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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Implementing a mini-unit on Native Americans at Scoil Mhuire

It has been a while since I last wrote an international practicum blog post. I have been doing some travelling outside of Ireland for the past three weeks and Scoil Mhuire additionally has had their two-week spring holiday, luckily corresponding with my holiday as well. This blog post is reflecting back quite a ways, to the very first week of April, when I last visited the third-class students.

Having had the entire first week of April off from classes, and knowing that I would be outside of Cork for the majority of April and that May would be hectic with finals, I decided the easiest method to fulfill a large portion of the ten required student teaching days would be for me to student teach for an entire week straight.  I am thankful for the flexibility of this program. Having only completed pre-practicums back at Boston College, I have only had the experience of student teaching one day a week. I found it to be a very eye-opening and rewarding experience to be able to attend student teaching for a full workweek; it provided insight into what my full-practicum and future as an elementary teacher will be like.

It was a lot more exhausting than I had anticipated. In addition to observing my CT teach her lessons, monitoring lunch and recess, and tutoring two struggling students in math, I had taken on teaching a three-day Native American mini-unit. When I wasn’t at Scoil Mhuire as a student teacher, I was at home planning lessons for the following morning. It felt as though my life was consumed by student teaching, lesson planning, and preparation. While I thoroughly enjoyed it and feel fortunate to have had this glimpse into my future as a full-practicum student, I had underestimated how exhausting it would be.

My first lesson in the mini-unit was an overview of who the Native Americans were and what the different tribal regions within the USA were (Woodlands, Plains, Southwest, and Coastal Northwest). The students learned about the geography of the United States by coloring a map. My second lesson was about the Plains Indians and the buffalo hunt, where I taught the students all the different things a Native American made with different parts of a buffalo’s body (they labeled a diagram of a buffalo with the different things Native Americans made with each body part). The final lesson was about Coastal Northwest Americans, the totem pole, and storytelling. I explained how totem poles told stories of the tribes history, read them the legend of the Thunderbird, and then implemented an art project where each student designed their own totem pole with a mixture of native American symbols and symbols of things that were personally significant to them (many picked the shamrock).

I thought the week went really well. It felt so different teaching a room of only nine female students (one student was away this week on holiday). The dynamic was so different from the 18 and 23 mixed-gender classrooms that were my previous student teaching placements. Due to the reduction in class size, classroom management wasn’t that big of a factor. Yes, I still had to remind them not to call out of turn, and to raise their hand when they had a question or wanted to answer a question, but for the most part they were very focused, attentive, and respectful.

In observing my CT implement lessons, I already have noticed that the teaching style at my Scoil Mhuire placement is a lot more laidback than other placements I have had in America. In implementing my own mini-unit during the first week of March, I have experienced this different teaching style first hand.  For one thing, although I know there are curriculum standards and objectives, these objectives (expect in the area of mathematics) are not made clear within lesson implementation to me or to the students. Unlike previous placements where the students could articulate what they were learning because the classroom teacher had made her objectives clear to the students  (orally, through writing the objective on the board, and by indicating that there would be an assessment on the topic), the students at Scoil Mhuire are for the most part unable to articulate the purpose of a lesson. There seems to be much less focus on curriculum standards than within the American system, although this could just be the result of my CT not making her lesson plans and objectives clear to me. Nevertheless, when planning my Native American mini-unit, I wasn’t given any instructions, resources, or curriculum guides about what information or skills the students were expected to learn. Rather, my CT said it was “my unit and I could approach it however I wanted to”. The lack of guidance made planning difficult as I was uncertain on which information and skills to focus.

The testing procedures are also very different between this school and American schools. I am accustomed to the American system, riddled with continuous assessments and little quizzes that inform teachers of the effectiveness of their teaching practices and their students comprehension of the lesson. In my lesson, I attempted to include continuous assessment through worksheets and class discussion so the students could demonstrate what they learned. I even made a matching quiz for the next morning to see how much information the students had retained. These were implemented so I could assess how effective my teaching had been and address any misconceptions the students may have. While my CT does incorporate continuous assessment, through worksheets and listening to her students responses during conversations to make certain they are on target, there are not a lot of within unit or end of unit quizzes or tests spread throughout term. Rather, the students have two or three days of exams at the end of term before leaving for their holidays. All of the testing for each subject occurs during this testing period at the end of term. I found this to be very different from the American schools I’ve taught in, where tests were spread out and occurred naturally to assess progress and inform teachers of the effectiveness of their teaching practices, rather than (or in addition to) a finalized assessment of what the student learned.  

Overall, it was an incredibly eye opening experience to attend my placement for an entire week straight and implement a mini-unit during this week of student teaching. It provided insight into my future experiences as a full-practicum student and allowed me to better observe some of the academic differences between Scoil Mhuire and American school in which I have taught.

1 comment:

  1. Katie, it sounds like your week went really well! I am jealous that you got to plan an entire unit and you also got to go in for an entire week! Unfortunately my school's schedule did not involve a full week off until close to Easter when my family visited and then my students had a 2 week break for spring/Easter so I have been restricted to just going in for the mornings!

    It sounds like this class dynamic was very conducive to teaching because it is so much smaller than our home experiences in Boston and it is great that you were able to bring a little bit of America to Ireland for them! In response to your comments about the teaching style being much more laid back, I would have to agree that my own classroom experience has been the same. Though my teacher has an exact plan of what she hopes to achieve in the lesson, it is never explicitly stated before she starts the lesson. When I first observed my teacher teaching a lesson, I was surprised that there was not some sort of introduction with the expectations for the lesson. However, this lack of stating the expectations does not seem to stop the students from learning or actively participating. I have also noticed that when my teacher is teaching certain lessons, like going over a math concept or the introduction to a phonics lesson, the students sit, somewhat quietly, and watch her write on the board. They do not have notebooks in front of them or worksheets to complete. Instead they are simply watching and absorbing the information being discussed. I thought that this was an interesting way to teach 1st grade because I have not previously seen this sort of instruction back home in America.

    I also agree about the testing process because my classroom does the same sort of thing essentially. Instead of continuous assessment, the children partake in larger unit tests instead of smaller quizzes along the way. This is also similar to the way their universities work in my experience, because they tend to utilize just final exams instead of continuous assessment like we do in the states.

    Thanks for your interesting post! So glad to hear that your mini-unit went well!


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