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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Classroom Management

Mr. Barry structures each lesson very similarly.  He begins by having all the students sit on the carpet.  He then teaches them what they will be learning that day, asking a lot of questions.  He never directly lectures, but rather tries to get each student to participate in his or her own learning.  After, he will send them back to their tables to work individually on a task.  He will also write all the instructions on the board in order for them to reference, so they are not constantly asking what to do next. 
The beginning of the lesson is not always successful.  When asking students to sit on the carpet, it allows them to sit by their friends and talk.  There is a lot of chattering going on throughout the class every time that they move and therefore it takes away from learning time.  Also, by having the students choose their seats on the carpet, they sit near the other students that they talk to the most.  This once again takes away from the learning time because Mr. Barry must then spend time asking the students not to talk, as well as choose new seats for them. 
However, the time that is not spent on discipline in the beginning of a lesson is very successful.  He tries to get the entire class to participate by asking a lot of questions and getting them to raise their hands.  He does not care if students answer a question incorrectly, as long as they participate.  He will also keep an eye on students that do not appear to be paying attention and call on them.  In this way, he makes each student responsible for being attentive and learning each day.
Mr. Barry also has very clear expectations and routines.  He makes it very clear that students are expected to pay attention and participate.  He encourages wrong answers and only cares that the students are thinking about what they are learning.  He is constantly saying how all the students can learn more from getting the answer wrong, than just only getting the right answer each time.  Even with a wrong answer, the students will be praised for raising their hand.  He likes to see how the students are thinking, rather than know that they are not focused on the lesson. 
He also expects students to work hard during their individual work time.  Many students spend a good proportion of time at their desks talking to the other students and therefore do not get the tasks completed.  In order to see how hard each student worked during the lessons, he checks in on each one of them at the end before they can leave for break or lunch or whatever activity comes next.  He will go around to each student individually to see how much they have written or how many problems they have solved.  If it is not enough and he saw that they were talking to their friends during the lesson, he will ask them to stay in for part of their lunch or break to complete more problems and to do the work that they should have done during class.  This motivates the students to work during the actual lesson so they do not miss any free time. 
Each lesson is also planned in order to meet the needs of all the students, who have a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses.  He will give the same task to the entire class, but with different levels.  During individual work time, the students are to start on the easiest level and work their way through, constantly moving up levels.  For example, with maths, there is an easy, medium, hard and challenge level on every worksheet.  Every student starts on the easy level.  They then work through each problem during the lesson.  Therefore, each student can go at his or her own pace and challenge him or herself.  Some students will still remain on the easy problems at the end of class, while others will be working on the challenging problems.  In this way, each student is able to learn at his or her own pace. 
There is also a lot of disorder in the classroom, specifically when moving from activity to activity.  As I said earlier, there is a lot of talking.  It is another expectation that they move from activity to activity silently.  When the students are talking, Mr. Barry will send them right back to wherever it is they came from and try again in silence.  While this takes up a lot of time that could be spent on learning, it is important to creating order in the classroom.
Mr. Barry also must deal with a lot of drama between students.  Many students do not get along because they do not include each other during break time.  This always leads one student to be left out and feeling bad.  I like the way that he handles these situations.  Rather than talk to students individually, he talks to the group as a whole.  Throughout my three weeks, we have already had two whole class lessons on friendship and the importance of not excluding anyone.  This has led to great class discussions and has helped the students see situations in which they have actually excluded someone without realizing it.  Last week, he also made a contract that talked about friendship and the proper way to treat everyone else in the classroom.  He had each student read it and sign it and it is not hung up in the classroom.  When the students are not being good friends and he hears about someone being excluded, he will remind the class of the document that they have all signed.  

Overall, Mr. Barry is successful at managing the classroom.  He works to create a classroom in which everyone is a friend and everyone is learning.  While there are many issues that arise, like that of exclusion in friendship, or too much talking during work time, he works all these in to his lesson.  He expects the students not to be perfect and he also encourages students not to be perfect.  In this way, it creates a more open classroom and helps the students to enjoy being in school.

