Author Archives: Alan MacDonald

Art TDT – Portraits and People

Across the existence of man, there have been various methods of expressing the human form and portraiture is a key method of doing this (Dissanayake, 1990). Different art periods have seen various interpretations of portraiture (e.g. Picasso’s cubist movement explored the human form through very structured shapes and lines, something that was alien compared to other artists during the 20th century) and what it means to present a person. As part of the portfolio, an exploration of portraits will be examined to compare examples of portraiture.

Celestina (1903) by Pablo Picasso – this was a portrait completed during a time of great turmoil for the artists and was classified as his ‘Blue Period’

Pablo Picasso is an interesting artist to compare the examples of portraiture that he created. Picasso is well-known for his cubist expression that explored the usage of shapes to create outlandish interpretations of the human form, yet, he tapped into other avenues of art. The Blue Period, which lasted from 1901 to 1904, was a time of sorrow for Picasso, thus the emotions were reflected in his artwork during this period. He predominately created life-like portraits that were confined to monochromatic shades of blue and grey to symbolise the grief he was experiencing, highlighting the power that a specific colour palette can create in terms of mood and atmosphere. During the early 1900s, Picasso was failing as an artist in terms of a commercial prowess and he lost a dear friend to suicide. Life was taking its toll on Picasso and the Blue Periods creations were a way of translating this lack of happiness in his life (McNeese, 2006)

The portrait above, Celestina (1903), depicts a haggard woman in isolation. She takes up the whole of the centre of the canvas with her face being the focal point in the painting (whilst also being the brightest aspect of the painting albeit cold). The subject’s expression is fitting to the entire mood that is being created in the painting: muted sombre. It is said the character is based around civilians in Barcelona during the time of Picasso’s Blue Period but it also takes inspiration from old Spanish folklore literature where ‘Celestina’ was supposedly a sorcerer in a play, which would relate to her witch-like robes. Picasso applies the paint in a structured manner, taking care to keep a form of realism in his piece – particular attention has been paid in the blending of the skin colours, the grey highlights in the hair and definitions in the hood. Overall, the painting epitomises the emotion of sadness and at first glance, I believed it to be a subject attending a funeral. This has been created by the focus being solely on the lone woman, the muted colour palette and the dark background.

Weeping Woman (1937) by Pablo Picasso – the portrait depicts a woman that is in horror at the sight of bomber jets flying over her hometown on the brink of war

To compare, Picasso’s Weeping Woman (1937) explores sadness but in a entirely different manner. In 1937, the Nazi air force sent bombers to attack Guernica in support of the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War (Tate, 2018) and Picasso was inspired by this injustice. The figure is based around Picasso’s lover Dora Maar who he had an affair with during the time of the creation of the portrait, symbolising that real people that he was connected to were affected by the warfare. Picasso uses abstract shapes and colours to create the face of the weeping woman, with an outward green, yellow and purple to create the overall structure and then black, grey and blue at the centre of the face to symbolise a change in complexion (almost as if the figure in the portrait is being shocked by the realisation of the bomber jets). The eyes of the weeping woman reveal a reflection of the bomber jets above in the sky as she grasps onto her face in terror. In comparison to Celestina, the Weeping Woman is void of tone and depends more on the differences of colour and distinctive shapes to create the horrified expression. Furthermore, the features of the face are drawn out in a primitive format. The facial features are harder to decipher compared to the previous painting and style.

Another famous artists that is symbolic for their portraits embodying their state of mind and the time period when they were created is Frida Kahlo. Kahlo lived a turbulent life and experienced many highs and lows through which she coped with through her artist expression.

Without Hope (1945) by Frida Kahlo – Frida’s self portrait shows herself bed bound and being force fed.

Without Hope (1945) by Frida Kahlo was created whilst Kahlo was in a bed bound state. Due to many health complications, the artist was forced to remain in her bed whilst also having to be force fed with a lack of appetite (Kettenmann, 2000, p.70). She creates this scene in a more dramatic format to symbolise the turmoil she is in. The gigantic funnel full of disgusting carcasses personifies the puree food that she was forced to consume. The background shows a Mexican desert with both the sun and the moon, which could symbolise the loss of days experienced by Frida during this bed bound state. She cannot comprehend when the day ends or begins. She does not get to see the daytime or nighttime and her day-to-day existence revolves around being force fed and being isolated. Furthermore, the world itself in 1945 was at the end of the Second World War so much of the wider society surrounding Frida at the time (albeit she would have seldom got to interact with it as she previously would have), which could have had an impact on her when creating the piece. The piece can be attributed to her works in surrealism and magical realism as it depicts an image that is life-like yet still retains a level of surrealist distortion (Gambrell, 1997), through the grotesque funnel and setting depicted.

