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Friday, December 8, 2017

Bittersweet last day

Last Friday was my last day at my placement. They had a math field day which was exciting. Students were given different games to play that had to do with working together as well as different mathematical operations within those activities. I was stationed at the jump rope activity where each group had to decide together which three students would jump rope for twenty seconds each. Everyone had a role: three people jump roped, one person timed, and one person wrote all the data. After they wrote down all their data and how many number of jumps each person did in their twenty seconds, they had to add all of their jumps together to see what the total was.

It was interesting to see all the different levels of skill in jump roping. More students were actively willing to be one of the jump ropers, whereas others would let his or her peers take that role because they knew they would not be able to jump as much as the others. Afterwards, the teacher in charge of that station asked us, those who were supervising the children, if they had been working well together, what they did when they had disagreements between calculations or the number of jumps each person made, as well as if they were able to come to a conclusion as a group. The score was out of two points and the teachers at the end of the day were going to see how well their students did as a whole. It was also great because the students were not all in the same classrooms thus they got to know each other through doing all these activities together. It was also great because the students' parents were there helping out. It really was a blessing to get to meet the parents of the students I teach. They were genuinely so kind and went out of their way to speak to me and get to know me. One mother had actually attended Wellesley College and we bonded over how cold Massachusetts was compared to where we were both from, which was Washington and California. She also asked me about what to do when students are not willing to cooperate in the classroom because they feel like their class is too easy. I gave her an explanation as best as I could and told her everything is situational and depends on how everyone involved (parents, teacher, student) would like to deal with it.

Since my placement was in three different locations over the course of five weeks, I could not make as close of relationships as I had wanted. I was already expecting this going into my internship but I did get really close to the teachers at my first placement. I don't know if it's because they were the first school I was at, if it was because of the small close-knit community the teachers have, or because they were the youngest grade I taught, but they were definitely my favorite school. In all of the placements, everyone was so kind and welcoming and willing to help me out though. After each placement, I would say goodbye to all the teachers and the headmistresses. The first location actually told me to come back whenever I wanted whether it was to just talk or help out so for my last day of my internship, I went back to say goodbye. You can really tell that the school cares about nurturing their students and providing them with the necessary resources as well as incredibly competent and caring teachers. I loved my placement and wish that I could work somewhere like here again in America. It was such a wonderful opportunity for me and I already miss all the students and teachers!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Social Justice

     I think that teaching abroad will absolutely impact my responsibility to "Promote Equity and Social Justice." In particular, it is very easy for me to draw comparisons to the ESL classroom that I did my first prac in at Brighton High School. A lot of the social justice issues that I saw in Brighton, I experienced here in Italy. Certainly, on a much lower stakes scale, but for the first time, I felt what it was like to be in a country where my native tongue is not the majority language.
     Furthermore, I did not know a single word of Italian when I stepped off the plane in Florence, which might have been poor preparation on my part. I have a pretty strong background in Spanish, which definitely jumpstarted my learning, but can now be confusing when you learn the subtle differences between the languages. Now certainly, if I walk into a store or a restaurant in Italy and speak English, there will be someone there who knows enough English to get me by. I do not have to know Italian. I thought about this compared to my job as a hostess as a restaurant. Previous to this experience, if someone had walked into the Bonefish Grill and spoke to me in Italian, we could not helped him or her. At all.
    In the classroom, my biggest difficulty was when a child would not understand something. I could see the confusion on his or face, and recognize "Non lo capisco" but if he or she asked me a question in Italian, there was a very limited chance I would be able to respond or answer it. This made me more dependent on my CT, who would sometimes have to translate, or would just go over my head and answer the question in Italian. From a teaching standpoint, this makes assessments much more difficult to see. However, from a student standpoint, this is terribly frustrating. If my CT was not there, it would be a situation where a student needs help, has focalized that he or she needs help, and is unable to receive it, because I do not know his or her language. In all of my Spanish and Italian classes, my professor has been fluent in English as well. This raises a lot of questions about our ESL system. Should there be a classroom model where the teacher is fluent in the native tongue as well? Logistically, this would be very difficult to get a teacher and classroom space for the hundreds of languages in the world.
     I think that students who are learning a foreign language, especially as a necessity to immigration, there needs to be a better system. A model that includes "Survival English" for the first two weeks perhaps, filled with common everyday phrases and situations they might encounter. My CT at Brighton taught a lesson on police brutality - and printed up and laminated a card for her students to hand to the police if they were ever in an altercation. It included information like "English is not my first language." "I have the right to remain silent." "I have the right to a lawyer." And other very important ideas and rights that they would not have access to without this card, simply because they can't express those rights in the correct language. Then, perhaps moving on to a traditional grammatical plan. However, I find the use of translating to be very effective in my Italian classes and here at San Giuseppe so I am a little discouraged at its lack of use in ESL classes in the US.
     This experience has really made me want to look into the ESL educational policies more, and perhaps consider teaching an ESL classroom, where I believe I would have huge asset because I understand the incredible difficulties of living in a country where you can't make yourself understood without a lot of dedication and hard work.

