Mittwoch, 25. Dezember 2013

Morning problems - writing practice

One of my all-time favorite teaching tools, was used by one of my teaching role models. I got to experience him work in class last year in Sweden. Not only did I get to experience some very cool methods, I also got to use one of them during my time substituting for him. The only thing bothering me a little bit, is that I’m never going to be able to use it in this form, because this particular setup, only works as a classroom teacher on a primary level. The way (lower) secondary schools work, is that a teacher works in a couple of different classes, rather than being in one class all the time (or every morning for that matter).

It might be used in various other forms, or called different names, but I have never heard of it before. The so-called Morning Problems. 

Before I get into explaining it, there are is one specific thing you need to know about the school (system) in order to understand how this is done. The key factor: the actual lesson in the morning started at 8.40, but the kids usually arrived at school and therefore entered the classroom at around 8.15 or 8.20.

So in the mornings, before the first lesson, their schedule always had “Morning Problem” written on it. It was a very simple way to get them acclimated in the morning and get them ready to think. He put up some kind of issue to solve on the whiteboard. These problems were mostly Mathematical riddles. Since his background was more on the Maths-side, he built up a sort of 'library' of these riddles. Some of them very solely logical problems, some were strictly mathematical, but always with some fun wrinkle, either in the instruction or in the solution.
The kids had no issues starting to work on it, as soon as they came to school. I even remember some of them just walking through the door, looking up at the board and just checking out the riddle, before they even got to their spot and just stood in the door for a little while already thinking about it.
It brought something challenging and fun. Not only did you get an extra ‘credit’ for finishing it, but you could also relax and do something else before the lesson starts, some 3rd graders wanted to read their books, some wanted to draw and some even wanted to play some chess or other board games.

The main thing about this for me was that specifically every monday morning, the task was as simple as: write something short about your weekend, three things you liked and three things you didn't like. I feel like this form of writing practice, can be really valuable for any class. Not only did they get to write something short and reflect, they didn’t even mind writing, first thing in the morning.

I believe there are many methods, where the kids don’t even notice it to be ‘real’ school work, although they bring an unbelievable benefit. Not only are Mathematical riddles awesome and fun, but incorporating writing and spelling riddles every now and then, is also of great use and improves various skills. I really hope I get the chance to work out something similar to this. I have to hope for the system to be on my side though.

Montag, 9. Dezember 2013

Teacher training - content or methods?

Just like there are different schools (i.e. primary and upper), there are different forms of teacher training. Regardless of how much politics influence the way education works, I still think more specific and individual attention could be brought to the way student teachers are lead down their path of professionalization.

Teachers of almost all subjects, obviously need to have some kind of knowledge basis for their particular subject. For one, teachers have to be able to build/form a lesson, based on the knowledge that the children should acquire, and it is also quite important to be able to answer additional questions somebody might have about a topic.

Teachers also have to know, which methods to use in order teach a certain topic, more importantly, the proper methods for the children. They might have to face the challenge of varying levels in class, or they have to adjust one method, because it just doesn’t fit the particular need for a class.

I would like to take up one of these two points. Especially, because I feel like I’m part of one, and I’m not having fun as a student (teacher) myself, the way I’m confronted with it now.

I’m going to take two personal examples from the last couple of years. One of my biggest passions, ever since I was young, is sports. It never really mattered, if it was a specific sport, it never mattered if I could only watch it on TV, I always enjoyed it. Even later, when I got older, not only did I participate in sports as much as I could, but I also got into coaching after a couple of years. With coaching in a specific sport, came trainer education and trainer certificates, where sometimes you get away from one sport specifically, but you focus more on movement and movement games. Now, in fairness, I might be different from other coaches or trainers, but for many specific movements, I don’t actually have to do and feel the movements myself, to be able to see what could be wrong with them and fix it. This can lead down a very tricky path - how credible can somebody be, if they never really tried it themselves? Well, the end result of sports movements should be that the athlete is able to perform them, without mistakes and economically. Maybe it is a deeper lying issue, but I personally don’t care how I can reach those results; if I get good and proper feedback, and it works, thanks to that, I will be happy. I don’t necessarily think the background of the trainer or coach really matters. The key thing to keep in mind: the coaches main goal is to get you to the end result.

