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ELL Experience

One of the reasons I chose to come to Japan was to have a personal experience what it would be like to be an ELL student in the classroom. I know that ELL students are increasing in number in the classroom, and we must be able to accommodate and differentiate for them in classes. I thought that choosing a country where I had just started learning the language could be a possible way to experience what these students have been experiencing.

To be honest, it usually sat on the back of my mind most of the time. I didn’t really feel like it was a problem at all at the start. During the first month here, we were taking Japanese lessons all together in Sapporo. We mostly hung out together and spoke in English. I had some feeling of isolation, but it wasn’t the worst. If anything, I feel as if it was taking the easy way out, hanging out with only people who spoke the same language.

During the first half of the second week, most of the group had left to other parts of Japan, while one other group member and I stayed in Sapporo and did volunteer teaching. During this phase, I still wasn’t feeling much in terms of being a foreign language learner. Since I was teaching in elementary schools, I think there was power difference and an existing expectation that we were foreigners. The students would start off talking how it was impossible for them to talk in English, but were amazed and warmed up quickly if they knew you could speak even the slightest bit of Japanese. I felt proud of knowing the Japanese that I did! Even if you didn’t speak any Japanese, the kids would flock around you if you pulled out Google Translate on your phone. I think in some part it’s because kids know that it’s a phone, but they are also interested in translating what they say into English. The feelings of isolation did grow a little bit during this phase, only having one other person to talk with.

I think the real feelings of understanding that I was looking for have just started setting in during these last two weeks. During this last phase of TAB, I have been sitting in university classes as a student. It’s in this environment, sitting in with peers of equal status that I have begun to feel the frustration. During the lecture, I can only understand maybe 5% of the language being used. It’s hard to pay attention to lectures only understanding such a little amount and having to infer the meaning from contextual clues. In one such lecture, I was given an English textbook for the course. I spent most of the class reading the textbook.

When we are given time to introduce ourselves and talk to classmates, it’s frustrating for different reasons. I really want to be friends with them, and I have a lot I want to add to their discussions, but I don’t have enough vocabulary to converse properly at this level. The language used at an elementary level is much simpler to understand, and you can lead them on conversations with simple prompts. It’s so frustrating having concepts and ideas fully formed in your head, but not having the vocabulary to get it out to other people.

At the same time, wanting to continue my Japanese language learning outside of the classroom is tough and a little scary. Sometimes it feels a little embarrassing asking someone to repeat themselves when you don’t understand just one word in a sentence. I have gone from staring blankly while I think, to asking them to repeat the sentence, to asking about the specific word I don’t understand. I think it’s important not to be shy and be specific about what part you don’t understand. Another point is that it can be difficult to find people who want to talk to you in Japanese in a way that will help you learn. I would say that it’s not a matter of people being nice, but something more of a talent. They need patience to try again when you don’t understand a sentence, understanding how to relate it to the vocabulary you know, and a talent for alternate word choice. I think this is the kind of attention I would need to show someone learning English.

While it may seem like a frustrating experience, I think it is a really good experience to bring into my teaching practice. Being in that frustrating position helps me understand how I would want to be treated and bring the patience and kindness that those experiencing this will need. As well, I feel like my experience is separate from being an English speaker in Japan overall. Since I was looking for the experience, it’s different than others. I have seen people not bother to learn any Japanese but still get around without any problems. Most of the transit has English signs and ordering food by pointing works just fine. As well, there are plenty of people who will do their best to accommodate you in English, especially the host families!

However, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by not taking the time of learning the language of whatever country you go to. It’s an incredible experience whenever you see words you recognize and when you manage to express your thoughts in another language properly! I think that it’s a little condescending to take advantage of your host families efforts to communicate to you in English without trying to learn and communicate as much as you can in Japanese as well. Anyways, it’s been an amazing time on the TAB program! I’ve learned so much that I would’ve never expected. If you’re reading this and are considering going on the program, I wish you the best of luck!

