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Monday, April 20, 2015

How the French Manage

Classroom management in general is something that has always interested me because of how difficult it can be and how many different strategies there are that work differently for different students. Keeping this in mind, I was super excited and intrigued to see how teachers in another country would manage their classrooms and how it would differ from anything I’ve seen in my other pre-practicums.

The situation that I am in right now in France is different from a traditional classroom setting so the management is therefore vastly different. As I explained in my last post, the first session I observe at my placement is a parent-child class. The basis of the class in itself creates a difficulty for management. Before even starting at my placement, my CT explained to me that one of the hardest things for her is finding the right balance of behavioral management in this class. She explained how she feels intrusive if she corrects the children’s behavior since the parents are present and interactive the entire time. Over the months I have been at my placement, she has held true to that statement. At times I can tell that she wishes she could intervene when a child is misbehaving but restrains herself. It would be an extremely difficult position, and I am not sure how I would handle it if I were in her shoes. Management becomes an entirely different ball game in a situation like this.

In the second session I observe the teacher does not use many classroom management techniques. I can tell that she struggles with what exactly to do to develop a standardized strategy especially because there is one child who dominates the class. The student is extremely advanced in English and races to beat the other children with almost any question, which then discourages the other students.

Similar to classrooms in the United States, you’ll find a range of students with different abilities. I do not know from experience, but I have heard that in French elementary schools teachers and rules tend to be rather strict. I have noticed during our arts and crafts time with the older students that they do not dare make something that looks different from the model the teacher provides. Down to the color they try to keep it exactly the same. I wonder if this could be a reflection of the strictness and how the teachers manage their classrooms.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Independence/Responsibility amongst Viennese Students

     After observing and teaching for many weeks in a Viennese elementary school, I have noticed that students are granted more responsibility in the classroom as well as outside of school. My students are only in first grade, but yet they are expected to complete all homework assignments and bring in library books without any reminders. If students forget things, like sneakers for gym class or money for a field trip, teachers normally won't let them participate. If students don't complete their homework, they have to tell their parents that they didn't do it and finish it for the next day. In American schools, I frequently hear teachers reiterating due dates and assigned tasks. Students I have worked with have forgotten homework on multiple occasions and are given stern reminders, but they normally are not excluded from the day's activities. 
   My teacher will also leave the students alone for some time in the classroom to complete certain tasks. Legally I don't think this is allowed in most U.S. schools, however, in Vienna the children are expected to continue working and remain in their seats. Of course there are instances where students get up and start chit chatting with peers and not engaging in the assigned worksheet, exercise, etc.  However, generally, I get the impression that Viennese children are accustomed to working on their own without their teacher's constant guidance and support. They understand that it is their responsibility to complete their work and that there will be consequence if they do not. 
     Another example I notice daily is that very young children will ride the public transport system on their own. This is not something I see frequently in the United States. It seems like children are just naturally instilled with more independence and responsibility than in the States. It may also have something to do with Austria's very low crime rate. Parents aren't scared of sending their children on the subway because they know it is safe. After school when students are going home, the teacher will freely let them out of the classroom. There isn't a teacher in charge of pick up who makes sure that each child gets picked up by the right parent or gets in the right car. Initially this was strange to me because in the States teachers must be very aware of where each of their students are going after school. However, in Vienna it's in the hands of the kids to know where they are going and where they are supposed to be.


Greetings from Aix-en-Provence, France!

I have had the opportunity to work at an after-school program/club that offers a number of different classes in English ranging from pottery to yoga classes.  Traditionally French children did not attend school on Wednesdays to have a day to practice religion at home since France is a secular country. Now many schools continue this tradition and therefore the program where I am completing my student teaching holds classes all day Wednesdays for students who are out of school.

Each week I go to my placement on Wednesday morning and observe two classes. The first session is a parent-child class with children ages 2-3 years old. During the 45 minute session, my Cooperating Teacher goes through a number of different songs in English as they practice colors, numbers, and a different vocabulary focus every few weeks. After singing, they continue into an arts-and-crafts where the parent and child work together to complete the desired project. This session, in particular, is extremely different from anything I have observed or participated in because the parents are present for the entire time. It is a completely different dynamic as the parents typically speak to their children in French while my CT speaks almost completely in English.

The second session I observe is an older class of students ranging from 5-8 years old. This session is similar to the first parent-child session on Wednesdays, but it typically involves a game in English and the art they complete has a stronger emphasis on vocabulary and the “lesson” for the week. I have a much larger role in this session because there are fewer adults and more students who need assistance. The teacher for this class uses more French during the session as the range of language abilities of the students is much larger.

