Week 8: Colegio Medalla Milagrosa, Ávila, Spain

January 7th, 2013

Samantha Reed ’13, Julian International Fellow in Education

I write this last post in my home back in the States.  It was somewhat of an adventure getting back too.  I lost my carry-on bag in the Madrid airport and ran around like a crazy person until I got it back. Good thing too, since just about all of my souvenirs were in there. I’m finally back home and very severely jet lagged, but so happy that i got to go to Spain to teach.  As the new year approaches I realize that I have lived in Spain for an entire quarter of a year (different trips combined) and I don’t know many more people who can say that!

The rest of my last week at Colegio Medalla Milagrosa was phenomenal.  I got several pictures with my students, we played games like 2 truths and a lie and Simon Says, we held a debate in one class, and performed a pantomime of one of the chapters in Excalibur.  That last one was particularly fun, since it involved characters like witches, wizards, horses, and dolphins.  I had to stop them so that we could all laugh.  I think that it was also a good way to aide comprehension and informally evaluate what they understood before they came to class.  It also amazes me that I was coming up with good ideas right before I had to leave

Week 7: Colegio Medalla Milagrosa, Ávila, Spain

December 19th, 2012

Samantha Reed ’13, Julian International Fellow in Education

This is my last week!  You’d think that I’d have less work at the end of my time here, because you normally need some time to phase out, but I’m busier than ever.  Fortunately for me, my cooperating teachers want the students to experience an English-speaker for as long as possible.  It has given me the opportunity to teach some reading more intensively.  My 8th grade class has been reading “Excalibur,” a highly abridged story about King Arthur.  They have been reading this with Conchi, the cooperating teacher for that class, on the days I don’t have them.  This last week I have this class everyday and they need to finish a chapter everyday so I have to come up with some  reading strategies.  These need to aid comprehension but they also need to be varied.  I know I would be bored if all I got to do was read and do exercises everyday all day.  I also want to surround the reading with conversation in English, because I really think that this is what will stick after I leave.  This is really good practice for me.  Reading is so different in foreign languages, and many of the reading strategies that work in classes like English or History aren’t practical for my students.  And also Excalibur is such a fun story and it will be easier to come up with fun and interesting activities.

In my 4th ESO (10th grade) class, the one that has always been really crazy, I’ve been having better luck with getting them to listen.  I realized that they seem to listen either when they have something really active to do or if they have some PPT to watch.  Though I think that in the case of the powerpoints the “listening” is controlled boredom so I try to keep away from those when possible.  I think that they are usually bored because when they listen they know all the answers.  They are like a super panel for whether or not activities are actually engaging.  If it works it really works, but if it doesn’t you’ve lost them for half the class.  It’s also made me think about discipline in the classroom.   Accordding to the traditional discipline system in the US I should be asking myself what kinds of things can I do or take away etc. so that there are consequences for bad behavior?  I quickly discovered that this is not the system used in Spain.  If you are being bad they are really honest and tell you pretty harshly.  I would usually think that to be a bad idea but it works for them.  From what I saw they didn’t damage anyone’s self esteem or anything.  They did manage to make themselves human though, and paired with jokes and normal conversation, the students make a better effort in class.

Now that I only have one more week in Spain, I realize that I’m really going to miss it.  The teachers I work with are fantastic, the students make my career, and I’ve even gotten used to the food and cultural differences.  I’ve been practice packing and making sure that I have everything ready to go for my return trip to the States but I won’t ever forget what I can’t bring with me.  All of the friends that I made and everything that I learned and experienced will stay with me forever.  Even though I was skeptical at first, I really think that I could teach abroad and be completely happy.  Thank you Cornell Fellows for everything!

Week 6: Colegio Medalla Milagrosa, Ávila, Spain

December 13th, 2012

Samantha Reed ’13, Julian International Fellow in Education

I only have two more weeks here and I really wish I could stay for more.  I feel like I’m just getting in a groove and I’m in the mind frame of a teacher in Spain.  Everything is more comfortable.  It’s a shame that it takes so long to truly acclimate because now I have some good ideas but I don’t have time to implement them.  But such is life!  Maybe I’ll do the prep work for activities without teaching them, so at least it will be practice and I can use them in the future.

One thing that is different between the schools in the US and in Spain is the level of collaboration and teacher together-ness.  Now this just may be because I was a very busy student teacher at my placement in the US, but the teachers here are really open and after you talk once, you’re basically friends.  The teachers, and the Spanish population in general, don’t hesitate to invite you to go do something even if they met you 5 minutes ago.  This has really helped me to get involved in other teachers’ classes.  We meet up over the break (in Spain they eat lunch around 3 pm so they just have a snack break) and plan briefly, sharing materials and ideas.  Because of this I will be teaching a music class next week.  It should be interesting because I’m awful at all things musical so they can just help me butcher Christmas carols.

