Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Classroom Observations

Last week I did the first of my classroom observations that I'll do before the summer institute starts at the end of June.

The first day, I observed two Teach For America teachers teaching bilingual classes at a charter school. Both classes seemed very well behaved. All the students were attentive and classroom procedures went so smoothly that you almost didn't notice the transition between activities. I also noticed how quietly and quickly minor disruptions were handled by the teachers. I think that is one of the main things that I learned from watching their lessons. I think back to last summer teaching English at summer camps in Italy and I realize that minor disruptions by students were multiplied by the teachers (or "counselors") when they stopped the entire group activity or lesson to address a single student who was acting up. Last week I saw teachers walk around the room while talking to students. They were constantly putting a student's hands back in their own lap, tapping a student on the shoulder and pointing to the "time out" table, or picking up a student who had sprawled out on the carpet during circle time. All these disruptions and more were handled without ever speaking or stopping the lesson. (The classes I observed were kindergarten and 2nd grade, by the way). Lesson learned.

I'm sure that order and efficiency of the classes I observed is the fruit of the year's labor. I had the fortune to visit the class at the end of the year after they've had nine months as a class together. To the casual observer, classroom management seems easy. I actually did observe one student in the first class who was constantly talking out of turn, getting out of her seat, and generally being disruptive. The teacher told me immediately after the class that she just transferred to the school and has had some trouble adjusting.

The second day, I watched a 2nd grade class in a regular school (also taught by a TFA teacher). At first glance, the school was quite deceiving. It's only five years old and a really nice facility. All around the school construction of new homes is taking place. I arrived at the school just as the school bus was pulling up and letting all of the uniformed students off the bus. You would have never known that this school is in one of the worst performing districts in Phoenix. Inside the classroom, the differences between the students in terms of being on grade level wasn't immediately obvious to me. Students seemed to be all participating in the morning carpet time and "stations." After lunch, I was given the chance the work with the students individually on reading. That's where my shock came. I started out working with a student who could read the words on the page, only very slowly. Then I worked with a student who could barely sound out the words and often invented words based on the first letter of the word. Finally, I worked with a few students who fluidly read all the words without stopping to sound them out. The gap in learning was huge.

My main observation the second day was based on a question on the observation form. The question asked if students worked together and seemed supportive of each others' learning. To that I would have to say no. During the morning "stations," students were put in groups where they rotated between five stations. In one of the stations students worked with the teacher on reading, in the other four stations students were basically left to work on their own and in groups. Here I saw students that seemed to be competing with each other rather than being supportive of each other. I constantly heard students saying "That's easy!" when another student was working to solve a problem or read a sentence. They were always quick to point out who couldn't read. Some students had taken over the reading for their partners when they were supposed to be reading to each other. "This is what we do because he can't read," one girl told me. Overall the atmosphere wasn't cooperative. It must be so discouraging for a student to be constantly told by his peers that what he's working on is "easy" and to have all the students point and say "He can't read." This has me thinking of ways that I can really emphasize a cooperative classroom environment where students want to help those who are struggling.

Hopefully next week I will visit some upper elementary classrooms. I am kind of leaning toward wanting to teach lower elementary though.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Busy, Busy.

I haven't posted in the last week as I've been in constant travel between cities. The bag made it OK to London (I didn't even have to pay excess baggage fees!). Then I went back to Sardegna for my last two days of teaching. Then it was back to London for one night. I collected my bag and proceeded to the airport with two 65lb bags and a backpack. I was in NY all weekend. I took the LAST on Saturday and attended a "Placement Kick-off Event" for TFA on Sunday. In between all that I spent time with two friends that I met and worked with in Greece back in 2003. It was good times. I returned to Phoenix late last night exhausted! Today I'm recouping and getting ready for my classroom observations that start tomorrow.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Suitcase to be delivered

Originally uploaded by Ms. M.
I'm off for a quick little jaunt to London before I head back to the states. The sole purpose of this trip is to drop off this suitcase. My flight to New York leaves from London on May 12th. Much to my irritation, the only easy way to get off this island is to take Ryan Air and they have ridiculous baggage restrictions (fifteen kilos between two bags!). After much research, I figured out that it was just easier (read: cheaper) to personally deliver one of bags to London myself. When I go back to London on Wednesday I'll take the second bag. Madness. Luckily I have a good friend living in London, so it's an excuse to visit her.

Sunday, May 01, 2005


Originally uploaded by katenadine.
It was a beautiful day in Sardegna today. I went with some friends to walk around Alghero. (30 minutes from where I live.) I brought my camera with me but the battery died after one picture. (That's always happening with my digital!) So, here's a photo of Alghero taken by someone else. Beautiful!

English in the Italian Language

One of the things that I find really interesting about teaching English to Italians is finding out where they obtained their previous English knowledge. Unlike the French, who go to great lengths to keep English language and culture from invading their own, Italians tend to embrace all things English. The Italian language is full of "adopted" English words. (Bar, privacy, beauty case, computer-to name a few). Often I'll be teaching a lesson, introducing what I think will be completely new vocabulary, and my students will shock me by already knowing the word. One such occasion occurred last week in my Level 2 class when I was presenting new vocabulary associated with "telephoning." I was miming the steps involved in using a pay phone.

Me: First you . . . *uses thumb and pinky finger to mime a telephone, then lifts "receiver" to ear
Students: Ah! *Shake their heads at me* (Their usual indication that they get what I'm doing but don't know the word in English)
Me: . . . pick up the receiver
Students: Ah. Pick up the receiver.
Me: Then you . . . *mimes putting coin into phone*
Valeria: Insert coin!! (She responds, thrilled that she knew the word)
Me: *look of astonishment* Huh? How do you know that word?
Valeria: Video giochi. (She responds in Italian. Video games, similar to slot machines, found in most bars in Sardegna)

Eliciting for previous knowledge is standard procedure in teaching English and usually I just respond with a simple "good" when the student already knows a word, but when it's a word that they would have never learned in class otherwise, it kind of throws me off. We all usually get a good laugh out of it.

A lot of their knowledge comes from songs. For instance when I was teaching my English 1 class "to be born," one of my students responded: "Bruce Springsteen. Born in the USA." Right.

Just the other day I was introducing the verb "to spoil" to a Level 2 student in one of my private lessons. We had just come up with a list of things that went wrong on our imaginary vacation.

Me: Did all of these things SPOIL your vacation?
Student: What means spoil? (The expected answer since I am teaching a new word)
Me: For example when you have milk and you keep it for one month, it spoils.
Student: Ah, spoils. Like spoils system. In government. In Italian we use the same word. There is no Italian word for spoils system.

English is everywhere in the Italian language. I have yet to meet an Italian student who is an "absolute beginner."

Sometimes though, the abundance of English words in Italian can get them into trouble. Sometimes they English use words differently than we do. For example in Italian they use the word "slip" and it means underwear. Of course, they just assume since the word is in English that that is the correct usage of the word. My personal favorite is the use of the word "footing" in Italian to mean jogging.