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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.

Comparing teaching in Italy and teaching in America

One important difference between teaching abroad and teaching in America is the cultural difference as well as the language barrier. While teaching in Parma, the Italian students seem to be attentive towards my knowledge of American because it is exotic, unusual, and simply different. Many students seem intrigued by the lessons I teach because they have been about new and exciting subjects: my background and where I come from, Mount Rushmore, and Proms. Focusing on these cultural subjects has given me the opportunity to speak about topics that interest Italian middle school students. While culture has been a difference that produces positive outcomes, the language barrier has been a difference that produces more negative outcomes. For example, students may be interested in the subjects of my lessons, but they may clock out or stop listening because it is too difficult to understand my English speech. My CT is an important source of help in this regard because she helps translate for me when I present new words to the students.

Another difference between teaching abroad and teaching in America is the classroom schedule. School meets Monday through Saturday and ends earlier each day. Students stay in one classroom all day and the teachers move around to each class. This is backwards from the American school system because generally teachers stay in their classrooms and students move around. I’m not able to draw conclusions as to whether one schedule and format is better than another.

One similarity between both teaching experiences is the importance of public speaking; my experience here in Parma is good practice for public speaking back in America. While speaking English to students whose first language is Italian, I must constantly be cognizant of my pronunciation and speed of speech. I do my best to enunciate and pronounce clearly while speaking at a volume that is appropriate.

My ability to fully illustrate similarities and differences such as teaching style, for example, is negated by the fact that I have not yet observed an Italian teacher instructing the classroom. I only know how the students behave, and I find that their ability to pay attention and listen is very dependent on the teacher’s ability to practice good classroom management skills; therefore, the importance of classroom management is another similarity between teaching abroad and in America. I look forward to future opportunities in which I may observe my CT teaching, as I have one soon. For now, I am receiving good experience in teaching English as a second language.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Classroom Climate at San Gaspare

          As I have reached the middle of my semester, I am beginning to recognize the distinct similarities of the classrooms in Italy versus America. The attention given within classrooms at Scuola Primaria San Gaspare in Florence is comparable to that of a private school in America.  The classroom sizes are small, composed of about twenty students, and teachers are given aids and ample resources.  Every teacher can speak fluent English and Italian in order to properly teach both languages to the students.  The school is small enough that the teachers know most of the students across the grade levels, so discipline is made much easier throughout the school setting.  The general expectations of students is to be polite, to listen to authority figures, to behave accordingly, to complete homework and classwork efficiently, and to arrive to school on time.  Reflecting on my previous schooling, it is extremely similar to the manner in which I was taught to behave.  Aside from attending Catholic school my entire life, such expectations were followed in all facets of my life, including my home setting.  It was expected that I complete my homework before watching television, be polite and respectful to my elders, and do my chores around the house.  From what I understand, the home environment of many of these children is similar to my own in which discipline is engrained in their daily routine.  Based on meeting parents in the morning when they are dropping their children off and the fact these families pay tuition for San Gaspare, I can make a vague assumption that the students are expected to behave in a certain way in the home setting that is synonymous to the school’s general guidelines.  
            In Ms. Falagiani’s classroom, these general expectations are intertwined with her own guidelines and expectations for her third grade students.  When students arrive late, she tells them to remind their parents to be on time to school.  When a child acts up in class, she reprimands them in Italian.  However, she also encourages a nurturing classroom environment.  Each morning, she greets every child with “Hello, how are you?” in English, and expects that they respond in English as well.  She alters lessons for the children who need extra support in class, and asks me questions about the American lifestyle and English language during lessons to translate to the students to give them a better understanding of the language.  The classroom climate could be described as nurturing and welcoming, as well as well-disciplined and stern.    