I was a little concerned that my last week would be empty because of midterms but it seems that only 12th graders have major exams.  Although that seems a little strange to me, I’m really glad.  I want to take advantage of my time here.  I have the most interesting conversations with my students and I feel like I learn just about as much from them as they do from me.  For example, we were comparing and contrasting Christmas traditions and I learned that they set out special cookies for the wise men and water for the camels on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena), instead of milk and cookies for Santa.  I also had some of my students tell me that American English is more difficult than English from England.  Of course American English is all I speak, but they’ve only ever had instruction in the British so it’s hard for them to understand my accent.  There are some differences in grammar and spelling as well as sometimes when I want to correct something I have to check with the teacher to see if it’s correct according to what they learned.  Everyday at the beginning of class I tell the students a joke or a funny story in English so that they can work on understanding humor.  At this point in their experience with me, they’ve found out that most of my jokes are pretty corny and they let me know it!  But I think they are getting better at understanding because they make more guesses now than at the beginning and they understand at the end with less or no explanation.  I think that things like this are important.  Language is so much more than a collection of words tied together with grammar.  You have to know the language in a communicative context.

I also had the opportunity to visit Salamanca this weekend which was just great.  Salamanca is home to the oldest university in Spain and if you find the frog on the front of it you are supposed to have good luck.  All of the nearby shops sell frog figurines so you can remember it.  I went with another girl from the US completing her student teaching at a different school.  We almost missed our bus both ways but with a little exercise we managed.  All in all it was a good trip and I got a giant Spanish flag to hang up in my future classroom!  Just about all of my souvenirs so far have been future classroom items and it’s strange to think that this isn’t too far in the future.  In a few months I should have my first teaching job.  I will be able to tell my students that I lived in Spain, and that I went out and saw what it was “really” like.  I can tell them true stories and some colloquial terms that aren’t in the book.  My teaching will have so much more “umph” because of my experience as a Cornell Fellow in Ávila, Spain.

The pictures show some of my students competing in a three-legged race, me and another student teacher Kate in Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, and my 10th grade class being silly.

Week 5: Colegio Medalla Milagrosa, Ávila, Spain

December 5th, 2012

Samantha Reed ’13, Julian International Fellow in Education

Week number five.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been here for this long.  Communication in Spanish gets easier everyday and I’m learning new words and phrases left and right.  At first I was getting a little frustrated because there were so many times when I couldn’t recall the grammar needed to express something, or maybe there was a crucial word missing and I couldn’t remember.  But now I’m surprised that words are coming out of my mouth before I really have time to think about their direct translations.  It’s great!  Being in a completely foreign environment for so long does wonders for your L2 (second language) acquisition.

I’ve been reading education literature in Spanish on my off time.  It’s a different perspective on what is essentially the same information but for some reason I’m finding that it’s much more useful to me and I get a lot more out of it.  I’m not sure if its because reading/understanding educational theory and ideas in a different language  makes it more dimensional (does that even make sense?) or if it’s because I’m reading this stuff again after actually having taught and its more applicable.  Either way, I’ll take it!  I tried something new in class today from one of my books.  It was a simple speaking group-debate activity about a “dumb” question, “Which color is the best color” so that they could get used to debating each other and develop some of the vocabulary needed for next week when we do a more formal debate.  I split the class into groups and told them to come to a consensus and then I split them up again and they had to argue for the color that their first team picked.  I think it went well, though in the future I think I’ll do something to recap a little better; maybe have them fill in their reasons on some sort of handout that helps guide discussion during and after.  Also since it was such an abstract question, the kids had to get creative and that means lots of laughing, which always makes for a better class period.

Barcelona was also very fantastic, although I was a little brain dead on Monday morning since I got back so late Sunday night.  I went and saw so many places, including the Mediterranean Sea, Museo Picasso, the gothic quarter, the remains of the old roman wall, Montjuic, Park Guell, La Sagrada Familia and more.  It was also my first time staying at a hostel and I was a little paranoid about getting my stuff stolen but it was actually really secure and they had a huge free breakfast ready for you in the morning.  Something weird: in Spain when you buy milk it is not refrigerated and most of the time its lukewarm when served.  And my legs still hurt from walking all over the place.  But it was worth it!  Just like coming to Spain in the first place, it allows me to form a more complete picture of how the world is and I hope I can pass that on to my students.  And even though Catalan is the official language in Barcelona and I can’t really say that I learned a ton of Spanish on my trip, it was good to see how a different part of Spain functions and how Spanish fits into all that.  All of this is really possible because of the generosity and the amazing opportunities that the Fellows Program offers and I can’t express how thankful I am.

