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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Science Program at Colegio Menor

           As a kid, science experiments are incredibly fascinating and memorable. For this reason, I was very happily surprised to see how extensive and interactive the science program is at Colegio Menor. In just four months, the students learned about and interacted with live guppies, goldfish, land snails, water snails, isopods and quail. Science lessons are a great way to use academic content to reinforce English vocabulary and oral and written English. For the guppy and goldfish unit, the students focused on the Venn diagram. After observing and discussing the characteristics of each fish, they then learned how to compare and contrast what they had observed. The teacher guided the lesson as she organized their conversations on the rug into a Venn diagram. This graphic organizer not only helped to teach the students about each fish, but also helped to expand their vocabulary and comparing and contrasting skills. The land and water snail unit also developed their ability to observe and discuss similarities and differences. The teacher held races for the land snails, in which the students recorded the amount of time for each snail to move from the center to the edge of the circle. These races initiated conversation among t the students about how fast and how far land snails travel compared to water snails. In a full-class lesson, the teacher organized their findings in a T-chart, another graphic organizer. Lastly, the students worked with quail. The students observed each stage of development of the quail, starting with the eggs in the incubator to egg hatches to baby quail. The students drew a picture of the quail at each stage of development. When the eggs hatched, the students wrote short stories with drawings about the quail. This was a great way for the students to take what they were learning in science and use writing to continue working with the academic content. The students loved writing about the quail because it was an opportunity to use their imagination to determine the future of the quail. By the end of each unit, instead of using Spanish words to refer to Tier 3 words such as branquia and concha, and began to use specialized vocabulary such as gill and shell. In sum, after the hands-on activities with animals, the students retained what they had learned because the learning experience was tremendously meaningful and memorable. Science lessons are a great opportunity to make learning interactive and engaging.

Teaching Reading for English Language Learners in Ecuador

            This semester at my university in Cumbaya, Ecuador I am taking a Bilingualism class. The class has been a very unique experience because I am taking it in a Spanish-speaking country. It’s also unique because most of the students in my class have learned English in full-immersion bilingual programs. For my final project, I chose to explore the most effective strategies for teaching reading in a second language. With the archive of articles from my Bilingualism class and many hours spent in an English full-immersion first grade classroom, I compared what the research recommends with applied practice.
            The reading curriculum at Colegio Menor, is written by Jo Fitzpatrick in 1998, is called Reading strategies that work! Helping young readers develop independent reading skills. The book is organized into 10 sections: introduction, description of the reading process, teaching reading strategies, using bookmark picture prompts, parent involvement, a strategy chart, activities (for pre-emergent, emergent, early fluent and fluent readers), culminating activities, resources and reproducibles. The most prominent commonality that I found in the research, Colegio Menor’s reading curriculum and what I observed at Colegio Menor was explicit instruction of reading strategies. For example, through explicit instruction, my teacher taught three strategies to make sense of unknown words. The first is Stretchy Snake, which suggests to “stretch” the letters of a word to understand each sound (ccc-aaa-ttt for cat). The second is Lips the Fish, which recommends focusing on the first sound of a word (ccc for cat). After trying and failing to pronounce a word, the third strategy, Tryin’ Lion, tells the students to think about works that they already know about the given topic. For example, if a student can’t pronounce the word house, he should think about what the sentence is trying to say by using prior knowledge and pictorial clues to help him recognize the word house. Explicit instruction for second language learners is fundamental to their learning of reading and writing. However, the research stresses that when educators are too heavily dependent on explicit instruction for code-based skills it can hinder a meaningful learning experience. I was happy to see that Colegio Menor has a good balance between teaching explicit code-based skills and leading authentic and meaningful lessons to best support their learning.
          Reading about suggested strategies to best teach English Language Learners made me much more aware of what I’ll need to consider in the classroom when I become a teacher. English Language Learners need a lot of support. This support is needed in a variety of skillsets that aid in literacy, which poses the logistical problem of finding time to best do this in a conventional classroom. My cooperating teacher is very thoughtful in her lesson planning to balance the necessary code-based exercises with meaningful oral and written expressions of language. She builds the core building blocks of the English language while challenging the students to communicate with one another even though they haven’t developed all of the necessary skills yet. Student teaching in a first grade classroom has been especially interesting to me since first grade is the year in which students need to master basic literacy. One of the biggest takeaways about teaching reading as a second language is that reading and writing consists of a combination of abilities that can be expressed in a variety of ways. Consequentially, it’s necessary to be cognizant of these abilities and give students the opportunity to learn and be evaluated in a variety of ways.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Teaching Culture in Ecuadorian Schools

