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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Prejudice and Ignorance (Spain)

When I first got to La Salle, my CT said that she wanted me to give a lesson on my neighborhood and it was in this manner that, on just my second day of pre-pracing, I was giving a full-blown lesson on New York City. I did not want to do a lecture, with just me talking the whole time and the students only able to ask questions at the end; hence, I tried to make it more interactive. I drew a  map of New York City on the board, labeling the interesting and known areas of it, and asked the class to question me on the places that most interested them. The students started asking me questions like: "Why do New Yorkers hate people from new Jersey?," "How many people have you seen shot in the Bronx?," and "Is it true that New Yorkers are rude?" All these questions reminded me of my first day of classes in La Universidad Complutense de Madrid. As an ice breaker, the teacher had asked the class what their first impression of Spain was. The most common answer was that it was surprising how nice and clean the people were here. As a Spaniard raised in the United States, I had no idea that this was how Americans perceived us. They thought Spaniards were rude harsh individuals that, for cultural reasons, did not take regular showers. This made me realize how misinformed these university students, who one would think would be were culturally aware, were and I decided to blame it on the education they had received. However, in listening to the Spaniard students, I understood that this was not only a problem found in the United States but everywhere. This made me angry because, living in such a globally linked world as we do today, how is it possible that such ignorance and prejudice still exists. It made me realize that, it is probably this ignorance and false beliefs of other cultures that bring about injustices. Therefore, I decided that, as an educator, I would try to make my students more open to other cultures and for them not to be taken by prejudice information of others.  

Irish Classroom Laissez-fair

As I alluded in my last post, the culture in Ireland (overall, but the classroom being no exception) is much more slow-paced and relaxed than in America.  This is perhaps best visible in the area of classroom management.
There were a few major differences, and it will be hard to explain without misrepresenting the students and my CT at Scoile Bhride, but I will do my best!
First, the overall atmosphere of the classroom was different; students moved more or less freely about, and I saw more than one wrestling match.  There was some choice language as well, and some witty backtalk, but here is where I need my readers to take a step back from what I am sure was your immediate reaction (e.g. "oh jeeze..." "EXCUSE me??") and consider this: rarely were these words ever directed to hurt.  I suppose that playful is the word I'm looking for--the atmosphere was more playful.  Naturally there were some unfortunate instances, and when they were my CT snapped into action so fast it would give you whiplash.  She had a teacher stare so scary that kids in the next room would go silent.  But unlike most of the American classrooms I've been in, it was not used freely, it was not even used every day.
As I'm sure many of you would agree, this is a far cry from a normal American classroom, but this fact has its advantages and its disadvantages.
I should mention that my classroom had but 13 students.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Special Day Teaching in Spain

I will never forget the day that I played charades with my students. My usual day at La Salle consisted of me assisting four different English language classes. My first class, which started at 9:25 am, was ESO II (the equivalent of seventh grade). I was assigned to go over the present continuous and the past tense with a group of about five students because they were going to have an exam on that subject at the end of the week. The group was chosen randomly so I had some students who were comfortable with the subject and others who needed a little more reinforcement. However, I was able to finish the lesson and the workbook exercises with time to spare. I had noticed that the kids seemed to have only done written exercises on the subject and were really bored by it; hence, I decided to finish the class with a game and started playing charades with them. I would act something out and they would have to tell me what I was doing in the present continuous and past tense. This little exercise got them entertained and, at the end, they did not want to leave. It occurred to me that the students had participated and advanced more on the subject in the last ten minutes of class (while playing charades) than in the 30minutes that I spent explaining and doing the exercises. This observation intrigued me.  

The next class I had was Segundo de Bachillerato (the equivalent of twelve grade) in English conversation. In this class, the teacher had a lesson on the conditional tense. However, one of the students brought in some interesting current news about a 30 year old man who had had more than 20 surgeries done to look like a ken doll. This grabbed the students interests and they started to debate about it. On observing this, the teacher decided to not us her lesson and, instead, used the current event to get the students speaking in the conditional. In seeing her discard her lesson and use what she saw interested the students to help them learn, I decided that I would change my teaching strategies in the next lesson I would give on tenses (I had to give the same lesson from the morning to my last period ESO III class). My third class was Primero de Bachillerato (the equivalent to eleventh grade) and, since the students were focused on a biographical writing project, I had some time to plan out my lesson for my last period class.

