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Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Overall culture/similarities/differences
December 6, 2012
            I am coming up on my last week at Maria Lugia.  While it has been frustrating at times to deal with the language barrier or adjust to the differences in school culture, overall it has been an eye opening experience.  I have never been in a classroom where I was of the cultural minority or where people were not conforming to the US culture.  I said in my first post I was immediately made aware of what that feeling is like and that feeling continued to develop, in a positive way if you can see it like that.  It just made me much more aware to people’s needs when then are thrown into a setting very different than what they are used to.
            The most similar thing I noticed between this school and schools in the US is that kids will act like kids no matter where they are.  Even though I could not always understand their conversation or know what was going on, there is something that can be known by their facial expressions, actions, and reactions.  They may be taught or disciplined in different ways, but in the end kids are kids.  Another thing was the classroom setup itself. Students had their own desk, like they often do in middle school, with the chalkboard and projector screen in the front of the room and posters or projects hung up around the room. 
            The main differences I noticed between this school and schools I have been in pre pracs at in the past I think could be found even among different American schools.  The school day times were different, as they are in many schools across the country.  And the way the teacher switched from classroom to classroom was different than in my middle school where students switched from classroom to classroom, not necessarily with the same students.  But I suppose these differences could also be found across the country.  The main cultural difference was definitely in the teachers’ attitude and ease that they went through the school day.  They were not worried about MCAS type tests, they did not teach anything to a test.  Everything was much more relaxed, but I still cannot decide if it was a good thing or if they could benefit from a little more structure and balance. 

Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans
November 29, 2012
            Typically at my placement, I am with one teacher on Monday and another teacher on Thursday.  I have noticed differences in their teaching styles, like there would be between any two teachers in a US school.  However, both of their styles are very different than ours in the US and the classes I have been placed in.  There is a much larger sense of leniency when it comes to their lesson plans and schedules.  They are never in any rush to finish a particular grammar lesson; they may keep working on the same topic for a while after they originally planned.  Not only is the time they plan for a lesson very loose, but the topic of the lesson is as well.
            Whenever I first come in in the morning one of the teachers will say “I was thinking we will do this today…” but not have anything really set still.  I find this difficult because she often brings up something she wants me to teach them the morning of.  Sometimes when I email her to try and find out ahead of time she will give me a very general topic, but often she usually says “oh we’ll talk when I see you next week!”  Now, if I were planning a very formal and structured lesson like I do with my pracs at home, this would be a big issue.  But she usually winds up teaching for half the class and then has me read from their book a passage about some aspect of American culture.  Then she will ask me to engage in a conversation with the students about the topic from my perspective.  As chaotic as it is going into it, I think the students really have benefitted practicing their English in this manner.  The majority of them will not go on with English studies, but the teacher does believe that being conversational in English is important for them.  While it is a challenge to come up with things on the spot sometimes, this teacher does know what these students need better than I do.  And while it is sometimes unfathomable how on the go they can be, it does seem to work in their classrooms.