St. Andrew's Primary School - School Ethos

            My pre-practicum is at St. Andrew’s Primary School in Bath, England.  I am in a year four classroom.
            During my first day at my school, I talked to many students and teachers about what makes up the school and tried to find out what the dynamic of the school was like.  At St. Andrew’s Primary School, one of its main goals is to make every child feel welcome and loved.  While talking to the teaching assistant in my classroom, she gave me advice on how to ‘nurture’ each child.  She has specific strategies that she uses with each child to make him or her feel included and to help him or her love learning.  She also stated how important it was to make each child feel valued and truly care about each individual in the school.
            In the school prospectus, similar statements were made.  The first line in a letter to parents states, “We are a happy, friendly and caring school where every individual is valued”.  It also states how they value the Christian ethos of the school.  It is clear that the school truly cares and loves each individual student and they want each student to recognize how valuable and loved he or she is. 
            The atmosphere of the school follows closely to how all the literature and staff talks about the school.  While walking around the school, I was greeted by all the teachers and welcomed to their school.  I also noticed that every teacher knew every child’s name in the school. Since it is a small school, with only one class per grade, there is not a large amount of students.  However, remembering about 150 students’ names and knowing each of the students on a personal level is very important to following the school ethos.  Each teacher cares about every student in the school, even if they are not in their own classroom. 
            I have also noticed that there is a lot of movement around the school.  I do not know if this is specific to St. Andrews or to all schools in England, but when students need to get a drink or go to the bathroom, or need to work in groups or individually, as long as they ask, they are just allowed to walk around the school.  Back at home, students needed a hall pass and for younger students, there would be a teacher’s aid or teacher that would stand in the hallway to make sure they are going where they asked to go.  The students at this school are given much more freedom to move around the school.  As a result, there are constantly students and staff walking throughout the school.  Students are also the ones to come ask teachers questions.  Throughout the day, several students walked in to ask for glue sticks or rulers or other papers.  It is a normal occurrence for students to just walk into other classrooms.
            The dress code at my school is uniforms, although there are slight differences in every student’s uniform.  The girls wear dresses or skirts which tights, or they can wear pants and a polo.  The boys wear khakis and a polo shirt.  They also all have matching sweaters.  Given that the students have a few options on a uniform gives them some amount of freedom.  They are also all wearing similar outfits, which is comforting to know that they do not have to worry about what they wear compared to others. 
            I did not get a chance to look around at a lot of displays around the school.  However, in my classroom, there were very few displays because three out of the four sides of the classroom were actually windows. 
            The response to me at the school was very friendly and welcoming.  Most of the staff knew that I would be coming this semester and all had questions about what I was studying and how I liked being here so far.  On top of that, the students all lit up when they found out they would be having an American student in their classroom.  They cancelled one of their subjects in my class that day in order for the class to have a question and answer session with me and get to know me better.  The students and teachers had a lot of questions for me and loved to hear my answers.  They made me feel very welcome.  When I was leaving, they all came over to say goodbye and said they couldn’t wait for next week when I came back.  When we were waiting for their parents to come pick them up, some students even brought over their parents to meet me.  The students and staff have all made me feel very welcome and I cannot wait to go back next week. 

            Although I have only been there one day, the way that the prospectus talks about the school, as well as the way the staff talks about the school is actually just what the school is.  They are all friendly and welcoming.  They value each individual that steps into the school and knows each individual on a personal level.  Each staff member and student walks around with a smile on his or her face and it is a very positive environment that is created. 

A Shocking Lesson Plan!

            The lesson I observed today was both shocking and surprisingly effective. Upon entering the school, I was informed that the students would be reading a piece of work by Mills and Boon and then creating their own piece in this same style. At first, this seemed like a standard lesson plan; that was, of course, until I found out that Mills and Boon literature is of the romantic fiction, i.e. 50 Shades of Grey type. I read the excerpt myself before class and could not see how a class of 17 year olds would be able to handle this assignment. By the end of the day, I was thoroughly impressed with their maturity and ability to complete the difficult task.
            The beginning of the lesson started off with a bang as the teacher dramatically read the excerpt to the class. In sum, the piece started with a couple meeting for the first time after chatting online. There is a lengthy description of the woman’s beauty ending in a passionate kiss – something one would never find in an American classroom. After the reading, the students were clearly confused and a little uncomfortable. The teacher then wrote on the board some of the conventions and literary structures that they have been discussing for days such as lexical set, pragmatics, syntax, discourse, grammar etc. It was here that the lesson began to take shape. In the romantic fiction genre, these conventions are clearly employed. There is an obvious “tone” to romantic fiction novels and so it was easy for the students to read this excerpt to find the structures that they had previously been combing James Joyce novels to understand. Although they were shocked, they understood the assignment.
            As the students began annotating their papers, the teacher came over to me to explain that this assignment was preparation for their “course work” which would be a large component of their GCSE exams. For the real course work, students would be expected to annotate an excerpt from a “professional writer” and then write their own piece in that writer’s style. With this lesson, the students were able to practice in a lighthearted, humorous, albeit unconventional, way and feel no pressure about “getting it right.” The teacher informed me that next week, their assignment would be the same using work from three classic writers, which would feel more like the course work they would be expected to hand in.
            Once the papers were marked up, the students then had to create their own piece of romantic fiction. At this point, I thought the lesson would fall apart. This is a sixth form class, which means it includes both boys and girls. I could not see a 17-year-old boy writing a unique piece of romantic fiction to share with the girl sitting next to him. To my surprise, that’s exactly what some of them did. To account for inevitable shyness, the teacher allowed students to work in pairs or groups for the writing if they did not want to do it alone. Many students chose this option, which I believe led to even greater pieces. When the teacher asked for volunteers, I was amazed at how many students genuinely wanted to share their work. I heard about seven different stories and can honestly say that most of them were pretty good! The students really nailed the conventions of romantic fiction and by the end of the day it was clear that the objectives were met.
            This was a great lesson to observe. I could not believe how successful it was despite being so controversial. The students, for the most part, were engaged and excited to try their hand at writing something so foreign to the academic realm. Even for those students who were too shy to share their work, they were still able to receive the content by finding the conventions and structures and incorporating them into their own writing. Overall, I believe the teacher took a risk in doing this lesson, but it paid off tenfold. The students definitely learned something and undoubtedly had fun while doing it. 

