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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Assessment at ISL

The diverse student population at ISL lends itself to unconventional assessment techniques. Since it is a private school, they do not adhere to any state or national standards that their students are required to meet. Nor do they have to take any standardized tests at the elementary school level.  I asked my cooperating teacher how she goes about assessing her students, since most of them speak different languages and enter ISL at different times during the year, all coming from other countries with different education systems. She talked about how she is constantly assessing her students, but they are never aware of her assessment. Through the inquiry based curriculum provided by the IB program they follow, her assessment is all based on the students performance in class every day. She did mention that as a part of the IB program, she does many pre assessments of her students when they first enter her classroom, but she does not find them as helpful as what she observes on her own. She always looks over their free writing, listens to them read a few times a weeks, and assesses their math skills based on their mastery of facts when she asks them.  During our conversation, she talked about this inquiry based system of learning, and how it is very different from both the traditional British and American systems of learning where rote memorization is rewarded through test success. I am not sure how all of the inquiry based assessment would work in classrooms that are driven by the achievement of state standards, but I like how it gives my cooperating teacher the freedom to further differentiate her lessons for her diverse group of students. I think that a combination of both assessment styles would be very beneficial for students. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A 5th Grade Lesson

            At ISL, I spend the first part of my mornings in second grade and the second part of my mornings in a fifth grade classroom.  I have really enjoyed the opportunity to see how two different teachers approach teaching large classes of such diverse learners.  The fifth grade classroom also uses the IB curriculum based around social justice and globalization.  I have posted a picture of this unit’s bulletin board, and the unit is based around the statement, “children should have the same basic rights and responsibilities.”  My fifth grade cooperating teacher planned a fabulous lesson based around this statement, which sparked a powerful discussion about human rights.
            Each student received a page out of the book “Where Children Sleep,” which is a photo essay about children around the world.  Each page in the book provides a picture of the child, a picture of their sleeping arrangements, and a paragraph about the child.  The students were tasked with finding the child’s country on a map, colouring it in, and answering questions about each child’s rights.  They were asked to determine which rights children have, if their rights are being met, and if they are not being met they were encouraged to come up with an idea to change that.  After each student wrote about their assigned child, my cooperating teacher led a discussion about human rights in general, and how not everyone around the world is guaranteed their rights.

            One challenge my cooperating teacher faces is differentiating his lessons so that all his students will benefit from them.  The fifth grade class is even more diverse than the second grade one, and all of the children are learning or speak English as a second language.  It is hard to have complicated discussions in English and make sure that each student gets the message, but my cooperating teacher does a good job of using language that is accessible to everyone.  In classrooms that I have observed in the US, there have been three English language learners at most.  Therefore, lessons were planned for students who speak English and were adapted for those who did not, rather than having to be adapted for every student in the class.  Teaching a class full of students who speak all different languages is very challenging, and this school is unique in that this is the norm.  I look forward to speaking with my cooperating teachers about how they assess students when they all speak different levels of English.  Some students only attend ISL for a few months, and I imagine that this is a great challenge to the teachers as well.  I have really enjoyed spending time in both second and fifth grade, and I look forward to getting to know all of my students better!  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hola! Yesterday when I arrived at the International School of Madrid, the principal asked me if I would help out in the nursery classroom instead of in the kindergarten classroom that I have been working with. Of course I was willing to do so and I was looking forward to seeing what a nursery classroom looks like. The children are two-three years old and adorable. However, all of them speak Spanish and hardly any English, which was obviously a problem for me. It can be very frustrating to have a child speaking to you and not being able to understand, to respond, or tell them what to do. Despite this, I did enjoy being in the nursery classroom. There are 26 students, which I think is too many. The whole scene was chaotic. There was always someone crying or screaming, which made it difficult to get anything substantial done. The day started with the students playing in the classroom. They played with blocks and toys, drew, looked at books, played in a sand box etc. Then the teacher had them all sit on the mat and she read them a story. Although I was pleased to see that this teacher had more books in her classroom and was reading them to her students frequently, the book was totally inappropriate for their age and level. It was way too long, with way to many words, and the story was much too complex for two year olds to follow, pay attention, and understand. This became obvious as I watched the students become increasingly fidgety and distracted while the teacher was reading. I think these are things that I notice a lot while I have been at the school in Madrid because of the amount of time we spent picking and choosing books to read during my first prac last spring. The classroom was large, and was pretty standard in terms of what we would expect to see in America as well. There was a circle rug in the front, a book case, several small tables for group work, stuff to play house with, a sand box, and a place the students can play with water. While in the nursery classroom, I noticed that classroom management seems to be the most important factor for the teacher to consider, especially in a room with 26 two year olds. Normally the teacher has a teaching assistant in the classroom with her all day, but since that person was absent yesterday I was meant to take her place. The teacher, Ms. Locket, seemed to have a decent amount of control over the classroom. The students would scream and cry, but would respond quickly to Ms. Locket. If she was reading a story to the students, many of them would be chatting or crying. Often times she would ignore them, but sometimes she would tell them to be quiet or put them in a time out in the corner. It is hard to judge if the management methods that she uses are effective, because I only saw them in action briefly. I am curious how she handles the students when they have conflicts, as two year olds are often pushing each other and tattling on each other. The experience was pretty overwhelming, but eye-opening and enjoyable nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My First Day at the International School of London

