The absolute highlight of my trip so far has been the visit to the private school. There is just something about being in a school, and talking, or attempting to talk, to students and watching teachers in action that I love.
After arriving at Colegio International Alminar, we started our visit with a mini presentation put on by one of the teachers, Mercedes. She explained the school mission, what a typical day looks like and answered our many questions about teaching and school life in Spain.
Then it was off to the classroom. We broke up into small groups so we wouldn’t overwhelm students or teachers, and so we could split our time in a few rooms.
My first stop was a 5th grade classroom, where uniform clad students were diligently working on English in workbooks. Mercedes told us this was her classroom and profusely apologized because there was a substitute in since she was in charge of bringing us around. It couldn’t have worked out better! The substitute had gone to school at Northeastern and was from New York, what a small world! She was thrilled to talk with people from the states and was the perfect person to help us communicate with the students. We had a little time to mill around and talk with the students in small groups. The language barrier wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, and with the help of google translator on student iPads, we we able to chat just fine when we got stuck.
After talking to different students for a little bit we went to the front of the class to be grilled, I mean so students could ask us questions. It was so interesting to hear what they were curious about like; what do we like to do, have we met anyone famous, or had we been to Phenix? My favorite question though was about how many kids we each had after one of the teachers mentioned her kids. Right down the line each teacher shared how many kids they had and when it was my turn I told them, no kids. I got a personal follow up question of how old I was, probably as a way to clarify why this one teacher didn’t have any kids of her own. After telling them 28 the students at that table nodded and chatted quietly among themselves.
We were then ushered down to a 2nd grade classroom where students, in slightly different uniforms, were just starting a science lesson. The teacher was so nice to have us as her second group to come in and observe. She spoke in English and students would respond in English and Spanish. The students were absolutely adorable! They were listening attentively as the teacher drew a diagram of a tree on the board to review a science lesson from the previous day and prepare them for that days lesson. Hands were raised, students participated and they ended the lesson with the sweetest rendition of “The Green Grass Grows All Around” I have ever seen.
Despite the fact it was a private Spanish school I found many similarities to my own public school in the states. For starters the teachers talked about the importance of student feedback and positive reinforcement. I also saw a few strategies I use in my own classroom such as drawing sticks to randomly select a student to participate and the structure of the lesson. During discussion after classroom visits I also discovered that some teachers also use the ClassDojo app, which is what I use as my behavior management system, and older students create iMovies to become a “teacher” to demonstrate learning. I couldn’t believe that around the world teachers are using some of the same things I do!
There were also a few differences that jumped out at me right away. Students wore uniforms, instead of the teacher selecting a student to participate a student had that job and the best was the teachers reward point system. Every time a student answered a question correctly she would tap them or say “point”. Then the student would stand up and walk over silently to a basket of green tickets to put up on a chart next to their name. How genius! A movement break and positive reinforcement wrapped up into one! I am going to try and adapt this idea into my own classroom.
When it was time to go I was so sad to leave. But it was not truly goodbye because we set up a plan to become pen pals, the Spanish school to our school in Marshfield. I am so excited to get home and tell my students they will be thrilled!