These first few months I have spent at my placement have been very interesting, and I continue to notice and observe different aspect each week. Being able to observe two different types of sessions allows me to gain a better insight into the French culture and expectations as I can watch parent-child interactions and how children behave in a somewhat classroom environment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Initial Impression of Viennese School

Hello from Vienna!
    I have been teaching now for the past 2 (almost 3) months at an elementary school in Vienna, Austria. I work mainly with first graders, but I also spend an hour a week with 3rd grade students. The children barely speak English, which has been a challenge. However, I have been able to implement some methods for teaching ELL/bilingual students (and I've been able to practice my German!)
   One of the first things I noticed at my Austrian school is that teachers are quite open and forward in the way they speak to students. They do not hold anything back or try to make things sound kinder. For example, when disciplining a student my Cooperating Teacher said in front of the whole class something along the lines of "You're not going to get anywhere if you keep acting like that." When commenting on a student's writing of the letter A, she said that it was terrible and he needed to do it again. In writing these words sound much harsher, but even so the discipline/criticism was quite direct and to the point. There was no "sugar coating." This may be just my CT's style of teaching, however, from other experiences in Austria I get the impression that people here speak honestly and bluntly. Austrians, including my CT, are not passive aggressive. They say things as they are and aren't always worried about hurting people's feelings. When my teacher said those things to young children I was a little shocked, but the kids didn't seem bothered by it at all. I have student taught in a variety of American classrooms, and a comment like this would have surely embarrassed the student. Criticism and discipline normally is not as public in American schools, especially for small things like writing a certain letter again. In the States, teachers normally talk to students individually if there is a problem so as not to involve other children in someone’s personal business. This does not seem to be the case in Vienna. At times my CT's style of discipline and criticism has made me feel uncomfortable (especially when she yells it in German and I have no clue what she is saying). However, fortunately, she allows me to use and implement my own teaching and classroom management strategies while I am there. She appreciates my work as a pre-practicum student and despite our teaching differences, we get along and collaborate well with each other! 

Classroom Management in Bath

I just completed my sixth day at St. Andrew's yesterday, which is sad to think about as my time here is starting to go by so quickly. Since I have been teaching there for six weeks, I have been able to see a lot of different classroom dynamics and have had the opportunity to really observe the actions of my CT and her students. I have definitely noticed an emphasis on conduct and discipline at my school, as good behavior, respect, and paying attention in class are highly valued and monitored throughout the school day. I consider myself to have a more laid-back teaching style than some of the teachers at St. Andrew's and I am nervous about how this will translate in my lesson that I am teaching next week.
St. Andrew's is a beautiful school, the students are wonderful and the staff is well-trained, attentive, and are some of the best teachers that I have ever seen. My CT is wonderful, the amount of love she has for her students is obvious and her level of skill and expertise is really impressive. I feel so lucky to get to observe her and I am learning a lot from getting to watch her teach and interact with her students.
My CT, Miss. Sandey, has high expectations for her students as she constantly tells them, "you are Year 5 and I expect more from you". They are expected to be on task, respect each other, and listen to the teacher, which I have found to be very similar values to ones that I have seen in American schools. While the values are the same, I believe that the promotion and regulation of these values is more strict than back in the states. The teachers are not likely to give out warnings or to let things slide, they are quick to be on a student when they are misbehaving and are not weary to embarrass them in front of the class if it means that it will facilitate good behavior. I find that this method of discipline works on the students as they are not only used to it since the majority of them have been in the school since Foundations; but it also is obvious to me that it works since even the worst behaved students are pretty well behaved, in my opinion. Therefore, I find it hard to discipline the students to the extent that my teacher wants me to because, compared to American students, I find them to be really well-behaved, courteous, and kind.
One of the major problems that I have found in my classroom in terms of behavior is their lack of eagerness to learn. Many of the students, upon being given a task, will choose to ignore the instructions and not participate at all if they see the task to be unfair or a waste of their time. I spend a lot of time throughout the day convincing students to do their work and trying to get them to engage with the material in the way that Miss. Sandey wants them to. I find that this type of behavior is more distracting and damaging to their ability to work in the classroom than other types of behavior; however, I feel as though other types of behavior are focused on more heavily by teachers than some students' lack of motivation. I come across this lack of motivation to do work often in my class and I wonder why it is so prevalent in British schools but not so much in American schools. I also am curious as to what I can do as a teacher to motivate and increase the learning outcomes of my students.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sláinte! (the only Irish word I know)