The ESO III class was an interesting group of student. From my observations, they seemed to be the most diverse class in the school (half the class was from Latino decent) and also the most behind in English. This was do to the fact that, because of school scheduling problems, the ESO III students had missed about four to five weeks of English. They were all very hyper and rambunctious and I adored them. I was in charge of helping a group of eight students that were failing English by giving them a more personalized lesson in a different classroom. For this class on tenses, what I did was divide the class into two teams; four students on one side and four on the other. Each team had 15 minutes to come up with different action words or phrases that one student from the opposing team would have to act out. Before they could start acting, I would say in what tense they had to give the answer in. If they gave the answer in the wrong tense, it would not count. By the end of the period, the students had completely gotten the hang of the present continuous and past tenses. Moreover, in trying to find interesting words for there opposing team to act out, they greatly expanded their vocabulary. It was amazing how excited they were about English when they had confessed to me, on the first day of class, that they considered learning English to be a waist of time. I was very proud of myself on that day and had this overwhelming feeling that I would become a pretty decent educator.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Observed Lesson

One day I paid particular attention to a math lesson my CT was teaching to the class of first graders. They had previously been working on addition. This lesson focused on simple number sentences. The goal of the lesson was to have the students be able to create number sentences, using addition, with the numbers one through six. My CT would write two numbers on the board in a number sentence. For example, I remember her first example was “3+2= ?”. She would have the students practice orally reading the number sentence. She then asked for the solution to this number sentence and the students would then practice the sentence with the solution of five included. She utilized unifix cubes to represent the two numbers and represented the addition of the set of the three blocks and the set of two blocks to arrive at the sum of five. My CT was sure that students used proper mathematical terminology to explain the math equation. For instance, they were to say “three plus two equals five”. My CT would call on students to answer and read aloud various number sentences. Students would also be called up to the smart board to fill in the answer to the number sentence. The focus was solely on addition. After this, students completed a worksheet. On the worksheet there were various questions set up in the form “4+2=?”. The students were to fill in the answer to each question on their worksheets. Then, there were a few blank boxes for the students to create their own number sentences using addition and the numbers one through six. My CT and I walked around and assisted the students whenever necessary. We handed out some of the blocks to help visually represent the addition. This greatly helped some students. Overall it was a very basic yet fundamental lesson that was rather quick and very helpful for first graders. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Typical Day of Student Teaching In Cork, Ireland

