differentiation (2)

Differentiation in classrooms..

Teaching has officially begun! Immediately, I can't help but notice how the educational system here is different than Canada’s. The students were so excited to see us! One my first day of teaching, once I entered the classroom, the students greeted me by singing the “Hello teacher” song. They are excited to learn and have a great sense of appreciation for learning, unlike Canada, where education is often taken for granted. One of my Grade 3 class has nearly 40 students, all wearing white shirt uniforms with blue shorts or skirts. My specialization is English Language Learners (ELL). After observing the various classrooms, I noticed how no differentiation techniques are applied when teaching the content to students. Students have a range of learning levels and needs, all differing from one another. The lesson plans, however, are taught quite standardly, with the teacher delivering the information at the front of the class, and students being the recipients of such information. Due to a lack of technology, I had to rely on props, such as the use of puppets and the blackboard, to deliver my lessons. I also modelled exercises for the students before splitting them up into groups since an explanation in English often did not suffice. It was difficult to communicate with the students since their English levels were quite low, but they definitely did not lack the enthusiasm and excitement, which made the lessons fun!

The classes consisted of the teacher pronouncing conversational sentences, such as “How are you?”, “This is my friend Linda”, etc. and students repeating them over and over again. Students would memorize these sentences, but while doing walk-arounds and observing students, I noticed how some required the extra support and resources to be able to learn and understand English. I decided to speak to my partner-teacher about whether I could use scaffolding techniques to teach students. She said that, with classes being 40 mins long and the heavy content to be covered each time, she wasn’t able to cater the lessons to accommodate students’ various needs.

I couldn’t help but think of the educational system in Canada, and how, I am so grateful that in encourages differentiation to ensure all students are able to reach their maximum capability. My experience in Vietnam has helped me develop more empathy, patience, and understanding for English Language Learners. Students have skills regardless of whether English is their first language or not. It’s important to me to notice those strengths and use them to enhance their confidence. Teaching in Vietnam has been a great opportunity for me, and my students have taught me so many valuable lessons that I look forward to applying in my future classrooms.


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Through a Student's Eyes

For one lesson this week, I pretended to be a student in a high school biology class. Not just any student, but a student that has limited language abilities - a language learner. I used to be an English Language Learner myself; however, it was at the primary level and it has been several years since I have struggled in a class because of my English. I thought it would be a good idea to do this to get a perspective of an older language learner in a more complex class. My German is at an intermediate level. I can keep a basic conversation going, but some complex topics are difficult to engage with. 

I sat at the back of the class and paid as much attention as I possibly could. Here is what I learned. 

It takes a large amount of mental energy to stay faced in class. Listening to the teacher lecture, then give instructions on the assignment was difficult because the teacher used a large variety of new vocabulary that I did not know. Sometimes, the teacher spoke too fast for me to be able to understand everything. This slowed my comprehension down to the point that by the time I had translated everything that was said in the lecture, the assignment for the day was already being given out - I had missed the instructions. 

Lucky for me, the instructions were written one more time on the assignment sheet - a large help! My next challenge was reading through the information part of the sheet (apart from the instructions) that was meant to accommodate the assignment. This was high school biology class, the information was on the genetic code, amino acids, and proteins. I was a little overwhelmed. 

Students were given approximately fifteen minutes to complete the first two parts of the assignment. For me, the time twas split between translating words that I didn't know and then actually working. Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough with my dictionary and I didn't complete the given task in time. The teacher moved the class along to discuss the last part. 

When it came time to work on that last portion, I was a little frustrated. To complete it, I needed to understand everything on the sheet - which I didn't. The translating became exhausting and the fact that I was slow was annoying me. My brain felt trapped because in English I could do all of this, I understood, and I succeeded. In German? Not so much. This was a great reminder of how ELL students feel back home during our more complex lessons. The language barrier gives you a feeling of being trapped in your own brain.

At the end of the lesson? I was not finished, the teacher explained to the class that if you were not done, it is homework. 

Later that day, I spoke with five teachers about differentiation and what do they do if a student in their class speaks minimal to no German. They responded that they provide dictionaries, let students do what they can, and most importantly, pair them with stronger students who have the patience to work with a partner that needs extra help. In their experience, this has worked well. 

All in all, this gave me a good perspective (and a not-so-nostalgic reminder) of what it is like to have limited language skills and being trapped inside of your head. As tough as differentiation can sometimes be to plan or to figure out on the spot, it is crucial for the success of language learners and other students who may need help. 

To keep a few things in mind: I was introduced to the class as a teacher from Canada here to observe, not as a student (although one student who came in late mistook me for one). Because of this, I sat on my own. My situation could have been made easier if I was working with someone. This shows the importance of not letting ELL students be stranded or strand themselves. Obviously this was a basic experiment that I tried out mostly in my head, as I didn't ask the teacher to treat me as one of the students.

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