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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Final Thoughts from Cape Town

After four months at St. Joseph’s Marist College, my understanding of social justice and equity has expanded through observations in and out of the classroom, interactions with students, and conversations with my CT and other faculty. Recognizing differences in each student’s background, learning style, interests, and strengths and weaknesses played a direct role in how I interacted with each student in order to meet their diverse needs. For example, at the beginning of my semester there was one student who seemed to ask for help significantly more often than most students. I would end up spending a lot of time with the student one-on-one, helping him understand what my CT was teaching and guiding him in solving the problems correctly. Due to his consistent requests for help and the confusion that he communicated to me, I was too quick to assume that this student was in need of one-on-one assistance more than many other students. However, after working to get to know each student in the class, I realized that I was devoting more time and attention to this particular student because of his vocal and expressive need for help but that there were many other students who were just as much in need to one-on-one attention but were quieter and less likely to vocalize their confusion. Specifically, one student in my class rarely participated in class and when working individually, tended to guess on answers rather than ask for help. I realized that just because one student vocalizes her struggle less than another student does not mean that she needs less attention. In fact, I soon found in this particular case that the quieter student needed more one-on-one attention while the more vocalized student simply needed just enough attention to encourage him to try the work on his own. Although this will not necessarily be the case for every student of similar behavior, it did remind me how important it is not to make assumptions about each student’s strengths and weaknesses simply because of how they choose to communicate these to me.

My experiences at St. Joseph’s also emphasized the need to learn about each student’s background and develop positive relationships with their parents/guardians. One student was told at the end of the school year that she would be staying back a year and repeating second grade. This news, which is likely confusing and distressing for a seven-year-old, is something that needs to be addressed and explained in a very supportive manner. However, after talking with my CT about the situation, I learned that her parents had skipped multiple meetings with the teacher and administration to discuss the student’s plan for the following year and to make plan for improvement. When my CT asked the student in class if either of her parents had talked with her about repeating second grade, the student said that they had not said anything except that she has to stay back a year. My CT was able to give her positive emotional support, explaining why doing second grade again will be helpful and how it is nothing to be ashamed of. Although receiving this support from both her teacher and her family would have been beneficial, the situation helped me understand the various roles that a teacher plays in each child’s development. Had my CT not made an effort to involve the parents in this process or had she not discussed the situation with the student, this child would likely enter the second grade the following year with less confidence and motivation. Getting to know each student’s background, consistently making an effort to involve the parents/guardians, and constantly striving to meet the needs of each student, both academically and emotionally, are all important roles that I as a teacher will strive to achieve.

Overall, I have had such a positive experience at St. Joseph’s. I came to understand from a new perspective the importance of meeting the needs of each individual student as well as the role of the teacher in promoting equity and social justice in and out of the classroom. I look forward to taking the skills and lessons that I developed abroad and applying them to my future experiences as well as challenging myself to look at these skills and lessons from new perspectives and continue exploring new strategies. I am very lucky to have had this experience and am so grateful for being a part of the St. Joseph’s community!