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Now that we are getting closer to the end of our trips here on TAB, I’ve been starting to reminisce about home and get excited to come back to Canada. I love it here in China and I think that I still have so much more to learn in my last two weeks, but after 6 weeks it’s hard to not miss some of the comforts of home. Here are the three things I miss more than anything else:

  1. My own room and bed
  2. Reliable internet without a VPN
  3. BEING A LITERATE MEMBER OF SOCIETY

That last one is not something that I thought I would ever imagine being something I miss, but my oh my, it’s a big one. When I left for China, I completely took for granted the ability to speak the dominant language of a country. Since the day that I’ve been here, it has been a constant (but rewarding and exciting) struggle to communicate and read the most basic things. I cannot wait to get back and be able to read a restaurant menu without pulling out a translator app. It’s especially tricky because I am not a visible minority here so everyone assumes that I can speak Chinese so they rarely slow down their speech for me. It’s always fun to see the looks on their faces when I have to explain in broken Chinese that I am a foreigner, and that I didn’t understand anything they just said!

A pretty standard menu in China. Sometimes they have pictures, but this one was mean.

If there is one thing that I think I can take away from China to mold my understanding of pedagogy, it that I feel I have a stronger foundation for empathizing with ELL students with very low literacy levels. I think that we are extremely lucky here in China because we have the unique situation of being both a language student and a language teacher at the same time. This has given us a wholistic understanding of the additional-language acquisition experience from both ends of the relationship.

In our first days in our Chinese classes, I remember feeling lost and overwhelmed with the monumental task of building literacy in a wildly different language from my own. It’s been a slow slog, but I’m slowly building my arsenal of Chinese characters and phrases that I can say, and it’s done wonders for my confidence here.

Our Chinese language class material... I can read that now!

On the other side of the coin, I’ve been very lucky to teach classes with hugely different levels of English literacy because I can try all sorts of ELL teaching strategies. If nothing else, I’ve become exceptionally good at explaining complex concepts through simplified language! I don’t know to what extent I will be able to apply the lessons that I’ve learned here to my teaching back in Canada, but I’m very happy I’ve been able to gain this insight into what language learners face every day!

 

Yours

David

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Mid-term Reflection

So, I have about reached the half-way point of my trip thus far and what a whirlwind it has been! My time spent at St. Aidan’s school was something that I will always treasure, and I have learned a tremendous amount from both students and teachers. One of the most significant teaching experiences I will take away from St. Aidan’s was from the Religious Values class in which the year eights were participating in a community outreach program. The group of girls I was assigned to were going to a nearby school called Milpera.

Milpera is an entry school for new immigrants and refugee students who do not yet reach English proficiency. I, and three year eight students went to a beginner class that held a various age of students, with one who just emigrated from Syria the day before. All students spoke at a very low level of English, many could speak some English but struggled with reading and writing. It was very interesting to observe the St. Aidan’s students work one-on-one with the Milpera students and at times I found that the girls struggled relating to students who were older than themselves. Nevertheless, the girls seemed more than enthused about getting to know the Milpera students in which they asked them several questions about themselves while attempting to help them practice their English. At the end of the class, the Milpera students had the chance to ask the St. Aidan’s girls questions about their schooling, what their favorite sports are, what they do in their spare time etc. I anticipate that the St. Aidan’s girls will develop strong relationships with the students of Milpera and aid them in their transition into the Australian Educational System. As well, I hope that the students of St. Aidan’s develop a greater appreciation for their own privileges.

Lucky for me, the mid-term break does not just apply to my students! I have since traveled to Sydney and I am currently in Melbourne! Next up, the Whitsundays! I am looking forward to the other half of my time here, starting at Earnshaw State College after the mid-term break!

  

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Canada, home sweet home!

It's good to be home,

As I write this it is 5:30 am and minus 15 degrees in Calgary. I arrived home from Vietnam 3 days ago, thankful to have just barely flown out before a Typhoon hit the area. It’s bittersweet to be home. First of all, it’s freezing! I’ve barely worn socks in the past 5 months let alone winter wear. Secondly, I almost had a heart attack grocery shopping in this country again, I can see why people go to South East Asia and never leave. But overall, I am relieved and happy to be home. My first stop on the way home from the airport was Tim Horton's. I sent a picture of my coffee and a picture of the roads covered in snow to my new friends in Vietnam (two Canadian staples: timmies and snowy road conditions). I've been periodically checking updates on the typhoon that hit Vietnam shorty after I left. I was saddened to learn that it caused flooding in Hoi An, a magical town only 40 minutes from where we were staying. Hoi An is a touristy area that left a lasting impression on us. We returned multiple times to enjoy the shops, lanterns and relaxing atmosphere. It is disheartening to think of the damage caused by the flood.

