public or charter schools in Spain (I do not include private schools because, from what I have seen, the teachers there are shown a great amount of respect from both students and parents). In these schools, the students call the teachers by their first name and treat them like friends. They make jokes at the teachers´ expense and make demands like they run the class and this is normal for the teachers. Furthermore, the parents’ don´t seem to have respect for the teachers either. In the school I was pre-pracing in, teachers had parent-teacher conferences almost every day and almost all the teachers dreaded these meetings. This was because most of the parents would come in to demand that the teacher give their son/daughter a better grade on a test, or for the semester, no matter if the child deserved the grade they got. One of the most unbelievable stories that I heard was that, there were a couple of parents that had brought in lawyers to analyze the exams that the students had failed, so they could assert that the grading was unfair. However, since the students had left more than half the exam unanswered, they could not do anything. After that, the teachers have to keep all the exams and work that the students do during the year as evidence in case parents try this stunt again.
Another difference that surprised me a lot was the amount of information students are required to learn from early on. Students are required to learn a second language from the moment they start school. Moreover, in history class the study of geography is obligatory and students are required to learn the names of all the countries, rivers, and mountains of the world. In my history class, I was taught extremely basic geography and was required only to learn the names of three or four river and mountains. Furthermore, my ten and eleven year old students were required to learn biology in English. But not just simple biology with basic vocabulary, no. They were required to learn all of the bodies systems (digestive, excretory, reproductive, nervous, etc.) with each organ and their function in a language that was foreign to them. This is extremely difficult for them because it is a completely new subject taught in a language that they are just learning. In the United States, I did not start learning biology in such depth until I was thirteen years old. It is amazing to me the demands they give these students and the fact that they are completely able to comply with these demands. This gives me the feeling that, in the United States, they underestimate what and how much information can be taught to the younger students and this is something that needs to be evaluated and fixed.
  However, there were also some similarities in teaching instruction that I thought were interesting. For examples, the classroom layout for both countries is the same. Students sit in groups of four or five until they are thirteen or fourteen years old, which is when they start sitting more in rows. This observation interested me and I started wondering the reason for this. Does this change in classroom structure at that age increase classroom learning? Another similarity that I thought was interesting was that standards were also measured in the same way. Most teachers taught by the book and gave a lot of importance to exams. I consider this format of teaching to be erroneous and it needs to be changed here as well as in Spain.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Classroom Management in Australia

I found that classroom management in my Australian school placement was very similar to what I have seen in my placements in Boston. When the students come into the classroom each morning they are expected to hang their coats, lunches, and bags up outside and then sit down in the front of the room on the rug. The kids know the routine very well, and it's very clear that my CT has stressed the importance of coming in quietly from the beginning of the year. If students are misbehaving at this time my CT will just ask them nicely to calm down, but if the problem persists she usually asks the student to move up in front of her.

My second grade classroom had a motto that my CT always reminded the students of: "Choose the right." It could be applied to a lot of things, but much of the time it was applied to the choices that students made about their own behavior. If they were misbehaving my CT would remind them to choose the right and correct their behavior. The motto also applied to when the kids would choose a spot to sit on the front rug. My CT or the full prac would remind them to choose the right and pick a place to sit where they would not be distracted by something or someone else. This seemed to work pretty well, as the students would remind each other to choose the right and took a lot of pride in themselves when they knew they made the right decision.

If problems persisted in my classroom, my CT would often pull the misbehaving student aside and have a talk with them. She used a very calm tone and often asked the student why they were behaving the way they were or how they were feeling. A few kids in my class had ADHD, and I always noticed that my CT could quickly turn around their misbehavior when she added that she knew they were trying really hard. Just knowing that their teaching had faith in them seemed to make a huge difference in the behavior of a lot of the second graders in my class.

These techniques are ones that I know will be very useful in the future when I continue my student teaching in Boston. I hope that I can incorporate my CT's calm demeanor and her ability to relate to students while still holding their respect into my own classroom management techniques as a teacher.