As I mentioned above, there is a situation, which brings this whole big question to the forefront every time I’m involved. My second subject, besides English, is History and Social sciences. As you can imagine, History lessons tend to be very dry. Obviously History teachers have to have a very broad understanding and knowledge, since the topic itself is vast. But to be more specific, I’m in a teacher training program for 10 to 14 year olds. So to be very blunt, I don’t really care about all the details regarding wars and empires, I would really love to know, how I can make these topics interesting for children. Unfortunately these things never get mentioned, leaving me little to no real preparation for the things that I should teach, but at least I know a bunch of interesting topics in detail. I’m always surprised that most of the time our teachers never even taught in the same kind of schools we are going to teach in - which in turn wouldn’t be an issue, because it doesn’t really matter where you come from - it only matters where it leads us, but this part of learning for myself and not for my job is beyond me. To compare it to the previous paragraph, I think the key for a teacher is the same thing as for a coach - get you to the end result - but this time, the end result is that children acquire certain competencies and a knowledge base to be able to evolve, and either attend a higher education institute or get work, and I’m not sure if they would achieve those goals if I talk to them, or maybe let them read about history for hours on end.

In both cases I’m not a big believer in really having to do the actual ‘work’ (the sport or knowing specific topics), but I do think it is important to know how to get to the finish line. And especially in cases, where teaching and learning is involved, it is far more important to know how to teach, than what to teach.

Mittwoch, 4. Dezember 2013

Negucation - this is not a good title

A supportive environment, be it family or friends is very valuable on all stages of life. Growing up and getting older, one starts to be more aware of the surroundings. In the workplace, or just among friends, conversations get more mature and more reflective. Talking about achievements or various skills among co-workers or friends tend to go in a positive direction, at least most of the time. Not many people try to negate or downgrade what somebody else did on purpose when having a regular conversation. Most people in todays society have a positive and encouraging outlook on things. To me, it is rather surprising that a very important field of work has not embraced this mindset.

A lot of times, kids in school are everything but encouraged to try things and be hopeful for their future. They are told how ‘bad’ they are doing and that they ‘failed’ in various areas of school life. It’s no surprise where this comes from. Student teachers are treated the same way by their teacher during teacher training. No wonder many of them take on this attitude and live it to the fullest in their profession. But why is that? How come one has to deal with disrespectful behaviour from teachers so many times? And where does this all come from, is it just this generation of university teachers, or is it something that was common before?

I can’t speak for more countries than the ones I’ve been living in. I’ve spent a year in Sweden, where it was almost a culture shock for me at the university, but that is not the point. I’m curious where this came from in Austria. It might be a societal issue in general. If one would follow the classic stereotypes that are known about Austrian people, one could probably find connections to where it came from and how it developed over time.

I’d like to take it back to the basic educational point of view. If the student teachers get treated this way, then they are going to treat their students the same way. I believe in change in education from the top. More people can be reached if teacher education is fixed than by fixing yourself and just your own classroom. But how to start?
First of all, higher standards need to be set for new student teachers. It has to be clear that these people are directly responsible for how the society will evolve in the next twenty to thirty years, it is a big responsibility. If you set higher standards, you also have to embrace people who have better basics than others (e.g. prior work experience, certificates, coaching). And this is exactly where it all starts: people with a better basis than others can not be treated the same way. They are further ahead, so they need different challenges or they are going to lose interest. If it continues they get frustrated by the way they are treated because everything is adjusted downwards to suit the “new” student teachers, and so the negative vibes begin. The same could be said for student teachers who are actually new, in the same breath they are treated like little children. If you enter a study programme you obviously finished some high school or got the accreditations to attend a higher educational facility, meaning, you are capable of doing ‘real’ university things like working independently and getting things done on time. Unfortunately teachesr manage to mess up both of these student groups which in turn leads to teachers who treat their kids on a similar scale.

Somehow there is this strange feeling of being between two university-blackhole-systems - the teacher education is obviously very important for any country in general, but then again, there is no respect or encouragement for students who want to be part of it; then teacher training does not prepare you for what you would actually want and need out of it, and your own teachers don’t even have the experiences which would be helpful to you, which in turn makes them condescending; but the teacher training program wants to have ‘competent’ professors and so on...frustrating on some levels.