I went into St. Vincent’s Primary School for a mixture of both half and full days. Therefore, I experienced two very types of days. On the days that I went in for the second half of the day (due to having my own classes in the morning), I would miss the slightly hectic morning schedule.
A typical full day at St. Vincent’s was honestly not extremely structured. I would walk to the school, which was about a fifteen-minute walk from my apartment, and buzz in from outside the front doors. A cheerful secretary would buzz me in and the doors would unlock. Every time I entered Room 16 first thing in the morning, the students were always still settling in for the day. They didn’t appear to have a very strict morning routine. They would take off their coats and hang them on their hooks near the front door. However, their backpacks would stay under their tables. The students were seated in groups, of about five to six students, at clustered tables. My CT would often have the children work on items they did not complete the day before or read while she organized herself for the full day ahead. There was no formal roll call. My teacher would write the attendance in her attendance booklet that she kept on her desk. I thought this was very interesting because in my past experiences, attendance was taken on the computer and sent down to the main office early in the morning. Another interesting point that stood out to me was the fact that there was no rug for the children sit on for a morning welcome. It appeared to me that the CT would just ease into the day, in a typical relaxed Irish manner. My CT would teach various lessons throughout the day, including math, grammar, Gaelic, and history. My CT also liked to incorporate creative arts projects that went along with lessons. She would often review what was taught during a previous lesson in each subject. She utilized her laptop and smart board very often. She would present images to the children that corresponded with the lesson. For instance, in October, the students were learning about the history of Halloween, and the tradition of making Jack-o-lanterns. My CT utilized the board to show the students images of Jack-o-lanterns. In December, there was a lesson on Lent, so the Internet was also used to present images to give the students a visual. Additionally, students would be have opportunities to come up to the smart board during lessons to solve math problems or spell out a word during a grammar lesson. Once a lesson was introduced, the students usually were given an activity to supplement that particular lesson. These activities included worksheets, coloring sheets, and working with partners. My CT and I would walk around and assist the students whenever they needed help! At times, whenever appropriate, my CT would ask me to share how things were different or similar in America, relating to the lesson. For instance, one time she asked me to explain the American flag so I told the students about the stars and stripes and the meaning behind them. There was a break before lunchtime when the students were able to eat a small snack before heading outside for their first recess. Once the students completed their snack, my CT and I would walk the students downstairs and outside where there were three teachers on duty. Then, my CT and I would go back inside to the teacher’s lounge for a snack and tea. There was about an hour and a half after this break until lunchtime. At that time, a similar routine occurred.  Lunchtime was great because I was able to meet and speak with some of the other teachers in the school. They were always very friendly and often asked me questions about America and the school system we have here. Sometimes, I would go to recess with the children to spend more time with them in a different environment. After lunch, my CT resumed with various lessons and activities for the rest of the day, very similar to the morning schedule. Nearing toward the end of the day, my CT would write that night’s homework assignments on the smart board, while the students copied the assignments into their homework journals. I would go around and help the students complete this. I would also write the homework for those students who were taken out of class to go to a reading specialist. The students would clean up, pack up, and put their chairs on top of their tables. As the children lined up, my CT would do some prayers with them, in both English and Gaelic. We would then walk them downstairs and outside for their parents to collect them at the end of the day. My days at St. Vincent’s always seemed to fly by because I was so involved with the children, walking around, talking with them, getting to know them, and assisting them as much as I could. They were very fascinated that I was from America and LOVED to ask me questions! I loved speaking with them and getting to know them and more about their culture! 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Similarities & Differences: Ireland vs US

There were certainly many differences between teaching abroad in Ireland and teaching in America that I picked up on during my time in Cork, Ireland. Due to the overall more relaxed lifestyle in Ireland, the school and classroom environments were also more relaxed compared to in the States. In classrooms I have worked in during past practicums in the US, there was always a class schedule for each day of the week, with the various subjects listed with different time intervals. However, I noticed in the first grade classroom I was with in Ireland did not have anything like this. As I previously mentioned in my response about Irish culture in the classroom, lesson plans were not always set in stone either. They were very flexible and could often take longer than planned. Additionally, in past primary school experiences, the classes would have specific “specials” such as art, music, and gym class once or twice a week. there were no specific art, music, or gym teachers at St. Vincent’s. I’m not sure if this was a monetary decision. They would often have specialists come into the school however a few times a month to work with the children. For instance, someone would come in and coach the students in basketball. One day that I was in the school, my CT took the class down to the multi-purpose room and held her own gym class by doing various activities with the students to get them active. The school day itself was also a bit different in general. There was a quick twenty or so minute break in the morning about an hour before lunchtime. I think this allowed the teachers to get a quick break and also allowed the students to run around outside and get their gitters out. I was surprised at first however this is beneficial because it generally helped the kids calm down.
            Another major difference, at least in my own personal experiences, was working in a private Catholic school. I had never experienced this type of environment before. The primary school is part of St. Vincent’s Convent in Cork, and the students wore uniforms and participated in daily prayers. This was a large difference for me because I attended public school my whole life and all of my past pre-practicum experiences and volunteer work have also been in public schools. I was happy to have a new experience in a different type of school. It took me a few weeks to get used to the students saying their prayers after recess and also at the very end of the day. Sometimes they would say them in Irish as well, which was a whole other twist!
            Though there were differences, there were also some similarities. For instance, the principal of the school seemed very aware as to what was going on at all times. She was always walking around the school and interacting with the students and the teachers. She knew all of the children’s names and many of their families. It was a small and close community. She was also very caring and constantly put the children’s best interests and safety first. Another similarity to American schools was that the teachers did have a curriculum of objectives they needed to meet for each grade level. I took a look at my CT’s curriculum plans for the first grade. It was a binder broken down by each subject and then from there broken down by each month. It wasn’t too overwhelming, but there still were specific topics she needed to have covered each month.
            In general, this practicum experience was very different from practicums at BC. I feel a bit repetitive, but the best way to summarize it was relaxed. I did not have specific requirements to meet or lessons to plan. I was able to interact with the children and teach lessons or co-teach lessons as often as I pleased. It was very open-ended and relaxed, which made it not stressful and very fun. I thought that it was very funny how my CT told me to come in whenever I wanted—even without any warning at all! I would always email her asking which days were good for her, and she told me to just come and go as I pleased. I can’t see that occurring in the States, at least without a quick heads up first via email! 