The differences between the classroom climate and management styles can be seen in a comparison to my experience in a private, Catholic school at home.  During my fall semester of sophomore year, I performed my pre practicum at St. Columbkille Partnership School, a private, Catholic elementary school in Brighton.  The general expectations of the school were relatively the same: to behave respectfully, to be polite, to pay attention in class, and to arrive on time.  Both schools incorporate the standards of the Catholic religion in their classrooms; for example, both Ms. Falagiani and Ms. Mooney, my previous cooperating teacher, begin class with a prayer.  Also, familial participation and collaboration is highly revered in both schools.  However, the classroom management was conducted much differently.  In recent years, American classrooms have been promoting the usage of positive reinforcement rather than punishment.  Positive reinforcement is the act of encouraging positive behavior and rewarding children who behave in such a manner, rather than focusing energy on those that behave negatively.  Although behavior is managed and discipline is enforced in Ms. Falagiani’s classroom, I have not found the use of positive reinforcement yet.  Those who are constantly being reprimanded and scolded outshine the students who typically behave in class.  Another interesting component that I have taken away from both experiences at St. Columbkille and San Gaspare is to not be so rigid or strict in the classroom because children are meant to play and be lively.  I have learned that children pay better attention to their work after they have been given time to play and goof around, and both Ms. Falagiani and Ms. Mooney allow such time in their respective classrooms.  Looking towards my next practicum in Boston, I will try to incorporate both positive reinforcement and a more flexible schedule into my personal teaching style.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Carlos Aguilar in Ecuador vs. Schools in the US

            This semester, I have had the opportunity to student teach at Escuela Fiscal Mixta Carlos Aguilar in Cumbaya, a town in the valley outside the capital city of Ecuador, Quito.  This school is just a short walk from my university and located in one of the wealthier suburbs of Quito, but the population of students at this particular school is very poor.  I have spent two mornings a week in a fifth grade class at Carlos Aguilar.  There are many differences between Carlos Aguilar and schools in which I have previously attended or student taught, but also some similarities.  Overall, my experience has been very positive and I feel very lucky to have this opportunity.
            To begin, the teaching style in Carlos Aguilar, specifically my fifth grade class, is very different from the way I have been taught to teach in Lynch and the strategies I have experienced sophomore year during my pre-pracs.  My CT has been a teacher for nearly forty years and it is very clear that she has a strong routine.  However, for many reasons, instruction is very different here.  Before I go into reasons for this, I think it makes the most sense to start by describing the way a typical lesson goes.  First, my CT tells the student what subject they will be doing, and they all take out the corresponding workbook and textbook.  Then, she reads the heading on the page, the paragraph below, and then asks them all a question that corresponds directly to the heading of the topic.  After students begin raising hands, she calls on one, listens to them reread what she had just read, does this with at least three more students, and then has them copy word for word what they have read into their notebook.
I believe that there are many reasons for this teaching style.  First, the class consists of 39 eight- and nine-year-olds – while it is a fifth grade class, in the US they would be in third grade.  Also, the levels of the students (especially in reading and writing) range from not being able to copy a sentence to being able to write a full paragraph.  There are some who cannot read nor write and others who go can write short paragraphs.  With only four hours together a day and a large class size, there is little opportunity for individualized instruction. 
Although the teaching style and classroom size are very different at Carlos Aguilar from many schools in the United States, there are many aspects of my fifth grade class that parallel schools in the United States.  The materials they use in the classroom are distributed by the government, and while in general teachers in the United States stray from curriculum more so than they do here, there is a great similarity in the dependence on the books.  The students were learning about hemispheres and with them living on the equator, I would have thought it would be the perfect opportunity to make the connection.  However, the book did not go into any of this nor did my CT, and that is something I have seen many times before in schools where there is stress to get through material in order to prepare students for standardized testing, in the United States.
A second similarity between teaching at Carlos Aguilar and teaching in the United States is very simple – the kids are always kids.  There is innocence and rebelliousness in each student in my class, and that is something that is universal.  They get into fights, they distract one another, and they would rather be talking than listening.  My CT has to manage all of this, and while her manner of doing so is different from the classes I have been in in the United States, what she does is effective.
In the conversations I have with other BC students here in Ecuador about how my day went at Carlos Aguilar, and even just about being abroad in Ecuador in general, I have realized how easy it is to generalize the United States into one description and the same for Ecuador.  While this makes contrasting the two much easier, and can help me to explain any discomfort I have, I have realized that this does not get me anywhere.  They are most definitely schools in Boston that have more in common with Carlos Aguilar than they do with the public schools I attended in my suburb of Boston where I grew up.  I am so glad to experience something so different from what I know that is a true reality for many, both in Ecuador in the United States.