Education is something positive. And although there are plenty of teachers and schools that do good work, there still are kids in school hearing that they can not do anything every day in school, and sometimes at home. I’m liking the idea of teachers also switching to the roles of guides and mentors more and more. Sometimes the best ‘teaching’ is just to encourage. Encouraging to try, because there is no failure. If there is no way out, there is nothing wrong with asking a classmate or the teacher will help figuring stuff out. But if right from the start the mindset is ‘how difficult something is and that so many fail at it and that you couldn't even finish another task’, how much fun is it to even start and try. Especially thinking about students who need a little extra help, imagine just being positive around them, they will get through it even if its way harder for them. Telling them that it gets harder and harder, and if they don’t manage the basic things it can be impossible, is not going to help. There are so many competencies that are needed later in in life that could be taught through an encouraging attitude.

I feel like so much good can come out of Education, out of schools and universities, but it has to start with the attitude. It has to be made clear that in certain roles people are role models, if they like it or not, but they have to realize that their actions are far reaching. Imagine a teacher in teacher training having a positive influence on one of his groups with 25 student teachers, these student teachers will go out in their respective schools and give the same positive influence to each of their 100 students. So this one teacher can influence the lifes of 2500 kids. How great is that?
Instead of focusing on the negative things, education has to get a positive spin. It is great to have people who want to become teachers. It is an amazing opportunity to help those student teachers make a difference in schools. It is awesome to be able to work with kids and youngsters and help them evolve and develop.

And even Negucation is a great title!

Mittwoch, 20. November 2013

Individualizing and Differentiation - Principles

Its been a while now, but studies have picked up the last week. It is a quite rare occurrence but I also encountered a couple of interesting things. They all centered around one topic, individualizing and differentiation in the classroom.

One of the better seminars I participate now this term is called ‘individualized support’. The seminar itself flew by kind of quickly because we only had it 4-5 times in the last two months. Nonetheless the information we got and had to think about was great. To finish off the seminar we had to think about our personal principles when thinking about individualizing and differentiating in school based on our experiences and what we have talked about in the seminars. Many of the points tie in with the things I got to know in a couple of schools I visited and worked in. These are the things that I wrote down:
- create an environment that suits both the kids and the teacher
- have enough space for learning
- pick up every child where it stands, evaluate status before beginning
- pick appropriate material and methods for the level the child is on at the moment
- make sure to have individual learning goals, while also keeping class goals in mind
- be in constant communication about their progress
- constant adjustment of material based on needs of the children
- know your role as a teacher, sometimes you have to lead, sometimes you to accompany them
- knowledge about methods
- differentiated performance evaluation

These things are certainly core thoughts for anybody who digs deeper into this topic. When we got this task to take down 10 points that are important to us, I went on a step-by-step basis as you can see. As we were talking about the points with our teacher and other students it became clear that not everybody did it that way. For one, it shows again how different people work, it is, one the other hand, a little bit strange that other students teachers didn’t build a sort of ‘program’ with these points, but just jotted them down to talk about them. I feel like it is important to have a guideline of sorts, which is what I had in mind while writing. It obviously depends on how they interpreted the assignment. I think student teachers more often than not need a good guide and guidelines, since that’s why they’re at teacher training. 

But back to the actual list. I have been to a couple of schools now and most of the time the school building, but even more so the classroom, just felt good. They didn’t make you feel constricted, but only very few schools, namely one out of the six schools really had enough space where you would immediately think ‘this is perfect’. If there are session with open learning and individualized methods you definitely need a lot of room, a lot. If you think about yourself, sometimes you like to read a book in your bed, but sometimes it is also nice to read a book while sitting at a table drinking tea. Most of the time in schools though, the kids are made to sit at their desks all day, regardless of the task, I won’t say it is bad per se, but I know I can’t work on certain things while being in a seated position for more than four hours. In that particular school it was amazing to see how different the children looked like while working. Some of them sat on the ground, some of them very on their stomach, others were sitting alone at a desk, some were working together while standing at a desk etc. Seeing scenarios like these make me wonder why it is so common to sit at desks at school all the time, I wouldn’t want all the children in class to become desk-workers, they are hopefully going to spend their working days in various different environments.

A couple of the points are about topics that are in discussion in education all the time anyway; evaluation before you start, evaluation of the progress and testing afterwards. It all seems simple, but these are phases very most damage is done. And it’s not only about evaluating if somebody needs extra help or a specific kind of method, it is also about children who are gifted in a way, they can just as easily be left behind if they don’t get challenged and supported to improve. Unfortunately all evaluation processes hinge very much on how politics view education, schools and the curriculum.