A Typical Day at Instituto San Guiseppe

     My day starts with my 8:50 am Italian class that meets every day, Monday through Thursday. At 10:45, I speed walk the 20 minutes over to Instituto San Guiseppe, a private Catholic school in the outskirts of Florence. I officially start at 11:20, and there is actually a different student there, Jessica, who comes in the mornings. However, Jessica is not planning to be a teacher, she just wanted some volunteer hours. This can be a little confusing for my kids, who are in the 3rd grade because they don't see a difference between myself and Jessica - they think my CT is their teacher, and Jessica and I are there to play with them. Sometimes, it can be difficult to get them to settle down if I am giving a lesson that day.
     Usually, we start that English period by going over the children's homework from the last class. I do not have too much to do during this time, since I do not have a book and did not assign them homework, so it is a nice period to observe my CT and see how she interacts with the students, how she asks for volunteers or selects students, how she handles a wrong answer, and many other things. I also like to migrate and "stand near" any troublemakers - I might walk over and stand behind two children who are chatting instead of paying attention, just as a little reminder. Since they are still young, this is usually pretty effective.
     After homework, this is usually my turn to do an "activity" as my CT calls it. Usually, I either read a story and work on reading comprehension or I create a "photocopy" (worksheet) that introduces new vocabulary for the students and asks some review questions from the previous lesson. I did photocopies on weather, seasons, and time (months, days of the week, holidays). Today was actually my last lesson and tomorrow is a very big National holiday in Italy, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. To celebrate, I read them "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The vocabulary was a little more challenging than other books, especially imaginary concepts like a Grinch or "who-roast-beast," but the children really enjoyed the rhythm and intonation of the rhymes.
     Then, my CT takes over and she either delivers a lesson, or lately, we practice for their Christmas show, "A Christmas Carol" delivered in English for the parents before Christmas vacation. Finally, to close out the class, we sing songs in English. This is the children's favorite part and they always look forward to it. They have their favorite ones, that they always request: "Stardust!" I think they particularly like this one because it is an Italian-English pop mixup. It's a very effective way to raise participation and get them to speak in English, which is always more difficult than just comprehension. When I leave, after sining, my CT leaves as well. She is on a middle-school schedule almost, where the students remain in their classrooms but the teachers relocate when the period is over. We have a goodbye routine that we must follow. It involves saying goodbye to everyone and asking a few questions in English. Usually, this is something like "What are you doing this weekend?" "What's your next lesson about?" or "Did you like the lesson we did today?"
     A highlight is definitely when I walk in - the children are so welcoming, and I am always greeted by a chorus of "Hello, Miss Maggie!" that never fails to put a smile on my face. One thing that I have noticed is that the Italian school system is very particular about the way you address your teacher. My CT will not answer a child if he or she says "Maestra!" or "Teacher!" The requirement is "Miss" (or Mr.) first name. This is interesting to me, since in the US we usually would use the last name, out of respect.
      I usually have my lesson planned ahead of time. I send it to my CT by at least Tuesday for a Thursday class, and before I leave we discuss the topic for the next lesson. However, with the play it has been very hectic trying to organize the parent volunteers, so one time I showed up and my lesson was cancelled. The next time, she asked me to give a lesson completely from scratch with no preparation, so that was one of my biggest challenges to date. I definitely think that the planning process is a more informal in Italian education. However, this has some advantages like really being able to assess your students and not worry about sticking to a schedule.
   

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Final Goodbye to Madrid!

So this past week I had my last day at Colegio La Salle in Madrid, Spain.  I will miss my students and the wonderful teachers I worked with very much.  I wanted to write this post to reflect on my time student teaching abroad and recognize the value it has added to my experience.

Over the course of 4 months, we have been living, learning, and teaching in a foreign country.  There have been many obstacles in the process of assimilating into a new community, such as making new friends, cultural differences, language barriers, and a whole new educational experience.  Gaining more and more insight every day here, I have been able to immerse myself in the Spanish culture and learn how to live in whole new place.  Although I've worked through different obstacles in my everyday life here in Madrid, one thing that has stayed constant throughout my time was the time I spent at Colegio La Salle every Wednesday.  Each week I could look forward to going into school on Wednesday, have two periods of one on one english instruction, and two of full class teaching and observation.  I had a routine.  This routine has be an integral part of why my abroad experience has been so great.