To contrast, in 1941 a few years prior to Without Hope, she painted another self-portrait with her parrots titled Me and My Parrots (1941)

Me and My Parrots (1941) by Frida Kahlo – vibrant birds and a more relaxed Frida brighten the mood of this self portrait.

Frida’s health was far better in 1941, she was remarried but was also pursuing another love interest and her life had more of a routine, which revolved around her love for her animals in the countryside. The portrait above was just one example of her pieces that featured her pets that she adored. The background is a warmer brown colour with the focus being centred on the figure of Frida (which is a clear contrast from her Without Hope painting that was in a desert). Frida and her birds are vibrant in colour, with Frida’s complexion looking healthy and full of vigour whilst the parrots’ feathers are intricately painted to show the various colours. Kahlo is also enjoying a cigarette, which could also highlight that she is feeling relaxed and mellowed. She was at ease with both her company and her surroundings.

Overall, these examples of portraits by famous artists reveal a lot about the time period they were created and the changing circumstance of the artist.


Dissanayake, E. (1990) What Is Art For?, London: University of Washington Press.

Gambrell, A. (1997) Women intellectuals, modernism and their differences, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kettenmann, A. (2000) Frida Kahlo 1907 – 1954: Pain and Passion, London: Taschen.

McNeese, T. (2006) Pablo Picasso: The Great Hispanic Heritage, New York: Infobase Publishing.

Tate (2018) Pablo Picasso Weeping Woman, Available at: (Accessed: 8 October 2019).

Drama TDT – Writing in Role

To tap into the aspect of visualisation in drama, I decided to take the dog for a walk around the local parks and cemetery. I came across a striking statue that I felt would fit well with exploring the surroundings and the ‘character’ that would be created from this inanimate sculpture of a mythical creature:

I continue to hear intermittent weeps. It is far in the distance, however. The cries for me have long ended through the eventual cut off of lineage. The weeping comes and goes around me. More often I am surrounded by the sound of passers going about their days: running, walking the dog even those that merely pass through this resting place as a means to get to another destination. A scenic route, I suppose. Life goes on. Some even pause to ponder at my very existence. I stand high in this resting place, my wings unable to free me from my rigid stance. My cold form of stone will allow me to bide my time far beyond the lifespans that are documented in this place. I myself have become cold to my purpose. Albeit a token of remembrance and of love, I’m forever a reminder of life that was lost. The real angel is free, whilst I, the fallen one, remains. 

The Fallen Angel

Bringing this sculpture to life to develop a character from it, I imagined the stone breaking away from itself to reveal an angel that was trapped in a cover of stone:

Crumbling piece by piece, my true form began to reveal itself. My nimble limbs slowly began to feel free as I reach out beyond myself. The flowing curls of my hair began to regain their vigor and shine with each fragment of stone falling by the wayside. The power in my wings, the mechanisms that allowed my return to the heavens, slowly returned as each feather was restored to their former glory. Free at last, from the entrapment that kept me contained in a form of stone. Copious amounts of elation fill my heart as I know that freedom has now become a reality.  

My illustration of the fallen angel after escaping the stone

Overall, I believe this exercise has allowed me to tap into my creative thought process and attach a narrative to an inanimate object and be able to bring new life to it.



Dance TDT – Dance a Story (Early Level)

For dance, I have chosen to explore movement through a story. I have chosen “Sitting Ducks” by Michael Bedard.

“Each day at the Colossal Duck factory, a steady supply of ducks are hatched, destined for the plates of hungry alligators. One duck is taken home by a worker, and they make friends. But in an alligator-eat-duck world, can such a friendship survive?” (Warner, 2015)

EXA 0-08a – I have the opportunity and freedom to choose and explore ways that I can move rhythmically, expressively and playfully.

The story begins with the alligator factory line, which will begin with soothing machinery noises that builds up with the children getting up in a line.

The line then is interrupted by a falling egg which hatches the duck on impact, who is startled into life. This will be acted out as falling down in a controlled manner, starting off really high up on the assembly line to then slowly falling down to being the duck who is left sitting on the ground


The factory sound effect will be played again whilst the ducks (the children) explore the factory looking high and looking at all the machinery that is around them whilst the machinery plays.

The exploring will be interrupted by the kids making their own noise of being startled by seeing the big green alligator

The ducks will then sit down as they are taken out of the factory and will listen to the story as it continues.