The last thing I’d like to add is the fact that even though many school systems are sometimes limited by politics, it is absolutely valuable for student teachers to know about the right evaluation methods, various progress checks and different testing models. It is also vital to know about didactics and methods in the field of individual learning. It will make your teaching better and yourself better, and allow you to get the most of the situation regardless of the circumstances.

I’d like to close on a fun note with a video that summarizes everything I just said in less than a minute, plus, it shows exactly what it actually looks like, including the disregard for somebody who is ‘different’.

Dienstag, 5. November 2013

ePortfolio - Fulfilling its Potential?

Before I get into it more, I’d like to quickly recap my connection to ePortfolio for all who are new to this blog. When I started my teacher training program one of my teachers, who is a big believer in all-Web 2.0 related teachings, started the implementation of an ePortfolio. The plan was to use it mostly for the practical training, but we also started getting more tasks and tried to use more than just one feature. This point wasn’t that easy because the version of our platform was slimmed down so much, that it made working with it in any capacity more stressful than fun. Starting my second year my university signed off on a research project about the use of ePortfolios in teacher education, where I started working as well. We are finishing up this project soon and I will post a nice page summarizing and showing everything we did.
During that time I was part of presentations at conferences, articles and also wrote a specific Mahara Manual for our student teachers. I also held workshops for a different university, for non-teaching students and helped them get to know ePortfolios and so on. The latest big thing was my Bachelor thesis  which I finished in the beginning of the year about, yes you guessed it right, the use of ePortfolios in teacher education.
So what I want to write about was sparked more by the experience with people not in teacher education and their acceptance and/or use of it rather than the topic I’ve been involved in very much the last couple of years.

Thinking back on how we started with the first version of our platform, it is almost unthinkable how different everything is now. Not only are we doing much more with it, we actually CAN do more with it. The main point of use for ePortfolios was for us to share our reflections and other documents with our teachers. We also used the group feature, which enabled us to somewhat work collaboratively. The limitations we encountered had nothing to do with us not getting proper work or enough work, it was simply because the system was not capable of doing more. Having said that, I am still sometimes surprised how it is used by some course leaders.
There are especially two examples that bothered me. For one of the workshops the only thing we had to introduce to the students (extra occupational Masters students) was how to create a folder, upload documents and put them on their page and make it available for their teachers to see. I get it that they have a lot to and that the main reason is that their teachers doesn’t have to deal with them sending them a bunch of Emails. But as much as I endorse the use of ePortfolios, if that is the only reason you want to implemented it, then I’d have to say that Dropbox offers the same thing with easier access and installation. Don’t just use for the sake of using it. 
Especially with these kind of students, it would be a great opportunity for them to really dig into it and use it as a presentation portfolio. In todays world, regardless of occupation, it will only be a positive thing if you show your employers or partners that you are creative, you know your way around the internet and computers, and can make your CV look professional. That is one of the things that I mentioned to them randomly; their version has the integrated Europass, that is pretty cool to use. I think if you sell it the proper way it can be useful for these kind of students, besides their obligatory duties at the university as well. It offers many possibilities but they all go to waste so easily if you don’t recognize them.

My second issue was with an extra occupational Bachelors Course. They had complained about their students forgetting a lot of the usage of the platform in the previous years since their courses were every two weeks, and they didn't get regular tasks to work on. We came in to do almost the same introductory course as for the course I mentioned above, but this course also had to write a blog, feedback their peers and their uploads and make it more personal by filling in the biography and trying to make it look better. Of course there will always be students who engage more in the things they are tasked with, so these are not the students that would worry me. I’m worried about the students who simply don’t care. This fact combined with their previous experiences that they seem to forget a lot should make me, as the course leader and teacher, think about how I can get them to be more active. Now the same things can be employed as with the Masters students, sell it to them as something useful and something they can all use in their personal lives as well. It sounds easy, and I know that even this way, people will not care. But why not make a Blog about their Jobs? Since these students all have a similar background, or at least a similar outlook, since they study the same specific program, they would definitely find common ground in their various jobs and experiences.
Obviously its just a random idea, but just like before, there is the potential to do more and engage them. This engagement in any work can also prevent problems of non-use that arose in previous courses.