The Irish culture is strongly reflected in the curriculum and subject matter at St. Andrew’s. In Irish schools, learning Irish is required by law from age 5 through secondary school. This law was enacted after the Irish gained independence from England, as use of the Irish language was concentrated in the west and there was a push to revive the language. Although the Irish still predominantly speak English, Irish translations are included on all street signs and schools work to preserve the language and make sure that its use endures. This pride in the Irish language is evident in Irish schools, as at the end of secondary school, students must complete an Irish exam to ensure that they have developed a strong grasp of the language. Therefore, about 40 minutes are allotted to learning and conversing in Irish everyday in Ms. Cowman’s classroom.
The material covered at St. Andrew’s, specifically during History and Geography, also emphasizes the Irish culture and environment. In History, fourth graders learn about St. Patrick, Irish myths and legends, and how Ireland has changed throughout the course of history. In Geography, students learn about the landscape of Ireland, its counties and rivers in particular, as well as about the local people and landmarks.
Dublin itself is a very international city, and this is also reflected in the curriculum at St. Andrew’s. Students have the opportunity to participate in the European Language Programme, which allows students to learn French, German, Greek, or Spanish from native speakers. Students can participate in this program before or after school, and a block of the day is reserved on Tuesdays and Thursdays for Languages. EAL (English as another Language) is also offered for students whose first language is not English. During the chunk of time Irish students are learning Irish each day, American students go to another classroom for American Studies. This class is taught by an American teacher and the focus is on American symbols, holidays, monuments, movements, and important figures. St. Andrew’s takes great pride in promoting tolerance and appreciation of other cultures and providing opportunities for students from different countries to engage in their own cultures while studying in Ireland.  I hope to effectively incorporate students’ backgrounds and first languages into my future classroom in a similar manner!

Irish vs. American Schools

Hello from Dublin! I ended up getting a late start at my school but I have been student teaching at St. Andrew’s College for several weeks now and have been loving it! St. Andrew’s is a well-funded, private, Presbyterian school with a highly international student body comprising children from Ireland and a variety of other countries. I am working in Ms. Cowman’s fourth grade classroom. This is Ms. Cowman’s first year teaching at St. Andrew’s, so working with her during her transition to a new school setting has been a valuable learning experience for me. There are 20 students in the classroom, and while a majority of the students are from Ireland, a handful is from England and the United States.  
The main difference I have noticed between the Irish and American school systems is the style of teaching. My CT mainly teaches whole class lessons, whereas at my previous placements at the Jackson Mann in Allston and Countryside in Newton there was an emphasis on group work and students often rotated through stations. Ms. Cowman sometimes puts the students into small groups to work on history, geography, or drama projects together, pairs students for math work, and prompts students to converse with partners during Irish, but overall this structure made me wonder how much differentiation was taking place and what supports were in place to assist lower-level students. I asked Ms. Cowman about this, and she informed me that students are initially leveled based on their performance on formal reading and math tests at the beginning of the school year. During math and reading, she sits down with a specific group, provides additional work to more advanced students, and creates different worksheets to adapt to differing ability levels. Although it depends on the subject, when she does group her students, she prefers to do so heterogeneously. She also arranges the desks in groups and strategically seats her students so that each group is of mixed ability to promote scaffolding. I am interested in observing this differentiation in upcoming weeks.
Another difference between St. Andrew’s and Boston schools is the schedule. They overlap in that the core subjects are Math, English, Science, and Social Studies, and Physical Education, Music, Art, and Library are offered as specials in both school systems. Contrastingly, Irish Language is a part of the everyday curriculum at St. Andrew’s. While the Irish students learn Irish, the American students go to another classroom for American Studies, where they learn about American monuments, holidays, and important figures in history. S.E.S.E. (Social, Environmental, and Scientific Education) is a course similar to Social Studies, encompassing History, Geography, Science, and SPHE (Social, Personal, and Health Education). Additional subjects that are offered at St. Andrew’s that I have not seen in BPS are Computers, Religious Education, Drama, and European Languages. Students have the option to learn French, German, Greek, or Spanish before and after school as well as during blocks on Tuesdays and Thursdays. St. Andrew’s offers instruction in a wide range of subjects and students seem to really enjoy these additional courses. However, Ms. Cowman pointed out that having general education teachers also teach specials makes the daily schedule very inflexible.
I have found the collaboration between teachers to be very similar to that of schools in the Boston area. Ms. Cowman and the other fourth grade teacher, Ms. Lacey, work together to develop a plan for each subject for the year as well as each semester, month, and week. In these plans, they include lesson and unit objectives and methods of differentiating instruction. Ms. Cowman and Ms. Lacey often share ideas for activities and constantly communicate in order to maintain a similar pace. Especially at Countryside in Newton, I observed my CT meet with other teachers in the morning to plan activities and assess student work. This collaboration and sharing of ideas is essential to being a successful teacher.
Another similarity I found was the strong sense of community that these schools have developed. Since being at St. Andrew’s, the students have put on a musical, prepared skits about morality for school-wide assemblies, and participated in several themed days and weeks such as Literacy Week, Dr. Seuss Week, and Wacky Wednesday. Similar to my Boston placements, St. Andrew’s has paired reading once a week where older students read with younger students. St. Andrew’s really fosters its students’ creativity and encourages students to collaborate and get to know each other, which I have seen at my previous placements as well.