Classroom Management

Classroom Management
November 5, 2012
            Something I have noticed lacking in the classroom during my first few visits is classroom management.  I am observing with two different teachers in six different classes (various grades, and levels within the grades) and this is something I have noticed across the board, not just with one class or one teacher’s management style. 
The school schedule itself is a little hard for me to grasp.  Three days a week students attend school from 8-1 and two days a week they attend from 8-1 with another “session” from 1-5/6 (depending on when parents want to pick their children up in that last hour.)  At first I was under the impression that it was an optional after school program, but then realized that all students attend until 4 o’clock, and some stay from 4-6.  I am never there for the after school program, but the way the students and teachers talked about it, it seems even more laid back than during the school day, so I cannot imagine what management is like during this time. 
Back to management that I am, or am not really, witness to.  The school day is divided into different periods or blocks, much like ours are here, however they are not very firm on starting at the beginning of the period.  By this I do not mean that the teacher takes a long time for the students to settle in, pass in homework, or check homework before the lesson actually starts.  I mean that the students and even sometimes the teachers are in the hallways or office talking or eating a snack up to ten minutes after the bell rings.  What is even more chaotic is that the incoming teacher must show up to the classroom before the previous class’ teacher can leave.  It seems to create an endless cycle of being late, but no one is very concerned or annoyed about it.  I find this very unusual because of 1) the time it wastes, and 2) the many teachers here who would be extremely annoyed and frustrated if another teacher constantly relieved them late! I definitely think that this is a huge reflection on the differences in our cultures.  In general, Italian culture is much more relaxed and less worrisome than we often seem to be. 
During periods, kids are often chatty and loud without the teacher really reprimanding them or giving any warnings or consequences.   I know that there are CT’s I have been with in the past who have strategies that they either don’t carry out very well or that don’t yield results because of a particularly challenging or tough group of kids.  However, they do not really have any strategies to discipline with.  It was not that the students aren’t receptive; the teachers just do not try usually.  I find this very odd but it makes me wonder if this only occurs during the English classes.  I can remember joking off during Spanish class in middle and high school.  We definitely did not take it as seriously as our other academic classes.  However, our teachers still disciplined us more often than I see it here.  Maybe I will get a chance to observe in one of their subject classes and see if the students behave in the same manner, or if they really are more concentrated and focused.  

Social Equity Views

Social Equity
October 22, 2012
            I have now been in Italy for exactly a month and one week.  The first two weeks we spent in Florence, which was not as big of an adjustment as I thought it would be due to the fact that it is a very touristy city where almost everyone spoke or knew a decent amount of English.  However, that environment changed drastically when we arrived in Parma, a very small city in northern Italy where few people actually speak English.  I have never taken an Italian class before arriving in Italy, all my classes are taught in English and my current Italian consists of ciao and grazie (hello and thank you).  Needless to say, I was nervous to go to the school for the first time because of the language barrier. 
Maria Lugia is a regular Italian school; the students are native Italian speakers and take all their classes in Italian.  They do take English and French classes, so I was paired up with two of the English teachers.  I will travel around with the English teachers to their English classes in the grades that are equivalent to our sixth-eighth grades.  Last week I went in to meet the teachers and the principal.  This was one of those times that, although I was aware of the cultural differences between Italy and the US, I was not expecting to see them in the school.  When people in Italy greet each other, they kiss once on each cheek.  I had encountered that many of the people I met did this even the first time they met you.  This was the case when I met the principal.  This is when I realized that things in the school would probably be much different than what I have experienced in pre pracs in the US.
So, today was my first day actually going to the classes with one of the English teachers. 
Even though it was English class, the students talked to each other mostly in Italian and would ask the teacher questions in Italian.  Then, in English, she would ask them to repeat the question to her in English.  I quickly realized what it might feel like to be an ELL student in the US, to be thrown into a class where I could not understand what was going on.  While it did get better as the students settled into class and were speaking more English than Italian, this feeling stuck with me and I don’t think I will forget how confused and overwhelmed I was within those first few minutes.  It has made me more aware of how important it is when approaching ELL students in our classrooms in the US. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lesson Planning/Delivery

Compared to the intricacy and fullness of the BC template and 3PA+, being at Scoile Bhride was like being on an alien planet.  There was never any schedule written anywhere, and it took me until halfway through the semester to realize that that was because there WAS no schedule! At least not a rigid one.  One day, for example, my CT was teaching the kids about evergreen trees and deciduous trees.  When beginning to write on the board, she could not remember how to spell the word "deciduous," so she asked one of the students to grab a dictionary from the stack and look it up for her.  After some significant struggle, my CT realized that the students' dictionary skills were nto up to snuff, and there was a 15-minute interlude to her science lesson to make room for a refresher on how to use the dictionary.  Then, when they returned to their science lesson, my CT decided that it would be better taught outside among the deciduous and evergreen trees.
The lesson I just wrote about is an excellent example of why the flexibility and free-flowing nature of lesson planning and delivery at Scoile Bhride was really cool and had its advantages.  Among these advantages were the relatability and real-life application of the lessons as well as the    way they engaged the students.  However, there were certainly days were this method had its disadvantages.  Often lessons took too long and overran other lessons, and other times things were forgotten.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Day one at Colegio La Salle San Rafael