            Being home still doesn’t feel completely real so I haven’t really begun to deeply reflect on the entire experience. I am still trying to catch my bearings in this winter situation. In Vietnam we joked about all the things that would feel weird about being back in Canada, such as the open spaces, the silence and using crosswalks. I haven’t really noticed that anything about Canadian culture feels weird though. It feels as though I never left (apart from the weather and the atrocious price of food). But I suppose that is because Canada is home, it will always feel just right.

As happy as I am to be back in Calgary, I am sad about leaving Vietnam. We met so many wonderful people who helped us along our journey. It’s funny how just as we are getting used to the culture we have to leave. I am so grateful for this trip. I think it's still too soon to fully grasp exactly how valuable this experience has been but I know It will be something that I look back on often.

 Since returning home, I have been thinking a lot about practicum and to be honest I am a little nervous. I had finally gotten used to teaching in Vietnamese schools and now it’s time to teach in Calgary again. The schools we taught at in DaNang were very standardized and simple. Teaching entailed a lot of lecturing and textbook reading, something I find very different from teaching in Calgary. It will also be very different and refreshing to have access to technology in the classroom again. Something that I really missed in Vietnam. 

I can't wait to see how this experience has affected my confidence and creativity as a teacher. I'm hoping I get the chance to share some of my photos and stories with my grade 2/3 practicum class, because it's really all I want to talk about right now. 

cảm ơn và tạm biệt!! 

(Thank you and Goodbye) 

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Saying Goodbyes

Xin Chao!

 

                Coming up on my departure from wonderful Danang, I have so many fond memories and experiences in this city. I really want to share one experience in particular that happened today. There is a pho restaurant around the corner from our house that makes the best pho I have ever had! We eat there frequently (and we would go multiple times a day if it weren’t for it only being open for dinner time). Of course, being western tourists, we stick out like a sore thumb when we eat there. The owners (who can just barely communicate with) have gotten to know us and invited us for lunch at their home before we leave.

                Arriving, we learned that they also own and run a piano and guitar store out of their home (it is very common here for your home and business to be under one roof. I initially assumed they lived at the pho restaurant). The couple, their son and his wife and a family friend (or nephew we still aren’t sure) prepared for us an authentic Vietnamese meal of plenty of seafood, soup, pork and fresh spring rolls. This was a hilarious, fun and confusing experience, filled with laughter and poor communication. This week as been incredibly busy, and I had considered not going to this lunch but I’m so glad I made the time for it. It reminded me of why travelling and meeting all kinds of people is so amazing and was a perfect wrap up to my time in Danang.

 

Teaching

                Our last days of teaching have past and I am sad to have to say goodbye to the students here. For our last days at the elementary school we taught the grade 3s and 4s about Halloween in Canada. We taught Halloween vocabulary and explained trick or treating. We had them line up outside the classroom and then they got to trick or treat for candy.

                The grade 11 English class that I teach for two periods a week, planned a surprise Halloween party for my last day of teaching. We shared candy, pop and chips and made Halloween masks. Instead of having a lesson we just hung out and had fun together and took plenty of photos. I wish I had more time with them and am sad to leave so quickly but I have made many lasting memories and connections in the schools here.

 

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Adéu Spain

My time here in Barcelona has come to an end. This has been such a great experience and I have learned so much both personally and professionally. Prior to coming here I had never travelled outside of North America, so this experience has allowed me to grow so much. Saying goodbye to the teachers and students at Rubí was bittersweet. I’m excited to return to Canada, see my friends and family, and begin my next teaching placement, but I’m sad to leave behind the amazing people I’ve met and the country of Spain. I’m definitely not looking forward to the cold weather in Canada!

While here I’ve had the opportunity to also experience both French and Italian culture. I took a trip to Paris and Rome. Both cities were incredible. It was great to see other parts of Europe and iconic landmarks that I have always dreamed about visiting. It’s interesting to see that so many people in Europe speak multiple languages. 

Over my time in Spain I have further developed my classroom management skills, lesson planning abilities, flexibility and ELL instructional skills. I previously had very little experience with ELL students, so this placement has allowed me to cultivate tactics that I can use in my future classrooms. Also, being put in situations where I don’t understand then language being spoken to me has allowed me to see things from an ELL perspective. I have a better appreciation for how ELL students might feel in a classroom when they don’t understand what people are saying. Even though I will be starting my Calgary placement a week later than most students, I feel prepared to hit the ground running. After my placement in Spain I am even more comfortable in the classroom. The experience I have gained here will be so beneficial to me as I continue to move forward in the BEd program and eventually into my teaching career.

