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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Typical Lesson in Carlos Aguilar

            Teaching lessons at Carlos Aguilar has in one way been easy and in another very challenging.  My teacher has been teaching for a really long time and definitely has a routine with how lessons go, and so it has been hard for me to feel comfortable doing things any differently.  The way she teaches does not require me to prepare much.  However, coming up with ways to add in something new that might help engage the students better that does not completely alter her style is challenging.
One of the last lessons that I taught this semester was on the different flora and fauna of the four different regions of Ecuador.  If I had all of the resources I wanted and felt very comfortable doing things completely differently, it would have been easy to come up with a fun way to get the students moving around and really learning the material.  While coming up with it might be easy, putting it together in a way that works logistically and also getting materials together would be challenging.  In a classroom of 39 students, 39 desks, 39 chairs, and hardly any space, I can see how the teacher is deterred from putting the students into groups.
I have found it challenging to feel like I am putting my knowledge and experience from BC into planning lessons for these reasons.  However, I know that some of these challenges are ones I would face in the United States as well.  As a result, I have tried to change the way I ask students questions.  This does not make a huge change in the way the lesson is run, regarding structure, so I feel very comfortable with this, but it definitely takes me thought and skill knowing how to change the questions I ask to make them more thought provoking.  I have found, however, that this small change in the lessons has truly altered the outcome.  Students have realized the need to pay attention and have learned to take their time raising their hand.
While this change has made my lessons more effective, I still sometimes walk away from lessons thinking about how it did not fully demonstrate my ability to teach.  I have realized though how important it is for me to recognize that there is no one right way to teach and that I will always have to take the culture of my school and students into consideration when teaching, no matter the country.

Inequity and Social Justice in Education in Ecuador

            Working with the students of Carlos Aguilar this semester has taught me a lot about equity, social justice, and my personal responsibilities as a member of society in general, but especially with regards to my future as an educator.  There are so many problems in the classroom and school, never mind the individual situations of each student. 
When I am in the classroom at Carlos Aguilar, I often become frustrated and think to myself, “This would never happen in a classroom in the United States.”  While to an extent that is true, after I leave and think more about the day, and specifically the moments that were hard to watch, I usually end up realizing that the problems here are not too far from the problems in education in the United States.  I could never say they are the same and I know that what might be a solution to one country’s education problem might not be the same for the others.  However, the most basic backbones of the problems are very similar. 
The social injustices in Ecuador – socially and economically – have caused a lot of inequities in the education system in Ecuador.  The first month here, I was at Colegio Menor, a bilingual private school just a few doors down from Carlos Aguilar.  That is where education students in the past have completed their international practicum and I was excited when I found out I would be in an eighth grade math class there.  As much as I wanted this excitement to finally be in a middle school math class to carry me through the semester, I was not getting a cultural experience.  Besides the fact the majority of the students were from Ecuador and that I was learning a lot about how the wealthiest kids in Ecuador are sheltered from their country’s reality, it was hardly anything different from what I could get back at BC in the United States for Student teaching.  After going back and forth about pros and cons, I decided to switch to the public school, Carlos Aguilar.
The two schools are just a block apart in distance, but the inequity between the two is astronomical.  Although I was only at Colegio Menor for a few visits, my experience there gave me a completely different perspective in Carlos Aguilar.  As I talked about in my last blog post, the students at Carlos Aguilar are unable to connect to a lot of the topics about Ecuador in science and social studies due to their lack of access to the rest of the country.  On the other hand, the majority of the students in Colegio Menor have traveled to the United States, never mind Ecuador.  These opportunities allow them to move forward academically, and on a route that limits their access to the reality of inequity in Ecuador.
Moving forward, this semester has taught me a lot about the role I want to play as a teacher in the development of communities.  In areas like Boston, there is a wide range of schools, even within the public school system.  I have realized that wherever I go, there is inequity, and I will constantly be faced with options to decide between two things, like Colegio Menor and Carlos Aguilar.  And while all schools need great teachers, it is important that I recognize the responsibility I have to consider schools that are underserved and the home to students who have very limited access.  Because for them, the classroom might be the only place where they have a chance to grow.

Culture in Carlos Aguilar

Although many of the lessons at Carlos Aguilar do not seem to be taught in the best manner, the values instilled in the social studies and science unites have really impressed me.  Ecuador is a relatively small country, but it holds one of the highest ecological biodiversity in the world.  It is on the equator (hence the country’s name) which gives the tropical weather on the coast (west side) and Amazon rainforest (east side), but also includes the Andes mountain range down the center of the country.  The fourth region is the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast.  As a result, if you were to drive through Ecuador in a day you would be passing through several difference climates, landscapes, species of plants and animals, and cultures. 

            In my fifth grade class, the majority of the science units we have covered this semester really take advantage of Ecuador’s biodiversity.  In one unit, the students learned about the different plants, birds, and animals in each region.  With this, they learned the basic terms of classifying plants, birds, and animals in general.  I also taught a lesson on meridians, and their position on the equator really helped the students understand.  While so much that was taught was based off the science of their country, it was interesting to see how many of the students were not familiar with anything outside where they lived – like the Amazon, coast, and Galapagos – because of their lack of access to travel.  Even when learning about the equator, very few students in the class of 39 had ever been to the actual equator, where there is a museum and monument.  As an exchange student in Ecuador, I obviously had more reason to travel so much more regularly than they did, but at times it felt strange knowing I had been to more regions of Ecuador than all of the students combined. 