Aussie Culture in the Classroom

Australian culture was definitely very prominent in my classroom at South Coogee Public School. The school is situated about two blocks from a beach, and as the weather is seasonally much warmer than in Boston, only classrooms are inside. The school takes advantage of the beautiful Australian weather by having all of the hallways outside and by having students eat lunch and snack outside and have gym class outside. Much more learning occurred outdoors there than at home in the U.S. because being outside and being active is a very important part of Australian culture.
In addition the culture being reflected in the layout of the school, the subjects taught also showed Aussie culture. Australians have a fierce love of sport and intense pride in their country, so naturally the Olympics were a very big deal in Australia. My class spent about five or six weeks learning everything about the Olympics, from when it started to where it has been held to what the different events are. They also learned about important Australian athletes like Cathy Freeman, and they followed to games closely to count how many medals Australia had won. I thought it was really fun that my teacher designed a whole unit around the Olympics, because the students could really get involved and relate to everything they were learning as they were watching it all happen right in front of them! The enthusiasm about the Olympics in my classroom was a very accurate microcosm of what was happening everywhere in Australia.
In addition to the Olympics, my students learned about a lot of other famous Australians. Among them was Brett Whiteley, an artist. They studied a lot of his paintings, which were basically all of uniquely Australian things like the lyrebird or the Sydney Opera House. It was great to see their interpretations of his art, especially of the opera house which is basically in their own backyard.
All of the units and lessons incorporating Australian culture were probably my favorite during my student teaching experience because they gave me a very unique experience that I would not get anywhere else. It was definitely an enjoyable insight into both the country and the Australian school system.

A Typical Day of Teaching in Australia

A typical day of teaching in my second grade Aussie classroom was usually pretty eventful. We would start out each day with the huge class (thirty-two kids) on the front rug. My CT was also acting as deputy principal of the school, so every Thursday she would be absent from the classroom and the full-time student teacher would take over. Either my CT or the full prac would lead the class in a good morning routine, where attendance was taken and they usually played a little game with grammar. A fun example was that each student had to give an adjective of how they were feeling when their name was called for attendance. A few of the students got creative, with adjectives like "fierce" and "contemplative" coming out of these little seven-year-olds' mouths.
Next the class would move on to reading groups. The class was split into leveled groups that were labeled by color, and each group was given a different task for the day. Sometimes it would be work on reading comprehension, sometimes it would be expositions, and sometimes it would be just reading to the teacher. Most days I got to work with Peter and Will, two students who were big misbehavers and who were in the lowest leveled group. This was my favorite thing to do during reading groups, because it was great to see how motivated they were to learn when reading. They had a real interest in making sure they understood the words and passages that we used. Working with them was definitely a highlight of my student teaching experience.
Next was "Crunch n' Sip", when the students would get a healthy snack and listen to each other give short speeches. Each day of the week five students had the opportunity to share with the class about a certain topic. Some weeks they had to share about a set topic and sometimes they got to share whatever they wanted. I was very impressed by the adorable speeches some of these second graders gave to the class.
Next it was time for "maths". The kids would do a variety of things, like worksheets or math games. This was the most difficult time of the day for me. The students were getting restless and it was so close to lunch and recess. A lot of the time the students would be off task, and especially when the entire class got wound up they were very hard to control. I was always glad when the lunch bell went off and I knew that the kids would get to go run around outside for an hour. During lunch I usually went to the faculty lounge and talked with the other Australian teachers. We had some interesting conversations about the differences between American and Australian classrooms, and they were very intrigued by my experiences at home.
When the students came back from lunch, we would work on science or art. Some days we studied famous artists and tried to replicate their work, and sometimes we worked on technology and science. A fun example of that was when the students got to create and then make their own toy.
After a long day it would finally be time for the kids to head home. We would take them downstairs to meet their parents and send them off before another exhausting day!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Classroom Management in New Zealand!

My classroom in New Zealand is home to nearly 30 students ages 6-8 with only one teacher to control the group on an average day. In order to keep her room under control Ms. Sturge exercises many elements of classroom management.  During mathematics all the level 2-3 classes switch up into skill-levels so she has to manage those students as well. With that many students keeping a track of assignments and papers could be an issue but Ms. Sturge has worked out a system to keep each child’s work organized and easy to grade and hand back.  Each student has a notebook for each subject and after they complete an assignment they glue it into the appropriate subject’s notebook. They then hand in their books flipped open to the page they worked on into an appropriate crate. At the end of the day, Ms. Sturge is able to grade the work from each crate and hand it back to the students the next day. I thought that her system worked really well for keeping track of paper but also allowing for fast feedback to the students.

