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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Similarities and Differences in Aussie Classrooms

            I’ve been at South Coogee Public School outside of Sydney, Australia for about eight weeks now, and I’m really enjoying my time here!! I’m in a pretty rowdy second grade classroom where my CT is absent a good amount of the time, so sometimes it can get tricky to control the students when it is just me and the full-time student teacher, but the kids are sweet and its been a great experience so far. The school system here is definitely different from home.  The main thing I’ve noticed is the layout of the school. At least in schools that I have learned and taught in at home there is one big main building that houses everything: the classrooms, the faculty lounge, the gym, the cafeteria, and so on. At South Coogee Public School there are three blocks of buildings: One for the upper grades, faculty lounge, and offices, one for the lower grades, and one for the preschool. In addition there is a fourth building that acts as a hall for performances and assemblies. The school doesn’t have a cafeteria or gymnasium, lunch and gym class are all outside, as well as all of the lockers and hallways. Having a school next to a beach with beautiful weather means that a lot of time is spent outside! Another big difference here is that the school day is much less structured, at least in my classroom. There is basically a big block for ELA in the morning, then a big block for math (which they call maths) after recess, and then a block for social studies, arts, or science after lunch. The teachers don’t have a concrete, detailed plan for each lesson; they kind of just go with the flow and see what they can fit in. This is compared to home where each lesson is planned and the schedule is usually laid out in detail on the board.
            A great similarity that I have seen between here and home is the collaboration between teachers. Teachers here share lessons and whole units, and my CT has an amazing supply closet full of materials and lesson and unit plans accumulated from years of teaching and collaborating with others. Just last week we used worksheets for a unit on toys developed by the teacher across the hall. It reminded me of home and the way that teachers in the American schools I have taught at have shared information, advice, and lessons with each other. One last similarity between the American and Australian systems is the existence of standards. I know it seems pretty basic, but it is important that the teachers have standards around which they can plan lessons and units. My CT here has shown me the math and ELA standards for this term, and there are also national standards for what the students are supposed to learn. This reminded me of the national benchmarks in the U.S. for each subject. Overall, I’ve been able to see a lot of similarities between the school systems, but there are still a lot of cultural differences here in Australia that I am still learning to understand!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Kiwi Culture in the Classroom

Having been in New Zealand for over two months at this point I have started to get a good understanding of the “kiwi” way of life. I would argue that the lifestyle here is much more laidback than the states. I see this lifestyle as well as aspects of the New Zealand culture intertwined in the school.
            An unfortunate demonstration of this lifestyle is the lack of importance placed on special needs education in the school. In my classroom there is a young boy who has sever special needs. In the United States public school system he would receive one-on-one attention, if not a full time aid. However, here he only receives one-on-one attention for 45 minutes 3X a week. The rest of the time, it is my CT’s responsibility to provide for him. For her though it understandingly becomes overwhelming to prepare an entirely different academic plan each day for him. This ultimately begins to take her time away from the rest of the class and other children who could use some extra attention. For now the boy often uses the classroom iPad and while this keeps him occupied, it does not further his academic skills in a way that a one-on-one aid could.
            The history New Zealand culture is unique in that it is a mix of European colonial settlers and the native Maori populations. In recent decades, more importance has been placed on reviving Maori traditions. Recently the school had “Maori language week” where emphasis on the Maori culture was given. The students learned Maori words, read Maori stories, and did activities tied to the local traditions. Evidence of their work in this subject is displayed around the classroom including translations for basic classroom words in the Maori language.  In addition, with the recent Olympics the students have been learning about cultural icons in social studies, including both those internationally, and within New Zealand. They have had discussions about what makes New Zealand unique and they even wrote on why the next Olympics should (or should not be) held in New Zealand. The responses were quite entertaining! The effort to incorporate New Zealand culture into the curriculum has been impressive and  for me, has been a unique learning experience alongside the children.  