I have to say that my background with this kind of work might be totally different. I have experienced everything I’d like to think. Beginning with a very basic version to new versions where we fully integrated our CV, we write Blogs, share material, collaborate and reflect etc.

Regardless I think the key with every tool is to know about its full potential, otherwise you might waste energy, while you and your students could be working more efficiently than before.

Freitag, 25. Oktober 2013

Motivation to become a teacher - one for the money, two for the show?

Now that I’m in my final year of teacher training and I'm so close to the finish line, a questions keeps popping up, on why all the new students decide to take on teacher training. To be fair, sometimes I ask myself the same thing about people already attending teacher training. When you start at my university, there are admission interviews, where you are asked a couple of things, while they try to find out what your background is and why you want to attend teacher training. Of course interviews like these are easy to manipulate. I’m not talking about manipulating the interviewer, I’m talking about manipulating yourself and making yourself believe intentions that might not be ones really pushing you (or might not be reasons you could publicly state without drawing ire of the your counterpart). So I’d like to think more about the situation or idea that started the process. 

Probably one of the two most common reasons I’ve heard, is that back in the day, the person got to spend time with smaller siblings, or younger relatives or the young family members of friends. The fact that this was a lot of fun, leads many people down the path to becoming a teacher. There is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes I think people don’t realize the difference between spending time (i.e. playing) with siblings or children they know, and working with kids and youngsters in a school environment. Obviously this person could have discovered their talent while spending time with those kids and now wants to build up on that. I’m not sure there is a distinction, or I don’t know if anyone could tell that apart, but the basis remains the same - these people have experienced interacting with children as being something that means a lot to them and as something they want to do more.

The second reason, which I never really understood, is that many people want to do better than one of their own teachers they had in school. I know I had a couple of really bad teachers, e.g. disrespecting their students and just treating them like nobodies. Maybe my coping-mechanism is different, but as soon as I left school, I just completely eradicated those people from my memory. I couldn’t draw any motivation from those situations, because I know better. This post is actually connectable to those cases. Judging from the experiences students, including myself, had in their schools, those teachers maybe had not so noble reasons to become a teacher. Again I’m not talking about the obvious one that they manage to tell themselves, I’m talking about the real reasons deep down. Anyway, many students get their motivation because they think they can do better, and want to do better then their own teachers. It is a valid reasoning, but if they don’t have any talents or the proper social skills and work ethic, then it’s a nice wish, but probably not smart. As a sidebar, where I’d add the same argument, is people wanting to become a teacher because they had such great teachers and enjoyed school so much. Again, nice idea, but not smart.

The third reason has more to do with our economy then anything else. The last couple of years, and probably for a few more, there is a pretty big teacher shortage in my city. Even if you are not from the city it is something that is intriguing. Although everybody knows that the pay is not worth the stress you might face, but in this case, you are basically guaranteed a job, a job which you probably won’t lose that easily, and your pay will be pretty decent in a couple of decades. Now if I read that last sentence to a stranger trying to convince him to start education, I think more times than not, they would gladly accept. 

I can’t blame anyone for any of those reasons, all of them are valid and understandable, but sometimes I can’t help but think about the kids those people are going to work with. Of course in an ideal world, if you show up and are willing to work, the proper teacher education program will form you into an acceptable teacher. Not only that, but I think that it can change people and spark something inside them and change their true motivation deep down, because either way, apparently education means something to them.

Montag, 21. Oktober 2013

Transition - Gone in Sweden or Back to Austria

I started my teacher training in the fall of 2010 in Vienna at a ‘Higher Education Faculty’ for teacher training. Before that, I studied something completely different at a proper University in Vienna for a couple of years. During that time I also completed courses at the National Sport Academy in Austria.

As you can see, before I moved to Sweden to study and work I went through various tertiary educational facilities. Since I spent the last couple of years in the teacher training program I was familiar with teacher training. While I was in Sweden I attended regular English courses, history courses and most of all, courses for student teachers and pedagogy students. I was sort of used to a high level before because the University program I previously attended was not easy. The courses at the Sport Academy were also on a high level, but it was something I’ve been involved in for many years before, making it less of an ‘issue’.
Thinking back now, it’s surprising in a way that the level-up to a Scandinavian University was relatively easy. I really enjoyed learning. I really enjoyed studying again. For the first term abroad I told myself to only focus on studying, don’t look for work, just be full-time student again, at least as long as it’s enjoyable for you. As the end of the first term was nearing I started working again and beginning with the second term I was more in thesis-writing mode than classic student-mode. But this whole year of various university-experiences gave me a lot.