Friday, December 16, 2016

An analysis of Spanish and US education systems

Throughout the semester I have come to see many comparable aspects of the way schools are set up in Spain and the way they are in the US. There are some things that are very similar, such as the setup of classrooms and the different forms of assessment used. However, some things, such as the grading system and the expectations of students, varies slightly in ways that I was not really expecting.
In terms of classroom setup, the classroom feels very similar to ones in the US. All the students have their own individual desks which are often either organized in rows or groups depending on the age of the students and what types of activities we are completing. In my school, the students stay in the same classroom all day, and the different teachers will filter in and out bringing their materials with them. The desks have small compartments attached that hold all the students' books rather than having lockers. The classrooms all have chalk boards and overhead projectors that the teachers use to display information. There is always a desk at the front of the classroom that the teacher has which is where the teachers do the majority of their instruction. I have only really noticed the teachers walking around the classroom when there is a group activity and they are trying to help individual groups, not as often during a lesson. There are not too many decorations on the walls of the classroom, which I think is much more typical of American middle and high schools. In the back of the classroom there is always a bulletin board which has the schedule of the class and also has any notices of upcoming events for the school and anything else the students need to know. The school is shaped as a huge rectangle where the middle is a huge play area for physical education and for when the students go outside for break. The classrooms all have windows that face this play court, and the majority of light coming into the classroom is natural light and at times you can hear the students playing outside. All these things I have found very similar to American schools and though they may not individually seem like much, together they form the atmosphere of the classroom.
I have also found in Spain that there are many different types of assessments, similarly to the US. Within the English class specifically, there were many different types of assessments used to test the many different aspects that come with trying to learn, speak, and understand a foreign language. For example, we had various different types of listening, grammar, and vocabulary activities in many different formats. I mostly worked with the students on their speaking skills, by having conversations and seeing if they could use the correct vocabulary and tenses when describing different situations in the past and future. This was to practice their comprehension of questions, along with their ability to think of the topic on the spot and express themselves correctly. Another way that the students practiced their speaking was by giving planned presentations on topics that the students were able to pick themselves. These different types of assessments helped to test many different skills while learning English.
            One of the biggest differences that I have seen while here is the grading system that the school uses and the expectations the teachers have for students under this grading system. All of Spain, universities included, uses a number grading system on a scale of 1 to 10. Students need to get above a 5 to pass a class, and this system is used for every type of assessment. Grades can after be waited differently depending on what kind of assessment is being given. This was not something that I was aware of before coming to Spain, and the system did not seem to be that different and confusing. What was extremely surprising to me was how common it was for a student, regardless of age, to fail a course. I was shocked to learn that in a class of 22 (what would be juniors), 5 were failing the course and 3 were on the cusp of failing, meaning they had a 4.5 or above that then would be rounded to a 5. At first I was worried that it could have something to do with the actual teaching and the class, however, my cooperating teacher informed me that out of the class of 22 students, only 2 students were passing every single one of their classes. This was a notion completely foreign to me that I was not expecting. Students are allowed to fail 2 courses per year and still pass the year, though they may have to retake the class the following year, trying to pass that in order to graduate. At a wealthy Catholic school, this was not something I expected. In the US, I could not see this being the case. Although there are some big discrepancies between some schools in the US, if so many kids in one school were failing their courses, it is likely that the school board or greater government body would become involved to try to assist the school, whereas here, that is completely normal and acceptable. I was even more surprised on multiple occasions when I was in the classroom the cooperating teachers would read the students’ scores on an exam out loud to the whole class. I do not think that this happens often in the US, and even more when there are students in the class who have failed and may be upset to have their grades read out loud. When I witnessed this for the first time I was truly shocked and also very intrigued as to how this system could function. These were all normal practices that truly astonished me and made me analyze our own education system and what we expect and deem is acceptable from students.

            Through teaching and interacting with the students, I have seen many similarities between the Spanish and US education system, but I have also witnessed some stark differences I had not expected. On the last day, one of my students asked me which system I liked better, which I thought did a better job. I honestly can say that I think that both systems have some things they do really well, and some things that need to be improved upon. I think each can learn from the other, and I am excited to bring back to my teaching in the US the skills I have learned in Spain.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Classroom Management and Practicing Routines

In my second grade classroom at St. Joseph’s Marist College, students are encouraged to follow strict routines in regards to their daily schedule, behavior, and manners. For example, each time a teacher enters the classroom, all students must stop what they are doing, stand up, and once the teacher says “Good morning, students” they must respond in unison with “Good morning, (teacher’s name).” Additionally, students have different jobs each week which have become a natural routine throughout the day. One student must report the weather during morning meeting. Another student is in charge of turning on and off the lights each time they enter and leave the classroom. Three students are in charge of passing out the particular notebooks at the start of math, phonics, handwriting, or an exam. These jobs, among others, both help the student develop responsibility and help the school day run more smoothly. At the start of math class, the three “book helpers” know to begin passing out math notebooks establishing the transition from one lesson to the next. Although I was not at St. Joseph’s when these expectations were communicated to the students at the beginning of the school year (January), it is obvious that the students naturally follow these routines to the point where they only need a gentle reminder from time to time.

