Yesterday and today were much more normal, at least for here. I have found a lot of differences between Spanish and American schools so far. For one thing, it’s the teachers who move classrooms, not the kids. Except for location specific things like P.E. and lunch, different teachers come into each class’s room for different subjects. My teacher goes to three different classes, two in first grade and one in fifth grade, and she teaches English and Science. The school is trilingual (Catalan, Spanish, and English), so the kids spend roughly equal parts of the day learning in each language. So in addition to English being taught completely in English, science is also taught completely in English. My teacher pretends not to understand when students try to speak in Spanish or Catalan, so even though they are still in elementary school, the students spend a lot of time speaking in English, and for the most part I can understand them pretty well.
I told them on the first day that I speak a little Spanish, and they have made a game of seeing how much I understand. They had me counting as high as I could one day, and it was really funny to see how excited they were. One of the girls was having me repeat after her to learn Spanish words. In return, I have been asking them to give me English words, since we’re not actually supposed to use Spanish during English time.
Overall, the students are really adorable. Spanish culture is very touchy, so they all get excited when they see me and want to hug me and hold my hand as we walk down the hallway, which has been really fun.
Speaking of hallways, the layout of the school is a little confusing, but I think I mostly have it figured out at this point. The school is basically in an L shape, with the girls’ classes in one branch and boys’ in another. I haven’t figured out exactly how many sets of stairs there are, but they all go up several flights, and we traverse them all day long, going from 5th grade on the second floor to 1st grade on the 1st floor and the cafeteria and playground on the ground floor (which is different from the first floor). There’s also a pool, which I think is a floor below that, and all kinds of little rooms (offices, teacher’s lounge, computer labs, work rooms) spread throughout. It took me about ten minutes just to find an exit at the end of the school day on Wednesday, but I’ve gotten better since then.
As far as teaching styles go, things don’t seem to be too different so far. The kids are a little louder, and there is slightly less emphasis on time, but I have still recognized a lot of strategies that I have been learning about and using in America. Since English is their third language, the teacher does a lot of modeling and gesturing to make her meaning clear. She also uses a lot of games and books to engage students and give more concrete examples of the content. One main difference I’ve noted is the technology difference. Things are a lot simpler here. The teachers use blackboards to write on. They show videos and pictures from the one computer in each classroom. Teachers have to log on to use the internet and things, but all the computers are linked, so you can access any teacher’s folder from any computer in the building, rather than each teacher having a specific log in with his or her specific files.
The value system is also a little different. For example, the classes I was in in America often had students put up folders to block their tests from other students. Here, the teacher actually scolded students who tried to do that on a spelling test. She told the students that it was very disrespectful and rude to assume that their peers were going to cheat. Students should instead trust that everyone will behave morally and resist the temptation to look off each other on their own. A lot of features of the school encourage students to develop their own responsibility, actually. After the spelling test, the teacher went around and graded each student’s test, and then she called on each student to give her score so she could record it on a page marked “Spelling Scores” hanging on the wall. At home, students were expected to take initiative and have their parents sign the test. “My mom didn’t look in my folder” was not a valid excuse- it was each student’s responsibility to give the test to her parents for the signature.
In addition to responsibility, there is also a focus on cooperative learning and helping each other succeed. My teacher incorporates a lot of group and partner activities in her learning, but where this focus has been most striking to me has been in playing with my host brothers and sisters. One game we have played is a sort of “I Spy” board game. The game board is set up like the books- lots of tiny pictures of various colorful objects set against a white background. Each player gets three tiles with pictures that are somewhere on the game board, and the player who finds all his or her objects first wins. If I were playing this game at home with my biological brother and sister, we would be playing against each other, each trying her or his hardest to win the game and get the bragging rights. Not these kids, though. They explained to me with the rules that whoever wins can help the others find their tiles, and even while they are still looking for their own, they freely point out when they notice someone else’s tile in the midst of their search. In this way, it doesn’t really matter who wins. They just want to have fun playing the game and improving their skills at finding the objects.
I’ve now written nearly two pages in Microsoft Word. I don’t blame anyone who got bored and left, but it’s just been so neat getting to compare two such different places! I have loved finding things that are just the same at home in Kentucky, and noting how different other aspects of the school and culture are. I make no guarantees that other blogs will be shorter, but we shall see. The plan for this weekend is to walk around the city and possibly go to the zoo, so I’ll let you know how that goes, but for now I’d say this blog is long enough.