Irish Culture In Primary Schools

This past fall semester I studied abroad in Cork, Ireland. There are so many wonderful things about Ireland, and some of these include the incredibly wholehearted people and the relaxed way of life. It was definitely an interesting transition going from a more stressful and fast-paced atmosphere in the States to a much more relaxed and slow-paced way of life over in Ireland. However, I grew to love and truly appreciate it. These aspects of Irish culture were directly reflected in the school systems in Ireland. My placement was at St. Vincent’s Primary School in Cork. While I was still initially setting up my placement, the school took a few weeks to respond to emails about my student teaching which was honestly a little frustrating at first. This delayed me from starting up quickly. I was not used to this slower pace of communication. However, once I was more acquainted with the way people in Ireland operated, I understood that they are simply just not in any rush! I was a little nervous on the first day at my placement, however once I arrived at the school I was no longer nervous. Everyone there was so welcoming and friendly. They were truly interested in getting to know me and wanted to discuss my experiences and life in America. Very quickly everyone knew my name. The principal of the primary school was very receptive to my ideas and feelings, and allowed me to choose the class level I would like to work with. I decided to work with first grade because I had never worked with this grade level before. My CT was also very welcoming and immediately made me feel right at home in her classroom.
I felt as though the relaxed lifestyle was also reflected in the classroom itself. Many of the days and lessons my CT had planned were not very rigid. She typically had a general idea of what she wanted to get accomplished on a particular day, however if something else came up or plans got switched around, she didn’t seem to stress much at all. My CT did not try to jam pack too many lessons or activities into each day. She definitely took her time and allowed her students to take their time to complete a specific task. For example, there would often be a math lesson or review and then an activity each time I was at the school. She would never rush the students while they were reviewing a past lesson. She gave the students time to absorb the information and was sure to recognize comprehension from every child. She did this by asking students to answer a question or explain their reasoning. I enjoyed how the various subjects were not rushed throughout the day. This felt much more natural to me. If the lesson diverged a bit from my CT’s original plan, it was often something valuable. If it wasn’t, she would try to redirect the class back to the lesson.
One particular way the Irish culture affected the school was some of the subjects that were instructed. For instance, the students learn Gaelic, or Irish, language throughout primary school. The teacher would speak to the students solely in Irish for these lessons. The students would learn new phrases and vocabulary words and then try to tie them together into sentences. There was a lot of repetition of the words and phrases verbally. Additionally, my CT would ask a question in Irish and have the students respond to her in Irish as well. There were also handouts with vocabulary words that the students would have to match or write in, and then color in corresponding pictures. This was very interesting for me to experience the instruction of another, and completely foreign to me, language. I liked how there was still Gaelic instruction in the school systems. The language appears to be dying out a bit, at least in the younger generations, so it I think it is nice to keep the tradition alive.
I definitely loved working in this type of environment in St. Vincent’s Primary School and feel as though I gained a lot of insight to a completely different culture, not only in general, but also in a classroom setting. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Observed Lesson (Spain)