Living in Barcelona for the past 9 weeks has been incredible. I have been pushed outside of my comfort zone and discovered how self-sufficient I can be. I have seen so many amazing buildings and landscape, tasted wonderful food, heard delightful music, and met many welcoming people. Spain is a beautiful country with a rich history, and I’m so happy that I was able to experience it.

 

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Southern (American) Hospitality

I’m not even sure I know what to say about my time Brazil so far. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how different our education systems and teaching styles are. I’ve also learned a lot about a culture that I had no idea about. I’ll do my best to sum up my thoughts and feelings in one post. But I’m not sure I can ever capture the true spirit of my time here with words. It’s really been truly special.

I think when the phrase “Southern Hospitality” gets thrown around, they are really talking about “Southern (American) Hospitality”. I have met some of the most hospitable people ever here in Goiânia. Everyone from Uber drivers, to waiters, to our co-teachers and tutors from the University (PUC) has been patient and kind to us. It would be reaching a lot to say that my Portuguese speaking skills are beginner. It’s a really hard language! I feel at times frustrated with myself, and envious of those who can communicate with each other with such ease. I find myself desperately wanting to converse and thank people for their kindness, but I just know don’t how too. But, some part of me thinks they know. A smile has become my best way of expressing my gratitude to people.

We’ve made people who are quick to want to connect with us and show us around their city and really be the best local tour guides you could ask for. There seems to be a pretty even divide between people who live here; you either love it here or you don’t. I think I fall on the loving it side of this debate! The city is littered with parks and açai stand for an afternoon snack, and just outside of the city limits, if you’re brave enough to drive, are some of the most stunning waterfalls and adorable colonial towns. The people we’ve met have not been shy about showing us all of these places, and more!

In terms of my professional development, the teaching that we have been lucky enough to observe has been very similar to something you would see in a Canadian institution. However, because these classes are “extra-curricular” they aren’t like regular classrooms. Students only visit these English language classes twice a week for 90 minutes. I’ve been visiting once a week with three different classes, with three different skill levels. My first class is a group of students called Pre-Intermediate 1. The students range from about 16-50 years old. My second class in Teens 2, and they range from about 11-14 years old, and lastly, my Juniors 2 class. They range from about 8-10 years old. So, it’s safe to say that I’ve been exposed to all different age groups and skill levels. What I’ve seen in these classes is a more traditional approach to learning, but it appears to be working for most students. Unfortunately, because these are private extra-curricular classes, that are truthfully quite expensive, we’ve only been able to see students from one socio-economic background. That meaning, the majority of the students in all of the classes attend private schools, where it is widely common for them to receive a significantly better education than those of a lower socio-economic status who attend public school. I feel like this might have an impact on the sort of teaching style that is used in the classrooms. There is hardly any need for differentiation due to a specific learning need or disability. Technology wasn’t engaged as much as I would have expected. Not for a lack of trying on the teachers part, but more for a lack of resources available to the teachers. The teachers, for the most part, are provided with the bare essentials for their classrooms and teaching practices. They really have to fend for themselves and be creative with how to continue to engage their students, with their limited resources. 

Prof. André and Pre-Intermediate 1

Prof. Márcia and Juniors 2

Prof. Fabiano and Teens 2

I was pleasantly surprised to see how passionate the majority of the students seemed to learning English. Though their individual reasons for learning English varied, over all, they all wanted to learn English to be able to pursue a better career and open up more opportunities in their future. Again, part of me wonders, if this level of English training was offered to students in a public school, would the level of passion and dedication be the same? It’s clear from the students that, even though they still have an overwhelmingly traditional school system, there will be inevitable change to come. They are motivated and passionately smart people who will propel serious change within Brazil over the coming years.

Overall, I’ve seen a lot of similarities within my exposure to the Brazilian school system to the type of education system I experienced as a child. Traditional is the name of the game when it comes to education I’ve seen in Brazil. I don’t think that’s a bad thing; we have TLC’s popping up all over the country. There is certainly value in this type of education. With its status as a developing country, I think that, as their country continues to develop, so will their education system. I look forward to returning as an experienced teacher one day and seeing the progress that will inevitably take place.