I really enjoyed my first day at ISL today!  I am working in a second grade classroom, and the 19 students in my class are from all over the world.  There are students from the US, UK, Belgium, Turkey, France, Switzerland, and Japan, and those are only the students I got to speak to today!  The students spend a part of the day in something called the “Mother Tongue” program, in which they have an hour of class in their native language.  My favourite part of ISL is their curriculum structure.  They use the International Baccalaureate program to frame their curriculum, from the primary school level all the way through their high school.  Rather than teaching to specific standards, the IB program takes an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning. 
The unit that my class is currently in is framed around the statement, “our choices as consumers impact people and the environment.”  Lessons about food miles, sweatshops, fair trade, and social justice are incorporated to help students understand the theme of the general statement.  For example, today in class the students looked at pictures of people from different cultures gathering and making food.  This sparked a discussion about where our food comes from and how far it travels to get to us.  The whole lesson was very “BC.”  I was so impressed by my second graders’ ability to have such a sophisticated conversation.  Next week, my cooperating teacher will incorporate this theme into her math lessons, having her students create bar graphs for the distances different foods travel to the UK. 

In addition to spending time in the classroom, I attended a second grade planning meeting.  There is only one second grade classroom, so the meeting was composed of my cooperating teacher and the English language specialist.  There are always aides in the classrooms to assist the English language learners at the school.  My cooperating teacher told me that it is rare to only have a few English language learners, and that the 3 in her class is the smallest number she’s ever had.  I am very interested to see how the global community at ISL enhances classroom conversation and student experiences.  I am so excited about how my first day went, and I can’t wait to observe more lessons and get to know my students better!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Classroom Climate in a 5th Grade classroom in Paris

The moment I met Miss A, I knew we were going to get along. She was so opened and excited to meet me. She is also very young. I was so surprised to the number of years she had been teaching. Her humor and tone of voice reflected her fun personality. No wonder why the classroom environment was so warm and welcoming.
There are about 20 students in the classroom. Students from all over the world sit and interact with each other. The classroom is tiny compared to other classrooms in America. This is because Paris is a small, populated city, with old buildings that cannot accommodate for big classrooms like the U.S. Kids sit in groups of 4-5. Because there is a lack of space, whenever students transitioning from one activity to another, the classroom always gets very crowded. The teachers I have been observing are a lot more lenient when it comes to leaving the classroom compared to the teachers in America. I am not quite sure if this is the “lassiez-faire” French culture that comes into play or if it’s the teachers’ preferences. Students are allowed to leave the classroom for water and to use the bathroom at any time. The teacher had told them to use their discretion in the beginning of the school year. During a lesson a student will get up and leave to go to the bathroom. However, not a lot of students do it when the teacher is teaching. They seem to go during transition periods or mostly during lunchtime. I think this shows that by having a teacher who seems “lenient” in fact is a sign of trust to these students. Because Miss A trusts that the students will leave the classroom at the appropriate time to use the restroom, the students also respect her rules and do not leave unless it is an emergency or it is a time when they will not be missing an opportunity to learn.
If Miss A needs the class’ attention, she usually stands by the door and says, “Class!” After she says that she just waits. She waits until everyone’s eyes are on her and are ready to receive instructions. Normally, the students seem to quickly stop what the doing and look towards Miss A. I have yet to encounter a time when the students did not freeze once the teacher raised her voice.

