What catches students’ attention?

If I knew the universal answer to this question, I would surely post it here, but alas, there are many things to catch students’ attention …. and many ways not to.

However, yesterday I covered in grade 3.a all day long and as their science/social studies teacher, I took the opportunity to start on our unit on experiments and the scientific method.

A simple provocation: A question!

What is an experiment?

I didn’t even expect the class to be as engaged as they were… they shared ideas, thoughts and wonderings. They talked about experiments they had seen, heard of or even tried themselves.

After the first session, I expected them to be eager to continue today but I was amazed by the enthusiasm displayed: Some students talked to adults and consulted books about experiments, took notes and collected questions at home.

I’m thrilled and I hope that many of my approaches will keep them engaged! I will keep you posted!


A quick note: I work at a special needs school for speech disabilities. The students are often delayed in their linguistic development, and display a lot of problems with reading, writing and often speaking as such. 

Relevance dilemma – what will become of it

The suggestions to my previous posts were great. I was able to take the half term break and take a step back. Now I feel slightly different and ready to start the new week tomorrow. With grade 10. With the boys.

What bugs me still is the fact that I have no lessons planned. I have an idea. I have objectives, but I haven’t (as I often don’t) go a mapped out plan. I will have to see where it goes and… go from there. Planning like this still makes me uneasy at times, esp. now that I’m working in a less “progressive” school.

Tomorrow we will embark on the so-called pre-assessment stage then. I already know my students’ level of English, but I don’t know there knowledge and interests about traveling. I have a PYP Unit Planner open to help me focus my planning, but I also know that it is not quite the right thing to use for my 10th grade, 2 lessons per week English planning.

Seeing as we are back from the first break of the year, I will use the opportunity to:

– see if students traveled anywhere and where
– use a map (online and offline) to map where we have all been in our lives
– introduce some relevant vocabulary
– find out where students would like to travel
– find out what students think is important about the places where they travel
– find out their travel “experience” level

I am so thankful that Maggie mentioned this idea. I have already looked into booking the computer room and using a whole range of sources there. I am curious to see if my students are willing to build their own repertoire of vocabulary by using websites, etc.

I aim to make them use their own “vocab log” where they will mark down important words to them. I aim to make them use travel blogs, experience websites, hotel and airline websites, maps, streetview to see places in detail and so on.

I’m excited about this. And hopefully this is the first step in a better direction!

Relevance of what we teach

I find myself in a dilemma. I firmly believe that teaching what is relevant to our students is important. Sometimes the relevance might be abstract and “far away”, like when we learn to problem-solve. But I have always tried to make everything as relevant to the group and individual I teach, as possible.

In an inquiry-based approach, students will lead inquiry if you let them, and they by taking control, it will be relevant to them. Basing the teaching/content/theme on a concept that has “global relevance”, it becomes meaningful to them, and to the overall aim of, well, probably international education. But then, all education is somehow international.

Let me get back to the point. My own class is not the problem here. With them, I still stay very close to my believes and my approach matches my educational philosophy. What I really struggle with is teaching English (EAL) in grades 8 and 10. I teach them for 90 (and some for 180) min a week.
I want to focus on grade 10. Their level of English is beginners, absolute beginners. In special schools, teaching English has only just become important and my school has not followed any curriculum, order or guidelines. While these would have to be individualized anyway, a general “overview” would be great.
Every week I am faced with a group that:

  • is partly working hard on being accepted in society (as a special school student) and on finding a job for less than a year from now
  • is partly not interested in anything, and only comes to school because it is a legal requirement
  • is partly planning on going on unemployment benefits as soon as they leave school (and most likely will stay there)
  • probably won’t require the use of English at one part in their life
  • has no interest in the typical beginners materials, which is either made for adults, or for children
  • has no basis of English to work with
  • are at the height of puberty (15/16)

I find this an incredibly hard list to work with. I have no idea where to start (though I started weeks ago, but reflecting on that, I feel I haven’t made a start). Where do I begin, where do I want to go with them? What can I do to make English slightly relevant to my students? Where do I start to find the relevance for them?

 

Reflection on my state school experience, and the start of something new

My previous post was full of hope for many posts about my new school. But I was overwhelmed with the events at my school. Not necessarily in a bad way, but there was not a lot of freedom for me or my beliefs.

The primary school I was at was very traditional, and as I took over responsibility for English in grade 2, I was busy setting up a non-existent curriculum and trying to live with the fact that we were unrelated to anything else going on in the school. I guess it wasn’t a PYP school, and I was so used to having my own class and using a trans-disciplinary approach, that teaching in this way was rather unfulfilling and clashing with my own ideals.

During the time I was supporting class teachers, I was shocked by the amount of textbook and workbook work… the fact that first graders who were naturally so curious and excited, were quickly turned into “page-turners”, kids who wanted to be done with the phonics workbook first, or who didn’t want to be bothered at all.

I am not trying to blame anyone. I guess I could have stuck around to try and change things. But when the end of the school year approached, I was still not sure if my contract was to be extended. And so I looked for a place better suited for my educational philosophy.

In German state systems, there are primary and secondary schools, but also special (needs) education schools. The special ed schools are divided into the following categories:

  • social and emotional development
  • learning disabilities
  • hearing
  • seeing
  • language/linguistic development
  • physical disabilities
The core difference is, that class sizes are much smaller and that students are not taught to a strict curriculum, but an individual approach. Just as special ed is everywhere in this world, I assume.
When I started applying for openings, I decided to give it a go. And now I am finding myself a few hours away from my first proper school conference at a special ed school for learning disabilities.
I will be mainly placed in grade 5/6 (mixed grade) with another teacher, and taking on the main responsibility in that class for Maths and English. I will also be teaching English in grades 7, 8 and 10.
Needless to say, I’m nervous and excited. But I hope to settle in soon, to be able to stick to my belief that inquiry-based learning is the way forward and to find out how this will work in this particular school.