Well, I’ve now made it to the last grade at the lower school of the International School of Stuttgart this week. I worked with the grade 5 class for the first time from the week beginning the 16th of April and I will continue to work with them until the end of my placement, as it lines up fittingly with the run up to their big exhibition event on the 9th of May – something that my teaching will work into.
To coincide with all of this, we also had special guests that came to visit the school as part of the Erasmus project so it was a very busy week for all staff members at the school.
So, to start off the week I had to first, once again, introduce myself to two new classes of students but I also had to get my head around their individual topics that they have each chosen to focus on for their Exhibition. I don’t think I was fully prepared for some of the really hard-hitting topics that are going to be examined by the students: anorexia, racism, child labour, hacking and even pollution are some of the examples of the topics chosen by the students. For students that are only 10/11 years old, I was surprised that such serious problems in the world are going to be unpicked extensively by such young students. Now, this could open areas of disturbance so the teachers and mentors of the students (each student is assigned a mentor based on their topic) are in charge of assisting the pupils in sourcing their information. Filtering needs to be utilised in order for the students to be able to grasp a deep enough understanding around their topic, whilst still being protected from the extreme examples that can be found in any of the themes.
Passion can really be seen within the students and that is because of the inquiry-based approach that is employed by the PYP through the exhibition. This is also because they have had the freedom to be able to select a topic relating to an issue for themselves.
This made me realise, however, that it must be a massive job for the teachers at an IB school to facilitate this learning because all of the children are doing something completely different from one another. However, what I have discovered this week and what I have been able to learn from the exceptional team that work with grade 5 that your approach to teaching as a whole needs to change. Instead of having whole class lessons that link in with differentiated tasks, a teacher needs to teach skills that are useable across any given topic. Analysing sources, establishing the types of writing that can be used, mathematic skills etc.
Furthermore, it is one thing for the students to choose a topic and look into it, but the PYP emphasises that the internationally-minded students can do more than that and that they must conduct action – “education must extend beyond the intellectual to include not only socially responsible attitudes but also thoughtful and appropriate action. An explicit expectation of the PYP is that successful inquiry will lead to responsible action, initiated by the student as a result of the learning process” (International Baccalaureate, 2009, p.25)
Monday, brought about an introduction to our guests that came from Italy, Poland, UK and other parts of Germany as part of the Europlay Erasmus project. An assembly was held in the morning where, as I discussed in my Erasmus post, students were dressed in their traditional garments. Then, we began our work towards the exhibition for the week. Some students were working on websites, others on their speeches, some were thinking about their artistic component and all of them were needing to work with NoodleTool to reference where they were getting their research from. The class teacher and I then had to work between the students individually to keep track and check-in on their progress. Whilst doing this, we made a short list of particular students we wanted to have a chat with to see how they were getting on to ensure that we could lead them in the right direction of inquiry. This allowed me to see a great importance of working one-to-one with students; being able to see the individual learning process allows for very specific goals to be set by you as a practitioner but also for the pupil themselves. The exhibition allows for this one-to-one approach to work effectively because all of the class are motivated by their own particular topic that they have picked and they know themselves what they need to achieve with every lesson. Thursday saw both myself and the class teachers work for long periods with specific students that needed the extra support and it really emphasised the difference one-to-one attention can bring to the child, which is quite lacking in many practices due to time constraints being placed on teachers (Jacklin, Griffiths and Robinson, 2006). One particular student was able to accomplish many of their goals just by having that extra prompting from me and being focused in the learning.
Tuesday afternoon I was tasked with assisting staff members in preparing for the Erasmus students to go on a forest trip – a key example of German educational ideology being experienced by the guests – by organising the resources that they needed. It was great to see the staff members come together to facilitate activities beyond the classroom setting. They needed food supplies, tools for starting a fire and gifts for their visitors that were fitting to Germany. What was also great about having the visiting children was also getting to meet with their teachers. I got to interact with even more qualified practitioners about what it means to be a teacher and I gained a lot more insight into the job itself.
This week I have also worked in the German classes of the students that have just started their studies in the language and the German teacher hopes that I can stick with this group for the rest of my time with the Grade 5s, as it will be both beneficial for their German but also mine. We tasked the children in German to start to understand the words for die Gebäude (the buildings) that are in a city. The teacher then hopes to progress them into manipulating the words in grammatical sentences once they have got the hang of the vocabulary first. It was also good to be able to assist the children in how to work with a dictionary, as it reminded me during my beginnings in learning the language of German in school.
Once again, I was also able to be a part of the planning meetings amongst the grade level teachers and the lower school co-ordinator and get to grips with the events that will be transpiring with the classes. The teachers looked at what they needed to be doing that week but they also were planning ahead through the rest of the month of May to look at the class’ school trip. They were also planning what learning they would do once the exhibition was completed as they only have over a month left once the exhibition night has wrapped up the UOI. The teachers began planning out a possible event where they can showcase all the learning that has occurred throughout the year in a school show manner, however nothing has been finalised yet. This showed me the importance of collaborative planning across all time frames: short-term, mid-term and long-term all go hand-in-hand, which can be somewhat daunting for us student teachers as we only really understand the short-term goals towards learning (Hayes, 2014). It was good to see how organised teachers need to be and not just with the teaching they are doing, but the overall experiences their children will be experiencing during their time in their practice (school trips, school shows, events and other on-goings beyond the classroom setting).
During this planning time, the class teachers supplied me with more educational resources interlinking with the exhibition and the principles behind the learning in Grade 5.
As the week ended, we had to then say goodbye to our Erasmus friends. Another assembly was held to highlight the work the Erasmus students and their ISS peers had been doing during the week. Friday was a much quieter day due to the upper school being closed for the MUNISS (Model United Nations International School of Stuttgart) event where students from across the world were part of a recreational debate where they had to represent a particular country and their political stance (more information about this event that was held last year can be found here). Although minor, it showed me the wider connections that the school of ISS has because many students came from different countries in order to take part in the event, showing that there are many more stakeholders involved in the school.
Overall, my first week with the grade 5s has been really eye-opening in terms of what teaching can be in a totally different scenario from what I’m used to. I’ve been thrown out of the comforts of regimented whole class lessons to focusing on breaking down learning on individual principles due to the exhibition being an area that children can take in whatever way they see fit as working with the concept of the topic being a particular issue in the world today. Furthermore, I have been able to see even more of the people that are involved with ISS as a company with both MUNISS and the Erasmus scheme being two events that were great in bringing people together under one educational institute. I look forward to completing the rest of my time at ISS as I will progress into my 7th week here with only a few weeks to go until I am finished!
Hayes, D. (2014) 1.2 Professionalism and Trainee Teachers In: Arthur, J. and Cremin, T. eds. Learning to Teach in the Primary School 3rd edn. London: Routledge. Pp. 21-34.
Jacklin, A., Griffiths, V. and Robinson, C. (2006) Beginning Primary Teaching: Moving Beyond Survival. Maidenhead: Open University Press.