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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Typical Day in Bath, England

My typical Tuesday at St. Andrew's C of E Primary School starts with a one minute walk from my flat to the school, such a great commute! I get to the school at 8:30am and immediately start tidying up the classroom and helping out my teacher, Miss. Sandey, with photocopying, stapling, and anything else that she may need. Then the kids arrive around 9am and they have an hour of choir with the music teacher in their classroom. Music is a huge part of the culture at St. Andrew's and the kids really enjoy getting to start their day by singing goofy songs. After music, the kids have a warm up activity where Miss. Sandey usually asks them to write a paragraph on their individual white boards using adjectives, similes, and other forms of figurative language to describe a picture. The kids love being able to be creative with their responses and usually create elaborate stories around the picture, which is great to hear.

After the warm up, the students have a quick math or literacy review, the subject of the lesson between math and literacy fluctuates every week, but it usually consists of a review of what they have been learning in anticipation for their upcoming assessments. After this, the students have a break where they can go and play outside for about 10-15 minutes while I work with the teacher on setting up for the next lesson. After the students have come back in from break they have at least an hour of guided reading. About a third of the class consists of ELL students, so those students get to sit with either Miss. Sandey or the TA and do specialized guided reading practice. Then my job during this time is to circulate through the remaining readers and listen to them reading aloud for 10 minutes each. I am supposed to engage with them while they read by asking clarification questions as well as give them feedback on how they are reading and what they can work on in order to improve. I find this to be a really helpful practice because you can really tell what ability level the students are at when you ask them to read aloud to you. It also allows me one-on-one time with many of the students, which is always enjoyable for me.

After guided reading, they head to lunch and extra recess for about 40 minutes. During this time I usually work with the TA on getting the art lesson prepared for the remainder of the day. The TA is a little bit hard to work with because she is unaware of the fact that I have taught before so instead of putting me in positions where I could be really useful she gives me all of the grunt work that she does not really want to do. Art is not my speciality, so I don't feel completely comfortable taking the reins anyway, but I usually dread art at the end of the day because it usually just includes 2-3 hours of cleaning and setting up materials when I could be sitting in on teacher development sessions or following around the kids on their day when they are not in art. Then after art, school gets out at 3:30pm, which is when I usually leave to go home, unless I have a meeting with my supervisor or my CT.

Overall, my daily experience at St. Andrew's has been a positive one. The students are wonderful and the teacher, Miss. Sandey, is one of the best that I have seen. It has been a pleasure to get the opportunity to see her run a classroom because she is really great at commanding the attention of her students, using effective teaching tools, and giving her students the personalized attention that they need. One of my biggest challenges with working at St. Andrew's has been my experience working with the TA in the classroom. She is a very nice lady and wants to see me excel, but she gives me so much clerical and cleaning work to do throughout the day that I spend very little time watching lessons. Because of this, I don't feel like I am learning as much as I could be at St. Andrew's, but Miss. Sandey ensures that I am involved in the classroom, which I appreciate.

St. Andrew's reminds me of a Boston Public School in a way because of how diverse the student body is. Almost all of the students in my Year 5 class are multicultural, bilingual, sometimes even trilingual, or are ELLs. This diversity is very much like the schools that I have taught at in Boston, which has helped to make my experience extremely rewarding and valuable. Getting to work with students from a wide variety of backgrounds has always been great for me, and getting to continue this work at St. Andrew's has been an amazing experience.

Friday, March 13, 2015

English as a Second Language

One of the main reasons I wanted to study abroad in Spain was to practice and hopefully perfect my Spanish. In my mind the complete immersion would magically allow me to become fluent. After spending time at Colegio I have come to realize that yes immersion is helpful but the most important aspect of language fluency is how you are taught.

My students are docked "points" if they speak in Spanish during an English lesson. They are constantly told that this is for your future. If they complain or are annoyed about a test or memorizing more vocabulary the teachers remind that this is what it takes to become fluent. The entire mentality is very different from the U.S. Here English, or French or Germany is taught as a second language--adding to their Spanish. In the U.S., generally, Spanish or French  is taught as a foreign language. A language that might be useful to know some words should you travel there but always knowing that English will be your back up.

Overall this follows the philosophy of education that I have observed in Spain (or at least in Madrid). Education is a priviledge. Education is the job of the students. Education will depend on how much effort you put in. There is less micromanaging and the students by and large are very mature and self-motivating. There are less excuses made for the students and by the students.

For example, student B, in my fifth grade class, did not complete the English exercises from the week before. I anticipated that he would have created a story but instead he simply looked the teacher right in the eye and said "I did not do it. I am sorry, next time I will be sure to do it." The teacher responded with "Well I am disappointed. This will affect your grade. Do not let it happen again". There is almost a coldness to teaching but that doesn't diminsh the care the teachers feel for the students.