When it is night time, the duck and the alligator like to do crazy dancing, so a music break will be played at this point – the ‘shake it’ breakdown of Hey Ya! will play for a freestyle dance part where the kids can make their own crazy moves

The story then leads to the duck being trapped by another alligator which will be expressed through the children making the expression they would make if they were shocked, we could share examples of these together and talk about how we would feel if we were in the duck’s position being trapped.

Then, the duck is reunited with his fellow ducks and they have to exercise to make sure they can fly away from the factory. A zumba dance routine will be used to highlight the importance of exercise for the ducks to be able to be fit and healthy to fly away. A discussion about health and wellbeing can be had at this point about the importance of movement in our daily lives.

When the ducks fly away, I will get the kids to act out flying away accompanied by slower classical music by Johann Strauss. The float-like nature of the music will work well with the imagery of the ducks being in the sky, free from the assembly lines of the alligator factory.

As the story draws to an end, the main duck and alligator friends are reunited in a tropical holiday destination, so I will get the early years class to lie down as calming beach sounds will be played to initiate the cooldown. A run through of the experiences we’ve had as the sitting ducks can also be explored.

This will then lead into a final wrap up of what we’ve learned about the story and about the importance messages created:

  • being active is important to our wellbeing
  • We can make friends with unlikely characters, against the perceptions of the norm
  • Not everything is as it seems

Overall, this story works well with an early years class and would benefit for specific aspects to be teased further out with prompts of dance movements and aspects of choreography.


Warner, M. (2015) Teaching Ideas: Sitting Ducks, Available at: (Accessed: 9 October 2019).

Vita Brevis – Exploring the usage of Artefacts and Sources within Social Studies

Pickford, Garner and Jackson (2013, p.62) define artefacts as being valuable man-made or man-influenced objects that can encapsulate particular locations or sections of time within the world, which explains why they can serve as being strong backbones to particular contexts for establishing social studies learning. They can also vary greatly  in their appearance and purpose. Within Social studies, they can be extremely useful for teachers to be able to paint a picture of a particular era in history that they may be exploring or even be able to showcase a particular culture of a different part of the world (Fines & Nichol, 1997) or even both together, as the social studies subjects are interwoven; a particular place is essential to the event as it is the location in which an event has transpired.

Within our elective inputs we have continually had time to be able to utilise and explore artefacts, thus inspiring this piece within the portfolio as I wanted to delve deeper into the pedagogical core that lies within the teachings of social studies through the usage of artefacts and sources.

A prime example of the usage of artefacts during our inputs was during our Tay Rail Bridge Disaster session where we were able to work with various types of sources relating to the disaster in Dundee. A staff member from the University of Dundee’s Archives came in to provide us with these artefacts and gave us some background knowledge and also emphasised to us as future practitioners the importance of using links like the University of Dundee’s Archive, where real-life sources from particular eras can capture student’s attention towards history and geography. The archiver made some great points in terms of justifying the usage of artefacts with a class, mainly as it allows a great basis for telescoping the past with the present and vice versa. For example, one of the artefacts was a newspaper from the 1880s (a few years after the Tay Rail Disaster, which occurred in 1879) which could be used for the basis of various points for inquiry. We explored how the formats of newspapers will have developed over history and how they compared to the newspapers of today, giving us a greater insight on how the demand for media has adapted as time has progressed, showing that an artefact can take many different approaches when deconstructed. Nicole Brown (2015), a lecturer within education, has also emphasised this point of importance towards the usage of artefacts being capable of exploring multiple faucets of learning, as practitioners can show production processes within enterprise (an area of great importance within Social Studies for Curriculum for Excellence), or a significant event within History, or an artefact can also serve as a contextualised link to a particular culture and language of another country.

Other sources within the input from the time included images that were taken during the aftermath of the collapse of the rail bridge and then of the construction of the rail bridge that stands today, a poem that was found inside one of the victim’s coat pockets that washed up on the shore, and a compensation form that was assumed to be submitted by a family affected by the disaster. In regards to the photographs, we found it quite difficult to pinpoint what the photos were at first due to the omission of captions detailing what the images are. This then brought about an interesting point for criticality in terms of the usage of artefacts. It is all well and good to have real-life artefacts and sources from a particular age, however, if one does not have the story and historical context surrounding the source itself, then a practitioner is left in a difficult position to facilitate correct learning surrounding it.

