Currently, I am in my ninth week of student teaching at the English International School of Padua. It is unbelievable how the time has past and even more unbelievable the amount of knowledge I have gained. Within the past nine weeks I have not only gained a wealth of knowledge about teaching but about the Italian culture as well. Although this is an English school, the Italian culture and customs are still extremely relevant in the day to day life in the classroom and school itself.
At the English International School of Padua they use two different curriculums, the UK’s English and Math curriculum and the Italian curriculum for Geography and History. Both curriculums are extremely advanced and in depth sources of information. The students here are intended to learn a great deal of knowledge each year that goes well beyond the amount of information we expect students in the United States to learn. There are specific ways the students must learn and comprehend this information because they will be “interrogated” at the end of each year. During this educational interrogation, the students are asked a large variety of questions about each subject they study. These questions are asked in Italian as well. Being asked in Italian is a blessing for some students but a challenge for others because they are learning the subjects in English. Although this may be a slightly intimidating way to assess students knowledge, it is the way the Italian school system believes it must be done.
Now, one may ask how in the world are these students to retain all that information? Well, the Italians also believe in spiraling curriculums in every subject. Each term (there are 3 terms) students will revisit what they have learned in each subject. They may not be taught the material in the same way but they will still be learning the same topics/lessons. By doing this they believe the students will have mastered the material that much more. It is interesting to me that they cover these topics three times a year, when at times they spend two-three weeks on a topic. Although it is a little different, the students do seem to truly master the topics and feel confident in their learning and knowledge which is always wonderful to see! Along with a spiraling curriculum, they use a great deal of Rote learning. In math for instance, we are often times doing problems on the board and having the students repeat back each step. We go over numerous problems this way to help students understand the patters, steps, order, etc. The students do respond well to this style in the classroom and have become very accustomed to it. Although it is different from the approaches I have used in the past it is so interesting to see the ways other techniques other schools use and how beneficial for their students learning.
Along with Italian culture being prevalent in learning it is also dramatically apparent in how the students operate. Let’s begin with the talking. Here it is almost fully acceptable for students to talk and act as they wish when walking through the halls. To be honest it is almost as if they just cannot control themselves, they have so much to say! I was shocked when I saw how noisy the hallways get. I am so used to it being silent when walking in the hallways as a sign of respect for other learning. Although teachers try to implement it here, it is still a challenge. We do use a technique called “secret walker” at times. This is when we inform students that the teacher has picked one student as the secret walker, but they don’t know who it is. If that secret walker can walk quietly the whole way they will receive a special prize! It does work at times, but as I stated before sometimes the students just cannot help themselves. This talking is also a big part of the classroom. The students shout out all the time! For instance when they have accomplished a independent task they shout “finished!” for all to hear. To deal with this constant noise issue I have implemented a classroom voice level chart. There are six different voice levels I can tell the students to use. They have responded to this well! At times they even ask, “Miss. Alex, what is our voice level going to be?” Although they haven’t completely mastered it yet, it has been a huge help. Plus, they really just cannot help but talk!
The Italian students are extreme perfectionists. They love straight lines, have the neatest hand writing I have ever seen and love to trim edges so everything looks neat! The students are extremely proud people and want this to show in their school work as well. It is such a wonderful aspect to see in children and very interesting at the same time. Going along with how their work is presented they are also very concerned about directions and what is the exact next step they are to do. To assist them in this I have found it helpful to write step by step directions on the board for students to see. This also helps in the fact that I am working with a whole class of ESL learners and its an additional visual to assist them!
The last and most heart warming thing about these children is their compassion for everyone. They are the most caring and loving children I have ever worked with. Each one of them cares about one another and for their teachers. They want to be sure everyone is okay and help in any way they can. They love to give compliments, ask questions and just simply communicate with you. It is a wonderful environment to be in and I truly love it!
Within the past nine weeks I have learned such a great deal about the Italian customs in and outside the school and have been able to share some of my customs with them as well. I am not sure I am ready to leave yet, but I am so excited to take my new knowledge back with me to the classrooms at home!