I’m not ready for goodbye yet, so I guess I’ll just have to come back soon!! 

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Spain in October

Wow! I can’t believe my time in Spain is almost to an end. These past 7 weeks have flown by. I have such a better understanding of how to work with ELL students. The teachers here in Rubí have given me so many great pointers that I can use in all my future classrooms.

Since last weekend was Thanksgiving, I taught my classes about Thanksgiving. Many of them had never heard about the holiday, so I was able to teach them a lot. For an activity, I put students in small groups and gave them a Thanksgiving scenario to write a script for and act out. I was really impressed with the scripts some students were able to create. Even students who seemed a bit young for the activity surprised me and were able to write and speak English very well. However, the activity was too difficult for some of the younger and lower level students, so I had to quickly think of a plan B. Now I know why teachers always say it’s important to have extra activities in mind in case things don’t work out as planned. It’s nice doing the same activity for each class throughout the week because I am able to see what works and what doesn’t work. From there I can make appropriate changes for the next class so that the activity is even better.

The Spain girls and I did our own Thanksgiving feast here in Barcelona. It was a struggle to find some of the traditional foods we wanted so we had to make a few modifications. Instead of turkey we had chicken, but thankfully I was able to find instant gravy in the grocery store. They don’t eat gravy here so I was very surprised (and relieved) to find it and not have to make it from scratch.

I also visited Mount Tibidabo last week. From the top you get beautiful views of Barcelona and the sea. The mountain has an amusement park and the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor. The temple has stairs to the top which I reluctantly climbed. The views were amazing and I wanted the experience, but I’m terrified of heights. I took some pictures and got down quickly. The architecture of the temple is wonderful, as are all the churches and buildings here.

This week my students were given a treat. They were given M&M’s and told to answer the question that corresponds to the colour of M&M (ex. If you have a red M&M you would answer the question “What are your favourite hobbies?”). I was worried about bringing food into the classroom (because of allergies), so I made sure to ask if it was ok first. However, to my surprise the biggest issue I encountered was that a lot of the students didn’t even like M&M’s! I hadn’t even considered that. I assumed all kids love candy. Following the M&M activity they did a drawing activity. They described how to draw a simple picture (ex. house, cat, tree, etc.) to their partner using English (ex. “Draw a large square in the middle of your page.”).

The weather here in Spain is still so warm. I see that it’s much colder back in Canada, so I’m happy I’m able to wear shorts and go to the beach still. I’m sure my friends and family back home are jealous of the climate I’m in when looking at my pictures. I plan on spending these last two weeks soaking up as much sun and warmth as I can.

Parc del Laberint d'Horta - The maze is harder than it looks 

Vineyard outside of Barcelona

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Post #3- DaNang, Vietnam

Xin Chao!

 

Hello again from DaNang, Vietnam. We are just over half way through and I cannot believe how fast the time has gone. It has been an incredibly busy month with lesson planning and teaching. I have started to get the hang of the teaching style here. Things are much more standardized than in Canada and I have struggled with the lack of technological resources in the classroom. I didn’t even realize how much I relied on technology until I had to teach without it. As I have said before the class sizes are huge, this has also been a challenge for me. Keeping so many children engaged while also dealing with a language barrier. I have also learned to always have a backup plan. In one instance we had prepared a YouTube video to watch, only to realize the room didn't have speakers. You have to get creative in these situations.

We were invited to attend the primary school’s mid-autumn festival celebration. This was very exciting and new to us. We sat with the children and watched a performance put on by professional dancers. We also got the chance to take a look at some food displays created by the students. It was really fun to see how excited the kids got watching this performance and trying to imitate the dancers they admire so much.

Throughout the past few weeks we have explored the area a bit more and have met many new people. A few of us went on a hike with our Airbnb host and his hiking group. We hiked up and down Hai Van Pass which was about 21 km. Needless to say, it was an exhausting day. We are also beginning to realize that people will take any opportunity to practice speaking English. People who meet us are eager to speak with us and especially eager to make their children speak to us.  Speaking English here is a highly sought-after skill and can create many opportunities so parents are very adamant about their children learning. 

Goodbye for now! I look forward to posting more about this crazy adventure.

