Freitag, 15. März 2013

Study visit - the English school

My second school visit in sweden was on individual initiative. My previous post about Hagaskolan was made possible by a course for international students I was attending and my third school visit was through a university project for my english course.
The English school was basically the first school that I found out about. I got in contact with the principal who was so nice to give me the chance to visit and be part of lessons in his school and also get some work in a different capacity, but thats a topic for later.
Unlike Hagaskolan, this school also had secondary school classes, resulting in the opportunity for me to be part of lessons of my “designated” age range. This is especially important because the credit-transfer situation at my university at home might get a little tricky in the end. But again, this is a topic for another time.

So here you can find some of my impressions and thoughts. It could seem a little bit jumbled at this, but that is due to the fact that I didn’t formulate reflections after I took down the notes (shame on me). But in this case it can be interesting to reflect on something that happened a few months ago and had many different experiences come in between.

From the beginning on I was impressed by the language proficiency. Obviously if the school is named “English school” that is something everybody would expect, but comparing year 5 and year 7 students to students in Austria made me realize how big of a difference it really makes. Just like in any school today, there is a multicultural mix. Children have various backgrounds, not only swedish. Some might struggle with all the languages although parents try to speak swedish at home, which sometimes is not their mother tongue, thus creating a more fragmented language use. In addition to that they speak a lot of english at the school. Again, comparable to schools I have experienced in Austria, the goal is always to have children speak the target language, even outside regular classes, but they always will stick to their native language, which is in its essence not a bad thing.
The school itself is located in wealthier part on the outer parts of the city, but is a free school. They receive applications from all over the city. They might have immigrant parents who are scientists and want better for their children. The majority really cares about the education of their children. The parents are academically oriented and set high goals, which in turn creates a good school environment. It is a status to be a good student. Even with a “bad” background the children get the drive to succeed through school and classmates.
Since they start school with the age of 3 (it is a big school that provides pre-school through lower secondary classes) and stay until they are 16, there is a lot of time to from them. All of the students move on to upper secondary, but that is mostly because they don’t have that many options.
Comparing the school and class environment to the schools I’ve been to in Austria and the teachers I talked to, it feels like there is a world of difference. Everything about the school seems positive, not that its always negative in Austria, but the more time I spent there, the more it felt like how important learning is for everyone involved. It is comfortable to be in this school and teaching and attending there seems like a great time.

I’ve been part of a few different english lessons now, I took part in lessons with year 5, year 7 and year 9 classes. It was interesting to see the different age groups and hand in hand with that the different approaches and tasks they had to do.

The topic for year 7 was creative writing. In the beginning of the lesson they talked about what it actually means; vivid language, no actual description of the picture, not a story about it, they should use adverbs and adjectives, synonyms and attract all senses. The idea was not to freewrite about what they see, rather using a mind map, notes and brainstorm beforehand. The task was to pick a picture and write about what's happening. The downside was that still a lot of kids started writing the text immediately, without any notes. A few of them prepared and took notes and some even used a mind map. After seeing that the idea for the next lesson was to give everybody one picture and give them clear guidelines: they have three options, and they are not supposed to write a text, they can either pick a mind map, a list, or just brainstorm and take notes, but basically do the same exercise as the lesson before.

The next few lessons I saw were creative writing about spooky ghost stories in which they followed steps in their workbook and created a story. These steps included steps for them being more assertive in terms of preparing before writing. Another lessons was a reading lesson that had a fun little twist called “marathon reading”. The class was reading out loud and the reader had to read at least three sentences but could also read more. The twist was that anybody could jump in whenever they wanted and just continue to read, creating a fun and nice flow to everything.
The year 5 lessons had a different approach, there it was more based on project work and group work. They also worked on creative writing with Halloween poems, but other times just worked on group Newspaper, with everybody being responsible for a different segment and then working on a “deserted island” project.
For the year 9 class I experienced another interesting reading lesson. There was no specific “tool” for reading, they basically went around the class after reading a page or so out loud. The interesting part was the discussion in between (they were reading “Animal Farm”). There were some great insight and thoughts and the teacher connected it to various historical and social study topics.

The good thing is I will take part in one year 7 and one year 9 lesson every week until the end of the school term, hopefully learning more and more about swedish school as well as tools to use as a teacher.

Study visit - Hagaskolan

Busy times.
I've been occupied with studies and work the last few months. It is a little bit annoying not finding time to properly write down things that are happening and reflect on them. A lot of interesting experiences, which I will hopefully put to (digital) paper soon.
In the meantime, I posted this on my Mahara page and haven't published it here, but to not make it feel so empty, here it is:

As a part of the course "The School System in a Comparative Perspective" we had the opportunity to visit a school in Göteborg and spend a few hours there.
I would like to share some of the impressions:

Hagaskolan is a relatively small school, located in the old district Haga. The school was established in 1986, but the oldest part of the school-complex stems from 1828.
The school has around 250 pupils, with classes form pre-school to fifth grade classes. In total, they have nine classes. The school has three tracks (Green, Yellow, Blue). These tracks each contain two classes. Notably, they have integrated classes/tracks (= Mehrstufenklassen) in which the pre-school and 1st graders, and the 2nd and 3rd graders share a class. Since a lot of children move out of the city center when they get older, the 4th and 5th grade have separate classes, because the number of children declines. 
In each class, there are usually two teachers present. One main teacher and one leisure time pedagogue - both work full-time. The classroom teacher is in school for 35 hours per week, but as soon as classes end, between 13.00 and 14.00, the classroom teachers are not working in class anymore. They spend the rest of their time in the office preparing, which in turn means that the leisure time pedagogue takes over the responsibility and takes care of the children in the afternoon.

The teachers have a good relationship with the headmaster and have weekly staff meetings to discuss and communicate important issues. Every other staff member (pre-school, after-school teachers etc.) also meets every week.

The school has so-called project weeks every term. For a full month, each week, one day is about one special topic (this term the topic was History of Gothenburg). Either the teachers prepare activities or the school collaborates with the theater or museums, but the best part about these project weeks is that during these times, the classes are completely mixed, pre-schoolers will work with 5th graders and so on.

Hagaskolan also has a friendship-school in Zimbabwe, Africa. This collaboration contains Skype-session with the classes every two weeks, teacher exchange programs and a close relationship with Gothenburgs Salvation army.

All in all, it was a great experience to be in a very enjoyable school and even though it was a primary school, it was good opportunity to get a first hand look into the swedish school system.