1st Experience at Beechen Cliff School

Beechen Cliff is a comprehensive, all-boys school in Bath, England. One look at the school’s OFSTED report and anyone can see that this is an exceptional school. Boasting happy students and teachers, high exam scores, and excellent attendance rates, it is no surprise that Beechen Cliff is an “oversubscribed” school with many students waiting to attend. In the school’s mission statement, it states that the staff at Beechen Cliff wants to “provide the best education for each pupil, to prepare each pupil for adulthood, and to achieve the highest standards in all areas of School life.” Based on the rigor of teaching I observed today, I can already see that these teachers are working their hardest to provide the best education possible to their students. Hung all over the school are flyers illustrating Beechen Cliff “core values” and “codes of conduct.” The overall behavior throughout the school indicates that these messages are heard and received by the majority of the student population.
            After my first visit to Beechen Cliff, I can easily see that there are numerous similarities and differences between high schools at home and secondary schools here in England. The first difference I noticed was the school climate; at Beechen Cliff, the line between student and teacher is thick and clearly drawn. In schools at home, I often saw the student-teacher relationship blurred when students would become close with teachers and let them into their personal lives as more of a friend than as an authority figure. Just walking through the hallways quickly showed that there is no fraternizing among students and teachers, and it is expected to remain that way up until students complete their formal schooling. In addition to the expected behavior of the students, I believe the dress code also helps to demarcate the line between student and adolescent and student and teacher. For example, the boys are expected to enter the school grounds with a tie and blazer, their top button buttoned, and shirts tucked in. The boys are repeatedly checked throughout the day for uniform and are even checked right before the final bell of the day rings. The only exception I saw to this rigid rule was during drama class and “games” period. When the teacher for drama told the boys that they could remove their ties and undo their buttons, they almost didn’t know how to respond; they quickly did and almost lost themselves in the chaos, but one could easily tell that they enjoyed the freedom to be “kids” that this teacher was allowing them.
            As I entered the school as a young, female, American “teacher,” I could definitely feel the interest of the students. Many tried to figure out who I was as I passed by in the hallway, and the boys I got to interact with in class were very intrigued by my background. In the first class of the day, I went over to a group of boys to nudge them back to the task at hand. I walked over and said, “Boys, did you get that last note down?” and was immediately faced by four shocked faces until one excitedly asked me, “Are you American?!” When I laughed and responded telling them that I was from New York, the next questions were even better. One boy was quite disappointed to find out that I had not in fact met Barack Obama or even seen him in person and another was fascinated when he asked about 9/11, and I told him my experience with that awful day seeing as my father was a police officer working that tragedy. (On a side note, my father is and was fine but of course, right after the crash, we had not known that!) Other questions such as, “Do you have a boyfriend?” were not as much related to me being American as they were about me being a young female teacher in an all boys environment, but hopefully that novelty will fade over time.
            While the younger boys from Years 7-9 were fascinated and excited to ask me all about “cool” New York, the older boys definitely exhibited some interesting behaviors. In one Year 10 class, a group of boys took it upon themselves to ask me to say certain words that I knew had different meanings here in England. I was able to avoid any faux pas during that but was shocked when one of the young boys made a “that’s what she said” joke to something that I had said about another boy’s work. I wasn’t sure if the boys thought that because I was American or because I was young that that would be acceptable but I made it my business to quickly let them know that that was not the case. That was the only moment during my visit in which I was taken aback by the boys’ boldness; however, in the big scheme of things, I will see it more as a 15 year old showing off to his friends and not take it personally.
            Overall, I had a great first day at Beechen Cliff. I was able to be really involved with the students, which was something I had been missing at my last placement back at home. The younger students were eager to ask me for help and to have me read over their work to make sure it wasn’t “stupid and wrong.” It was so rewarding to see the confidence boost in a boy when I told him his writing was great. The teachers at the school truly value my presence, and it makes me feel like this is such a worthwhile experience when I feel so appreciated. I am excited to go back and participate in the Prospective Parents Night after my next visit!