I’ve been back in Austria now for almost two months now, and back at teacher training for a couple of weeks, starting my final year. These first weeks made me think a bunch.
It already felt so different, even though I’ve only been to a couple of seminars. These two seminars, maybe 6 hours in total sparked the question for the title of this post: was it more of a transition going to a swedish university or is the ‘real’ transition now my final two terms back at an austrian faculty?

It almost seems like more of a philosophical question than an actual scientifically thought-through theory. The first two years of teacher training in Austria weren’t perfect, and weren't easy. This has a lot do with how the training is run and how the laws are made, and the study plan is executed. I didn’t always feel like I was improving and learning a lot, maybe I was getting a bit frustrated in my second year, which had a lot to do with my decision to study abroad. But then again, I didn’t really know what to expect, I knew I wanted to improve, learn useful stuff as a future teacher and become better and better at it. If I would have stayed in Austria for my entire studies I believe I couldn’t be as good as I can be with the experiences that I had abroad. Now the point here is more that being away from this specific institution can be more valuable than staying there. Can I even really assume something like that? What if I would have stayed, I wouldn’t have an opposing opinion because there wouldn’t have been the experience?
In my case, this might have happened anyway. Here’s why: one of my closest friends, who was in the same teacher training program went to study abroad a year prior to me going. Judging by those experiences my opinion changed even though I was still at ‘home’. We talked about what she has been learning, and how big of a difference it was to really learn something.

But what about students who don’t experience something like we did? Well, as far as I can tell after talking to many students, both primary school and secondary school teaching students, it seems like everybody wants more, wants something better. I can’t recall anybody saying that it’s enjoyable to be at this faculty, but the generally negative mood about teacher education in Austria is a topic for another day.

It seems to me that adjusting upwards is more natural because I’m always excited for challenges, and with that comes more work, but also more fun. This was probably an even bigger deal because my opinion about my program was on a downward spiral before, so having a new environment with challenging studies made even more of an impact. This up and down could also explain why it’s tough to be here again. It will hopefully calibrate itself again, although deep down I don’t want to revert back to ‘lower levels’ again.

Dienstag, 20. August 2013

Student/Teacher and the Summerbreak

So it has been a while since I posted anything here. There are a couple of reasons for that, especially because I planned on posting about a couple of interesting things. 

I finished and handed in my Bachelor thesis in the middle of April and had the exam at the end of June. The months in between I finished a couple of courses at the University, one of which was about one of my favorite new topics: conflict handling and conflict resolution. That's a topic that I never really thought about before, although it is ever-present, not only in school, but also in your everyday life. It's something I want to read up on and look for more input and maybe also some kind of education. After my exam I worked at my usual summer job, which is sports workshops with kids for a couple of weeks.
When I was done with that my summer break started. For the first time in a long while I had real 'time off', and getting to spend this time in Sweden helped recharging the batteries for the next term.

So now my exchange year in Sweden is coming to a close at the end of the month. One of the things I'm going to write about is this whole Exchange studies - Erasmus - Credit transfer system I get to experience. Another topic that I planned on writing about was the school where I worked most of the time here in Gothenburg, which is the International school. I already wrote a bit about a swedish primary school we visited, and also something about the English school where I also worked a couple of hours every week. It was an interesting experience being able to work in two different English/International schools.

Although this was probably the longest summer break I'm ever going to have, since university in Sweden ends in June and university in Austria starts up again in October, it still feels like it went by really fast. To get back into Rhythm I will catch up on the things I have in the back of my head and post them. I am pretty sure that as soon as the new term starts, there will be plenty of things to write about anyway. 

Mittwoch, 10. April 2013

Teacher training - writing training or speaker training?

Going through teacher training can be plain and simple. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to experience teacher training in not only two different countries, but at two enormously different institutions. Readers of this blog will know what my home institution is and that I’m spending an exchange year in Gothenburg, Sweden. The main difference between these institutions is that in Gothenburg, the teacher training takes place at the University, whereas in Austria I attend a “Pädagogische Hochschule”. Although the official english name is ‘University of Teacher Education Vienna’ it is technically not a university. They act under different sets of laws and regulations, and the teaching itself also differs. 