Week 4: Colegio Medalla Milagrosa, Ávila, Spain

November 28th, 2012

Samantha Reed ’13, Julian International Fellow in Education

The trip to Madrid was a blast! We left early and went straight to the Prado Museum, which is such a huge art museum that you really can’t see all of it in one visit. We were there for a little over two hours and my group only saw some selected works by Velazquez. It was very informative though since it was a tour complete with head sets and a knowledgeable guide. Since the group I was with were the equivalent of US 12th graders, they were given a lot of free time to roam Madrid. This also gave the teacher chaperones a lot of time, so we sat down and ate at a nice Italian restaurant. It was really nice to talk the other teachers, neither of which I have any classes with, and just talk about normal everyday things. When you are teaching in a school that doesn’t provide a lunch break, talking just to talk can be a little difficult. After that, we went to the Instituto Europeo di Diseño at looked at what they had to offer to the soon-to-graduate students. At the end of the night we saw a play entitled “Doña Pefecta.” I honestly had a hard time understanding, maybe because it was late or maybe because they had a different dialect, but I laughed when the students laughed. All in all it was a good experience and, besides 3 students being a little late to the play because they got lost, nothing went wrong and the students were well-behaved. I learned some child-herding techniques that are helpful on field trips.

This week is also a week of celebration, which makes it really hard to get what needs to be done, done. But on the other hand, this is a very important occasion for the school (they have been in operation for 100 years) so I’m just rolling with the punches. Since there weren’t classes today I asked to help out with setting up for the Eucharist. I’m not sure how much help I was though since I couldn’t stop staring at everything in Santo Tomas, where the service was being held. It was beautiful. After the service, we all went back to the school and had hot chocolate (which in Spain is more like drinking hot chocolate pudding) and biscuits. The kids were all crazy at this point and then we started playing games and that got them even more riled up. I figure though that kids need that sometimes, and as long as they weren’t being disrespectful to someone speaking at the moment, I didn’t really mind. I scored a point in the soccer shoot-out and sang in the teacher’s round of “Quick, think up a song that has the following word in it and start singing it.” It was really great! And at the end all of the teachers, including myself, received a picture frame and a fancy calendar!

Another good outcome was that I talked with several other teachers so I will be able to fill in the blanks in my schedule with observing other classes and taking notes on teaching styles. I figure that I should take advantage of my time in a foreign country and experience as much as I can, in and out of the classroom. Next time I write, I will have been to Barcelona and I can’t even say how excited I am.

P.S. The pictures really match better with the entry for week 3 but it is what it is! Pictured is the school, my 8th grade class and a view from a good hill (Avila has many).

Week 3: Colegio Medalla Milagrosa, Ávila, Spain

November 21st, 2012

Samantha Reed ’13, Julian International Fellow in Education

I feel like I’m really getting into the swing of things. This past week I taught all of my normal classes as well as a section of 7th grade social studies. It has been a really good experience getting to see world history through a different lens. Europe has seen a lot more of history and when I talk about the Romans or Islamic society, I can relate the material directly to what they see everyday. I was apprehensive about teaching the younger grades at first. In the past I always thought that I would hate to teach Middle School because they were too young and wouldn’t know how to deal with there little-ness . But really I’ve had some of my best lessons in the 7th and 8th grade classes. I can’t help but smile when I’m teaching these students. They aren’t afraid to make mistakes and they all actually try to speak English. I’ve had some interesting mishaps dealing with the language barrier, but that always happens and it really contributes to the learning process. If you made a mistake and are forced to correct it, you’ll remember it better in the long run. Mistakes and all, they are eager to learn and they like to be active, which suits my teaching style just fine! Lesson learned: I can teach Middle School and be happy.

Today I tried my hand at co-teaching. There is another student teacher at Medalla Milagrosa from Turkey and we were assigned to the same social studies class. I’d only ever taught in a class were one person was “in charge” so it was a little strange to share the reigns as equals in the classroom. It went well though I think. I checked the homework that I assigned last class and then led a review. After that Enis, the other teacher, led a power point discussion on Islamic art, culture and architecture. Looking back on it I think I got the most out of planning with him the weekend before. It was really useful to vocalize what I was thinking and for me to hear out his ideas. It made me think about why I prefer to do activities a certain way and rationalize the progression of my lessons. Also, Enis doesn’t know much Spanish yet and English is his second language so he provides really good insight into what about English is difficult and how to explain some grammar points so there is no confusion. Honestly, some of the grammar terms I’ve been hearing are blasts from the past (think elementary school) and others I’ve never heard of at all. Luckily I have my trusty Castilla-Leon library card and have checked out a large stack on English grammar. It’s time to learn my own language properly.