Through my time in my international practicum, I delved deeper into the real everyday life of a Spanish student.  I experience a different style of school.  Colegio La Salle was a semi private/catholic school where students paid half and the other subsidized by government.  The school was semi bilingual in that the elementary students were taught bilingual in English and Spanish and the secondary students were taught primarily in Spanish and had English class 3 times a week.  I was really impressed at the level of English most of the students had.  Of course, we had students who struggled, or those who were new to the school, but majority speaking in my opinion the students were nearly bilingual.  Those from elementary grades to the high school I felt all had this way in which they could interchange between Spanish and English nearly seamlessly. I observed classroom management in Spain.  I noticed cultural differences in ways of respect between teachers and students.  The Spanish students were given a lot more freedom I believe than in the US.  They had less discipline and more disrespect was shown to the teachers.  From my observations it seemed as though as students got older, their behavior worsened.  These cultural differences were eye opening to me and gave me grand insight for my own knowledge of how to teach in the US.

All of my experiences in my international practicum have added to my toolbox of skills in which I can use in classrooms in the US.  I am more culturally aware and linguistically capable of communicating even when there is a language barrier.  I learned how to connect with students of diverse backgrounds, knowing that this is possible ever without a common language or culture.  I am so happy I completed this practicum, it added to my overall experience immensely.  I hope everyone felt they made an impact in their experience and gained valuable skills to bring into classrooms back home, as I feel I did.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

English Starting From Square 1

One of the secondary classes I was assigned to was given a new student the second week into my being at Colegio La Salle.  This student is from Bolivia and she arrived in Madrid a few weeks into the school year.  After about a week of the teacher observing her, she assigned me to tutor her one-on-one each week I come to the school.  I speak good enough Spanish to get by, but there is still a major language barrier here because my student does not speak nearly any English whatsoever.  She is 14 years old and has a lower level of english than many of the Kindergarteners at the school.  This has been my biggest struggle throughout my international practicum.

I knew teaching language was difficult but I never really knew HOW difficult.  To review simple vocabulary and memorization is one thing, but to really teach a student how the english language works and when and where to use what is really no walk in the park.  It is especially difficult because I can't always appropriately translate what I am trying to teach in the best Spanish.  It has been a bit of a give and take.  I am learning more about her and her level and what type of instruction is most effective for her, while she helps me to find the words in Spanish to make it all come together.  I can understand most everything in Spanish just have difficulty speaking it myself, so usually when she explains to me what she thinks I am referring to, this is my way to assess whether she understands or not.  When I know we have made a perfectly translated match, I know we are getting somewhere.

What has also been a struggle for me is that her teacher wants me to try my best to teach her the grammar or unit they are working on in the rest of the class.  I understand that this would be ideal to  get her on the same level as the rest of the students, but in my opinion this is simply not possible without a foundation that she just does not have.  I'm talking she doesn't even know the alphabet or all the numbers, and we're suppose to expect her to understand past simple and past continuous verbs? I think this is where the main issue lies.  Yes, this is unfortunate she didn't know English coming into the school, and yes she may need outside tutoring to get her up to grade level, but there is something that has to be done by the school to help her get to where she needs to be.  This touches on a main issue I've seen in the US as well in the question whether or not students should be placed by age and grade level or by subject level?

I know this is a greater issue and isn't to be solved in a yes or no question, but I hope that she will continue to get extra one-on-one support after I am gone in 2 weeks.  It is scary for me to leave her knowing that she might just continue to fall behind and this will effect her for the rest of her academic career.  Also, one hour a week instruction from me wasn't nearly enough either.  For her to be able to really learn and acquire the English language intense instruction needs to be given daily and she may be able to keep up with her classmates.  I will be sad leaving her as we now have a nice relationship...but I hope the best for her future and hope that changes will soon be made all over the world in terms of students coming from different backgrounds and starting from square 1.

