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Friday, March 30, 2012

English Teaching in Florence

After now working in two private elementary schools in Florence, I have yet to cease to make comparisons to the schools I have been in previously. In my first class, with fifth graders, I thought there seemed too many children in the class…then I simply realized it was very small class. The 20+ students were all in there desks and it just about filled the room. It was even more apparent when I entered the second grade class. The 24 students’ desks fill the room. Thinking back to last semester in Brighton, where at my practicum in a private school, the second grade consisted of 26 students…broken into two classes. Then each class had the students’ desks, a quiet reading area with a comfy chair or beanbag, a big rug that all the students could easily fit on, and another table for a teacher to meet with a small group at. Working with a specialty English, we only stay with a class for about an hour, but I think about the classroom teachers and I do not know how they keep there six and seven year-olds in only their desks all day! It is all relative though, because I am sure this is not unusual to these teachers or students, it simply is how the classes are and they can let their energy out during breaks, for instance.
In addition to my elaborate mention about the class size, a major difference in both of these schools with comparison to American schools I have seen, is how relaxed it is. The best example of this was during break time one day. It is essentially our snack time in the morning. There was this pound-type cake in the front of the class and juice, and I watched as the seven and eight year olds came up and poured their juice and cut pieces of cake, no other teacher here to monitor this. Most students bring their own snack and hold it in their hand as they through balls around in the hall or classroom. This day in particular, two girls were playing with sort of plastic square that had fallen off of a board and were using it as a giant frame to pose in behind. All the kids are safe and have a lot of fun, and maybe this is only my experience, but comparing this to snack times in the US where students sit and eat a recommended “healthy” snack and chat in their desks, or maybe finish work from their “Unfinished” folders is very different.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Math in Irish Primary School

This morning I observed my CT teach an effective and engaging math lesson to his first class students. Each morning the students complete a mental math worksheet as they come into school in the morning. Today's mental math sheet had questions on both greater than and less than and weight. Some of the students were confused by a question involving the weight of a school chair and a bucket of water. They simply could not imagine which one would weigh more. My CT asked me to find a bucket or pot from the staff room and fill it with water. He then had all the children stand up. He said if they thought that the bucket of water would be heavier than the chair to stand on the right side of the room and if they thought the chair would be heavier to stand on the left side of the room. The students who thought they would weigh about the same were asked to stand in the middle of the classroom. Then he had the students come up one by one to lift both objects. The students were required to provide a proper sentence using more than or less than to answer the question, "Does the water weigh more than the chair?". I liked this exercise for two reasons. First, it was interactive. The students were so excited to try to lift the bucket of water from themselves even after they had seen several students go before them. Secondly, I liked that he had the students make a prediction beforehand. When students are asked to make a prediction they are more invested in the problem because they want to know if their guess is correct. My CT then went on to talk about weight in terms of kilograms. One full bag of sugar is equal to the weight of one kilogram. Once again I was sent to the staff room looking for a bag of sugar. Luckily I found one and the students were able to physically hold the weight of a kilogram. The bag of sugar was placed in each student's hand. My CT asked each student a different question once the sugar was in their hand. He asked, "Is a house more than or less than the kilogram?", "Am I more than or less than the kilogram?". The students were able to easily answer these questions because the weight of a kilogram was physically present in their hand as opposed to referring to what may seem like an abstract weight to students. The whole time they were covering weight, but they were also practicing more than and less than. Usually after going over mental math my CT switches into reading groups. However, today the students seemed to be on a roll with math so he decided to continue. He wanted them to practice adding by ten. First he had made the point to students that when they see a problem that reads "plus ten" they can just count by ten from that number. He then began to ask the students a series of plus ten questions. However, he asked the questions so enthusiastically that the students were so eager to answer. It was a simple concept, but he made it seem like they were doing extremely complicated math with ease. This really gave the students a confidence boost. It was incredible to see all the students anxiously waving their hands to answer the questions. A lot of them were so excited that they were giggling and fidgeting. My CT also complimented this exercise by using the smart board in his class. He had ten rods and cubes up on the board. When the students were asked to add then they came up to the board and moved a ten rod into the group. This made it easy for the students to see that while they were adding by ten the units were remaining the same. At the end of the lesson he said he wanted to review, but he wanted the children to do all the work because he was tired of teaching. One student was asked to come up with a number and call on another student to add ten to the number. If the student got the answer correct, they had to come up with the next number and call on another student to add ten to it. Because everyone in the class participated and were providing correct answers my CT told his class he was going to give them a challenge. He asked them to do the same exercise, but this time instead of adding ten they were to take away ten. Because the students had so much practice and a visual representation of adding ten, taking away ten was not a struggle for most. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with today's math lesson. My CT got all the students excited and participating while incorporating several different math concepts through physical, mental, and visual representations.