Artefacts can also be explored through a more imaginative approach if a particular context wants to be explored. Hughes et al. (2000, p.32) believes that the strategy of creating an Evidence Bag can serve as an excellent hook for students to really hone in on criticality towards a particular topic that a practitioner wants to explore. For example, the usage of an old worn suitcase can spark a great discussion surrounding who it might have belonged to, how old it might be and what kind of contents may be inside. This can be the basis for many areas in the curriculum: WWII evacuation, Victorian era and even modern-day evacuations just being a few. Linking back with the example we explored in lectures, even a bag from the Tay Rail Disaster could be employed and items of local significance could be used to get the children to pinpoint where the case/bag was from and what time period it may be. This process allows children to make interpretations with there being no one right answer during the questioning and investigation process, which can aid in self-esteem of students who feel that they are pressured to be right when they provide an answer.

Identity and Context Meet – the usage of an evidence bag approach can really serve as a great basis for getting students to unravel and explore people from the past.

I feel that the biggest impact surrounding artefacts was when we got to see the original version of the poem that was recovered from a body from the waters after the Tay Rail Disaster. Tattered and torn, minute in size and yet it had an instant impact for what it could have meant for whomever had kept it within their possession during their journey on the train. Instantly I felt myself trying to draw conclusions towards this peculiar artefact before us in terms of its backstory… maybe it was written by a close friend or relative to the person… perhaps it was written by the unfortunate soul themselves… or maybe it was written by a loved one and that was why it was packed away safely within their coat pocket…

No matter the true backstory towards this artefact, it showed the power of using real-life sources for exploring the Social Studies. It also brought about a deeper appreciation for Historians as they were able to preserve this piece of history in order for people like us to see a snapshot into the lives of people in the past. The person may have lost their life in the disaster, but the live in through this artefact that they held dearly with them.

We also listened to a piece of fictional prose surrounding the night of the disaster and it really encapsulated the raw emotion that is evident within history.

Vita Brevis – Life is Short: This is the piece of prose that we listened to in the input. It showed the power that fiction can bring towards artefacts surrounding a topic. Click the image to be re-directed to the prose at the BBC.

The prose, created for the BBC School Radio (2017) also emphasised the importance of language and how effectively literacy activities can be used in Social Studies. It was great to be able to explore the artefacts that were from the time of the event, however, a piece of writing that was narrated in such an emotive manner allowed for us as listeners to be able to connect the present with the past, just as the archiver said was the key purpose in teaching social studies. We could relate real human emotions towards something that could feel somewhat abstract in the grand scheme of things; this event happened many years before us and we probably would find it challenging to contextualise it as efficiently without something to captivate our emotions. Using something like this would be beneficial as well for students to hone their listening skills as they need to really be actively listening and engaged to be able to gain the depth of emotion and empathy (Busch and Oakley, 2017) relating towards the topic that was such a sad disaster.

Overall, after the inputs and further reading towards the importance of artefacts and sources within practice whilst teaching the social studies, I feel more capable that I could be adventurous and daring with my teaching of historical topics. This is because I have seen the difference it can make to deep understanding for not only a particular event in history, but also for human reactions to disasters and chaos as a whole. Using a wide breadth of artefacts can also really make a difference in the understanding that is picked up by students. Furthermore, I also understand the issues that can come about with using artefacts that have little story behind them. I also realise the great importance of sourcing artefacts from the likes of the University of Dundee’s Archives, as they can have valuable sources and artefacts that would be otherwise hard to come by within practice.


BBC (2017) School Radio: Victorian railways: 3. The Tay Bridge disaster [Online] Available at: (Accessed: 18 October 2018)

Brown, N. (2015) Teaching with artefacts [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 15 October 2018)

Busch, B. and Oakley, B. (2017) Emotional intelligence: why it matters and how to teach it [Online] The Guardian Available at: (Accessed: 18 October 2018)

Fines, J. & Nichol, J. (1997) Teaching Primary History. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers.

Hughes, P. Cox, K. & Goddard, G. (2000) Primary History Curriculum Guide London: David Fulton Publishers

Pickford, T., Garner, W. & Jackson, E. (2013) Primary Humanities: Learning through Enquiry. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Exploring Powerful Knowledge within Social Studies

Returning back to university to commence third year brings about new areas for personal and professional reflection in regards to my ongoing development as a teacher. This year, I have chosen to do Social Studies as my elective and, just like the Discovering Mathematics module, I have to maintain a blog that relates to my learning within the subject, particularly with how it impacts my criticality and how my views upon teaching as a whole changes and what new learning I can bring to the Social Studies subject as a whole.