I look forward to continuing to work with these students and answering more hilarious questions about American things, i.e. what Twinkies taste like and why we call “car parks” “parking lots.”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The 11 Year Old Entrepreneurs of Scoil Mhuire

A visitor to Scoil Mhuire last Wednesday would have thought, upon walking in to the 5th class room, that they had entered the wrong building; the class more resembled a bustling office than an elementary school classroom. Between 9:00 and 11:30 in the morning, the class was in full-scale business mode with students writing invoices, drawing mock-ups, organizing and conducting meetings, calculating finances, and making sales.

This year, 5th class at Scoil Mhuire is participating in the Junior Entrepreneur Programme. JEP is a program set up in most counties of Ireland aimed at promoting entrepreneurship in junior (elementary) schools. Within the program, students are asked to create a business, design a product, and sell it. The project culminates in a Showcase Day in which students present on the process they underwent throughout the project. Ultimately, the goals of JEP are to promote entrepreneurship in schools, to educate teachers on the value of entrepreneurial education, to help students recognize their diverse skills, and to establish connections between the school, the community, and the parents.

In early January, students in my class were divided into groups and asked to design a product and present it to a panel of “dragons” (the headmistress and two members of Cork's business sector). The dragons then worked with the class to decide which idea would be the most plausible and marketable. The chosen idea was a business called “Safety Style” which sells customized high-visibility vests. After selecting their product, students met with a business professional to learn about businesses. Then, they developed Safety Style by forming teams including a sales team, a design team, a finance team, and a public relations/storytelling team. Each team was given certain responsibilities and together, the class conducted market research and further developed their product.

This Wednesday, students were able to deliver their first order, a significant achievement for their business. When they delivered the order to the customer, the students’ commitment to the project and to their roles was clear. The public relations team took the opportunity to photograph the event for their Showcase Day, the finance team quickly created an invoice for the customer, and the sales department was pleased to perform quality assurance before handing the vests to the customer. Throughout the morning, students used economic terminology and were incredibly self-sufficient. In addition to delivering their first order, the class also had a meeting with their supplier to discuss their own vest order. Much to the excitement of the students, the supplier is sponsoring a customized vest for each student in the class to help them promote their product. This morning the class also had a meeting with the headmistress of the school to discuss a prospective order. Students were incredibly professional throughout these meetings. It was clear that JEP has had tremendous effects on the students’ self-confidence as well as their entrepreneurial interests.

Not only is JEP clearly appreciated by the students in my class, but my CT is also fully committed to the project. I think one of the reasons JEP is going so well in my class is because of my CT’s professional approach to the project. She speaks to the students as business partners, using corporate lingo that I barely understand. Students know that she has high expectations for their work and there is a shared sense of potential in the class. By creating this supportive and student-centered environment, I believe that my CT has maximized the benefits of JEP while avoiding potential obstacles. One such obstacle that my CT has avoided is the stigma over whole project was chosen. My CT consistently speaks of Safety Style as “our” company and of the vests as “our” idea, promoting the idea of collective responsibility.

JEP has clearly influenced one student in the class in an unintended manner. At the inventing stage, Student M created a business named “Balloontastic Art,” that designed decorated yarn models. She created beautiful samples for the panel to see, but her idea was ultimately rejected by the dragons. Despite this rejection, Student M followed through with her idea and has developed a company out of it. One of the dragons ended up ordering several of her models to decorate his bar on St. Patrick’s Day. With permission of the school, Student M set up a stand each morning last week to advertise and sell her decorations to fellow students, with much success. Her clear dedication and perseverance have paid off both financially and academically as my CT often asks Student M for guidance with the JEP project due to the success of her own business.

I think this project or one like it has a lot of potential and could be immensely successful in the US. The program could easily be adapted to incorporate common core standards and would be particularly useful in schools committed to social justice and developing a sense of community. I think businesses in the US would also be in support of the program due to the popularity of start-ups like Apple and the decline of entrepreneurship in America. Upon research, I have found that there are several programs that offer similar entrepreneur programs for elementary schools in the US such as Bizworld and Junior Achievement. While these programs exist and seem to be fairly popular from what I found on their websites, I wonder why I had not heard of them until now. I hope to learn more about these programs and see if I can incorporate them into my future classrooms as I have seen how successful JEP has been here in Cork.