Monday, March 26, 2012

An Irish Jesuit Secondary School

The school culture at the Jes very much reflects Irish culture. The overall organization of the school is unique to Ireland. There are two potential tracks for students to follow, the Irish track and the English track. All students take Irish as a language, but students can also choose to take all of their subjects, Math, History, Science etc., in Irish. My co-operating teacher, Sean O’Flatharta teaches history for both the Irish tracks and English tracks. I might try to observe one of his classes in Gaelic in the next few weeks just to see it although I wouldn’t be able to understand much of the content at all. The other courses they offer are English, Maths, History, Geography, Science, Business Studies, French, German, CSPE Projects, SPHE, Religion, Physical Education, Music, Art, Technical Graphics, Home Economics and also Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Business, Accounting, Economics, French, German, Music, Art, Social & Scientific, Design & Communications Graphics.
Their daily schedule also reflects traditional Irish life. The students have classes in the morning and then there is a tea break at 11 until 11:30. Then there is a long lunch break from 12:15 until 2. The students do not eat their lunches at school usually.
Their curriculum and assessments are based on their leaving certification exams. In the US, we usually learn US History in addition to some European History. Similarly, at the Jes, the students all take Modern Irish history in addition to Modern European history. For me, the Modern Irish history classes are really interesting even on a pure content level because most of it I have never studied before. For the students here, however, a lot of the history is stories they’ve grown up with.
In most American schools, there is a huge emphasis on using technology in the classroom, but here, while they do use it occasionally, there is not as much as a push or pressure which reflects part of the more laid back attitude. Particularly for the 5th and 6th years, the emphasis is on knowing the material and the ability to write quality essays for their leaving certification exams at the end of the year. These are standardized tests, somewhat similar to the SATs. For history, the bulk of their assessments are based on their written work which include essays and all of their written responses to questions from the textbook that they do for homework.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Traditional Teaching in Granada, Spain

I have been working in a second grade classroom in Granada, Spain and so far, the way of teaching couldn’t be more different than the teaching approaches that we appreciate in the United States (or at least through BC’s education ideals and what we have experienced in our pre-practicums). Upon entering my classroom, I was shocked to see a teacher’s desk – a tradition slowly growing extinct in the US – sitting right in the front and center of the room. Also, all of the students’ desks were arranged in pairs facing the front of the room, something else that was very different from the clumps of desks that are usually found in the US.
However, the most shocking adjustment for me came on the first day of class when my teacher pulled up a chair next to her desk and told me to come and sit down next to her before she began to teach. Never had I ever sat down while teaching during my pre-practicums – the only exceptions I can think of are kneeling next to a student’s desk or sitting on a carpet or at a small table for small group work. This would definitely be an adjustment and within my first few days in this classroom, I learned that the set up and environment of the class are perfectly reflective of how my teacher teaches.
I observe this classroom twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday in the morning, so although I can only attest to these time periods, I have found that the majority of lessons that I have seen involve very little discussions and student involvement. For example, every social studies lesson consists of the students taking turns reading aloud out of a workbook. The teacher gives me a list of students and they begin reading aloud a section while I call a different child’s name every paragraph or so and check off their name on the list. When they finish the new section, they go back to the beginning of the book and continue reading aloud until every child has read. Needless to say, I have listened to the short history of Los AborĂ­genes (the first section of the book) far too many times. The teacher doesn’t pose any questions afterwards, all of the students simply close their books and they do the worksheet at the end of each section for homework. The one positive to this time is that it gives the teacher the opportunity to walk around the classroom, organizing certain papers, checking homework, as well as reading individually with a struggling reader in the class.
I am not quite sure whether this is how the education is in every classroom in Granada or in Spain, but it appears very traditional to me in a negative way. I struggle to see how the children learn (and enjoy learning) in this classroom but it appears as though they are used to this type of learning. As I learn about the history of Spain, I often think about how this rigid way of teaching may be a reflection of the consequences Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, which only ended with his death 37 years ago in 1975. Or perhaps Spain has simply yet to undergo educational reform and incorporate more contemporary views of teaching into their education. Despite these big differences though, I am very much enjoying my experience thus far. My teacher is very kind (although sometimes hard to understand with her Spanish accent!) and the children are lively and a pleasure to work with. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Secondary School in Ireland