For my pre-practicum experience, I was assigned to help Alicia with her English conversation lessons in Bachillerato (equivalent to the last two years of high school). On the first day, I just consentrated on getting to know the students and getting comfortable with the class. The next two lessons, Alicia assigned me to give a lesson on my home, New York City. While giving my lesson, Alicia and I noticed, by the students’ responses, that they needed reinforcement in expressing the past tense. Therefore, Alicia decided to make a lesson on using the past tense for the following day. Her lesson consisted of having the students work in pairs. She had questions written out that the students had to ask each other and the answers had to be in the past tense. She and I would walk around listening to make sure that the students spoke correctly. However, Alicia was not able to complete the lesson because the classrooms computer did not work. To not waste paper, Alicia had put the questions in a pen-drive to project the questions on a screen. The problem was that someone had stolen the computers battery cable and the computer had run out of power. After fifteen minutes trying to find another cable or computer, she decided to desist and taught another lesson. She had a drawer in her office full of backup lessons just in case an emergency like this one occurred and she could not teach the planned lesson. I found this to be a genius idea; every teacher should have prepared backup lessons in case of an emergency. Anyway, her lesson then became "speaking in the conditional," which consisted the same structure as the previous lesson. She passed out sheets with questions that the students had to ask each other, except that the answers to the questions had to be in the conditional. At the end of class, Alicia assured the students that the next lesson was definitely going to be about speaking in the part tense, whether the computer worked or not.

While her lesson showed me that a teacher should always have a backup, it also made me realize that we are too dependent on technology. Fifteen minutes of class time had been lost on trying to find a power cable for the computer. There was a chalkboard in the classroom. Even when the questions were in the pen-drive we could have easily invented some other ones and written them out on the board. However, this idea did not occur to anyone until some hours after the class had finished. We all were so stuck on the fact that the lesson was made to be displayed that we did not think of other alternatives.  This is when I understood that, when planning a lesson (especially one that is dependent on technology) one should also pre-plan for problems. Because even if the solution is simple, in the spur of the moment, one might not come across the answer and may lose a whole lesson. This is when most of the BC lesson plan formats and lesson start making so much sense.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Lesson Observation (Bath, England)

One week in pre-school in Bath, I paid special attention to my CT, Mrs. Williams, lesson planning and how she conducts lessons overall.  When I first arrived to help in the classroom, I had almost no expectation of true formal lessons being taught.  I thought that such a young group of thirty children would not be able to grasp what I think of as traditional lessons.  However, this is constantly proven to not be true with this age group.  In America, students do not perform on this level until about age five, but these four year olds are learning to read, write, and do math among other things throughout each school day.  I also feel that they come across as so competent as first time students because of Mrs. Williams’ teaching methods.

In particular, her organization and conscientiously planned lessons continuously engage the students and make a better learning environment for them in general.  The best lessons I have seen her teach are in mathematics.  She varies her methods of instruction nearly every time I have observed her, which the children find more exciting.  She does this while making her lessons full of meaningful content, but manages to help the students have fun as well.  This is a very impressive and admirable way of teaching that I hope to gain myself as a future teacher.

In one math lesson, the students were told to sit in a circle, instead of their normal carpet rows, and Mrs. Williams placed a series of small white boards on the floor.  The first one had the head of a snake drawn on it and the last one had a tail.  In between, she wrote a few numbers in the sequence of 1-10, leaving five spaces blank.  She then called on a student who could help her to fill in the missing numbers to complete their sequence.   The children noticeably found this enjoyable and eagerly responded to her need for participation.  The class then worked together completing the sequence and counted all together out loud once they did it correctly.  Mrs. Williams’ ability to make the whole class included and engaged in this lesson, as well as numerous others I have seen, makes delivering lessons so much more enjoyable both for the teacher and the students.  She teaches with clear opening tasks and closing points that also make the lesson feel very relevant to the children, which is part of what makes her lessons so effective.