Because it is so late in the school year in New Zealand, the students have become very used to Ms. Sturge’s directions so there is not a lot of misbehavior amongst the class. She gives simple warnings to students by saying their name. This grabs their attention and pulls them back to what they should be focusing on. However, when a student is acting completely unruly and disrupting other students Ms. Sturge asks him/her to move his/her name on the behavior chart. I have heard of this technique done in other classrooms but for the first time I saw the success of such a system. The student is forced to get up and physically record the consequences of his actions and as a result has time to think about what he/she was doing wrong. This system was far more successful than simply telling the student to stop his behavior because it involved the student and caused him/her the inconvenience of having to get up and move.

Finally, the last successful management element I saw in the classroom was the classroom job system. Each week a pair (or trio) of children were assigned to one of the twelve jobs listed on the wall. Jobs were done in the last five minutes of the day and involved cooperation amongst students but also got the classroom in order. This part of the day was taken very seriously and was never skipped even if the bell had already rung. This made the students take responsibility for their environment and structured the ending of the day. 

Overall, while these strategies are not extremely different from those used by teachers in America, it was nice to see them in practice and being used so successfully!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

English Class in Spain!

Today I was given the opportunity to observe an English class in Bami. Prado arranged for me to observe the 4th year Secondary class when I decided to come to the high school on a different day this week.
            The students in Bami have exams this week (November 26th-30th), so Cintra, my temporary CT, fielded questions from the students for the first 15 minutes of class. English is the only language spoken in the classroom, so the students stumbled over their words and seemed to get increasingly nervous about their exam the following day. In the United States, chaos always ensues in review classes or periods before big exams. In this classroom, the teacher puts a strict limit on the amount of time they could spend pestering her about the exam. I hope to use this strategy in my own classroom in the future because it influences students to think about the exam prior to the night before it is given. Also, it allows for teachers to move forward in the curriculum without having to give up one class for review and another for the exam itself.
            After the review time, the teacher had students begin a new chapter about idioms in the English language. They opened the text to a page with various conversational exchanges that featured idioms, such as “ It cost a fortune!” and “I don’t know what she sees in him” For me, it was very funny to hear Spaniard teenagers using these phrases. She explained each idiom (in English) and made sure everyone understood how it was used. Then, she played a recording of the same conversational exchanges so the students could train their ears and learn the pronunciation by audible example. They listened 2 or 3 times and then were instructed to complete a dialogue exercise. Students were paired up and told to add to the given conversations. They were given 5-7 minutes to work together, write, and practice speaking what they had written. Each group presented the dialogues, and they all spoke very well. They kept watching me to make sure they were speaking correctly and making sense. At the end of the class Cintra played another English recording about Polish immigration in the United Kingdom. I thought that the students did not comprehend the recording, but when she asked them to summarize what they had heard, their responses were completely correct! The class ended before they could complete the accompanying listening comprehension questions.
            Upon entering the classroom, Cintra immediately warned me that this class had many behavioral issues and that she often struggles to manage them. I observed many students talking over each other and other their teacher, laughing at those students that were taking the class and its assignments seriously, and blatantly not paying attention. This was the only class in Bami that I had really taken notice of the lack of classroom control. I understood the predicament of the teacher in that the students do not seem to enjoy learning English and it is very difficult to demand respect from and discipline students in a non-native language. After the class ended, Cintra told me that they had actually been behaving much better than usual because I was there observing. This behavior is also different from that in America because I have always observed that American students misbehave MORE in the presence of student teachers. That does not seem to be the case in Spain at all.
            Cintra’s teaching style seems very standard for a foreign language class. There were both theoretical and practical aspects of the lesson and all forms of assessment were exercised. Classroom layout and materials were also standard, but Cintra employed the use of a microphone to ensure that all students could hear her pronunciation clearly.
            Overall, this English lesson in Spain was not very noticeably different from a typical class (or language class) in the United States, but the experience was very unique and informational. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Spanish Culture in a Spanish High School