El Colegio Menor

Students at Colegio Menor do not learn much about Ecuadorian or Hispanic culture as all the classes are taught entirely in English (except for their Spanish class for 5 hours every week). On a regular day, they learn more about american culture than their own, which does not foster acceptance and appreciation of their own ethnicity and traditions. Even though Ecuadorians do not celebrate Thanksgiving, they had a half-day that day because some teachers are american. Some of their work in November centered around Thanksgiving traditions and turkeys. They do incorporate a few ecuadorian holidays in the curriculum, such as Fiestas de Quito and el Día de los Difuntos. For el Día de los Difuntos, they invited the parents and had a small celebration where they ate guaguas de pan and drank colada morada, the traditional food and drink for the holiday. Their worksheets at times include ecuadorian traditions, but very rarely, as they are often taken from workbooks published in the United States.

Escuela Carlos Aguilar

Escuela Carlos Aguilar celebrates and teaches ecuadorian culture much more than el Colegio Menor. For Fiestas de Quito, they only had a half-day and for the last hour they had a mini-parade and show where the students dressed up, danced, and performed for their families and the rest of the school. The school was decorated with red and blue streamers and balloons, the colors of Quito, and the entire school participated in the festivities. They do not have many books in the classroom though and the ones that they do have are traditional fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson and are not from Latin America, much less Ecuador. With the limited resources that they have, however, they celebrate and incorporate Ecuadorian culture as much as they can.

Classroom Management in Colegio Menor and Escuela Carlos Aguilar

El Colegio Menor

My first grade class at Colegio Menor (the private english immersion school) has very few classroom management issues and my teacher handles any smoothly generally, with love and little confrontation. The students know her expectations: they must sit on the rug during the lesson, listen and pay attention, and not talk while she or their other classmates are talking. This routine and constant expectations everyday makes classroom management easier. Everyday after lunch and recess, the students come into the classroom and do a “Gold Noodle,” which is a youtube video that they sing and dance to in the in their spots on the rug to get their energy out and to refocus their energy to prepare for the lesson. After this, they sit quietly on the rug, ready to begin. This strategy doesn’t make the kids repress their energy but instead gives them outlet and a time to use it before they start the lesson. If a student is not sitting properly or is talking to their friend during the lesson, my teacher asks them to sit in their chair at their table. If they are standing up or can’t sit properly, she jokingly asks if this means that they want to dance, which leads to a horrified “no” by the student and a better sitting position. She casually calls attention to those who lose focus during the lesson by incorporating their names in her examples. If she notices that Jose Maria is not paying attention, she might say, “So if JoseMaría has 5 books and his dad gives him 3 more, how many does he have now?”. This non-confrontational manner of attention redirection brings the student back to the lesson without feeling as though his teacher doesn’t like him. I interviewed my teacher about her teaching philosophy and she said that love is the best philosophy, as obvious as that might sound. Children need to know that you have their best intentions at heart and that you love and care for them for them to follow the rules and listen to you. This means that she hugs the kids a lot, rarely yells, and is very patient in helping the child pay attention instead of scolding him for his short attention span. She also has a job list and each week she changes who does what job, such as teacher helper, line leader, etc. The kids all know their roles and what to do. To manage clean-up and table behavior, she has a star system for each table. Every once in awhile, she will give a star to certain tables for doing a good job working quietly, cleaning up, or other things. This random positive reinforcement increases the likelihood of the students displaying good behavior all the time and rewarding them when they do do well.