Similarities and Differences

Throughout the semester I have noted a variety of similarities and differences between my experiences at Carlos Aguilar, my own experiences in the US education system, and what I observed in my P1 and have highlighted 2 similarities and 2 differences to share.
One difference I have noticed in comparison to schools in the US is that the whole class of 26 students is always taught at the same time. There is not enough space or support in the classroom to break into groups or centers like you would find in many US Kindergarten or 1st grade classrooms. I have had to experience this phenomenon when teaching English to the students every Tuesday and Thursday. It definitely made me appreciate the ability in many US classrooms to break the students apart and have them working on different activities, in groups, individually, or in pairs. This is not a system that would be able to function very well in my classroom in Ecuador, however I think it would be very beneficial to the students to learn to work together and develop self-monitoring skills that the majority of the students in my class do not have.
Another difference I have found among many, are that these students are about 5 years old but are in 1st grade when in the US they would normally be placed in Kindergarten. However, from what I have observed the days I have been at Carlos Aguilar the students have had minimal instruction on numbers or the alphabet and in the US this instruction would have begun by now. Much of their work is focused on motor skill development. I have observed activities where students much rip paper into strips in order to outline the 4 sides of a square when they were learning about that shape. I have also seen the students having to hold a crayon correctly to follow a dotted line to draw a continuous horizontal or vertical line. Although I only attend Carlos Aguilar 2 times a week, if a main focus was being put on preparing the students to read, I think I would have seen more evidence of that in the days I attend.
One aspect of the teaching practices that is similar is the creativity on the part of the teacher to teach the material. I have seen my CT implement sensory, drawing, singing, repeating, worksheet, and many more methods of activities in the classroom. I have also found this in the US and think it is very important for students, especially at such a young age to be introduced to many different styles of learning and this variety helps to keep the students engaged. I have also made an effort to do this during my lessons from week to week.
Another similarity is the collaboration between teachers. Throughout any given morning, the vice principal, other 1st grade teachers, and other professionals may enter the classroom to speak to my CT. Many times when another 1st grade teacher comes to our room it is to talk about materials they need, an event happening at the school, or other professional work required. I have seen the teachers helping one another prepare materials or lending activities to other teachers as well. I think this demonstrates the sense of community at Carlos Aguilar that I think is present in many US schools, for example through teacher mentors.

From what I have observed and experienced, I believe there to be more differences than similarities over this semester of teaching abroad, however I think that each school is working with the environment, space, materials, requirements, and culture that surrounds them and therefore neither is necessarily “better” than the other. I think the teachers at Carlos Aguilar must work harder seeing that there is minimal to no system of para-educators or assistants in the classroom, there is a lack of technology in the school, and a lack of space in the classroom that makes student grouping and movement more restricted.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Classroom Management in different grades

In my placement, I observe different classrooms from kindergarten to second grade. Since these are the youngest ones, they need a lot of attention, a lot of reminders, as well as a lot of consistency. They are curious so their attention span is incredibly short as well. It was really interesting to see how different teachers approach classroom behavior. What I noticed from all the teachers that I wish to implement in my own classroom is to use songs to either catch their attention or to help them finish tasks. For example, if the students are too noisy and the teacher needs the students to listen to what she has to say, she will start by singing a song and including dance moves that force the students to stop what they're doing and follow along. It is not only fun and catchy for everyone to listen to and follow, but it is an effective method of having the students focus on the teacher. Many teachers also have the students follow the clap routine until they all start following and be quiet. Sometimes, the teachers would yell as well and even the opposite is used when the teacher will just stop, look at the kids, waiting for them to be quiet, and slowly the whole class will stop talking. These are all very useful techniques that all the different teachers have used in the classroom. Understandably, each method is used on different grades and also different classrooms since every classroom has a different dynamic depending on the students and their personalities.

The size of the classrooms ranges from 20 to 28 children. However, the school is unique in that it has different periods where they separate children into classes of language ability. For example, there is a classroom where the students' mother tongues are english and that is only a classroom of 13 children. The classroom size is small because most of the students' mother tongues are obviously french. They are all in the same grade in each class as well. Although it would be easier if the school combined two small classrooms, I respect their decision to keep grades separate because it also provides a smaller teacher to student ratio, thus a more intimate relationship between student and teacher.

All the students are well behaved but as they are young children, they feed off of one's energy and if one student is daring, the rest of them will follow. When this happens, the teachers constantly are reminding the students about the rules and expectations of the students in the classroom and as a form of punishment, will ask the student to change their seat or to not participate in the activity that the rest of the classroom is doing. This is an effective method as well because all students want to participate in the fun activity and want to do so with their friends. When taking away these variables, the student believes he or she will be less excited about the event taking place and be more aware of their actions. With all these different classroom management techniques, I could really tell that the teachers all genuinely care about their students and although they are strict with the kids, they are also loving and helpful.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Ecuadorian Culture reflected in my placement

