Today, I am back in the CM1/CM2 class. Since I have been in this class a few times, I am beginning to notice some of their routines. For example, they begin each day practicing their English by answering some basic questions about the date and the weather. This is similar practice to what I saw on placement in a Scottish school last year where the children did the same but in French. I think that warm up activities like these are beneficial for the children as they require the constant revision of basic content, keeping it fresh. I was told by the teacher that the high school wants these children to become more solid in their English writing skills, which is why the teacher gets them to write out their answers on their white boards so that they are practicing spelling and grammar. This is something I will keep in mind when organising lessons for the upper half of the school in the future.
So far in this school, I have not seen a lot of creative work, however, today I observed the children take part in a writing activity entitled, “jogging d’ecriture”. This was a five-minute opportunity for the children to write a story with no guidance regarding the content. The teacher told me that this activity had motivated many reluctant writers from when she first introduced it. She felt that the activity was a great source of enjoyment for the children as it was a time where they could be creative and free from any constraints. When I was on my first year placement, I came across many reluctant writers and I struggled to motivate them, which is why I liked this little activity in particular. Just as important as the writing was the opportunity to share the stories with the class. Sharing a piece of writing is a very big step for many children and the atmosphere created in the classroom was encouraging and filled with enjoyment and praise. This was such a nice activity to observe and one that I will keep in mind for future placements as it serves a great purpose in developing writing and presenting skills.
In light of recent events in France, I saw how current affairs can impact a school and the curriculum. Last Friday, “gunman hijacked a car near the southwestern town of Carcassonne and then shot at a group of four national police officers returning from a morning jog,” before he then, “stormed into a supermarket, opened fire and held employees and customers hostage for several hours” (McAuley, 2018). Today, the teacher spent some time at the start of the day speaking to the children about terrorism. She conducted this in the form of a question and answer session, where the children could ask her questions about either the attack or terrorism in general and she would attempt to answer their questions in a safe and secure environment. This was with the CM1/CM2 class and so it may not have been appropriate further down the school, but I felt it was important for the children to have the opportunity to ask these questions and talk about these very current issues impacting their country. Having an awareness of the world and the issues that affect it is just one of the steps towards these children becoming more active and civic members of their community and society. In a follow up to the session, the upper half of the school gathered in the playground before break for a poignant tribute to the victims of this attack by observing a minute of silence. This was something the children observed and respected well.
After break, I had the opportunity to teach my first English lesson. The teacher had informed me yesterday that she wanted me to teach the children about school in Scotland, including the uniform and the timetable of the school week. I, therefore, produced a PowerPoint presentation (see Appendix 1) that included these elements and also included some of the aspects of Scottish schools that were different to France. Accompanying the PowerPoint was a print out of a mock timetable with the school subjects in English (see Appendix 2) and the children had to fill in the blanks with the equivalent in French.
As this was my first time teaching, I was very nervous and felt as though I rushed though some of the content. Upon reflection, I should have taken more time to consolidate the key vocabulary in the PowerPoint, such as the clothing items of the school uniform, to ensure the children fully understood it. Also, my phrases about the school week were in English and so a lot of the children were struggling to understand. I did not realise this issue and tried to move on too quickly, which prompted the teacher to step in and guide the children in their understanding. This is something I should have been aware of and perhaps I should have learnt more French phrases in preparation for the lesson so that I could check for understanding, such as, “do you understand the first phrase?” or “what does this say in French?”
However, one thing the teacher did seem happy with was the timetable worksheet I had produced as she noted that the children could glue this in their jotter and use it for revision purposes. The worksheet directly corresponded to the timetable I had displayed of the whiteboard and so I could help them with the answers in an accessible way. Though one thing I would have perhaps done differently was ask the children to come up to the board and write the answers, as this is a common technique I have observed the some of the teachers using in the classroom. This, I think, would have made the lesson feel more interactive and may have helped to improve the attentiveness of the children, who were becoming quite restless.
Overall, I think the lesson was ok, I felt that I had good resources to support the children’s learning, however, I was nervous and so my delivery was a little rushed and could certainly be improved.
Today, I did the same lesson with the CE1/CE2 class at the beginning of the day. Before I could start, the teacher received a phone call and had to step out the classroom. The class began to get restless during this period and so I decided to do a small warm-up activity that I had seen them do before with their teacher to try and refocus them. I think this showed good initiative, as I was unsure of how long the teacher would be away and I felt the behaviour of the class needed managed. Doing a warm-up activity also relaxed me much more and consequently, I did not rush this lesson.
This time when I began with discussing the school uniform, I spent a lot longer explaining the vocabulary. During my time here, I have picked up a few key instructional phrases and so I asked the children these instructions in English first then repeated the phrase in French to ensure they had all understood. For example, when I wanted them to practice pronouncing the different articles of clothing in the school uniform, I said, “repeat after me” and then consolidated this by saying, “répéter après moi”. With the older children, the English will usually suffice, but, when I begin teaching in the early stages, short phrases like “régarder moi” and “écouter”, will be very useful for behaviour management.