Though the culture of Spain is not outwardly reflected in high school culture here, Spanish cultural installments become have become more obvious over time. The most noticeable reflection is in the school scheduling. In Spain, lunch is the most important meal and is “celebrated” with all members of the family everyday. Attendance is possible for all, even those working, because of the tradition of the Spanish siesta. From 2 pm- 4 pm every weekday, many stores, shops, markets, schools, etc. close down in order for people to return home for lunch and siesta (nap). In this way, classes begin earlier for all age groups and always end at or before 3 pm, allowing students to return home in time for lunch with their families. Also, breakfast is all but ignored in Spain, so most students do not eat before they go to school in the morning. However, there is a designated time for students and teachers to eat lunch. This time is called “recreo” or recess, and students eat a small sandwich or a piece of fruit and relax before their classes continue.
            The class schedules in Spanish high schools also reflect the culture of the country in terms of which classes are offered and required. European students are required to take English for the entirety of their education because of the increasing need for and global usage of the English language. They are also required to take French, which reflects the general culture of Europe in that there is a greater need to learn and be proficient in more than just one’s native language, as a result of the great variety of languages spoken throughout the continent.
            As my placement is a Catholic school created by nuns, the influence of Spanish Catholicism is ever present. There are crosses, bible verses, and quotes from prominent Catholic figures throughout the classrooms and halls of the school. Students are required to study religion and attend mass in the on-campus chapel. Personally, I have observed that there is a very high level of respect embedded in all individuals at my placement. Students respect teachers and other students, teachers respect all students and colleagues, and everyone seems grounded in a similar belief system. In this way, I have not observed many instances of discipline in class because there simply is no real need for it. Additionally, there is a respectful ritual when a teacher enters a room, in which the students rise and both parties greet and thank each other with systematic and required respect.
            At B.V.M. Irlandesas de Bami, Spanish culture is interlaced in the foundation of the school and is reflected in various unique ways. 

Mondays in Bami, Sevilla

My days of teaching in Bami always begin a brisk walk/ down along the River Guadalquivir to catch the bus to Bami. I ride the bus for about 20 minutes, most of which I usually spend people watching. I get off the bus close to the school and take a peaceful walk towards BVM.
            The security guard at the school never seems to remember who I am, so I get stopped and questioned every Monday without fail. I head up to the secondary teachers’ “lounge” where I make small talk with the other professors and wait for Prado, my CT. The other teachers are still confused by the presence of an “Americana” in the school, but I have a few allies I love to chat with. Something I have gathered is that punctuality is NOT crucial or even acknowledged in Spain. Prado and the other teachers are routinely late and always find time to catch up with each other, make copies, find books, etc. when the bell has already been rung and the students are in their classrooms waiting. I am not sure I will ever get used to that! I usually have some time to talk to some students before Prado begins her lessons. The students are incredibly curious about my life in Seville as well as life in the United States.
            When Prado enters the rooms she knocks on the door and all the students stand up. She greets them and they respond in chorus. She permits them to sit down and they thank her (for that allowance and for showing up apparently), and she thanks them in return. The students sit and the class begins. Our first class of the day is an elective class for students in their final year of school. They read classic literature and dabble in philosophy with Prado. Most of the time is spent reading aloud and reviewing their responses to comprehension questions about the texts they have read. After that 2nd Bachillerato class, Prado, another teacher, and I go out to a café to talk and eat. We discuss cultural differences, traveling, and the high school. I understand them most of the time, but once in a while I get lost in translation and they have to clue me in. Then we all return to BVM, and Prado and I head to “Tutoría,” which is comparable to office hours. Prado plans lessons, and I observe and read.
            My favorite class follows “Tutoría” time. This group of students is in their second year of high school, and Prado teaches them a language class with a focus on Spanish grammar. Every week Prado reviews previously assigned topics and corrects student work. This class is the most interactive, attentive, and welcoming to me. I have also learned a lot of Spanish grammar in this class, such as the components of sentences, the breakdown of words, and the breakdown of Spanish sentence structure. The students are so incredibly nice and conscientious in this class.
             The last class is the most difficult group of students, as they are one year away from graduation and tend to think they are smarter than all of the secondary professors. This is also a language class with an emphasis on advanced grammar and literature. I tend to get a little bit heckled in this class for being both an American AND a student teacher.
            That class is the final class of the day, so I make my way through the crowds of students exiting the school in order to catch my bus home. I really enjoy the Bami neighborhood and its beautiful orange trees and friendly locals. My days in Bami inundate me with new knowledge and innovative ideas for my future Spanish classes once I return to Boston.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Classroom Management

