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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Comparing US to Scottish Schools (in my experience)

1.       Two similarities between teaching in Scotland and teaching in Boston are the promotion of the use of technology and teacher collaboration. Two differences I’ve noticed are composite classes and community interaction.
Every classroom in Merrylee is equipped with SmartBoards. There is also a computer- room with about 30 computers that is available to each class through a rotation during the week. Each class gets to use the computers about twice a week, or more. Teaching computer literacy and allowing students to familiarize themselves with such technology are common between both of my experiences teaching in the US and abroad. This emphasizes the global importance technology holds, as well as the understanding that students learn in many ways, and computer use is one of many pathways of promoting learning. Furthermore, the SmartBoard was used in all subjects in my experiences. Even more importantly, I believe, was that teachers allowed students to interact with the SmartBoard (write, tap, etc.) in their lessons, which was both exciting and engaging for these students.
The second similarity is the effectiveness of teacher collaboration. In my practicum experiences, both of the schools, one in Glasgow and one in Boston, supported co-teaching efforts. Also coincidentally, the co-teaching occurred only in the grades where I happened to be prac-ing. Although the other teachers were not necessarily co-teaching, there certainly was collaboration between teachers of the same grades and even between grades. The latter ideally creates smoother transitions for the students between school years due to the forward planning. Co-teaching is successful because students are exposed to different teaching styles and thus are not fixated on just one teaching method. Co-teaching allows for student movement between the classrooms, and this also allows for group work and for students to discuss and share ideas with each other. With a greater number of students involved in a lesson with group work, there is a better chance the abilities are matched up, or there is room for greater differentiation. When it comes to planning for co-teaching and with collaboration, ultimately more ideas arise. This is because there are more minds scheming and bouncing ideas off of each other, as oppose to one teacher just narrow-mindedly, single-handedly planning his or her own lesson.
There is one aspect of Merrylee that I have not yet experienced with teaching in the US. It may exist, but again, I have no experience with it. That is, composite classes. Merrylee had two classrooms where this occurred, between Primary 2 and 3 (grades 1 and 2) and Primary 6 and 7 (grades 5 and 6). There were more students that seats allotted for these grades and so the surplus students from each grade combined to form a new class, in-between both grades. These teachers at Merrylee said that planning instruction was not a daunting supplementary task, but just slightly more involved than traditional planning. They said it was just like differentiation, but sometimes with different subject material. Discussing the concept of composite classes with these Scottish teachers made me realize that I’m not entirely sure what happens in US public schools when there are not enough seats. I know students are bussed to different schools in Boston, but I wonder how it works for other public students elsewhere in the US.

Lastly, I was very impressed by the amount of community interaction the Primary 5 students had at Merrylee. I was fortunate to join Mrs. B’s class on a field trip to a local park, one of four excursions the class would have to the park. This park was funded by government money and served as field trip location for many area schools. The reason Merrylee Primary 5 students would be going four times was to encourage risk-taking, team-building, and self-confidence. With each visit, students would be able to do a little more tree-climbing or fort-building. The idea is that the students familiarize themselves in a visit, and then push themselves beyond that comfort on the next visit. During the last two weeks of my practicum, the school was so busy with visitors and field trips. Some of the girls were involved with gymnastics and had a competition with other neighborhood schools at a local gymnasium. During Christmastime, each class has the chance to go see a pantomime, or a silly play at the local theater. Even members of the Rangers Club, one of the more well-known soccer clubs in Glasgow, came to the school to coach soccer and preach the dangers of smoking to the students. It always seemed that the students were going on a visit or hosting a visitor. It never seemed to be distracting from the main course of study, and I think it’s great that Merrylee focuses on educating the students on the importance of responsibility, health, and contributions to community. In my experiences in the US, I've noticed teachers stress over academics and that there is not enough time to teach everything in the book. Often, there is the pressure of some standardized test in the US. In Scotland, there never appeared the stress of the time crunch, and so there was time for community involvement.

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