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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My first full-class lesson in a Spanish school

            Last Thursday, I taught my first full-class lesson at Colegio Highlands Los Fresnos in Madrid, Spain. The week prior, I had observed my cooperating teacher’s lesson on verbs in the simple past and the past continuous, so at the end of the lesson I approached her and asked if I would be able to teach the following week’s lesson. She was very excited that I was eager to teach something to the full class and asked if I would introduce the present perfect. In order to plan she gave me a copy of the textbook material on the subject, but she told me that I had the freedom to teach the lesson however I wanted to.
            Colegio Highlands is a bilingual school where the students take half of their classes in English and the other half in Spanish. Many of the students have a very high proficiency in English, but they still struggle a lot with verb tenses, especially in spoken English. It took me a while to think of how would be the best way to introduce this subject matter to the students, especially how to differentiate between when to use the simple past, the continuous past, and the present perfect because all three are used to express actions that already happened. I decided upon doing an activity where I ask the class “Have you ever…?” questions to get them warmed up and thinking about the present perfect and then asked “When did you…?” questions to get them thinking about when you use present perfect and when you use past simple/continuous. Next, I reviewed how you form the present perfect and what some of the irregular verbs are in the past participle. Finally, I created a worksheet where the students got in pairs and interviewed each other on what they have done and when they have done it. The worksheet was set up with a verb in the infinitive and then an action and the students had to make their own questions and answer the questions using present perfect and past simple.  I thought this would be especially good for the students because the activity had them speaking out loud and also writing down their work. At the end of the lesson, we went over all of the verbs together as a group so that we could check in and make sure everyone was conjugating the verbs correctly and understanding the differences among the verb tenses.
            Overall, I thought this lesson went really well. The fifth grade boys often have a lot of difficulty staying on task and paying attention during class, but I think that I managed to keep the lesson fun and interactive enough that they were interested in what we were doing. Also, although many of the fifth grade boys have a high proficiency with English, many others lack the confidence to speak out loud in front of their peers. I tried to keep all of the students engaged and participating so that no one was left behind in the lesson. I think the students came out of the lesson having a good, basic understanding of how to make the present perfect and when to use it and that was exactly the goal of the lesson, as it was an introduction to a new verb tense.
            As always, there were some things that I think I did really well in this lesson and other things that I can definitely improve upon. Something I think I did well was stopping throughout the “lecture” part of the lesson to check in with the students and see how well they were following what I was saying. I did this in a few different ways: by having students answer questions, by having students explain different concepts to me, and also by simply having them give me a “thumbs up” if they understand, a “thumbs to the side” if they are iffy on the subject matter and a “thumbs down” if they didn’t get it. If there were students with “thumbs to the side” or “thumbs down” I always went back to re-explain the material to make sure that they understood it better. Something I think I could improve on was explaining the instructions to the activity better before they entered into their pairs. I gave a brief introduction to the activity, but many of them were confused and needed me to go over what they needed to do again. Next time, I will be very explicit about the instructions and give them a specific example before having them begin their group work.

            Overall I really enjoyed teaching this lesson and it felt great to be back teaching in front of a full class. I took a lot away from teaching this lesson and it was really interesting to see how ELL understood a grammar lesson. It was a wonderful experience and it made me excited to teach more full-class lessons!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Student Teacher at Märzstraße

6:00 am: Wake up call! I felt the need to include this because it is truly one of the challenges I face. After long weekends traveling and exploring, a Monday morning wake up call can be tough. But, the great day that I know is to come always motivates me to get up and get going!