          I have found the classroom management style and expectations to be very similar in Bath to the techniques practiced in American schools, but they are helpful nonetheless.  From the minute the children walk in the door, it is clear that my CT, Mrs. Williams, has high expectations for what is expected of the children.  They are to put their bags in either the “Boys” or “Girls” bin, hang up their coats, and put their lunch in their drawers in the classroom.  Then they need to take their seat on the rug, which is lined with tape to indicate which row they sit in and each child has an assigned space.  Almost all of the children do this flawlessly, showing that a couple weeks of rehearsing this has worked, while a select few still walk in and start playing or sitting where they aren’t supposed to.  In this case, Mrs. Williams starts to call out students who are doing what they are expected to do, saying things like, “I really like how Ella is sitting quietly on the rug.”  This usually gets everyone’s attention and they correct their behavior fairly quickly.  It is easy to tell that the morning routine was stressed as very important from the first day of school.
            During play time and activities throughout the day, the class has the opportunity to freely complete whichever activity they want and there are not too many instructions associated with this, but when it is time to stop, Mrs. Williams rings a bell indicating that it is time to “tidy up” and the students must stop what they are doing and pick up their station before returning to their seats on the rug.  This is always a more hectic part of the day for the children because they had just been playing so it takes a moment for them to settle down, though they do tend to start cleaning up right away.  Once they are at the rug, the students wait to be told what they will do next.  The rug is used as a gathering place for either lessons or transitions into different parts of the day and works well to settle the children down so they are aware that it is time to listen.  In general, the students listen pretty well to Mrs. Williams and Miss Cullen.  As most kids do, they sometimes get wound up, but it is clear that they regard their teachers’ authority because they never stay too distracted for long.  The class routine was incorporated into the students’ day well, so they are already well-rehearsed on what is expected of them early in the school year.

Education in England

This semester I'm studying in Bath, England and am fortunate enough to be able to have a school placement at Widcombe Infants School.  I work with one of the "Reception" classes, which is the equivalent of pre-school in the United States as all the students are 4 years old.  However, the students seem to be learning at the same level as a US kindergartener.  They are learning to seriously read and write, with a significant emphasis on phonics.  This took me by surprise because when I picture 4 year olds in school, I don't think of them as nearly able to read and write on their own.  Other than this, I feel like the school operates very similarly to ones I've attended or worked at.  The school is very small because it only contains students in Reception through Year 2, so the teachers and head teacher (our principal) know each student very well.  I was even surprised at how welcoming everyone was to me when I arrived on my first day back in September.  The staff is very involved and I'm continuously impressed by how efficiently the school is run and how well the students seem to respond to their teachers.

In my classroom, there are 30 students, a much larger class size than I have seen back at home.  This is mostly a reflection of the success of the school.  They are at capacity and have a fairly long waiting list to get in, despite the fact that it is what we would consider a public school.  I can easily see how this would be true because I think the school is great and the students seem genuinely happy to be there.  When I'm there on Tuesdays, there is more of an emphasis on writing for the children in Reception and I often get to monitor my group for this lesson.  Mrs. Williams, my CT, is very open to my assistance in the class and had no problem giving me responsibilities as soon as I got there, which I loved!  I have never been with an age group this young before, so I was also surprised to see how great a focus there is on play time.  The students have various stations to work or play at for probably between 2 and 3 hours everyday.  I like this part of the day best because it allows me to see how the children interact with each other and with me when I decide to stay at a particular station.  It has been fascinating to watch these children grow through their very first semester in school because there is such an unbelievable change in just these several weeks.

