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.