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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

First Impressions of the International School of London

When I thought of doing a practicum in London, I thought I would have the opportunity to see a school that was uniquely English.  I studied up on English schools, learning about everything from the uniforms that most students wear to the exams (A Levels) that most students would eventually be taking.  I felt as prepared as I could be.
However, my placement school is not the typical English school - it's the International School of London.  The students are from everywhere around the world, they speak different languages (and occasionally need to be taught to speak English), and have experienced different cultures.  Despite its immense diversity, the school itself is incredibly small: the website lists that there are 350 students enrolled between age 3 and 18.  So far, I've encountered the year 11 (which translates to grade 10) classroom, which consists of 7 students.  On my first day, two were absent leaving 5 students, 4 girls and 1 boy, from countries like China, Italy, India, and Libya.  I am told that the other class I will be joining (year 10, grade 9) will be slightly bigger with 11 students.
It's amazing the way that these students interact and relate to one another.  In my first few minutes in the school, I was in my CT's homeroom and students began discussing, as I suspect they do all over the world, when school would be out for summer.  Students started comparing when school gets out in their home countries, both for summer and during the day.  Some talked about a school day from 10 to 6, while others talked about a break in the middle of the school day to go home to eat with your family.  If my short time at this school has taught me anything, it's that these students do not take customs for granted.  Because everyone in the school is an "other" of sorts, they expect none of their experiences to be completely universal or unique.
One of the ways that this hodge-podge sense of community is reflected is in the languages offered at the school.  As students enter the school, they are taught at least two languages.  If English is not their first language, the second language is English; if English is their first language, then they are taught another modern language.  Then, as they reach middle school years, they pick up a third language, assuming adequate fluency in English has been reached.  This third language can be either Chinese, Spanish, or French, if these languages are not the student's first language.  Offering so many options to so few students mean that the smallest class someone could be in is would have a one-to-one ratio (there is a student who has experienced that in her advanced French class).  
This small ratio is included in English as well.  Of the 7 students in year 11, only 3 have chosen to take the class as a "higher level," opting for more classes in that subject rather than in others.  Thus, on Wednesday, English class consists of only 3 students.
This school is not specifically English, and therefore its students aren't specifically English either: they don't wear uniforms and they follow the IB system, rather than A Levels.  The students, like the school, are international, and uniquely so.  This school treats students like individuals who each have different life experiences to bring to their classes, something that is especially relevant in an international school.  But, rather than just accepting students' nuances, the school lets students use those strengths to make choices influence their own educational experiences, an autonomy that I find both new and refreshing in such young students.

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