Escuela Carlos Aguilar

The teacher at Carlos Aguilar struggles more with classroom management and almost every two minutes says “Callense!” (like shut up) to get the kids to be quiet, which is not very effective. She often physically moves children to their spots or to a spot where they will pay attention better. She does expect the students to sit up properly and quietly in their chairs, with their arms crossed so they are not distracting their neighbors. To get their attention, she sings a song, asks them to cross their arms or put their heads down on their desks as if they were sleeping, or just starts talking. The teacher in this classroom has a different style of classroom management and often struggles talking over the students, but she has them sit down in their chairs at their tables, which helps them pay attention better.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Typical Day at San Gaspare Primary School

          When I arrive on Monday morning, Ms. Falagiani’s third grade class is buzzing.  I try to get to school earlier than 8:20 AM to say hello to the students, and do my best to interact with them about their weekends.  When Ms. Falagiani gets to class, the students sit in their seats, and attendance is taken.  She takes time to ask the students how they are doing, as well as how their weekends were before beginning the morning prayer, which is repeated in English.  The homework is checked one by one, and Ms. Falagiani allows me to also check over homework, simply to give extra encouragement to the students with a thumb up or a “good job.”   Monday mornings are dominated by language arts and grammar in English, most likely because this is the time when I am in the classroom to help.  Lessons are taught using the workbook from the assigned curriculum, which involves writing exercises, drawing and coloring activities, and listening comprehension.  Aside from myself, there is an aid in the room that acts as an extra hand for when I cannot translate Italian or there is an outside issue that I am not equipped to handle.  Despite all language barriers, interactions with the students and other teachers are welcoming and warm-hearted. 
            In the last two weeks I spent at San Gaspare, there was a substitute teacher in the classroom.  At this point in my time at the school, the students know who I am and feel comfortable around me enough to listen to my instructions as well as joke around with me.  This came in handy especially in the past two weeks as the substitute teacher adjusted to the classroom.  Because I had spent time with the students as well as following Ms. Falagiani’s teaching style, she gave me much more responsibility and freedom in the classroom, making me feel as an equal rather than a subordinate.  However, this came at a cost because I felt more in charge of the classroom than I had in previous visits, and without Ms. Falagiani’s help, it became increasingly difficult to contain the classroom antics.  In addition to the chaos in the classroom, the Christmas show was being assembled; therefore, the students were in high spirits.  Around noon, the whole school was brought into the hallway to practice the readings for the show, and it was evident how close-knit the faculty and students were.  San Gaspare is a relatively small school, so there is a strong sense of camaraderie and closeness. 
My last day at San Gaspare was bittersweet.  Despite the challenges I faced with language barriers and cultural differences, I felt connected to the students in a way I had not experienced before in American classrooms.  The curriculum is more focused on creative expression, and the atmosphere in the classroom is carefree.  Although I found that I would address certain things differently, such as discipline and management, my classroom at San Gaspare felt more comfortable and stress-free in comparison to some American classrooms.  Also, the preparation for the Christmas show reminded me of my own experience in my elementary school where we prepared a show full of readings, songs and prayers for the holidays.  As I attended a Catholic school, San Gaspare was the perfect fit for my international practicum experience, challenges and all. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Italian Culture in the Classroom

After living in Italy for three months, I’ve learned a bit about Italian culture; Italian behaviors and traditions are apparent in my classroom discussions. For example, Italians are quite disorganized. I noticed this the moment I began to plan my student teaching schedule with the school. I also noticed this disorganization in my communication with the teachers; for example, each week I was given a broad topic and could say anything I wanted about it. I actually enjoyed this vagueness a lot because I had freedom to choose a direction.