The students are also expected to follow certain routines within each lesson, depending on the subject. As I mentioned before, during math class the book helpers pass out the math notebooks. The teacher then explains that day’s lesson, puts an example on the board for the students to copy in their notebooks, and then puts up the remaining problems for the students to complete in their notebooks after the example. The students are expected to follow the same steps taken in the example to complete the remaining problems and record their work and answers in the exact same way. Expecting the students to complete the work like this helps them understand the proper way to solve the specific type of math problems. However, I have found this strategy to be slightly problematic, as students often are more focused on how they record their work than they are on how to solve the problem. They are often penalized for poor handwriting, not skipping the correct number of lines, or completing problems from left to right instead of from top to bottom of their pages. While carelessness in the presentation of their work makes students more prone to math mistakes, I found that the students became so distracted by the need to present their work perfectly that they would not end up showing a clear understanding of why they followed the steps they did in order to solve the problem. This was often the case when I worked with students one-on-one or in small groups after they tried completing the work on their own. I would ask them questions like “How did you know to not put these three dots in a circle?” when solving 23 ÷ 4. These three dots that did not get put in one of the four circles were the remainder, but students struggled to explain why they should not put these three dots in three of the circles and leave one of the circles with fewer dots than the other three. They were correct not to do so, but many students only knew they should not “because that’s what we did in the example.” I think that a balance between emphasizing attention to the presentation of students’ work and working with students in a way to help them fully understand why they can solve math problems the way they do is the best way to both minimize error and increase student learning.

One classroom management strategy used in my classroom that is also commonly used in many U.S. classrooms is the name chart, where students can move their names up or down based on their behavior and efforts throughout the day. All students start the day with their names on “Ready to learn!” and then can move up to “Doing well!” and “Outstanding!” or down to “Make better choices!” and “Think about it!” What I like about how my CT uses this chart is that she often tells students to move their names up after doing well on a worksheet or in-class assignment. This does not necessarily mean that the student got all the answers correct, but it meant that the student showed significant effort, was focused on their work, and tried their best even if they made mistakes. This helped remind students that positive behavior is not limited to good manners and being kind to one another, but also being responsible and being the best student they can be. I also appreciate when students ask to move their names up after completing work because it shows me that they are aware of how hard they worked during that particular lesson. When students either ask or are told they can move their names up, this encourages the rest of the students to check their own behavior and “reset” if they need to. On the other hand, if a student is told to move his or her name down, this also gives the rest of the students “reset” if their behavior is unexpected or out of line.

While classroom management strategies like the name chart and weekly student jobs are fairly familiar to me from experiences in schools in the U.S., I have found many of the routines during each particular lesson to be new and unique, such as the routines during math class. Navigating these differences originally made it difficult for me to maintain effective classroom management during lessons that I taught at the beginning of my semester because of my unfamiliarity with what the students expect of me and what I should expect of the students. However, throughout my time at St. Joseph’s I have become more comfortable with the routines and expectations in my class, helping me use effective and consistent classroom management strategies during my lessons and throughout each school day.

A Day at CIS

            A typical day in my placement at CIS begins with the students coming in at various times and picking a book to read until school starts. There is no bus transport to CIS so students usually arrive with their parents, who often walk them into the building. I’ve noticed that this makes for a strong community feel at CIS- the teachers know all of the parents of their students and see them much more often than at other schools that I have been to. At 8:20, my CT rings a bell so that the students know to transition to the carpet area for the daily morning meeting. As a responsive classroom, the morning meeting in my placement consists of a greeting, sharing, activity, and morning message. Having this set routine every morning sets the tone for the day, and having an activity and sharing helps students to get some energy or desire to talk out before beginning writing workshop. The morning message usually connects to the writing workshop, giving a hint about what they will be writing about today or leading into a mini lesson. After this they separate and go to their desks to work on the writing prompt. In addition to my CT, one of the student’s parents comes to help students with their writing so there are always two adults walking around the room to help. After writing, my CT the bell rings again so students know to clean up and get ready for a 10 minute snack, followed by recess.
            After recess, students usually have a 40-minute special like art, drama, PE, or music. The teachers of these classes meet with the classroom teachers often so that the specials follow the same unit as the classrooms and students can make connections between the two. Following the special they go to either Danish or EAL. Students are in varying levels of difficulty for Danish, and those that are still learning English go to the EAL classroom. In a typical EAL class there are just 5 or 6 kids, so they are able to receive very individualized instruction for language learning. After Danish and EAL, students return to their classroom for math. Math usually begins at the carpet with a lesson for the entire class. After the lesson, students generally complete a worksheet or other project related to the lesson at their desk or at the carpet for additional assistance. Math is followed by lunch and another recess. The break up of the day seems to deliberately ensure that students flow between subjects in a way that allows them breaks from the classroom. I think that this allows them to be more focused when they return, however it requires a lot of work towards transitions. In my placement, my CT has built in routines for the students that allow them to come from another area of the school into the classroom and transition quickly back into classwork.
            After recess, there is usually reading workshop in which students participate in guided reading lessons, read alone, or read with a partner on various days. However, since I come to CIS on Wednesdays, a shorter day for them, the end of the day varies. On longer days the class would have another full subject after reading. However on Wednesdays dismissal follows reading. On a few occasions, the end of the day reading has been replaced with parents coming in either for cultural celebrations or for a child’s birthday. I think that these are a great way to get parents involved in the classroom to see what their children are working on.
            Due to their their 9 day cycle of classes, the order of specials and classroom subjects varies a lot- so it is difficult to describe a typical day at CIS. In addition, my CT often has theme days where the classroom becomes a camp ground or part of Lewis and Clark’s journey across the United States. CIS is never boring and between the specials and themed days the students have so many fun activities to look forward to!
            Today was my last day at CIS and I am so sad to be leaving. I couldn’t have asked for a more welcoming CT who encouraged me to teach as many lessons as I could and really made me feel like part of the school. I feel so lucky to have been able to be a part of such a special school. My time at CIS has set a very high bar for my next pre-practicum to meet!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Classroom Equity in Copenhagen