Sam

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A Typical Day in Spain

We have been in Spain for nearly a month and as predicted, time is going by quite quickly! 

I am really enjoying my placement in Sant Cugat. If you are a prospective TAB student looking for some real, hands on teaching experience, Spain may just be the place for you! For this blog post, I am going to go through a typical teaching day for us here in Spain. 

School begins at 8 am each day. Instead of living in Sant Cugat for the duration of our placement, we decided we would rather live in the heart of Barcelona. Because of this choice, however, we have about a 45 minute commute each day, and so we typically need to be ready and on the train by 7 am. After arriving to our train stop, we have about a 10 minute walk before reaching the school. 

Each class at our school is one hour in length, and contains anywhere from 25-37 students. As a result of this, my partner teacher secured 2 separate rooms so we can split the class in half. Each day I take one half of the students (about 15 students) into my own “classroom” and she takes the other half. After half an hour of instruction, we switch groups so that each of us has the chance to see every student that day. While the idea of being all by myself was quite daunting at first, I quickly settled into my role. Having the students to myself means that I can plan related activities/games to their current topics with my own creativity. Additionally, I can have my own “class rules” and set my own expectations with students. Typically, my partner teacher will go over the homework and textbook work, and I will plan an entertaining activity related to what they have learned. Thus far I have found success using several sources, such as Kahoot quizzes and Pinterest resources. I have also found success utilizing several activities from a TAB workshop earlier this year, as well as other sources online.I have observed that throughout the day students are often bogged down with so much coursework that they don’t have any opportunities (besides gym class) to be active in the classroom. As a result, I have attempted to include activities which involve moving around as much as possible. In general, I have found great success in transforming many drama games into ELL games based on the topics (such as irregular verbs, job applications, family descriptions, etc) that the students are learning. 


                Above: the streets of Sant Cugat

“Lunch” time is around 11 am. I use the term “lunch” because many students actually eat their breakfast during this time, and lunch after school ends, which is at 2:30 pm. During the lunch break I typically go and sit with the other teachers in the canteen, where they serve coffees and other snacks. If not, I work on some preparations in the humanities lounge. 

One interesting experience I have had so far in relation to this “lunch” period happened this week. It is a tradition at my school that each faculty plans a beautiful lunch for the rest of the staff once a month. This month they served traditional dry-cured Spanish ham sandwiches, cheese and tomato sandwiches, chips, sweets, and beverages. I will be vague to say that I was surprised at some of the beverages the teachers are allowed to have during school hours, but nonetheless it was a lovely experience. I think monthly staff lunches could enhance any school’s faculty back home! 

Monthly faculty lunch tradition 

After the break I usually have another class or two, and then I walk to the train station back to Barcelona. Typically I work 4 days a week from about 8-12:30, but I will get into why this has not always been the case below. 

As some of you i’m sure are aware, at the time of this blog post there has been immense political strife and conflict happening in not only Barcelona but all across the area of Catalonia. Last week, the Catalan population attempted to peacefully vote either for or against independence from Spain. Because the Spanish government declared the vote illegal, there was a great deal of violence and police brutality on the day of the vote. We were shocked to see images of police forcibly throwing people out of polling stations, while confiscating all of their votes. Throughout October 1st, many innocent people were hit with police batons and rubber bullets as the Spanish police cracked down on those trying to vote. While being here, it has been impossible not to notice the tension rising. It is very easy to find oneself turning a corner here in Barcelona and seeing or finding yourself stuck in the middle of a protest. Of course these protests are very peaceful, but the political situation here is extremely prevalent. 

One interesting thing that has occurred as a result of this political strife is related to my students. Twice now the students have actually gotten permission slips from their parents to “strike” away from school. Essentially, the entire school’s student population will not show up occasionally to school to protest the way the Spanish government has conducted their affairs. I find this extremely interesting because back home, it is much more likely and accepted for a teacher to go on strike than a student. 

So not only does this political situation affect life in Barcelona, but life in Sant Cugat too. I have also learned a variety of new phrases because of the protests, such as a “Cacerolazo” which means “a typical protest done by making noise by banging pots, pans, and other utensils in order to call for attention.” Almost every single night here in Barcelona at 10 pm, people run out to their balconies and bang pots and pans against each other and cause as much noise as possible. This is in response to their calls for independence, and while it can be quite loud I find it extremely interesting. 