I decided to pick this module because, although I studied the subject of History in high school, I believe I need a greater insight on how to better my subject knowledge in Social Studies to go on and be a successful teacher that is confident to teach the areas of geography, history and humanities. Furthermore, during my time in Germany for learning from life, I soon realised that I am lacking a lot of general knowledge surrounding my home country. I may understand particular time periods and history of my local area (relating to the topics that I did during my time in education), but I lack a deeper understanding beyond that. An example of this being that I was asked if it was at all possible to see the Northern Lights from Scotland… Something I still am yet to inquire into.

A particular concept that has sparked my interest within the first inputs is the questioning and re-evaluation of the importance of knowledge that we teach our kids within the context of social studies, which is known as Powerful Knowledge.

Powerful Knowledge has been extensively explored by sociologist and educationalist Michael Young (2013) as he believes that educational institutions have almost turned away from knowledge in favour for a more skills-based curriculum in the modern era. This has then questioned the technicalities and the real importance of knowledge further with the pressures that teachers and their students face with testing and standardised assessments. Young (2013) believes that we shouldn’t write off knowledge as being purely superficial.

There is a continuing debate surrounding the purpose and the importance of knowledge for children during their time in education. Particularly with what knowledge is useful and if there is a clear distinction between useful knowledge and knowledge that is deemed less than useful. If I was to choose a particular historical or geographical topic to teach to my class, I would probably first question, what is it that I want them to know?

To examine this question, I decided to explore the Experiences and Outcomes document for Social Studies:

Learning in the social studies will enable me to:
• develop my understanding of the history, heritage and culture of Scotland, and an appreciation of my local and national heritage within the world
• broaden my understanding of the world by learning about human activities and achievements in the past and present
• develop my understanding of my own values, beliefs and cultures and those of others
• develop my understanding of the principles of democracy and citizenship through experience of critical and independent thinking
• explore and evaluate different types of sources and evidence
• learn how to locate, explore and link periods, people and events in time and place
• learn how to locate, explore and link features and places locally and further afield
• engage in activities which encourage enterprising attitudes
• develop an understanding of concepts that stimulate enterprise and influence business
• establish firm foundations for lifelong learning and for further specialised study and careers. 

(Scottish Government, 2018, p.1) 

I have put some of the key words that stood out to me in bold because I feel that they really made me question what Social Studies really is as a subject. Social Studies is not just a combination of Geography and History, it goes far beyond that. We can see real links to the ‘real world’ and wider issues that impact us as humans within society, rather than the traditional ‘lets learn about these people that lived during this period of time’ with history.

If we are to pick apart Social Studies as a subject within the framework of Curriculum for Excellence alongside the arguments surrounding Powerful Knowledge within the classroom, we can see that knowledge is not entirely at the forefront of the purpose of the subject (the word knowledge itself does not appear within the purposes list at all).

Martin and Owens (2004) supplement this concept with their findings that students work best and thrive within their understanding when the learning, particularly within geography, begins when their own first-hand knowledge is fully appreciated first by a practitioner and then they can branch out and extend. Roberts (2014) highlights this further by reiterating that the knowledge and understanding that the children bring to the table themselves should be appreciated as it is their own ‘personal geographies’ (p.193) which can make a massive difference between the battle of presenting social studies within an abstract or a concrete nature, something that is tricky to master. I think this then should make a practitioner truly question the type of knowledge they want their kids to get out of their learning as Simon (2001) argues that intellectual inquiry (or knowledge-based exploration) can sometimes be dismissive of the importance that moral exploration can bring in knowledge of the wider world (p.36), which obviously links well with the guidelines in the Experiences and Outcomes documents. This, then interlinks the various subsets of social studies and shows that ‘Powerful Knowledge’ is not always just the factual information of our past, but actually a deeper exploration of what makes us human, what made our ancestors human and how we relate to the world around us.

Children cannot and will not see the importance of Geography or History (or any subject for that matter) that is purely presented in a cold, black and white manner.

Overall what this has shown me is that as a learner I might not have the particular knowledge at a specific time that it is needed, however I am capable of inquiring the matter independently which is far more important than the knowledge itself. This means that knowledge may be useful for learning to progress and for a strong context, particularly for Social Studies, to be established, however, as a teacher I need to be able to construct my lessons so that skills are being enhanced and so that criticality is embedded within my student’s outlook towards learning and understanding and to do this effectively I need to ensure I am tapping into the knowledge that the kids in my class bring to me.

I hope to gain a whole lot more from Social Studies this semester!