Comparing the teaching philosophies and expectations of Colegio and BPS is interesting and leds me to wonder what would happen if we implemented aspects into BPS, namely the addivitive bilinugalism.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

School and Show Business in Ireland

Hello from Cork, Ireland! I have been student teaching at Scoil Mhuire for several weeks now, even though this is my first blog post. My placement began earlier than others as another BC student completed her practicum at Scoil Mhuire last spring, making it a lot easier for me to organize. By the third week of my time in Ireland I was already in the classroom. It felt great to be back working with students and really helped make Cork feel like home!

My introduction to Scoil Mhuire was unique in that I began just as the school was making its final preparations for a musical to celebrate its 60th anniversary. With all the commotion surrounding the show, the teachers were very enthusiastic about me helping as much as possible. I eagerly accepted and, in addition to taking on some backstage responsibilities during the musical, I have been teaching lessons each week and supervising lunch/recess. I have even started a pen pal system with my practicum class from last semester!

I will discuss the musical and lessons later on, but first, a proper introduction to my school is in order! Scoil Mhuire (pronounced Skol Vera) is a small all-girls school in Cork city. The students come from all over the county as Scoil Mhuire is the only private all-girls school in the city. I am working with 5th class (the Irish equivalent to 5th grade), which is made up of 13 motivated, creative and incredibly chatty students.

Scoil Mhuire’s small size combined with the fact that it is Catholic and all-girls means that my experience teaching at Scoil Mhuire has been very different than my experiences in Boston Public Schools. One of the most pronounced differences I have observed is the style of teaching. Students have textbooks for each subject and I have found that most lessons here are taught directly from these books. The lessons tend to involve a short introduction to a new topic, which my CT reads aloud from the book, followed by some short exercises. I have found this approach to differ greatly from my experiences in Boston.

The learning in my classroom is also very focused on homework. A typical maths lesson, for example, begins with a review of the previous night’s homework, followed by a brief introduction of the next topic in relation to the next homework assignment, and ends with my CT going over the first problem of the homework to ensure that everyone understands. This reliance on homework is something I have not experienced in an elementary classroom before. Students in my classroom at Scoil Mhuire always complete their homework and almost every one of them brings the books back to school the next day, making this style of teaching possible. However, I believe placing so much emphasis on homework could have negative results, particularly as it prevents teachers from addressing student misunderstandings. Additionally, Scoil Mhuire’s students are privileged in that they have the time and resources to complete their homework each night. This is certainly not true of all schools and makes me think about my experience in Edison K-8 in Brighton last semester, in which only a handful of students completed their homework each day. I look forward to talking to my teacher about homework to find out her reasoning behind it as well as what happens when students do not complete it.

In addition to being centered on books and homework, most of the work students do in my CT’s class is silent and independent. This can be quite a challenge as the girls in my class LOVE to talk and are constantly sharing anecdotes, asking questions, and naming celebrities I somehow resemble. I am interested to see what happens when, in some of my upcoming lessons, I ask the students to work in groups to complete their assignment. I have not seen them work in this way before so I expect I will have to give a thorough introduction to the dynamics of group work.

Another quality that differentiates Scoil Mhuire from the schools I have worked at in Boston is its strong sense of community, which became clear to me during the school musical. As I mentioned previously, Scoil Mhuire was in the midst of a production of Practically Perfect Mary (a remake of Mary Poppins) when I arrived. On February 6th the entire school came together to perform in front of a full audience of family and graduates. It was quite the production; students had been rehearsing for months and staff had been planning and developing the play since the summer. I felt very lucky to be involved in the show because it allowed me to see how Scoil Mhuire worked. There was a real sense of camaraderie throughout the show and students were all supportive of each other. I saw older students playing with and helping younger students, revealing the family-like environment the school creates. Additionally, it became clear that all of the staff and students not only know each other’s names, but also know personal information about one another and talk as friends. There is a real sense of unity at Scoil Mhuire that I have not always felt as strongly in my BPS placements.

Although Scoil Mhuire is very different to my other practicum placements, it is not unlike other schools I have experienced. For the past year I have occasionally substituted in St. Paul School, a small Catholic school in Wellesley, MA. St Paul School and Scoil Mhuire are very similar in terms of their sense of community and the emphasis they place on books. For this reason, I think some of Scoil Mhuire’s traits come from its religious nature and its size. Interestingly, Scoil Mhuire is most similar to the school I attended when I lived in England. The sense of community fostered by assemblies and whole school activities was a defining quality of my school in England and is also true of Scoil Mhuire. Additionally, both schools encourage personal relationships between students and teachers and have a laid back approach to management. These similarities are likely due to the influence of the several English teachers working at Scoil Mhuire, particularly the Headmistress. In light of this, my experience teaching at Scoil Mhuire might not be a quintessentially Irish experience. That said, it is certainly a wonderful experience and I look forward to going each day to learn, teach, and hear which American movie star I look like that day!