So far, I have found some incredible new experiences through my abroad prac experience.  The school that I teach in is an all boys' college preparatory environment in Cork, Ireland called Presentation Brothers College.  I work with a variety of teachers (the school has never engaged in a pre-practicum experience before, so they didn't totally understand what it entails) -- and I get to experience a greater array of classes and ages that way which I really enjoy.  
I am not entirely sure how many other secondary teachers are out there this semester, but noticing the differences structurally here in Ireland has been one of the most interesting distinctions to make.  The boys enter at around seventh grade for six years of secondary school essentially broken down into two parts.  The first is the "junior section" from seventh to ninth grade years.  The second is the "senior section" which encompasses the remaining tenth to twelfth grades.  When the boys enter the second stage of schooling they are given the opportunity to take specialized classes, choosing between advanced sciences, business, economics, languages, etc. in addition to the core classes they are required to take.  These classes are meant to help them prepare for and discern the path they would like to take in college, as majors in the Irish college system are fairly restrictive and chosen before students enter school.  It is not uncommon for Irish students here in Cork to graduate without taking many classes outside of their chosen major, but majors can only be chosen based on the score students receive on their "Leaving Certification" -- a test similar to an SAT.  Certain majors are restricted to students with particular scores on the exam, which makes college acceptance less stressful, but major acceptance more of the focus.  It was really interesting talking to the boys about the college system in the US and hearing their astonishment at how competitive it can be to get in to particular schools (let alone the costs, since all education here is state subsidized, and tuition is about 2,000 Euro a year for university).  
"Pres" as it's colloquially known, also has a culture very fixated on its rugby scene.  There are lots of teams and an incredible amount of school pride rests on their shoulders.  Students are definitely encouraged to go out for extracurriculars like debate, rowing, basketball, drama, soccer, and Gaelic football, but rugby reigns supreme.  One of the first questions I got from the students was if American high school football was like "Friday Night Lights," a perception I found humorous, but understood their attraction to once I realized the importance of school spirit and pride that surrounds their athletics.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The British Classroom

It is typical to feel somewhat lost as a student teacher only attending your school once a week. Teachers and students may be in the middle of projects or assignments and it often feels like there is a lot of catching up to do. I have attended my school 6 times now and I haven't seen much instruction. I see the students do independent work often. I see them review topics they have already covered. But it is rare for me to actually see the students learning something that is completely new. I think it is extremely important for students to have a full grasp of concepts rather than just a brief recollection of something they did. A teacher was telling me that they have finished all of their math topics for the year now that it is March and from now until the end of the school year they are just reviewing all of the topics they have learned so far. She was telling me the reason they do this - as the students go off into secondary school it is important for them to have full understandings of math concepts, which revision helps with. By reviewing the year's topics, the students have to constantly remember information that they have previously learned. It is supposed to help their long-term memory. I think this is a good method as long as students are constantly being engaged and learning new things. This may make some students bored because they have already learned a mastered these topics. Therefore, it is important for British teachers to bring new things into these previously learned topics, which I have yet to see.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Typical Day in New Zealand

A typical day at the George Street Normal School classroom 2B consists of three blocks. During the first block, Mrs. Barnett teaches the students. They have a morning greeting and then break off into groups for reading. At 10:00am, Mrs. Barnett leaves the classroom, and a new teacher enters to resume the lessons while Mrs. Barnett works with students from a different classroom. After writing and tea time, Mrs. Barnett comes back into the classroom and teaches the rest of the day. This is a level of collaboration between teachers that I am not used to, but it is effective because Mrs. Barnett can work with students individually while the other teacher works with the other students in a group.

One challenge that I observed in a typical day at the George St. Normal School is that there are no art, gym, music, computer, or science teachers. Each classroom teacher is expected to incorporate these different specialties into their everyday lessons. My CT expressed that this was a challenge to her, and I can  imagine that it is very difficult to incorporate all of these subjects into the day even if you are not proficient in the skills they require. However, she manages to fulfill the requirements by taking 15 minutes of the day to bring the students outside and run around for fitness, or blending together art classes with content skills.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Teaching in New Zealand vs. America

This week I had my first teaching experience at the George Street Normal School in Dunedin, New Zealand. A "normal school" is a school that both teaches students and trains future teachers. While the teaching system in New Zealand does not drastically differ from that of the states, there are a few general differences that I noticed immediately. Firstly, the school is much more lenient and relaxed than the schools I have taught at in the states. For instance, there are many more breaks throughout the day where the students are able to play and go outside. Tea time occurs in the morning, when all the teachers go upstairs to have tea and biscuits for fifteen minutes, and the students are allowed to play outside and have a snack. Then there is lunch for one hour, and then a "fitness" break where the students go outside for a third time and run around for a bit. The students are allowed in the classroom alone, and do not have to be called in by the teacher after lunch. There exists are more relaxed atmosphere, but there is also more responsibility placed upon the students. Another difference is that the school uses composite classrooms, where there are students of different grades in the same class based on their academic level. My particular classroom consists of students aged 5-7, in years 1-3.

Aside from these differences, the school seems to be pretty similar to that of the schools in the states. There are extension and extra help programs, where students are pulled out of the classroom and worked with on specialties such as extra reading help, or a special science curriculum for the more advanced students. I look forward to going back next week and learning more about the school and the teaching styles at the school!