At my practicum placement Ecuadorian culture and Indigenous culture are reflected in the school. Not only are holidays and ceremonies of the cultures celebrated at the school, but through the activities, lessons and classroom setup, culture is also represented.
On September 21st when I went to my practicum placement I was able to attend the assembly for one of four major indigenous celebrations in Ecuador. The students from different grades danced to traditional music and acted out historical scenes for the rest of the students and teachers at the school. It was heartwarming to see these students proud to be representing their culture in front of the school. On this day the students were also required to bring in home cooked traditional food such as “chochos,” “mote,” and “avas,” and these foods were served as a potluck during the students lunch period.
Additionally, when there are national holidays, my SP has the students in my class do activities that correspond to the holiday. For example, on the Day of the Ecuadorian Flag, the students had to all correctly color the Ecuadorian flag with yellow, red, and blue, colors which they had reviewed earlier that week. Also, for the "Dia del Escudo" (or the emblem of Ecuador) the teacher had the students also color the emblem and talk about what the different parts signify for the country. 
The Ecuadorian culture is also reflected in the school schedule and rituals. I am currently in a “1st grade class,” however these students are only 4 or 5 years old and do not know how to read or write yet. Many of the students’ parents work early in the morning, many with informal positions. For this reason they need their children in school system early and the school day for these students starts around 7AM and ends at noon. 
The children all sit at two long tables next to each other and I think this is a representation of the closeness and companionship that is a part of the culture. The classroom itself does not have a great abundance of materials, specifically very few technological devices besides a very small box television, however the teachers at my school make the most out of what they have. I think this is also relevant to the topic of culture because although in this society the public schools may have fewer resources, the teachers themselves are resourceful and willing to cooperate and assist one another in teaching such a large class of students.


Friday, November 3, 2017

Learning about & Sharing Culture in the Classroom in Italy

Being immersed in Italian culture has taught me a tremendous amount. The language, the culture, and more is completely different than what I am used to. But as time has progressed and I have adapted and continued being open to the culture, I have felt at home. Just last night while having dinner with my host family, I had a conversation about the Montessori style of schooling. My host mother was eager to share her insight as Maria Montessori, the pioneer of the Montessori style of schooling, came from Italy. Furthermore, being immersed in Italian culture at an Italian school has taught me more than I could imagine.
Italians greet each other very warmly with a kiss on each cheek. When I had my initial meeting with the Principal and my Supervising Practitioner at my school, the principal greeted me with a kiss on each each cheek in true Italian fashion. I knew that I was not at my pre-practicum school in West Roxbury anymore.
Despite the language barrier, my students are warm and welcoming. Whenever an adult walks into the classroom, even if he or she leaves the room for a minute to make a copy of a worksheet, the students stand up and greet the adult who is entering the room. Before class starts, I make an effort to talk to them in the area they arrive to school at and in the classroom before class starts to see how they are. They usually share with me what they did over the weekend or how their recent class field trip was. I have learned more about Futbol than I expected I would while student teaching. Week after week, my students have been quizzing me on the Futbol players and teams they have taught me about in conversation.
            One of my first lessons was about Earthquakes and Wildfires. I selected this topic in collaboration with my Supervising Practitioner as it is a personal topic that affects where I am from in California quite often. Through this lesson, I feel as though my students learned a lot about who I am because I was able to share a major part of my culture. Additionally, my students learned scientific concepts in English including the concept that tectonic plates colliding results in Earthquakes. I selected “unpredictable” as one of my focus words of the lesson as I spent a good amount of time emphasizing the unpredictability of earthquakes. The majority of my students were not aware of Earthquake drills or Earthquake preparedness. I was able to share with them tips on building an Earthquake kit, and many students expressed an interest in wanting to create an Earthquake kit for their own homes as Italy is at risk for earthquakes.

            Throughout my time at Maria Luigia School, I am constantly thinking about what it would be like to be an English Language Learner student in the USA: not fully understanding what my teacher or my peers were saying, let alone the content of the lessons. I am always trying to put myself in the shoes of my students who are learning a foreign language. I am familiar with their situation as I am learning Italian. My Italian skills are basic, and although I am progressively growing more confident in my speaking abilities, I cannot 100% rely on them to get through day-to-day situations. This has taught me to listen carefully, be concise in my communication and be persistent, all of which I believe are crucial qualities for a teacher to have. Sometimes we learn that what is important to those in another country is not much different from what is important to us. In my international practicum, I have learned to take in the culture that surrounded me and began to admire, respect, and practice the ways of a foreign country. I am eager to continue learning more about Italian culture and sharing more about American culture with my students at Maria Luigia.