Observing a Lesson in New Zealand

Lesson delivery in New Zealand is fairly similar to what I have seen in the U.S with some slight differences. In my first practicum experience in the U.S my class had only 12 students. This class, on the other hand, has 26 students, providing me with an optimal experience to observe how she manages academic differences amongst the group.
            Writing lessons always start out immediately following the morning roll and notices. Lately the students have been working on their “slice of time” writing pieces, which they will later give speeches on. The unit encourages students to focus on a particular moment and write using many details. This particular lesson started with Mrs. Sturge handing out a sample “slice of life” writing done by a student in another class. The teacher read the short paragraph out loud and then had the students turn and talk with a person sitting near them about their favorite sentence. She then had the students share their favorite sentences and asked them why they liked it, sparking a further discussion about what makes good writing. The example had been about a moment looking for a lost object. The students were instructed that they were going to write similar stories today. They were to brainstorm for the first five minutes at their desks using the mind-map technique previously taught and then to write for 10 minutes and then edit for three. She released the students back to their desks where most worked independently. After the allotted time the students were called back to the mat. Those that wanted to share their pieces could do so. In addition, Mrs. Sturge shared her mind-map and story that she had written. The lesson ended with the thought that they would work more with this “slice of life” unit the next day.
            Having 26 students can challenge Mrs. Sturge as not all students are at the same level. She accommodates for these discrepancies by giving each student a specific focus that she has written in to their notebook. This way the students know what she expects from them and what they need to focus on. In this particular lesson, I liked that she gave a student example, showing the students what they are capable of if they took their time. One thing I might have done differently was for her to share her example prior to releasing the students so that they could be reminded of the mind-map brainstorming exercise. The students are young and some could have really benefited from this but nonetheless, the lesson was extremely successful as many students shared some really creative and detailed stories!

Differences and Similarities in a New Zealand Classroom.

I am over half way done with my experience at the George Street Normal School and it has been an incredible experience. Everyone, including teachers, college teachers, and students have been so welcoming. My CT, Mrs. Sturge, has been incredibly helpful by offering many opportunities to get involved in the classroom instruction. She’s only a second year teacher and so is very familiar with how to support college teachers.
            The first difference I noticed right away was the schedule. The school day doesn’t start until 9am and finishes at 3pm. However, at 11:00 the teachers have a 25 minute break for tea time while the students play in the yard. During this break, the teachers gather in the staff lounge, chat, and announcements are given. In my opinion, this time creates a strong work community among the staff. The academic calender in general is strikingly different. The New Zealand legislation has broken the school year into 4 terms, each running 10 to 12 weeks, with 2 week breaks between each term. The first term starts the first week of February and ends by December 20th. There summer is much shorter but I believe that this model could be extremely beneficial for reducing the amount of knowledge lost over the longer 10 week summer had in America. The second difference is that other than this morning tea break, and lunch/recess (which the teachers must staff in rotations) the teachers have no time to themselves as they are responsible for incorporating all “specials” including art, music, fitness, science, etc. My teacher said that this can be a challenge because it requires you to think more outside of the box, but her solution is to keep it simple and the students seem to still enjoy it.
            Despite these differences, similarities I found included classroom layout and student curriculum requirements. The classroom feels like any American classroom with desks grouped together, a “mat” area, a library/reading area, shelves full with resources, the teacher’s desk, and bulletin boards full with student work. I am actually really impressed with Mrs. Sturge’s organization system for student work and would consider using a similar model one day. The second similarity is the curriculum requirements. The curriculum includes all the basic subjects included in the U.S, however the requirements for the liberal arts subjects seem to be a bit more relaxed. Nonetheless, a heavy emphasis is put on reading and math, as reflected in the daily schedule, much like US requirements. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Classroom Management

My class is unique from the rest of school since it is a mixed 2nd and 3rd grade class.  The combined class does propose some challenges.  My CT has had a mixed class before but it is still a struggle to teach two different sets of curriculum at the same time.  The younger girls tend to benefit more because they will participate in some of the older girls assignments and activities.  The younger group is exposed to more material and at times will do work that is above their required level.  Every lesson is not always combined; sometimes my CT will work with one group while the other girls work on independent work.  My CT is very organized as it takes a great deal of organization and planning to keep both groups busy and learning different things at the same time.

While the rules are not displayed around the classroom, each student knows them.  Since my class is on the younger side of elementary and all female, they always want to please my CT and never want to be in trouble.  Their want to please and seek recognition in the classroom helps to encourage good behavior.  There is also mutual respect in the classroom, which also leads to good classroom management.  My CT is very attentive and gives each student her attention when they ask for it – each student feels important in my CT’s classroom.  The community that my CT created in her classroom is very unique and both the students and her hold a special bond.  The community that she has created is something that I hope I can also do in my own classroom someday.