Although I studied at the university before, comparing two teacher training programs is easier than just judging them based on university principles. The basic goal of university education, in most cases, is that graduates can go into research or have an academic career, maybe ending up as a professor. Student teachers have, regardless of where they attend, a pretty straightforward goal with their education, they want to become good teachers. When you look at the difference in the teacher education programs, I experienced two distinctions. In one program the focus is reading and then writing. In another program it is more about experiencing and reflecting. When thinking about what teachers are actually doing as their job, you will realize most teachers speak. Obviously teachers have to adept in writing to parents and other school officials, but speaking is the main skill that they have to master. Now I can't say that there are no speaking activities in these programs, but there is a significant amount difference between practicing these skills. When looking at the whole picture, one would assume these circumstances should have some effect on the actual education student teachers receive.

Every university tries to keep high educational standards, but sometimes this can backfire. The courses for student teachers all follow specific curricula which were developed by lecturers and adjusted throughout years of experience. It is very tough to find the right balance for the difficulty of tasks. Tasks can easily overwhelm student teachers. Every student has a different background and different experiences with certain things, therefore some might struggle more with creating presentations, while others might find it tough to write an academic paper using references. Somehow I feel like this kind of challenge prepares student teachers for their classroom work, because these things do not change. Kids will always have different talents and they will always be good at different things, so experiencing something similar could be helpful for the future teaching.

A similar issue arises with having too many tasks to complete. Especially in teacher training, where reflecting on what we are actually is the key, simple producing of tasks is not worthwhile. The feeling of ‘learning nothing’ can quickly take over the work process, thus making the work that is put in superficial itself. On the other hand, the same thing can occur if there is not enough to do. Student teachers are in way perfect, they want to learn and become better at what they do, so doing task after task, without seeing much benefit in them, can also hinder the reception.

I can’t really offer any closure, because I myself am currently going through these things and experiencing them as they come. And otherwise, nobody would really expect of me to have groundbreaking ideas. My question is summarized in the title, but with any school system and education, I am not sure if there is something teachers and lecturers can do. Curriculum developers always have politics and society in the back of their head, screaming from different sides about what they should do and implement. The best thing to do is to reflect on it and discuss it with colleagues who might go through similar experiences.

Freitag, 15. März 2013

Study visit - the English school

My second school visit in sweden was on individual initiative. My previous post about Hagaskolan was made possible by a course for international students I was attending and my third school visit was through a university project for my english course.
The English school was basically the first school that I found out about. I got in contact with the principal who was so nice to give me the chance to visit and be part of lessons in his school and also get some work in a different capacity, but thats a topic for later.
Unlike Hagaskolan, this school also had secondary school classes, resulting in the opportunity for me to be part of lessons of my “designated” age range. This is especially important because the credit-transfer situation at my university at home might get a little tricky in the end. But again, this is a topic for another time.

So here you can find some of my impressions and thoughts. It could seem a little bit jumbled at this, but that is due to the fact that I didn’t formulate reflections after I took down the notes (shame on me). But in this case it can be interesting to reflect on something that happened a few months ago and had many different experiences come in between.

From the beginning on I was impressed by the language proficiency. Obviously if the school is named “English school” that is something everybody would expect, but comparing year 5 and year 7 students to students in Austria made me realize how big of a difference it really makes. Just like in any school today, there is a multicultural mix. Children have various backgrounds, not only swedish. Some might struggle with all the languages although parents try to speak swedish at home, which sometimes is not their mother tongue, thus creating a more fragmented language use. In addition to that they speak a lot of english at the school. Again, comparable to schools I have experienced in Austria, the goal is always to have children speak the target language, even outside regular classes, but they always will stick to their native language, which is in its essence not a bad thing.
The school itself is located in wealthier part on the outer parts of the city, but is a free school. They receive applications from all over the city. They might have immigrant parents who are scientists and want better for their children. The majority really cares about the education of their children. The parents are academically oriented and set high goals, which in turn creates a good school environment. It is a status to be a good student. Even with a “bad” background the children get the drive to succeed through school and classmates.
Since they start school with the age of 3 (it is a big school that provides pre-school through lower secondary classes) and stay until they are 16, there is a lot of time to from them. All of the students move on to upper secondary, but that is mostly because they don’t have that many options.
Comparing the school and class environment to the schools I’ve been to in Austria and the teachers I talked to, it feels like there is a world of difference. Everything about the school seems positive, not that its always negative in Austria, but the more time I spent there, the more it felt like how important learning is for everyone involved. It is comfortable to be in this school and teaching and attending there seems like a great time.