Martin, F. & Owens, P. (2004) ‘Young children making sense of their place in the world’ in Scoffham, S. ed. Primary Geography Handbook Sheffield: Geographical Association. pp. 63 – 73.

Roberts, M. (2014), ‘Powerful Knowledge and geographical education’ , The Curriculum Journal, Vol.25, N0. 2, pp. 187-209.

Simon, K.G. (2001)  Moral Question in the Classroom: How to Get Kids to Think Deeply About Real Life and Their Schoolwork London: Yale University Press.

Scottish Government (2018) Curriculum for excellence: social studies experiences and outcomes [Pdf] Available at: (Accessed: 21 September 2018).

Young, M. (2013) ‘Overcoming the crisis in curriculum theory: a knowledge-based approach’ in Journal of Curriculum Studies, 45:2, pp. 101-118

End of Placement: What Now…? (Section 4)

My Learning from Life placement is coming to a close and it is necessary for us to take a step back from all the work we have done as student teachers in a different setting from our usual Scottish format to see what learning we will go forth and conduct from the knowledge and understanding that we have gained whilst being out on our MA2 placement.

For me, I already know that I want to investigate even more systems of education beyond the International Baccalaureate to see what the different beliefs on what “education” really means can form different institutions for learning. This is because I have seen that working at an IB school has really sparked lots of time for self-reflection in terms of my role as a teacher and what the role of any practitioner or “educator” is. Particularly, when it concerns gaining the best learning for the next generation of learners and innovators. To do this, I will go back to some of the country systems that we learned about for our comparative studies in semester 1 and look over the systems with newfound knowledge and understanding on differences of educational philosophies. It will stead me well for my future placements as I know that I am becoming a critical practitioner instead of a docile teacher that does not question their purpose in the realm of institutional education.

Furthermore, I hope to continue my studies of German further and not lose the new vocabulary and grammar understanding that I have gained during my time in Stuttgart. I want to delve deeper into the different dialects of German also, because this was an area that I found challenging when communicating with people that had a Hochdeutsch dialect. I could even look into attending the night classes at the university for German in order to maintain my language capabilities, as I did in first year as part of the elective. What has been most beneficial for me is that, as time has gone on, I have been able to cope with and understand larger volumes of German language. I remember that it was such a massive area that i struggled with in terms of being able to digest what was being spoken to me, but now I am far more capable of breaking down the words in spoken speech.

I also really hope to stay in contact with my host family that have put up with me for 2 whole months. They have shown me a whole new way of life and really been helpful of contextualising differences in cultures and language. They’ve also shown me that being open to differences can bring great benefits for understanding of yourself and your own heritage. I will never forget the evening meals spent at the dinner table where discussions are conducted in German, English and French in a free flowing manner. There shouldn’t be a closed off outlook on miscommunication issues either. The best part of language-learning is working through misunderstandings and errors and working together to see what learning can be had from interactions.

Overall, I feel that I am brimming with enthusiasm for the future ahead beyond Learning from Life. As sad as it is for it to come to an end, I realise that I must continue and look for the next adventures that will come my way in my teaching career and in my life as a whole. Better yet, I now have a bigger drive to go out and find those adventures because of the sheer openness I had towards LfL and I can see the great learning that I have achieved because I jumped right into the deep end.

End of Placement: Reflection of Impact (750 words max) – Section 4

Feelings before: 

Prior to coming to Germany, I felt a mixture of emotions that were veering between excitement and anxiety. I knew that I was doing the right thing with going to Germany due to my past experiences and the types of professional development I wanted to gain. Particularly in the understanding of the differences in culture and the understanding of the German language. Furthermore, lots of planning in terms of gaining a police check, doctors certificate and other documentation proved that I was still very hungry for working in a school environment within a country completely different from my own. It was all a whirlwind of planning coinciding with revision for assessments at the university that when it was finally time to go I almost felt numb towards the whole placement. It didn’t seem real until I stepped off the plane at Stuttgart airport.

Feelings during:

At first, I felt a little out my depths in terms of the language barrier. Although, I have experience and knowledge of the German language, I have never really utilised it in its natural environment where people speak at a greater pace in conversations. However, through time and practice I was able to engage more in conversations. At ISS, I felt very welcomed from the very beginning. What was beneficial was that I would utilise the language of German with my host family and then use English when working at ISS (except in the kids’ specialist German lessons or when it was required to speak German). It struck a perfect balance between the two and allowed me to gain new skills in the language of German (both conversational skills in everyday life and didactic presentation skills for when I worked in German lessons at the school) whilst still retaining my teaching in English. I have also gained lots of new skills beyond the placement itself: I have driven on the other side of the road on the Autobahn German highways, I’ve shared my Scottish heritage through cooking meals and baking and I have been able to adapt to a whole new way of life in Germany beyond just my professional self at the school.