7:50 am: Arrive at Märzstraße. On my way I encounter many independent young students making their own way to class on the same trains and trams that I take. My CT greets me and briefs me on the subject I will be teaching in English that day. She usually has a set plan of what I will teach that week. She is open to my suggestions for lessons but seems to sometimes be thrown off if I suggest something she was not planning for me to do. I think it is because she wants to accommodate me the best she can but also has plans of her own. I arrive in time to greet the students as they come into the classroom for the day. At the beginning of the day, they usually start off more timid of our interactions but quickly become comfortable with desperately trying to somehow communicate with me again. This includes just a "Hi!" from some students, or a quick hug because they really do not know how to say hello in English to me (unlike in America, student-teacher physical contact is much less of a controversial topic and is encouraged). Other students come up and want to show me their homework or a project they made that is now hanging on the wall. They will point and attempt to say the words they know in English. I will respond with the small amount of German praises I know and smile(the usual). The students bring there homework sheets and books up to the front in orderly piles and they have their books open to the page the homework was on. This proves to be a very orderly system and no one has to be reminded to bring their homework up.

8:00 am: The bell rings. Students, who were running around and playing before, will find their seats and prepare for class. There are many routines set in place in the classroom that the students are very accustomed to. This routine starts with my CT saying "Guten Morgen!" and the whole class repeats it back in unison. She then makes any announcements she has to make and hands back homework that needs to be fixed from the previous day. We then sometimes sing a song or talk about our weekends. I then take a group of either three or four students to the closed off cubby room next to the classroom. Each week they are working on a different set of English vocabulary. So I will either have a set of picture cards to use, or a book to read, or this week I had some props to teach them about shopping. I spend 15-20 minutes with the group and then they go back into the main classroom and the next set of students comes out to work with me. This system is different from what I have experienced in the United States. Kids are pulled out of classes from time to time to work with specialist teachers in the US. But in my teaching in Austria I am pulling out groups all at different times of the lesson and it makes me wonder if it is challenging to keep up with the continuity of the lesson they are missing parts of. This part of my day is certainly the most important and the most challenging. Because I lack much knowledge in German, I do sometimes struggle to describe or explain words to students. Having a visual always helps. I also can struggle with classroom management. Because we are away from my CT and there are lots of little objects around us to pick up and play with, the students tend to get distracted. Somedays it can be challenging for me to reign them in and have them focus on English, especially because I cannot communicate in the way I would like to. I continue this English lesson until I have gone through all the students in the class.

10:00 am: The students have a "pause". This is essentially lunch/ play time. My students do not have recess outside. This is different then anything I have experienced in the States. Even at Jackson Mann, which is urban, they had an outdoor recess time when it was not too cold. The students at my Austrian school do get the opportunity to play in the hall but that is the closest they get to recess. During this time my CT will get coffee and catch up on some papers. I walk around and try to interact with the students. We make puzzles together and they try to tell me about what they are eating in English. This is a good time for me to bond with the students and develop a closer relationship with them.

10:15 am: Half of the class leaves with the art teacher. The other half of the class stays for art class. My CT then describes the project we will be doing that day. I go around and help the students who are struggling. I find it interesting that students here are much more independent but once teachers decide that a student needs help they will completely do it for them. I feel like I have always been told to help students along or do it with them. Where as here it is either the mentality that they can do it alone or they cannot do it at all. They also do highly intricate art projects which surprised me because they are only second graders.

12:00 pm: Time to go home! The school day at the elementary school ends at twelve. The kids show me what they made in art and then I wave and receive an enthusiastic chorus of "Bye!!" in return.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Lesson on Charity: Children in Need Day 2014

This past Friday, November 14, 2014 was Children in Need day in the UK. Children in Need is BBC’s charity that aims to change the lives of disabled children and people in the United Kingdom. It’s a really big deal here, with many celebrities getting involved, and leads up to a huge telethon broadcast. This year’s telethon included the reunion of S Club 7, One Direction, and Cheryl Cole among others.

Manorcroft also did its part to help on Children in Need day. Students were able to wear fancy dress, or costumes, if they brought in one pound to donate to the charity. At the weekly school assembly, student council members shared with the school some facts they learned about the charity, including that since 1980 it has raised over 600 million pounds. The Head Teacher also complimented everyone on their fancy dress, and even pointed out a few students who were dressed as Pudsey Bear, the charity’s mascot.