I’ve been part of a few different english lessons now, I took part in lessons with year 5, year 7 and year 9 classes. It was interesting to see the different age groups and hand in hand with that the different approaches and tasks they had to do.

The topic for year 7 was creative writing. In the beginning of the lesson they talked about what it actually means; vivid language, no actual description of the picture, not a story about it, they should use adverbs and adjectives, synonyms and attract all senses. The idea was not to freewrite about what they see, rather using a mind map, notes and brainstorm beforehand. The task was to pick a picture and write about what's happening. The downside was that still a lot of kids started writing the text immediately, without any notes. A few of them prepared and took notes and some even used a mind map. After seeing that the idea for the next lesson was to give everybody one picture and give them clear guidelines: they have three options, and they are not supposed to write a text, they can either pick a mind map, a list, or just brainstorm and take notes, but basically do the same exercise as the lesson before.

The next few lessons I saw were creative writing about spooky ghost stories in which they followed steps in their workbook and created a story. These steps included steps for them being more assertive in terms of preparing before writing. Another lessons was a reading lesson that had a fun little twist called “marathon reading”. The class was reading out loud and the reader had to read at least three sentences but could also read more. The twist was that anybody could jump in whenever they wanted and just continue to read, creating a fun and nice flow to everything.
The year 5 lessons had a different approach, there it was more based on project work and group work. They also worked on creative writing with Halloween poems, but other times just worked on group Newspaper, with everybody being responsible for a different segment and then working on a “deserted island” project.
For the year 9 class I experienced another interesting reading lesson. There was no specific “tool” for reading, they basically went around the class after reading a page or so out loud. The interesting part was the discussion in between (they were reading “Animal Farm”). There were some great insight and thoughts and the teacher connected it to various historical and social study topics.

The good thing is I will take part in one year 7 and one year 9 lesson every week until the end of the school term, hopefully learning more and more about swedish school as well as tools to use as a teacher.

Study visit - Hagaskolan

Busy times.
I've been occupied with studies and work the last few months. It is a little bit annoying not finding time to properly write down things that are happening and reflect on them. A lot of interesting experiences, which I will hopefully put to (digital) paper soon.
In the meantime, I posted this on my Mahara page and haven't published it here, but to not make it feel so empty, here it is:

As a part of the course "The School System in a Comparative Perspective" we had the opportunity to visit a school in Göteborg and spend a few hours there.
I would like to share some of the impressions:

Hagaskolan is a relatively small school, located in the old district Haga. The school was established in 1986, but the oldest part of the school-complex stems from 1828.
The school has around 250 pupils, with classes form pre-school to fifth grade classes. In total, they have nine classes. The school has three tracks (Green, Yellow, Blue). These tracks each contain two classes. Notably, they have integrated classes/tracks (= Mehrstufenklassen) in which the pre-school and 1st graders, and the 2nd and 3rd graders share a class. Since a lot of children move out of the city center when they get older, the 4th and 5th grade have separate classes, because the number of children declines. 
In each class, there are usually two teachers present. One main teacher and one leisure time pedagogue - both work full-time. The classroom teacher is in school for 35 hours per week, but as soon as classes end, between 13.00 and 14.00, the classroom teachers are not working in class anymore. They spend the rest of their time in the office preparing, which in turn means that the leisure time pedagogue takes over the responsibility and takes care of the children in the afternoon.

The teachers have a good relationship with the headmaster and have weekly staff meetings to discuss and communicate important issues. Every other staff member (pre-school, after-school teachers etc.) also meets every week.

The school has so-called project weeks every term. For a full month, each week, one day is about one special topic (this term the topic was History of Gothenburg). Either the teachers prepare activities or the school collaborates with the theater or museums, but the best part about these project weeks is that during these times, the classes are completely mixed, pre-schoolers will work with 5th graders and so on.

Hagaskolan also has a friendship-school in Zimbabwe, Africa. This collaboration contains Skype-session with the classes every two weeks, teacher exchange programs and a close relationship with Gothenburgs Salvation army.

All in all, it was a great experience to be in a very enjoyable school and even though it was a primary school, it was good opportunity to get a first hand look into the swedish school system.