           

  A typical protest in Barcelona             

Finally, I will speak a little about something called La Merce festival, and the infamous “Carrefoc” or “fire run.” La Merce is Barcelona’s most popular festival, and while you are here you can see parades, dancers, concerts, and other events happening all weekend. However, by far the most interesting aspect of this festival is the Carrefoc that occurs. Essentially one of the main streets in Barcelona closes down, and all the “devils” are released. Each one of these devils carries a giant sparkler that fizzles and cracks and sprays fire everywhere. For the most part the sparklers are harmless, but if they hit your scalp they can definitely hurt (I know first hand)! Locals and visitors run quickly through the streets and through the sparklers. It was a truly amazing and unique tradition to participate in!

The chaos of the Carrefoc

A fire breathing devil at the Carrefoc

And that is all for now, adios! 

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Two Weeks of Teaching in Vietnam

We began our teaching adventure in Da Nang about two weeks ago. So far, we have settled into our Da Nang home and have already begun teaching. First, we started at the primary school, where we’ve been going 3-4 times a week. I started teaching at the high school today and will go every Monday for two periods. It has been a very busy and exciting couple of weeks.

            The primary school we teach at is very different from Canadian elementary schools. The instruction is traditional and the class sizes are huge. I counted 46 students in a grade 4 English class that Sunaira and I taught for one period. The school days are also long. School starts at 7am and ends at 4:15 pm. The day also includes a long nap period for all grades (1-5). When we aren’t teaching English classes we help with English Club. English Club is voluntary and the students who attend are passionate about learning the language. Something I found interesting about English Club is that members of the club must choose an English name for themselves.

            The high school we teach at is a school for gifted students. I teach two grade 11 English periods on Mondays. Most of the students speak English quite well. I complimented a student on his English and told him I hear a bit of a British accent in his pronunciation. He laughed and told me he watches a lot of British television. The teacher I am working with would like the students to practice listening and speaking with me. We decided that my lessons will focus on Canadian and North American culture (the students love to discuss this) and I will incorporate many opportunities for them to practice their speaking and listening skills. Many of the older students in Da Nang aspire to leave Vietnam and attend University in The United States, so they have many questions for me about North American Culture. Today a student asked me why Canadians have a reputation for being “push-overs,” which I found quite humorous. I was also asked if it is normal to kiss someone on the cheek when saying hello in Canada.

I was surprised with how much respect and admiration I was shown by the high school students. They seem to truly love practicing English with an English speaker. I allowed them to vote on next weeks cultural topic and they decided on Canadian slang and social norms. I am excited to create a fun filled lesson that gives them plenty of practice.

 

P.S: Neither school has air-conditioning and today a girl got up during my lesson to point a fan at me.

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See you soon, Barcelona!

Almost one week ago, I departed Calgary for Florence, Italy. The past week has been filled with great food, beautiful art, and a wonderful plunge into the Tuscan lifestyle. However, the time soon approaches that I will be heading to Barcelona, where I will begin my teaching journey. 

I have many aspirations for this program going forward. Naturally, I am extremely excited to immerse myself in the Catalan way of life. I am very curious about the culture of Spain, including gaining an understanding of the values and histories that contribute to a Catalan identity. In the wake of the most recent terror attacks, I am expecting to see the resilience I hear this country is famous for. 

Relating to my own preparation as a pre-service teacher, I am very interested to learn about the schooling system in Spain. I assume there will be many differences (and similarities) to schools back home, and therefore I am excited to learn and integrate new ideas into my future pedagogy. In general, I am very focused on learning about the challenges ELL students face. Learning a new language can be an extremely difficult endeavour, and working with Spanish students will help me to understand much about ELL students when I arrive back home. I am particularly interested in learning new strategies to help ELL students, including resources and techniques. I am certain the teachers and liaisons I will be working with will be able to provide much depth in this area. 

In general, I aspire to say “yes” to all of the experiences I can while I am away. Going out of my comfort zone will help me to better understand both the people of Barcelona as well as my students. I am ready to immerse myself and try many new and different things.


See you soon, Barcelona!