In my classroom, children came as characters from Frozen, football (soccer) players, princesses, and superheroes. While dressing up is fun for the children, Miss Cornick thought it was also important for the students to know why they were dressing up. I feel that it is sometimes difficult to teach students, especially 7 year olds, about controversial topics such as homelessness, disability, racism, poverty, etc. However, I was really impressed with the way in which Miss Cornick went about teaching this lesson.

She had the students sit on the floor and after showing students the short Children in Need video on the smart board, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6Z6uCOku7k&list=PL2091C36E21B86CBF), Miss Cornick told the students a little bit about how the charity helps others. She showed them a picture of One Direction with Pudsey Bear, which really got the students excited. By doing so, Miss Cornick was able to show how popular groups or people that the students recognized are doing their part for Children in Need day.  She also played them the charity single, Wake Me Up, and explained that they might have heard on the radio or seen on the Tele in the past few weeks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ghScc6KDD0). This song is similar to the We Are the World charity single that got a bunch of celebrities and important people together to raise money after the earthquake in Haiti.

Then she asked students to get in a circle and asked students to go around in the circle and share a time when they helped someone else. Whoever was speaking held Pudsey Bear, which the students really enjoyed. She related their helping classmates to the help they were providing to the disadvantaged people by donating money. She told them that by dressing up, the pound they brought in was going directly to help the children and people they saw in the video.

The students then went back to their tables for an activity. On a piece of paper was a picture of Pudsey bear, which they were able to color, and they had to finish the sentence: “Children in Need is an important charity because…” As I walked around and helped students, I was amazed at how well the students understood the topic. Some sentences that students wrote were, “…because it helps children become happy” and “…because it makes children who are weak and poorly smile.”

I was really impressed with the lesson because Miss Cornick was able to take a loaded subject and bring it down to a level that the students could understand. I think teaching controversial topics is difficult for teachers because they don’t want to share any biases, nor do they want to present any material that is above students’ comprehension level or inappropriate for their age.  I had a difficult time when I was teaching a lesson on Martin Luther King Jr. during my pre-practicum last year, especially when students were asking questions about facts that are still being debated today. I found it hard to determine how much information to tell them and how deep into the subject to go.

In America I’ve found that most lessons about controversial topics tend to be in an Open Circle or discussion based format. What I liked about Miss Cornick’s lesson was that she combined many different formats. She presented information on the smart board, then she had the discussion part of it, and finally she had students complete a writing/coloring activity, which served as an assessment for her. Observing Miss Cornick teach this lesson gave me many ideas about how to teach controversial subjects, and I plan on implementing them back in the US.

Here’s a picture from Friday of all my students in their fancy dress. Pudsey Bear is the yellow stuffed bear in the front row.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Comparing Diffferent Types of Schooling in Quito: Promoting Equity and Social Justice

