As the semester comes to an end, we all have been inclined to step back and reflect on our experiences here in Florence. We came as a group of eleven Elementary Special Education students and a professor. Some of us had class together before, but none of us were close. We all welcomed our time together on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to share what we were learning about the teaching and global education practices. Weekly practicum experiences brought new insights for each of us: insight about teaching, insights about children, insights about ourselves. There were surely challenges: children’s stares with blank faces not sure what we said, the Florence train and bus drivers strike, little classroom board space to write on, last minute change in schedules at the school, and lack of clarity about what to teach. However, the challenges and differences from home are what made each of us stronger teachers. We provided each other support and feedback through lesson study, observation and our class partner who assisted us as we taught our class. Our cooperating teachers varied in style, but each welcomed us into their class, shared their love of teaching and taught us more about teaching English as a Foreign Language. The children’s engagement challenged each of us to figure out the best way to communicate with them and share our knowledge of English and American culture. Pictures, videos, gestures, real objects, simple written text, our beginning Italian, help from a cooperating teacher or a student whose parents came from an English speaking country often provided each of us the way to share ideas, new vocabulary, stories of our American holidays, family and home towns.
Here are a few of the lessons we learned:
Practicum taught me that you are learning almost as much as the students are. I would adjust the way I did something according to my last lesson, then teach another lesson, and find another aspect to tweak. There will always be something that you can change in a lesson to make it better. Lilli B
I have adopted the Italian “go with the flow” lifestyle and so has my teaching. I still go into the classroom prepared for my lesson, yet if something goes wrong, I do not freak out or have a small panic attack, I deal with what I have and perform the lesson in the best way possible. Ariana
The children were so excited to have us teaching in their classroom and were engaged in every lesson. All of the students would be so proud when they got answers correct and understood the lesson. This experience has taught me that the children were able to gain a sense of pride by practicing their work. Hayley F
This semester, I found that the wording of directions presents a fine line between achieving understanding and hindering the students from understanding. Emphasizing the key words in a sentence or set of directions has caused me to reflect and really think about what is worth saying to the students and what is worth or okay to omit. I have learned that less is always more, sticking to the relevant expectations and directions are the important factors. This will even help me to improve my oral practice in the classroom for non-ELLs or English as foreign language students. Lauren F
What it has taught me about children is that in general all students have some of the same wants and needs. Cross culturally students all want to recognized for their work, they are all interested in learning about something new as long as it is presented in a creative and engaging way, and finally all students strive to do well and can get frustrated if they feel that something is beyond their comprehension Kathryn G
By living in a foreign country as well as traveling throughout Europe I have also had the opportunity to see the unique aspects of various cultures and expand my worldview. In learning new things about people from all over the world it also inversely helped me understand more about myself. Michaela B
In many ways I have become more independent as I have learned about being in charge of shopping and cleaning within an apartment, paying my phone bill, and managing a credit card. I have also become more dependent though, I have had to be willing to let others translate and guide me to different locations. I think by learning this balance I will be more successful. Throughout life there will be times that I need to figure things out for myself and then there are times that I will need to be willing to ask for help. Marissa L
I learned so much about teaching English as a foreign language, in such a new and diverse classroom setting. This was my first practicum where I worked with third grade, and the students were enthusiastic and capable of interacting with me and challenging their English knowledge. I often found myself just standing in the classroom smiling. I was so happy while I was teaching this semester because of the kid’s enthusiasm, and their genuine inclination to help each other… Whether it was a student taking the initiative to help a student with special needs when the assistant was absent, their nerves when pronouncing new words, or their enthusiasm to sing, I found myself drawn to this class in a way where I was learning from them (hopefully) just as much as they were learning from me.
Before this experience I had not realized the complexity of the English language. I had taken for granted all of the small components of the language that are necessary tools in order to understand English. By being put in an Italian classroom and being challenged to teach students who did not speak the same language as me, I gained an appreciation for language that I did not previously have. I realized the importance of word choice and discovered how even the smallest words may mean the difference between comprehension and confusion. Kiley R
My practicum experience in Florence definitely taught me a lot about teaching ESL students, but it taught me a lot about children in general as well. … It was interesting to compare my Italian fourth graders to my mom’s American fourth graders during their video logs back and forth, and I ended up finding more similarities than differences in their behavior and interaction with each other. They shared similar interests in popular music, entertainment, and food, and both groups were equally excited to learn about each other. Justine H
Every week I was welcomed with hugs, kisses, and 26 students shouting “hellooo” in their Italian accents. Nothing made me want to teach them more than when they would catch a glimpse of me walking up the stairs and then run towards me. Not only did the students get excited to see me walking up the stairs, but I always looked forward to the next time I was going to see them. Planning my lessons for the students was not only a learning experience from a teaching standpoint, but it was also fun and enjoyable from a personal standpoint. Nicole O