Another aspect of the lesson I thought was an improvement from yesterday was that it was more interactive. Yesterday, the teacher had the children ask me what some of the subjects on the timetable were, but today, I asked the children the question, “What is…?” for each of the subjects and they answered in French. I then had different children come up and write the French under the English on the whiteboard. This was more interesting for the children and they seemed more engaged than the class before. I also enjoyed this lesson much more because the children were so engaged and willing to participate.
One thing that I would have changed, though, was that I didn’t have the worksheet resource ready for the children. This means that they do not have any concrete work from the session to put in their jotters and use for revision at a later date. This is not an example of good organisational skills, however, I had no prior knowledge of when I would be teaching this lesson. The lack of a structured plan for my day is something I am struggling with, as I do not know what to prepare for when. I am, therefore, learning that it is worth being over prepared and I have begun preparing a bank of English lessons ready to use when I am asked to teach.
Other than this, I felt that the lesson was a vast improvement on yesterday’s lesson as it flowed at a better pace and I took more of an authoritative role in the classroom by relying on the teacher much less. One piece of feedback I did receive was that the teacher would like a revision resource for the school uniform (see Appendix 3), which is something I will produce in preparation for tomorrow, when I teach this lesson again to CM2.
In the afternoon, we had a meeting with Nina to mark the middle of our placement. We all sat in her office for a casual talk about the progress of our placement and how life in France was going. As the four of us were in the same meeting, I had the chance to hear some of the things the others had been doing at their schools. Hearing about some of the challenges they had faced and how they had resolved them was interesting and helpful for me to hear. They have slightly more teaching experience than me and so the things that they shared about these experiences were valuable to me, personally.
I have also began to realise more the value and significance of my extended observational period as I have learnt so much about French schools and the curriculum in France, as well as observing excellent teaching practice which I can now emulate in my lessons. One thing, though, I do wish had improved more is my level of French, as I feel as though I am understanding a lot more when I listen but I am still lacking confidence in my speaking skills. I plan to make improving my French my main goal for the end of placement review with Nina in 3 weeks time.
In the afternoon, I taught my lesson on School in Scotland to the CM2 class. Beforehand, I was able to print both resource sheets for the children and I was much more organised. However, when I begun to teach, I was faced with a technical issue with the PowerPoint because the pictures did not appear on the screen. As a result, I had to deviate from my original plan and improvise by using the worksheet I had produced, which had the pictures on it anyway, to explain the vocabulary. This was not what I had originally wanted, but I think it was an appropriate alternative given the circumstances and I feel as though I handled the issue well so that the lesson could continue.
I presented the lesson in a very similar way to yesterday, as I knew this technique would work well. I also incorporated the new worksheet into the lesson, as well as the timetable worksheet. As a result, the children could work on their timetable at the same pace as we were filling out the timetable on the board and so they were learning it as they wrote it. Now, they have a resource with all the school subjects in English and the correct corresponding word in French to use for revision purpose.
Though, one thing that was slightly different about this lesson was the timing, as they afternoon had provided a longer teaching slot than the others. Therefore, a lesson that had ran long enough on Wednesday and Thursday finished to early today. At that point, the teacher stepped in and asked the children to work in pairs quizzing each other on the new vocabulary they had learnt. This is something I could have thought of prior to the lesson so, in future, I should plan a few extra finishing activities in case the teaching slot is longer than I had anticipated.
Though, despite this, I feel as though the lesson went well. The class had been quite disruptive for their own teacher throughout the day but I managed to keep them engaged and used some the phrases I had been learning and practicing to keep their behaviour under control. I also took the opportunity to move around the classroom when the children were working in pairs to observe and assess their level of understanding. Next week, I hope to have the opportunity to revise this content with the classes I taught so that I can see how well they understood and can remember.
In summary, I have felt a lot happier at the end of this week of placement. I am becoming more familiarised with the children and the teachers, which is helping me to become more involved within the school and the class. My early opportunities to teach went well and I feel more confident about teaching in the future. It is great to teach the children about Scotland and some of the cultural differences between France and Scotland, as I am passionate about this and so I hope these opportunities continue.
McAuley, J. (2018) ‘French police officer who swapped himself for gunman’s hostage dies’, The Washington Post, 24 March. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/hostage-situation-in-southern-france-being-investigated-as-terror-attack/2018/03/23/64649f1e-2e93-11e8-8ad6-fbc50284fce8_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ce493ead79fd (Accessed: 28 March 2018).
Appendix 1 – School in Scotland
Appendix 2 – Scottish School Timetable
Appendix 3 – The School Uniform