Before I came to Ecuador, Madison (the old International Practicum supervisor) sent me a YouTube video promoting Colegio Menor, the school I am working at.  If you read the comments, some of them praise the amazing quality of the school, but others criticize the fact that there are children on the street and some children are going to this fancy school.  When I first talked to my host family about working at Colegio Menor, they told me that the students at the school have a reputation for being snobs.  While private education is much more feasible in Ecuador (it is much cheaper and there are more options), Colegio Menor is the most expensive private school in Quito.  Comparing my experiences with my practicum at Colegio Menor to some of my colleagues’ experiences volunteering at other schools in the Quito area has helped me see the inequity in schools.
            It is very apparent that Colegio Menor has a lot of resources.  The school has a campus with beautiful buildings and nice sporting fields.  There is a cafeteria that offers breakfast, with items such as pancakes, and lunch, with food such as sushi and ceviche.  There is a library with books of varying levels in both Spanish and English.  The library also has a smart board and around twenty iPads to help instruction.  While the teachers do work with two or three classes, there are teachers specialized in Spanish, Language Arts/Social Studies, and Math/Science.  There is also an assistant that helps the Language Arts Teachers.   There are also multiple psychologists and specialists to help students with special needs.  In addition to the standard classes, school has strong music and art instruction.  The students go on several different field trips throughout the year.  Furthermore, there are special events some weekends to promote school spirit and parent participation.  There are even after schools clubs in which the students can participate.  The students and teachers have plenty of resources to help them succeed.
            On the other hand, one of my friends is volunteering in a public school in Quito and another is volunteering at a school for children on welfare.  At the public school, there is one teacher for all subjects.  She often leaves my friend (who is not an education major and doesn’t feel completely comfortable with Spanish) for long periods of time.  There are many behavioral issues in the classroom.  The school for children on welfare is located in an dangerous area, so much so that my friend is not allowed to bring a bag to her volunteering to prevent robbery.  One of the students took a knife from the school and was threatening another student with it.  Each student is given five dollars to buy lunch.  There is one teacher for each class.  That teacher often has to lock the door to prevent students from leaving the school.  The teachers sometimes physically punish the children.  Hearing about these situations is disheartening.
            While I appreciate being able to see/ participate in the effective instruction at Colegio Menor, I am aware that the students there have a very different experience from some other students in Quito.  I feel guilty having my practicum count as my volunteering.  Nonetheless, this experience has further fueled my desire to promote social equity and help provide a better education for those with fewer resources.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Science in the Roman Classroom

For my second journal entry, I want to discuss specific lessons that I have observed in the classroom. I enjoy the math and science lessons the most, and because my teacher specializes in science and is very passionate about it, those lessons are so fun to be a part of. I am lucky that I am there on Wednesdays and get to observe science, because it is not a subject that the students have every day. They have science only twice a week, geography once a week, and current events once a week. They have math and language arts every day, and a variety of "specials" like music, art, and PE. My teacher is frustrated by this because she thinks that science should have more lessons per week than art or music class, instead science and music are taught the same amount of time every week. I have to agree. In American schools, they usually have the different arts once a week and the educational subjects every day. I am shocked that the students only have science twice a week, and I'm sure they would like to have it more because they absolutely love the interactive lessons.

For the past few months the subject has been electricity. The students all do experiments with circuit boards that have the ability to make electric charges. They usually work in groups and have to figure out how to make a lightbulb light up, a top spin, or use the batteries and wires in some other way. They absolutely love experimenting, and seeing when a student makes a discovery is so incredible to watch. For example, last week they were using two batteries and metal wires to make a closed circuit and light a lightbulb. One group could not figure out why their lightbulb wasn't working. Finally a student realized that they needed the batteries to face opposite directions so the positive and negative sides were back to back. When she finally discovered this, switched the battery and saw the lightbulb light, she was ecstatic! The students have a ton of freedom when doing science, so they all have different results and are able to make comparisons, predictions and conclusions.

This week the class made electromagnets for the first time. My cooperating teacher did a demonstration "fishbowl" where she sat at a table to demonstrate while the rest of the students crowded around (surprisingly there are very few problems with crowding around and being able to see during fishbowls!). She showed the students how they would make a circuit, some groups with one battery and some with two, and connect one wire to make an electromagnet by wrapping it around the body of the cylindric magnet. With that, she sent the groups off. They all worked well and all had a working electromagnet. We then "fishbowled" around each table while each group demonstrated. One group was able to pick up three washers, while the last group picked up over 20! With these observations, the excited students drew conclusions on why one worked so much better (the wire was wrapped tighter, more times around, closer to the head of the magnet, etc.) They then went back to their original groups and remade their electromagnets. By the end, all the groups were picking up 20s and 30s of washers.