Through facilitating classroom discussions, I learned about what Italians think of Americans as well as American ideals and culture. For example, I did a lesson on Christmas and spoke with them about what they thought of American Christmas and how Italian celebrations differed. Another lesson was on the idea of the “American melting pot” since my CT had asked me to talk about it – it was my most difficult lesson to plan because I didn’t know how to talk about the complex concepts of immigration, ethnicity, race, and diversity in a simple and elementary way. Nevertheless it was one of my favorite discussions with them because I enjoyed learning about what Italians think of American diversity – the students admitted that Italy is nowhere near as close and that probably half of the population holds some form of racist beliefs. I had realized that Italians were resistant to change before I gave this lesson, but I didn’t realize how self-aware they were. It gives me hope that the young Italians are thinking about these issues and open to admitting that there needs to be change.

Classroom Management in Parma

I’ve learned a lot about classroom management while teaching abroad, through observing my CT and second teacher’s’ classroom management skills as well as through practicing different strategies to see what works best for me.

My CT manages her classroom incredibly well, while the second teacher I work with does not. I think a major part of this difference is their relationships with their students. While my CT maintains a mutual level of respect with her students, the second teacher does not respect her students and therefore they do not respect her in return. For example, the second teacher says to me almost every time I visit: “I’m sorry. They are so stupid and so loud.” I have the impression that the students know that she has this view of them, mainly because of the way she treats them. I think the students talk so much because she she yells often and only gives positive praise in order to say that others aren’t as good. Therefore, her negative view of her students impacts all of her interactions with them. Meanwhile, my CT has not said negative things to me about her students and she gives them positive praise when they do well. Furthermore, I cannot recall a time that students have spoken inappropriately out of turn - they almost always raise their hands. She doesn’t have to ask them to maintain this good behavior because I believe she established these standards from the beginning of the year. Therefore, I think classroom management is largely dependent on the standards that the teacher establishes and the norms that characterize everyday classroom interaction.

I have employed strategies that I have observed to work as well as tested other strategies. My CT asks them many questions to keep them engaged, so I did the same. I tried to ask many questions and keep a conversation with the students in the second teacher’s classroom, but it was difficult when she keeps speaking with them on the side - it was quite confusing and loud in her classroom. I would try to gain students’ attention by speaking Italian. I also tried talking really quietly and expressively to gain their attention but that didn’t really work. I also tried standing in silence and waiting, staring them down - that seemed to work sometimes. I don’t know if I found a strategy to quiet students that works all the time, but I’m happy I got to try some new ones. I’m so grateful that I was able to observe these two very different teachers and their teaching strategies, as well as to develop my own.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Carlos Aguilar: A public school in Ecuador

With the help of Lindsay in the International Pre-practicum office and my program coordinator Rocío, I now student teach in two different schools in Ecuador. In addition to Colegio Menor, a private school, I now student teach at Carlos Aguilar, a public school. Carlos Aguilar is very representative of the public school experience in Ecuador. The younger grades have class from 7:00am-12:30pm, followed by class from 1:00pm-7:00pm for the older grades. The class sizes range in size, with closer to 20 or 25 students in K-1 and between 30-40 in upper elementary school. I am student teaching in a 3rd grade classroom of 36 students in the morning shift.
It’s clear that managing the student population is a challenge for administrators and educators in the public school system. Unlike 8 hour school days in public schools in the United States, in Ecuador students only attend school for 5-6 hours a day. This is a logistical solution to manage high concentrations of school-age children throughout Ecuador. With limited classrooms and teachers, this is the solution implemented in the public school system.
My 3rd grade classroom in Carlos Aguilar feels chaotic and crowded, especially compared to the 1st grade classroom at Colegio Menor. It’s very discouraging to see how few resources the public schools have, especially compared to the private schools in Ecuador. Carlos Aguilar is only a 3 minute walk from Colegio Menor, but students at Carlos Aguilar aren’t given nearly the same opportunities as their counterparts in the private school. I still haven’t found a single book in the classroom and it feels impossible to do anything but have the students copy what’s written on the board.
However, my cooperating teacher explained to me that Carlos Aguilar has actually shown great progress in the past few years. She said that a few years ago 3rd graders couldn’t read, which explained why there were no reading resources in 3rd grade. The fact that the students now have basic reading skills is an incredible improvement that will advance their development in the following years. There is also better parent-teacher communication than in the past. My CT recognizes that her students certainly deserve better than what they’re given, but she focuses on the positive changes in the past few years, which I admire.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Emotional Development in Ecuador