Over the past few weeks at Copenhagen International School I’ve noticed how much my CT works to promote equity within the classroom. Every classroom is filled with students that have different needs whether academic, behavioral, or specifically in the area of language. The time that Ive spent at CIS has allowed me to see how hard teachers work to make sure that each student is afforded equal opportunities in the classroom and to meet the diverse needs of every student.
While CIS has many resources in place for students that would benefit from academic intervention, as with every school resources cannot always be accessed right away for students that need them. Seeing my CT work so hard to get students the support that they need was inspiring and definitely something I hope that I can live up to in the future. One student specifically was especially far behind the rest of the class, however not receiving as much aid as students that were far above him received. Since finding a student space in an intervention program can take time, there were months where this student received very limited extra support. Since he is not academically at the level of other children in the class, allowing him to benefit equally from instruction is a challenge. To address this, my CT worked often with him individually in order to make sure that he understood the concepts being taught and was able to at least understand the basis of each lesson. At times when lessons were at a level he could not yet understand, he could complete separate activities within his own scope of understanding that allowed him to continue to learn and improve. For other students that struggle in the class, after every lesson students are allowed to either go to their seat if they feel they can complete the work on their own or stay at the carpet if they feel they need some help. My CT will stay at the carpet with them and help students individually, or further explain the topic at hand if necessary. From observing in this classroom, I have learned a lot about incorporating differentiation into lessons, no matter what the needs of a student.
      Addressing behavioral needs can be just as crucial to allowing a student to achieve to their full potential in the classroom. At CIS, I have been able see how the school counselor is able to help students so that they can be ready to learn when they come to the classroom. She described how she talks to the students, asks them to draw pictures, and generally creates a space that they feel comfortable sharing in without worrying about others or their parents hearing about it. I have also seen that students don’t feel any negative aspect of being asked to leave class to talk to her. For example, one student who tends to get upset in the classroom whenever an adult talks to him about his behavior was asked to come speak to the school counselor. He did not view this as negative at all, and when another student asked if he was in trouble he said “No im just going to talk, lots of students go to talk to her.” Having someone that can address student’s behavioral needs in this manner and can hopefully help them to feel comfortable in the classroom allows these students to have learning opportunities equal to those of other students.
      As CIS is an international school, it has many students that did not learn English as a first language. The students that have very limited English are supported in an EAL class where they participate in lessons and play games that assist them in learning English and about Denmark as a whole. In the classroom of my prac, while two students are in an EAL class one student knows far less English than the other. To assist this student my CT will often discuss what the lesson at hand with him one on one to make sure that he understands what is going on, and for writing workshop suggest various things he could write about.

      Spending time at CIS has showed me many ways that teachers make sure every student’s needs are met so that they can have a classroom experience equal to that of other students. I plan to carry this new knowledge into my pracs at BC, and I hope that I can meet the needs of my students as well as I have seen my CT do in the future!