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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!