The students really benefitted from this hands on experience, and talking to the students after, I found that they really loved science time. They said this is the first year at school where they have so much hands on experimenting, which they love. It is incredible to see how mature some of their responses are when they come back as a class, after small group work, to reflect and make conclusions. The intellectual level of some of the comments prove that this hands on work is irreplaceable, and really effective at teaching concepts properly. The only problems I observed during this group work were lack of materials available to the shyer students, who were unable to get into the group and participate as much as the more rambunctious group members. However, my cooperating teacher and I push the students to work together, and she occasionally splits a group into two even smaller groups so students can work more evenly with the materials. This solves the problem, and the students, whether they are the ones who actually wrap the wire around the magnet or not, are able to see and discover why their experiments work.

Science is my favorite part of the day because we have incredible lessons designed by my cooperating teacher. Not only the lessons make the period fun, but the excitement and passion shown from my cooperating teacher and the students are also great to see. I know there are students who look forward to only science class out of the whole day of academic periods, and though it isn't great, it's a start. It is such a great thing to see certain students interested and passionate when you don't usually see them feeling that way in an educational setting. I love, love the hands on work that we do in science, and I know it is highly beneficial to the students.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Typical Day in Granada, Spain

            While my placement in Spain is not exactly your typical pre-practicum experience, I have learned a lot about teaching in a way that I was not expecting. My schedule changes slightly every once in a while but I’ll try to outline a typical day at my placement.
            I get to my placement a little before 9 a.m. and meet with my CT, the English teacher at the school. Then, I either go with her to her class to observe a lesson and help or go to another classroom and start taking out small groups of 5 to 8 students to lead discussion-based English lessons. As she is an English teacher, she teaches all ages of students so I work with kids from around 11 to 16 years old. While this is a little bit older than the age that I hope to work with in the future, I have really enjoyed working with this age and since the lessons are in a foreign language, the lessons are not that different from topics that I would be teaching in the future. An example of a lesson that I have done with the students have been describing objects and people. While teaching the same topic to all students, I have had to learn how to make adjustments based on the age and level of the students, and not all students of the same age have the same level. For example, with the younger kids we made a list of adjectives and played a game similar to “I Spy” to describe objects in the room. With the older kids, we looked at a photo of a person, described him, and talked about a broader topic. For example, if your clothes say something about your personality or what clothes you like to wear. The students are also a lot more comfortable asking questions and potentially being wrong than I have seen with American students Some of my favorite questions that I have gotten are: What does swag mean? and Do you know Zac Efron?. I do these small group lessons/discussions for most of the day and while it can be fun, sometimes it can be really hard to get some students to talk either because they cannot understand my accent or because they do not know how to say a lot of in English. So, I have learned to talk slower and clearer, directly encourage the quieter students to participate and take their time and let them know that I can help them with words that they do not know.
            Besides teaching lessons in small groups, I also get a thirty-minute break at eleven while the students go outside. During this time, I go to the teacher’s lounge and talk to some of the teachers. It’s been nice to be able to hear other perspectives to understand the Spanish education system. Then, I continue the small group lessons/discussions until I go home at 2:30 p.m.
            One large cultural difference that I have noticed at this school, as well as in my classes at the university, is that their sense of time is a lot more flexible. For them, if they’re ten minutes late to a class, it’s not that big of deal. When my CT has to go talk to some volunteers, she will wait for them until they come and then go to class late. It has been the same in my classes at the university. Sometimes class starts twenty minutes late and that is just fine. While this was very hard to get used to, I have found that this less stressful way of living and not worrying is very nice and good for one’s mental health.

            So far my experience at my placement has been great and I have not only learned a lot about teaching and the Spanish culture, but have also gained a lot of practice in flexibility and adjusting my teaching methods. I look forward to seeing what else I learn for the remainder of the semester.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Student's Day in Bath, England

For my second post I thought I would include a journal entry I wrote a few weeks ago about a day during which I followed around one specific student from my class. This is a task I was given by my education program here, but I found it very interesting and loved the opportunity to focus on one student, especially in a class of thirty, and get to know him a little bit better. (I have changed the name of the student):

Today I spend most of my day following and observing Robbie, one of the youngest students in the class. He is four years old, and my first impression of him was that he was extremely talkative. He is an incredibly interesting child who is receptive, independent, imaginative, and has amazing oral language skills.