Feelings after: 

I feel that this placement has been very successful for me in terms of what I wanted to achieve from it. I have grown as a person so much and become far more autonomous and independent in terms of the way that I conduct myself in my personal and professional life and I feel far more confident in being able to share my opinions more openly in both environments. I just can’t believe how quickly it has all passed me. It has been an intense two months that have been filled with lots of learning points in life itself.

Progress on goals/audit:

I believe I have really progressed in sharing opinions with others because I originally always felt apprehensive to speak out on particular issues or I always felt that I didn’t have a fully formed opinion on my “educational philosophy” because I had only completed one placement. However, working in an international school in Stuttgart, Germany has really shown me a completely different outlook on education and what it means to be a successful school as a whole. It has given me many areas to construct opinions and confidence to share them openly. Not only this, but I have, over my 2 months of being here, been able to work with people from all walks of life and of various backgrounds and languages which has extended my skill in teamwork.

Overall Conclusion:

The placement has been very successful in what I aimed to set out: I feel I’ve improved in my German language knowledge. I have been able to gain firsthand knowledge of the culture of Germany. I have learned so much about the system of the International Baccalaureate and the PYP and I am able to see similarities and differences between it and the Scottish Curriculum, allowing me to form a critical eye on my own educational philosophy. I have also been able to see the progression of an educational system from all grade levels and have been able to teach and observe at different levels also, which has expanded my knowledge of systems that can be used within a school environment later in my career. The skills I have gained will last me a lifetime and I really have learned a lot from going out of my comfort zone.

[744 words]

“So long, it’s been good to know ya!” – Week 8 in Stuttgart Reflection

Wednesday was my last day at ISS and it has been an emotional rollercoaster this final week.

Monday and Tuesday were the last full days in school where the students could work on their exhibition because Wednesday would be the night where they showcased all the learning they have conducted over the 7 weeks that has all lead up to this moment.

Monday was focused on going around each student and ensuring they had everything prepared and ready for Wednesday: display board, artistic component, mathematical piece, an action relating to their global issue and their speech prepared and ready for presenting all of the work they have conducted.

Usage of Technology – I was tasked with recording some students talking about their exhibition experience and then editing it all together in iMovie to present it at the beginning of the Exhibition Evening on Wednesday.

Tuesday was then time to get the students practising in front of an audience – their classmates and teachers. We got some volunteers that wanted to go first to get an almost dress rehearsal of what their exhibition would be like Wednesday evening, as each student was assigned a classroom in which they would present in front of their parents and their mentors (who would be assessing their performance through observations of their presentation). It was great for me to see all the presentations in their almost-final state because on the night I would only get the chance to see the other students that were in the same room as the son of my host family (there were normally 3-to-4 students per room). This method of practising also got the students receiving feedback from their peers; what was successful in their presentation and what did they need to work on in order to perfect their display of learning.

Amongst all of this exhibition chaos, the teachers and I were planning towards the next topic of work once the exhibition is concluded.

Wednesday night saw the exhibition commence in the AULA (the same ginormous assembly hall that was used on the multicultural evening and the assemblies throughout the year) where the Lower School Principal introduced the purpose of the evening. He gave a compelling speech that really interlinked with the core learning that I have gained from this placement: teaching and learning is constantly evolving. “Knowledge is everywhere. It is no longer just for the elite in society… For teachers, lecturers or scholars… Teaching has had a drastic change in the past 25 years to link with the world in which we live in today”. He also gave a strong analogy of what it would be like if a teacher from the 1950s had been transported to the night of the exhibition and saw all of the research and learning that the children in Grade 5 had conducted. It would be startling for them.

Then, I was starstruck by what came next.

“We also need to do something special for a guest that has been with us for the past 2 months…” I knew that this concerned me “we would like to give a special goodbye to a young aspiring teacher from Scotland who has been working and learning with your children throughout this learning process”

The same goodbye song that I had heard in my first week at the school for the students that were leaving was now being performed for me:

“So long, its been good to know ya, but you’ve got to be moving along”

I was then gifted with International School of Stuttgart T-shirts to show that I am now a strong part of the school. All of the teachers have told me that I need to come back in the future and I really feel a part of the community at ISS, much as the same way some of the alumni students that have returned on a few occasions; the doors are always open at ISS for those that have been a part of it in whatever shape or form that has emphasised the school’s internationality.