I woke at at 6:45 AM on Friday morning with first day of school jitters! It was my first day of teaching in Madrid, and I was not only nervous about getting to the school on time by the metro, but also talking with the kids. Although I have been working on improving my Spanish skills since coming abroad, it has been a challenge and they are not nearly up to par to be walking into a Spanish classroom. I arrived at the school and within a few minutes one of my cooperating teachers found and me and ushered me up to her classroom. Without even an introduction to the students, she took four girls who had high English language skills, and sent them to the library with me to "have a conversation in English." Not only did I not know where the library was, but I didn't know these girls names, or how good their English even was. To say the least, I was freaking out!

The beginning was a little awkward, I had four 15 year old girls all looking at me to lead some grand conversation in English that I hadn't even planned. But soon after talking to them for a bit I realized their English was not only way better than my Spanish, but extremely impressive for freshman in high school. It was so interesting getting to just sit and talk to them about their daily lives and what they do for fun. The girls all agreed that they have barely been having any fun lately because of their studies. I asked if there was anything in particular they were studying for and they said just the regular subjects. I could hardly believe that. When I was a freshman in high school, even though I was studious, I still had loads of time to hang out with my friends. These girls were so stressed about their work. When I asked them further if there was a particular university they wanted to attend, they all looked around confused and then laughed. None of them had their sites on a certain school, but were just studying for the sake of the "now" and learning. This seemed really different to me than students in the United States. Even students who often don't look too seriously into the college process and sort of "pick a school at random" often had a dream school growing up or a school they always wanted to attend. One of the four girls wasn't even sure she wanted to attend college in Spain.

When I asked the girls where they would travel if they could go anywhere in the world, three of them replied New York City. They had a little twinkle in their eye when they said it and looked off almost dreamingly, I swear! I asked them why New York City and none could really give a response. It was so cool because it hit me then that New York City to them is like Paris or Rome to me. I don't necessarily know why I dream of visiting there, but there is a little part of me that fantasizes about this unknown life in Europe!

I am so excited to be working at the San Rafael. I feel lucky that for a few hours every weekend I get a chance to dive into the heart of Spanish culture, their schools. Additionally, as it seems so far, my main role is be leading conversations with students in small groups to get their practical language skills down. This basically means that I just get to talk to Madrid natives for a couple hours every Friday, I'll take that! It's also really cool I am coming to Madrid this semester and getting the opportunity to work in a school. One of the teachers told me that there are a lot of major changes going on in the school system currently, and that in the near future school choice will be an option for every student in Madrid. This teacher mentioned how it will be interesting to see the impacts of this play out and I certainly agree! The particular school I work at is sort of like an American charter school. It is publicly funded and privately run; it is also a Catholic school. Every student at this school has chosen to be there which I believe definitely adds to the schools community (as I am sure I will find out in future weeks!)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Typical Day at Scoile Bhride

One really interesting difference that I noticed about routine at Scoile Bhride is their shorter, more frequent recess-type breaks.  They have a morning, afternoon, and midday break, each 10-15 minutes, and the students eat their lunches in the classroom while the teacher is either showing a video, slideshow, or going through some sort of explanation.  I felt that this method was significantly more beneficial for the students' focus, and even for their teachers' vitality and morale.  However, the climate posed a serious challenge for this method, as it was often cold and nearly always raining.  But students really did not seem to mind:) In fact, it seemed that nobody minded the cold, rainy weather.  Each classroom had its own outside access, and the teacher frequently went outside for various science lessons and nature walks.  I think that this ease and frequency with the outdoors had a very positive effect on the students as well as the teaching staff, and interestingly enough, there was a very positive, friendly, and welcoming attitude amongst the staff at Scoile Bhride, especially towards me, their guest.