            Mrs. W began the day as usual by greeting each student and encouraging them to say: “Good morning Mrs. W”. At this point, about half of the students will say it aloud, while the others are still very quiet. During the morning literacy lesson I sat with Robbie as the students learned a new sound: “b”. He was mostly attentive but quieter than most students. Several times he became distracted looking at the toys that had been laid out for free time later. He did well counting the sounds in the words out on this fingers. When they began practicing writing, I noticed that he had trouble holding his market correctly and forming his letters. Under each of his letters he drew dots and told me they were “sound buttons” (there are dots under the letters on Mrs. W’s flashcards that she points to when she wants to students to say that sound. I thought it was very interesting that Robbie picked this detail up and transferred it to his own work. Even though he is sometimes distracted or may not appear to be actively engaged, I believe that he is absorbing a lot of what is going on around him. Another way that I was able to pick up on his receptiveness was that fact that he is one of the only students who remembers my name and calls me “Ms. Jacobsen”. Because Mrs. W only introduced me once and I am only there once a week, most of the students are too young to remember exactly who I am.

            After the literacy lesson, students worked in small groups with the teachers either drawing, writing, or reading. I observed Mrs. W’s writing group where Robbie was working with three other boys. She seemed to have chosen this group because they are the ones most behind on their writing. They practiced writing letters and words that Mrs. Williams put up on the board, and then traced their names as she helped guide their hands. Robbie again had trouble holding his pencil correctly and forming his letters steadily. He also had trouble putting spaces between his letters and words. Afterwards, I spoke with Mrs. W briefly and she seemed to understand that this group of students was behind because of their language skills (two of the boys speak different languages at home, so have less-advanced English) or their age (Robbie is the second youngest in the class).

            Later, I spent time doing puzzles with Robbie and two other boys. He seemed distracted and wanted to play with other toys and I had to keep reminding him that this was the activity that we were doing now. He worked well with the other boys and was very happy when he was able to fit pieces together. However, he got frustrated and would say things like: “I give up” when he couldn’t find the right pieces. He finished one puzzle with my help, but I was not able to get him to concentrate for much longer. Throughout the activity he was very talkative, and especially liked beginning his sentences with: “Did you know…?” usually followed by some random and equally funny fact about anything from his sister to Robin Hood. During free choice time after assembly, Robbie spent most of his time playing outside. He played with some of the other children, but never seemed to stay with one group.
            After lunch, Mrs. W engaged the students in a math lesson. Today they were working on comparing groups of marbles using ‘more’ and ‘fewer’. I sat with Robbie again and noticed that he counted along with the rest of the group but did not raise his hand or participate aloud like many of the other students. He seemed distracted at times and would turn to me and make unrelated comments (like how he fell and got a scrape during playtime). When he started seeing other students getting called on and participating he became more engaged and was even chosen to have a turn with the marbles in front of the class. After the lesson, the students had more free choice time, but Robbie chose to stay and play with the marbles that Mrs. W had left out. I was able to get him to count the marbles aloud with me a couple of times, but he seemed to be more focused on collecting as many as he could (he even put them all in a jar and marched around the room saying “we’re the richest people in England!”). He continued to talk (both to me and himself) throughout the rest of free time.

            Robbie really seemed to enjoy the attention and having someone to talk to all day. Even though he is quieter during group lessons compared to some of the older children, he loves to talk about anything and everything when given the individual attention. His oral language skills are quite advanced for someone so young. Although he is often easily distracted and appears behind many of his peers due to his age, he is amazingly receptive and independent. It will be interesting to learn more about him and observe how he progresses over the next few months.