Overall, I feel like Widcombe Infants runs very similarly to an American primary school and is truly a place I could picture myself working.  The environment is very conducive to giving each child a great education and it reminds me a lot of my own elementary school, so I feel that this has made me gain a deeper connection with my placement in general.  Being here has made me strongly consider teaching abroad after college.  I could get used to the British way of life!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Secondary Education in Spain

Though this does not answer any of the reflection questions directly, I want to take some time to explain what I have learned about the education system here in Spain. My placement is a Cathoilc school in Sevilla called Bienaventura Virgin María Irlandesas de Bami, and it is a school founded by an order of Irish nuns and located in a barrio of Sevilla. Every Monday I observe three Spanish classes taught by a secondary teacher named Prado. Though the school educates both primary and secondary students, Prado has told me that there is much segregation between the primary school and the secondary school in terms of its schedule, methods, etc. On my first day in Bami Prado explained how the secondary education system works in Spain, as she noticed my bewilderment and confusion at the terminology she was throwing around, obviously forgetting that I was one of the two Americans in all of Bami.
            In Spain, once students complete primary school at the age of ten, they move onto the secondary program called Obligatory Secondary Education (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria) or ESO. There are four “grades” or levels of ESO, which are aptly called first, second, third, and fourth levels. Students complete ESO around age 15. At that point, they can choose to continue their education or leave school. At this school, the vast majority of students continue onto the program called “Bachillerato,” which consists of two more years of schooling. The Bachillerato program is a pre-college study of sorts.
            In a student’s second year of Bachillerato, when they are 17, they take a test in June called “Selectividad.” This is a university entrance exam similar to the SAT’s, but Spanish students take the test at the end of their final year. The Selectividad seems to be a very fair conclusion of a student’s secondary education, an observation I made based on Prado’s explanation of the exam’s grading process.
            There are two parts of the exam: the “General” section and the “Específica” (Specific) section. The General section covers four subjects: language, history, philosophy, and English language. These are the four most commonly completed subjects for this section. As expected, language in an obligatory subject. The Specific section is slightly more confusing to me, but Prado explained that it assesses more specific subjects that students want to be tested in. The exam scorers factor the two best scores of the completed subject sections into the final Specific score. The Specific section seems comparable to SAT II exams because students can choose subjects they are passionate about and prepared to be assessed in.
            The scoring for the Selectividad is slightly confusing. Half of the score consists of 40% of the General section score and 60% of the students’ grades from the two years of Bachillerato (the equivalent to a GPA in the US). The maximum General score is 10, and one can score up 4 points on the Specific section even though the summation of the 2 best Specific section scores is always greater than 5. Now the confusing and incredibly unique aspect of the Selectividad comes into play. A student’s final score depends directly on the career they are planning to pursue! I was completely blown away when she explained that because it is incredibly rare that American students know EXACTLY what they want to devote their lives to at the end of their high school careers. The scores from the Specific sections are multiplied by one of two coefficients, which is determined by the rigor, value, and need of the student’s desired career path. The coefficient 0.2 is applied to the scores of students that intend to pursue “more important” careers.
            Finally, the General score is added to the strikingly calculated Specific score. The maximum cumulative score for the exam is 14. With this score, students begin the university application process. Unlike in the US, where students now regularly apply to anywhere between 10 and 20 schools, Spanish students are limited to 5 different choices. By that I mean that they are given 5 “slots” to fill with their top 5 choices for university. Admissions depends solely on the students’ Selectividad scores and the number of spaces they have available for incoming students. A student’s first choice is obviously the best and hardest to get into, but they are turned down if their score does not reach a certain threshold. This is similar to university admissions in the US, but the analysis is based on much more than a single score on a single exam! I can only imagine the horror and stress that would ensue if this were the system in the United States!
            I am thoroughly enjoying learning about the different systems and levels of education in Spain while at my placement, which is reinforced by discussions with my high school age host sister. These two aspects of my life here in Sevilla give me great insight into education in Spain!