Miss A’s down to earth personality really creates a warm, calm, and welcoming atmosphere in the classroom. The students never seem anxious about tests or projects because she always reminds them that there is nothing more you can do than to do your best. She expects a lot from them and since the students respect her as a teacher they do their best to meet those expectations.

Lesson Taught in the Classroom

At this point I have unfortunately finished my student teaching in Australia, however, in my time here I have gotten to observe and teach a lot more than ever expected. I have been able to look at my CT’s methods of planning lessons and I given opportunities to plan my own as well. In terms of planning for lessons, my CT definitely takes the time to plan out each part of her lessons, from the introduction all the way up to the conclusion. This is shown by the effectiveness of her time management throughout each of her lessons. This was also a recommendation she gave me for my future lessons, in that she explained how important is to plan out exactly how much time you want to take for the introduction to the lesson, for the lesson itself, and for how to wrap-up/conclude the lesson. This helps ensure that everything gets covered and that no one part of the lesson drags on for longer than it should. Of course there will be some variation from the plan if students are having trouble or if they are flying through the material, however, it is important to have that general idea. In terms of delivery, my CT begins each lesson with a whole class introduction. Students are told to come to the front of the classroom and sit on the rug while my CT is in the front of the class at the Smartboard. Here, she introduces the topic that is going to be addressed in the work that is to follow. This whole class discussion is usually followed by individual work, which is done in the form of a worksheet addressing the topic that was introduced. Students are told to work individually, but if one student has a question or if a student finishes early, student collaboration is encouraged. This work is finished off by a wrap-up or conclusion of the topic that was covered in order to go over what the students got out of the lesson.
            Handwriting seems to be one of the more structured and teacher led subjects. Each week, my CT leads the students in practicing writing a specific letter of the alphabet. Using the Smartboard, my CT will start with the lower case version of the letter. Students are meant to copy this into their handwriting journals. This process continues with the capital letter, a word beginning with this letter, and a sentence where every word begins with that letter. While the students are working, my CT is walking around checking all of their work and making sure each letter hits each line on the page in the correct spot. This lesson becomes much more of a step by step process than her other lessons and it shows how important handwriting is to my CT. She stresses as close to perfection as the students can get, instilling it early so it sticks with the students as they get older.
            The biggest challenge I have seen my CT face is dealing with the differing ability levels of students in her classroom. She has a wide range of students in terms of abilities causing her to always have extra work planned for those students who finish early or modified work for students where the work may be too difficult. This is especially relevant in her classroom because it is so focused on individual student work so students are constantly finishing at different times. Having these extra plans was another recommendation my CT gave for my lessons. She even advised letting the students who finish quicker help those who may be struggling. She felt that as long as they had something to do to keep them productive and not disturbing other students than it was important to let everyone finish at their own speed. Her overall teaching style seems to be similar to what I have observed in America in terms of objectives and what they each want to get from the students, but the method of delivering the lessons are different. With what I have observed here, there is much less teacher lead “teaching” and more focus on students working individually and taking responsibility for their own work. This could be because here in Australia I am in a first grade classroom so keeping students busy with different worksheets may be more effective than having them sit and listen to the teacher for extended periods of time. In both classrooms, however, it seemed that the teachers were very effective in keeping student attention and getting the material across. I would need to still observe more teachers to get a sense of whether one method works better than another, or whether it is just be the teachers knowing their class and knowing how to best get across to their students.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Classroom Management at the 3rd Elementary School of Stavroupoli