I’m probably in sore need of it. I feel like my thought processes are in Spanish now and it’s hard to make my adjectives come before my nouns (in Spanish the modifying word comes second). But even though this makes writing in English difficult, it allows me to learn new Spanish at fantastic rates. One new thing I’ve been trying is keeping a notebook of any word I come across in Spanish that I don’t know. It’s working well so far and it also allows me to keep up to date on Spanish current events, as many of my new words come from reading the newspaper that the residence has set out in the ground floor.

This week I’m also very excited to go with some of my students to the Prado museum in Madrid. We will also be seeing a play, though I don’t know which one yet. This will be a good opportunity to learn how to chaperon trips, because it has to be a little different since it’s not in the traditional classroom setting. This, along with so many other opportunities, is really helping me form a more complete idea about what it means to be a teacher, in and out of the classroom. I’m not even half done and I’ve already learned so much from my students and mentors. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m so thankful that I’m able to be here right now, learning so much.

Week 2: Colegio Medalla Milagrosa

November 13th, 2012

Samantha Reed ’13, Julian International Fellow in Education

This past week I had the opportunity to teach the coolest things. With the elections happening in the US, I was able to lead political discussion in several of my classes. We compared and contrasted the government systems of the US and Spain and watched a few silly political videos. Since I’m teaching such a wide range of ages, it was really interesting to see how much of a political shift there is between the grade levels. Anyway, it was a good opportunity to set up that initial standard of communication! In 7th grade we also take 5 minutes or so out of every class period to learn the Charleston, and just like in the US the girls ask to dance every time and the boys will only do it grudgingly.

And the students are so funny. Not a class period goes by when I don’t laugh my head off. Today, we played a translation race game and I had two very competitive boys trying to write the answer while erasing the other’s. I’m glad that I get to do fun things like this. Since I’m not in the class every time the students have class, Rosa (my main mentor teacher) has asked me to do more culture, conversation, reading and vocabulary type activities. This is fine with me! Plus I often get to watch the classes that I ‘m not teaching so I’m gathering different ideas on how to teach traditionally “boring” grammar.

I’ve had several of the teachers talk with me about my lesson plans (the actual paper part) and I’ve noticed that their planning is a lot less complex than mine. They usually just keep an agenda and have a few lines written for what they want to do. It also seems pretty normal to up and change plans whenever. The first part of my student teaching required that I be very detailed and organized and, if at all possible, over planned, so this teaching style has been difficult for me. I’m getting used to it though and I’m starting to see when this style would be more effective. Also, another new and strange thing I learned today…apparently you can spell “traveled” as “travelled” according to England English, or so my students and mentor teacher pointed out to me.

This past week I also made plans to go to Barcelona for a weekend. I really can’t wait and it will be such a good opportunity to learn more about Spanish culture and see how much I can understand the language out there. I’m going to sea the Mediterranean! I still can’t believe my life right now.

Week 1: Colegio Medalla Milagrosa

November 6th, 2012

Sam Reed ’13, Julian International Fellow in Education

This first week as been amazing! I am all situated in the Santo Tomas monastery, which is only 2 minutes from the school I’m teaching at, and have already met people from all over Spain as well as Brazil, Colombia, China, and Turkey. The food is very good though it is taking me a bit to get accustomed to it, especially dishes like potato and octopus soup like today’s lunch.
As far as the school goes, I am teaching 1st ESO (7th grade), 2nd ESO (8th grade), 4th ESO (10th grade)and 1st Bachillerato (11th grade) English, as well as 2nd and 4th ESO Social Studies. I have to admit that I had no idea that I was also going to be teaching what is essentially world history, but it has been a good experience so far. Today in the 11th grade class we talked about humor and language barriers which ended in us sharing a ton of jokes in English. I’ve had no major problems with the students and its nice to see that kids are kids everywhere. One thing that I have noticed is that the teachers are very blunt when it comes to discipline. Good and bad behavior isn’t hard to figure out in Spain. If you are being rude or off-task they will tell you!
This week has been a lesson in being flexible as a teacher. I have started to make my own lesson plans and activities but since I came in the middle of their school year they were already doing other things. Having to change my plans in order to accommodate the various interruptions necessary to finish with activities that were started before I came has been a very good learning experience. Now, I don’t feel so much anxiety when the plan “goes wrong.” Sometimes its best to change your plans if an especially good teachable moment presents itself.
I’m so glad for this opportunity to improve my Spanish and experience an education system other than my own. I can tell I’m about to learn more than I thought. But then that’s what I get for studying at Cornell College home of extraordinary opportunities!

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