Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A day in the life--- Teaching First grade as part of a bilingual program

Dear readers,
This post goes out to my sister in law, who asked me to share about my job. Although the unemployment rate is ridiculously low here, like 4.5%, I still feel lucky to have found a job. It seems for recent graduates here as well, these are tough times on the job market.

I was hired to be part of a bilingual program here called VBS. Here's how it works. I was hired to teach 11 teaching hours per week at the Astrid Lingred Elementary School in Vienna. It's a small school, with enrollment of about 200 students and grades 1-4. The way the school system works here, teachers start with students in the first grade and remain their teacher up through 4th grade. Then, after that "class" matriculates into middle school or gimnazium, the teacher starts with a new first grade class!

So, this year I have 11 teaching hours but if all works out as planned, next year I'll have a full teaching load of 22 hours, teaching part of the time to a first grade class and the rest to the second graders (who are in first grade now).  Now, I'm teaching first grade. The class has 19 students in all. At the end of last year, the teacher who was supposed to be their English teacher sat down with the principal and the primary teacher to select which students should receive the English lessons. So, I am teaching English for 7 of my 11 lessons to students who speak English as their primary language at home. Either one of both of their parents speak English to them. One boy's father is American. Another girl lived in Toronto for the past few years and can already read and write some English. So 7 of the 19 children utilize English at home. The rest of the class is native German speaking. Amazingly, however, many of these children are already proficient in English as well. By this I mean, when I teach the whole class (3 of my 11 lessons), many of the non-native English speakers can give me answers using complete sentences.

7/11 lessons= English only to English native speakers, 3/11= team teaching where we work with the whole class together. During these 3 lessons, we usually do one or two on Math and one is reading a story. For example, the Math is looking at a picture of a pond and counting how many birds, frogs, leaves, tadpoles, etcetera. My co-teacher, and native German speaker, Michi will give instructions in German. I'll give roughly the same instructions in English. I'll ask them what animal is next to number one. Some students answer in English, others will answer in German. When I get a German response I don't understand, another student will translate into English. In this way, we're using a little of both languages all the time... switching back and forth.

The last lesson, 1 out of 11, is called English as a Second Language though this label confuses me. Basically, twice a week for 30 minutes each time, I'll take just the German speakers and sing songs with them or play a game in English. They will not do any reading or writing in English yet.

The goal of this program is that by the time these students are heading off to middle school, they will be completely fluent in both English and German. It's a pretty interesting system. So, with my English native speaking students, I work on letter recognition- names and sounds. With the German native speakers, I work on songs and games. With the whole group, we usually do some Math or Story Reading. Even though this is called First Grade, I've noticed it's more similar to Kindergarten in the US. The curriculum we're working with focuses more on letter names and sounds, most of my students are not reading yet.

Let me outline my day today: Woke up around 7 am, got ready and was out the door by 8. After taking the subway for about 20-25 minutes, I arrived at the school. Michi, my co-teacher, asked me to prepare some large numbers because today we made our first "Letter Day." So I laminated these numbers I made so we can reuse them. At 9 am letter day started. Letter day will be once a week. Each week we focus on a different letter. This week it happened that we both were teaching "Aa" so for letter day the kids get to interact with the letter "Aa" in different ways. We set up 8 different stations. At one station, the children walk tape on the floor in the shape of an "A" and "a". At another station, I cut up apples for the kids to eat. At another, they practiced writing A in the sand with their fingers. We did that for about 45 minutes and then took a brief break. My days are punctuated with breaks as these children are new to the rigours of sitting and working all day. We continued letter day for another roughly 40 minutes after the break and then I got my stuff together and came home. Tomorrow I will go in for another couple of hours of teaching. That's how the bilingual program works here!

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