            Besides in the social studies and science curricula, the culture of Ecuador can be seen in the relationships between the teacher and students.  In Ecuador, especially Quito, it is very common to add diminutive endings to words and names.  Also, it is common to use the words hijo and hija (daughter and son) when talking to children who are not your own.  My teacher uses these two ways of referring to people when talking to the students.  They all hug and kiss on the cheek when they say goodbye at the end of the day, and when an adult walks in the room, even if it was just because he or she was gone for a few minutes, they all stand up out of their seats and greet the person.  It is interesting how this habit is so formal, yet the relationships are so informal in other ways. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Lack of Privacy With Grades in the British Classroom

Something that took me completely surprise at the Rokeby School was the complete lack of privacy with students’ grades. The first class I observed had a teacher place a breakdown of every student’s grade and where they stand in the class directly on the board. My first thought would be that some students may be embarrassed by seeing their low grades next to other students who were excelling, but actually these struggling students were turning to their classmates asking for help. A grading curve does not exist in English classrooms so the only incentive the students had to perform well on their exams was purely personal and by helping a struggling student, students who are excelling did not have to worry about where they stood on the curve. Without a curve, the atmosphere of the English classroom is not as cutthroat as some American classrooms can be. Grades are so public that the grade the student is expected to get, which is assigned by the teachers, are displayed on each student’s notebooks.

            This expected grade also splits the class into different levels. During classwork, students have the choice to tackle different tasks but are strongly recommended to work on the task that is on their level or one level higher. The levels used in instruction at the Rokeby School are incredibly similar to the idea of scaffolding. Having observed two teachers’ meetings in the humanities department, incorporating levelling in each teacher’s instruction was of utmost importance, as it works hand in hand with each student’s assigned grade.

Teaching to the Exam?

Most of the activities I worked with in the history lessons involved analysing a primary source and determining authorship, bias, and the meaning of it in the greater context of history. Being able to analyse this type of source seemed to be the most important tool in the eyes of the teachers, as much of the national exams for history involves questions based off of these sources. Having witnessed so much time being dedicated to this single skill, the concern of teaching to the test came up in my head. At the end of Year 11, all students take national exams for each subject, and depending on both their expected grades and actual grades, these test scores are what will be considered by colleges and universities. In addition to the importance of these exams for the students, they are also used as a measuring tool for evaluating teachers similar to the way standardized tests are for teaching in America.

            When discussing these exams with one of my head teachers, he explained how he believes that the English system of grading is unfair. Although it was created to get completely objective results, it forces Year 11 students to take the ten most important exams in their lives within a ten day period. At no other point in the education system will a student be forced to prepare and cram in the same manner, and those students who either have a learning disability or simply just take longer to learn and revise suffer the most. To a certain degree, these exams reward being able to write a lot of BS quickly rather than taking time to think of a thoughtful answer when stuck on a question.

Breakdown of the Humanities Curriculum in Britain

Technically, my practicum was for the subjects comprising humanities, rather than just focusing on history. History is a part of the humanities at the Rokeby but it also includes geography (which is the English term for social studies) and religious studies. Even though the Rokeby School is what Americans would call a public school, it still must devote an entire subject to religious studies, as it is part of the national curriculum. Religious studies is essentially an ethics class. The best way to describe it in terms of BC is perspectives without the philosophy aspect of it. Students learn about several different religions prominent in the United Kingdom as well as each religions beliefs and attitudes toward controversial topics. Instead of focusing on one religion at a time, students focus on one controversial topic at a time and then learn what each religion believes about it. For example, students have an entire unit dedicated to punishment and the concept of life. Much of the class is dedicated to discussion among the students as a class, in which they try to see the issue through the eyes of followers of different religions and explain how one would react and feel.
            The only geography classes that I worked with were for middle school age students, which is about the age that I learned social studies, so I am unsure if this subject is only meant for younger students or if it continues to be taught until students leave the school in year 11. Although some of the subject of geography is what we would think of it, being comprised of learning countries and capitals, there are also other aspects of the material that could be considered both biology and social studies. For example, one of the lessons that I participated in had students learning about the type of vegetation unique to coastal areas throughout the world. This lesson required the knowledge of knowing the locations of specific countries as well as the skills for interacting with a blank map.
            A majority of my classes however were spent working with history classes. The two units that I worked with were Year 10 students’ study of Weimar and Nazi Germany and Year 7’s study of English history, focusing particularly on King Henry VIII to the end of the Tudor dynasty.

            Once a week, every student participated in a short activity called P4C, philosophy for children. Although this was not tied to any subject, it gave the students a forum to discuss topics posed by the teacher, usually based on their feelings on current events. This activity is just an extension of the school placing such a priority on students working with one another and learning how to hold a scholarly discussion. Because of the school’s diversity, many of the students had different answers, considering their backgrounds. This reason is why it is so important that the students learn how to hold an intellectual conversation because although what a student inputs is important, listening to another student’s perspective is valued just as highly.