            The first few visits to the 3rd Elementary School of Stavroupoli in Thessaloniki were very different from my past pre-practicum experience. I was placed in a special needs classroom where I worked with students individually. In every way, I had to adapt to the situation. This was my first time working with students with special needs and I was unsure of how to do so with such a strong language barrier and cultural differences. Despite being unable to speak Greek, I have quickly picked up on the classroom routine and expectations.
My CT, Mr. T, has set up the classroom to be very focused on individualized teaching. There are only ever two students in his room at a time, which allows him to work hands-on with the students. The desks are closely spaced so that he can overlook both students at the same time from his desk. Since he has both Martin and I to help him, the students definitely receive the benefit of individualized attention in a small classroom. The students come in for an hour of lessons in the subjects they have difficulty with. Here, Mr. T has an assigned box of worksheets for each student to complete. The room is filled with educational tools and games to help students learn.
Mr. T expects work completion by the end of the week, rather than the day. Realizing that the students have good and bad days, he allows them room to work at their own pace. He also rewards the students with candies when he sees them put in a lot of effort. Mr. T is very understanding that the students require extra support and deals with conflicts as they occur. For instance, some of the students have a hard time sitting still for a long time and start to fidget and walk around. When this happens, Mr. T will get up and gently guide them back to their desk. He is very supportive of the students because of his flexibility. He recognizes that they will make mistakes and swiftly steps in to help them correct it. There do not appear to be any formally stated rules or expectations from the students other than the expectations that they will do their work. I have yet to see any codes of conduct posters or consequence charts. He has also not expressed to us any particular expectations that he has set for the students. 
In some ways, his classroom is easier to manage because there are such few students in it each hour. He is able to give more of his attention to each student, which helps them focus and complete their work. On the other hand, sometimes it is very difficult to get these students to comply with the environment of the classroom. Sometimes the students get unruly, which is very difficult for me to address due to my limited Greek. When this happens, Mr. T will scold them but does not administer any punishment or consequence system. He also shares the students’ progress with their assistants who take care of them in between classes.
The system is a lot more relaxed than what I’m used to in America. Since this is my first time working in a special education classroom, I am unsure of what would be standard in the US. I often wonder if this classroom management style is influenced more because the students have special needs or if it complies with the relaxed way of Greek life. Would establishing a formal set of rules and consequences in this classroom be beneficial? Despite the relaxed structure of the classroom, the students respond well to Mr. T and to us. I am looking forward to getting to know the students more and learning more about the education system here!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Differences and Similarities at the International School of Paris

            It has been my 3rd week in Ms. Ashley and Barker’s classroom. I have the opportunity to go into the school twice a week to teach in both fifth grade classrooms. I feel like I am getting so much out of this experience because I am able to spend my time in two classes, where I can see not only the differences in the structures of the classrooms but also the various teaching styles.
The things that caught my eyes, as I entered the classroom and spent time working with the children, were the obvious differences between the classrooms in Paris and those in America. I help both classes with math. One major difference is that Ms. Ashley never teaches mathematics to the entire class as a whole. Every day children split up into their groups, which were determined in the beginning of the year after several assessments, and are responsible to work on worksheets together that are tailored to their level. Each day she works with a different group, where she plans a lesson for them and guides them to understand each problem. Children work with partners in their groups. Partner 1 will be given worksheet A and Partner 2 will be given worksheet B. They will work on the worksheets separately and after 20 minutes they will switch papers and check their partner’s work. Problems on the worksheets correspond to one another, allowing a partner explain a problem to the other if the student did not get the correct answer. At the school I completed my first pre-practicum, the teacher always gave a lesson to the entire class. After the lesson there were smaller group activities tailored to students of different levels. Ms. Ashley says she prefers it this way because she wants everyone to reach their highest potential and she believes working with such a diverse group of kids with various levels, splitting into groups is the optimal way of achieving her goal. What do you think are some pros and cons to her method? Which would you prefer?
Another difference is the diversity of the students. Since the school is an international school, every student is from a different country. My CT told me that the school tries to pair students from the same country in the same classroom so they can use their mother language to help communicate in the classroom. Every student understands English but almost all the children speak in different accents, which I find fascinating. Also I always see students who speak the same language helping one another understand materials. I think this promotes diversity and raises cultural awareness since the students are freely able to share their traditions and cultures in the classroom.
Despite the obvious differences between teaching abroad and teacing in America, I also observed some similarities. Miss Ashley and Mr. Barker both collaborate a lot. There is a lot of communication between the two teachers. A door connects their classrooms. I see Mr. Barker in Miss. Ashley’s class all the time and visa versa. They always seem to discuss lessons and activities. Also since I work with both classes, I see that they are always learning the same materials. The students are taught the same materials in different ways depending on the teacher’s style. In Boston, my CT would always collaborate with other teachers to gain ideas and suggestions from other teachers. She gained a lot of perspective by listening to other teachers.

Another similarity is the technology that is used in the classroom. The classroom has a smartboard along with ipads and laptops. There are basic things like white boards and markers for the students. In America, especially in schools that can afford it have technology similar to those mentioned above to enrich a child’s experience of learning.