Colegio Menor is a private institution in Cúmbaya, Ecuador that provides a full-immersion bilingual program. The school's incredible resources, such as their developed arts and music program or the latest technology in the classrooms, immediately drew my attention on my first visit. However, what outshined these incredible opportunities was my teacher's emphasis on emotional development. To understand how my teacher incorporates emotional development into the school day given the demanding curriculum, I asked her how she does it. She told me that she places importance on literacy and math, but her top priority as a teacher is her students´ well-being. She wants her classroom to be a safe place where first graders feel loved and connected with one another. She believes that this connection is necessary to succeed in literacy, math and science.

There are three ways that my teacher incorporates emotional development into her lessons that stand out from my experiences in New York and Boston. The first two strategies are a result of Ecuadorian culture. In Ecuador, people are very affectionate. They greet one another with a hug and kiss on one cheek and greet each other by first name. In the classroom, this means that the students call the teacher by her first name, which makes her image as a teacher more relatable and approachable. At drop off and pick up, my teacher always gives a hug and kiss to her students and their parents. This creates meaningful friendships within the school community. Unlike the formality found in American schools, Colegio Menor develops a relaxed, comfortable and amicable atmosphere. Lastly, my teacher integrates song into her daily routine. She sings with the students in Morning Circle and transitions, and also in lessons to learn high frequency words, reinforce word families, to name a few. My teacher takes advantage of the academic benefits of singing as well as the expressive and creative benefits.

I really admire the way that my cooperating teacher integrates emotional support into her daily routine. She connects the students with one another and creates a safe space for her students to explore and learn. When I return to the U.S., I want to bring with me what I’ve learned about emotional development through my teacher and Colegio Menor as a whole.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A typical day at Convitto Maria Luigia Parma: highlights and challenges

A typical day of student teaching at Convitto Maria Luigia Parma runs from 8 am to 10:40 am on Thursdays. I attend three English classes, all of which are students in their third year of middle school, equivalent to American 8th grade. The first two classrooms belong to my CT and the third classroom belongs to another English teacher.

I am expected to present for the duration of the class time in every period. I am not expected to write a lesson objective or plan; rather, I am given a topic and asked to present about it. So far my topics have been: me and where I come from, Mount Rushmore, and Proms. Before I come, I make a presentation (usually a PowerPoint) at home. I’ve chosen PowerPoint because it is appropriate for teaching English; I want to provide the written word, a picture, and the spoken word to the classroom.

At first, these expectations were a challenge because I felt I was given little instruction or direction. By now, I appreciate this format because it is a wonderful learning experience. The vague instructions I receive allow me to be creative, organized, independent, and cognizant. I appreciate the trust my CT places in me. My role is to stand in the front of the classroom and initiate a conversation between the students and myself. Therefore, my experience teaching in Italy is less structured yet more interactive than my past student teaching experiences. I am constantly in conversation with the Italian students, asking many questions and doing my best to keep them engaged.

In the first two classrooms, I teach the topic my CT has given me. This format works well with my CT. Then, I move to the third classroom with the other teacher. Transitioning to this classroom has been the greatest challenge I have faced, perhaps because the teacher’s classroom management practices are very different from my CT’s. She yells a lot and the students constantly talk. There is a lack of respect between her and her students. Yet she expects me to teach the same topic that I am teaching in my CT’s classroom. We have no communication before class; I simply walk in and begin my lesson. I feel less connected with this classroom and this teacher because we do not communicate outside of class. Overall, my experience in this classroom is not as positive as my experience in my CT’s classrooms. Nevertheless, its great practice in classroom management. I’m still learning how to capture the attention and respect of this talkative class. I made an exciting step last week when the CT and I asked them to take notes.

This is what my Thursdays at Maria Luigia look like. I genuinely enjoy the experience so far; it is simultaneously fun and challenging to engage Italian middle school students in English conversation.