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Something that has resonated with me these past few weeks in my Spain placement is one of the classes that I teach; a group of first-year students (12-year-olds), with a very basic level of English. I think what makes this class so memorable is the teacher; the way he interacts with his students and how he guides their English language learning. More than in any other teacher, he focuses on proper English pronunciation. He responds in a way that humours them, by repeating the word the way they are saying it, with emphasis on the error, as if he doesn’t understand them. They respond well to this, and make an effort to correct it. He also prompts them to listen to the differences between my Canadian accent and his British accent. These little steps are what make them more aware of their pronunciation while learning English. Since their vocabulary is limited, but they are so willing to participate, they are constantly asking the teacher to translate words. Instead of simply giving them the answer, he repeatedly prompts them to use “How do you say _____ in English?”. Also, he has recently introduced them to using the phrase “Excuse me” when they want to get his attention, instead of yelling out “Profe! Profe!” (teacher), and it is just adorable how excited they are to use these new words, and even more excited when called on. Something else that really stuck with me is the difference I saw between the first and second week. At the beginning of my time there, the students were shy, reserved, and not contributing much. By just the second class with them, some decided to sit at the front of the room, and more of them were volunteering to share any questions and answers they had. I find the progress, even the tiniest of improvements, so meaningful in my experience here.  The little things that the teacher does to reinforce their English is what I leave the school remembering every week. He stands out from other teachers in his effort to really challenge the students meaningfully, both by the great relationship he has with them, the humour he uses, and his praise to his students when learning new things!

On the other hand, I am continuously amazed at the amount of English conversation I can have with the older students (17/18-year-olds). Although I am in the Elementary specialization and I enjoy teaching the young ones, I’m surprised at how much I enjoy the older students as well. I’m able to delve into conversations in great depth in (i.e. current events), and debate issues that I may not be able to discuss with the young students. Since most activities that we do are oral activities/games, I find that tailoring them based on students’ English levels has come naturally when in class. I am able to easily change the direction of the “lesson” based on what they need at the time.

With only 4 more teaching days, I am looking forward to making most of my time in the classroom. Many of the students were sad to know that my days with them are limited. It will definitely be hard leaving.

 

A variety of quotes on the door to the English department office.

"If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you.

If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you."

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exploring spain's schools and streets

It is hard to believe that we are just finishing our second full week of school! We have been welcomed warmly to the school and all the teachers are very friendly with us, always saying hello and talking to us, about Canada, about school and becoming teachers. Our partner teachers are determined that we get the most out of this experience and we are so appreciative of their efforts and for having us in their classrooms.

The first week we gave a interactive presentation about ourselves in an effort to introduce and get to know our students for the next month and a half. Some reacted better to it than others and it was fun to get to know them and learn about their families, favourite sports and what TV series they like to watch in English or in Spanish etc. The younger students, who are about 12 or 13 seemed to be the most curious about us and Canada, asking questions about food and comparing the snowy winter to when it snows here and the city shuts down. The older students were more reluctant to talk but are becoming more open to us this week, especially when interacting in smaller groups or one on one. Some students are in their 1st or 2nd year of bachillerato, which means that they are choosing to do two more years of study, with the plan to go to university.

 I am getting to know more faces and remembering all the names that I can. The students are recognizing us in the hallways as well and always say ¨hi¨.  It has been so interesting to witness classes here is Spain. In some ways education is more casual with teachers going by their first names in the classroom and the way that people talk to each other is more direct. At first it seems aggressive or unfriendly but it is just the way to discuss things, they are more open about grades or personal details which I think is a great way to get to know your students better an build more lasting connections

It feels more so like we are living in Barcelona now, we know our favorite routes around to certain parts of the city, we know which markets and fruit stands are the best and are trying new restaurants and exploring the streets as much as we can. It has been a fantastic opportunity to observe people going about their daily lives and we are definitely adjusting to the pace of living. One thing that was different for and hard to adjust at first is that the afternoon does not actually happen until after lunch at 2:30 or 3pm and dinner is much later.

We have been trying to see as much of Spain as we can. One memorable experience was a day trip to the mountain town of Montserrat, where we visited the breathtaking monastery and climbed what seemed like a million steps. The view at the top of the mountain was totally worth it though.  We have also been enjoying the many holidays and festivals that have taken place in Barcelona while we are here.  So much is just outside our doorstep. I really do love the area of the city that we live in. It is within walking distances to beautiful streets and the twisty and charming el born and gothic quarters. We want to try to explore more areas of the city as well and have a list of things to experience before we leave!

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