The Entrance to the AULA – the frames on stage were another project the children did during their specialist art time. It is an exhibition tradition that the students create a decorated frame that includes a photo of them with their mentor. This is then presented to the mentor as a special thank you for all their support during the process. Many teachers have amassed a collection of frames over the years.

Once the introductory presentation had concluded (my exhibition reflection video was also played), the lower school co-ordinator announced there was a change to the programme of events that evening. A few students had approached him during the school day to ask if they could perform a song that they had composed themselves during their music lesson that day. The lower school co-ordinator said it best: “why not? This shows the students are being real risk -takers” 

Reflective, open-minded, risk-takers, caring, principled, balanced, knowledgable, inquirers, communicators and thinkers – these are all the attributes within the learner profile.

The Stage is Ready – an example of one of the classrooms being set up for the exhibition presentations. The students placed all their work on the tables provided at the front – i.e. the books they used for research, their display boards, their artwork and anything else they wanted to display that was centred around their topic.

These students performed the song on the stage and then the parents were told to head to the rooms where their children had been preparing for their presentations.

Once the presentations were complete and all the questions were asked, the parents and mentors got a chance to partake in an “open-house” scenario where all the doors were opened and people could walk around and see all of the topics and ask more questions to all of the grade 5 students. They would not be required to present again, however, this opportunity allowed for them to really show their learning in a more relaxed manner after a somewhat stressful presentation beforehand. It was amazing to see the joy around the rooms – it was over, all the determination and conviction to succeed had been fulfilled that night.

I said my goodbyes to all of the staff members and parents that I had become acquainted with during my time at ISS and I was once again reminded that, if I ever needed anything, the team at ISS were only an email away.

We drove back home on a high that night; the youngest son was elated that all his hard work had come all together for his excellent presentation in his third language of English (which, he had only been studying now for just over 6 months) and I was somewhat content with the fact that it was my last day at the school. It did not feel like a final goodbye, however. I know that the staff at ISS and the students too would welcome me back with open arms if the chance ever arrises in the future of my professional career.

Overall, I look upon this final weekly reflection with a sense of wonderment. Where has the time gone? It has went by so quickly and yet, I cannot remember my former self at the same time. I have gained so much personally and professionally both from ISS and the day-to-day ongoings of my host family.

I really have accomplished what I set out to do and that was to:

  • Improve my language competency in German – I can now understand larger volumes of spoken language in conversation and I can also interact with day-to-day scenarios far greater than I could before. I have also been able to support beginners of German during lessons at ISS but I have also witnessed the skills and competencies of mother tongue speakers of German and the high calibre of language that can be achieved from children of a young age. How this relates to a scottish setting is that I now know that immersion is key to language development and that children of EAL should not be undermined in their capabilities of language acquisition. Interwoven within the language understanding, I have also been able to understand more of the culture of Germany with my host family. History of Kirchheim, the Fruhlingsfest beer festivals, the roads of Germany and so many more components that make up the culture of both Stuttgart and Kirchheim unter Teck have been really unpicked by myself during my time here. I have submerged myself as much as I could during my time here.
  • I have learned so much about the PYP at ISS and how it relates to the entirety of the International Baccalaureate system across the world in international schools. Not only have I gained firsthand insight surrounding the ongoings in an international school environment myself and reflected on them, I have also had opportunities to have lessons that relate to the IB myself across the grades. It has really made me reflect on what it means to be a teacher because the systems are quite alien when compared with the Scottish system. I can see both major positives and some negatives in the practices and curriculum structure, showing a criticality forming for my ongoing professional development.
  • I have seen so many strategies used by practically all the practitioners at ISS. I am very happy I planned with the lower school principal to divide my time across all grade levels because it allowed for me to both observe and work within classroom environments that were unique to the particular practitioner that was in charge of them. I have also seen the whole progression of the PYP education system right from the nest through to grade 5 before the students make their way to the middle school programme.

Goodbye ISS! – I had to take one final photo of the front of the school as we were leaving the exhibition evening.

I can now share my opinions more confidently, partly because I now have a more structure opinion surrounding education with this experience, and I feel as though I will take more risks and be confident about those risks. If someone had told me I have: survived an entire week alone in Germany, driven over 2000 miles across “Autobahnen und Straßen”, taught across all levels in an international school environment and have experienced cultures of Germany including seeing historical sights, taking public transport and partaking in the beer festivals festivities I would have laughed. These are only snippets of what I have accomplished and I am glad I have this blog as documentation for the learning I have done.

It has been amazing.