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After every trip abroad Ive come home wanting more.

Wanting to see more;


wanting to learn more; wanting to give more. Through these experiences I have come to
realize how much I enjoy traveling and how much I grow as a person in the process. When
originally committing to Stranmillis and the idea of completing the second half of my
student teaching abroad, I could not even begin to fathom how much I was going to learn
about myself and grow as a teacher and a person. One incentive for coming was to gain
clarity on whether or not I wanted to teach abroad after graduation. I was hopeful that this
trip would make clear whether or not I could adapt to a new curriculum, live in a new city,
and be away from home. After this powerful ten-week experience, I have a clearer
depiction for my future and more confidence in my ability to be an effective teacher in the
United States and abroad.
While I grew a lot as a person through spending an extended amount of time away
from home, traveling parts of Europe, and experiencing a new culture, the most growth
happened in the classroom. I learned about and interacted with a new curriculum and way
to approach lesson planning. I learned new teaching and management strategies and was
able to refine techniques that I had already developed. I learned alternative forms of
assessments and how different cultures view the importance of assessment. Through the
process of learning all of this, I also learned that kids are kids and I have a passion for
getting to know them, teaching them, and hopefully making an impact in their lives.
Curriculum:
The Northern Ireland curriculum has been adapted and changed over the years just
as we have seen with the curriculum in the States, most recently the Common Core (2014).
It was interesting to have different professors speak to us on the various academic areas,
because they kept emphasizing how much direction and structure the current curriculum
has. However, this is quite surprising to me because the curriculum spans a minimum of
two years. This means that for Key Stage (KS) 2, which is comprised of Primary 5, 6, and 7,
the curriculum solely states what students should know at the completion of KS 2 and each
individual school has more responsibility to generate their curriculum. Thus it is not
broken down nearly as much as the Common Core curriculum I am familiar with in the
United States. This presents teachers with much more flexibility to teach what and how
they want; however, it creates concerns in terms of there being holes in a students
learning. It requires teachers to work incredibly close together to ensure a smooth
transition from each grade level and to have a strong understanding of where students are
at when they enter your classroom. I am still unclear as to how smooth the transition
would be if a student were to switch schools. Additionally, the Northern Ireland curriculum
(2007) is primarily broken down into Language and Literacy, Mathematics and Numeracy,
The Arts, The World Around Us, Personal Development and Mutual Understanding, and
Physical Education.
The overall lesson plan follows a fairly similar format to which I have experienced in
my previous Drake classes and have used in my teaching placements. It includes
components that have been emphasized again and again such as differentiation, learning
intentions, and assessment. However, the planning process in Northern Ireland does
appear to be more regulated. The teachers at Dundonald Primary School are expected to
submit weekly detailed plans and the lesson plans I have seen do seem to be a bit more
intensive. They specifically emphasize cross-curricular skills as well as thinking skills and

personal capabilities. This means that there is a particular focus on tying together the
World Around Us (history, geography, and science), mathematics, and literacy. There is a
spot on the lesson plan template to discuss skills from other subject areas that are being
used within a specific lesson. The other component is the five thinking skills and personal
capabilities: managing information, thinking, problem solving, and decision making, being
creative, working with others, and self-management. This does seem to create more
continuity and allows for a flow from one year to the next.
Finally, the way the NI curriculum is written allows for teachers to be creative. For
my previous placement I worked primarily from curriculum books and wrote shorthanded, bulleted lesson plans based primarily from the basil. Therefore, it was definitely a
transition for me to write more detailed lesson plans from relatively broad standards for all
my lessons. However, I think this has helped me to think outside of the box and try new
things while Im teaching. My goal is for this to transfer home with me and to find a balance
between the structured curriculum and creativity and ingenuity.
Teaching and Learning:
I came into this experience knowing I still had a lot to learn about teaching in a
different culture. However, having had prior teaching experiences in both Ghana and
Uganda I initially thought I wouldnt undergo as much of a learning curve as I had in my
previous teaching abroad experiences. I was wrong and the past ten weeks have put
everything back into perspective for me. They have brought to light the most important
component of culturally responsive teaching which is exactly what I had lost sight of, the
diverse students. My students at Dundonald Primary School have grown up in
completely different environments, received different forms of education, and have
different resources than my students in the United States, Ghana and Uganda.
Therefore, they are their own unique group of individuals that deserves me to be every
bit aware as I was on my first teaching experience. For example, in order to make
learning more appropriate and effective for my students it is going to be helpful to speak
the same language as them. For instance, if I wanted them to use markers I needed to
call them felt tips or erasers are rubbers. By being aware of these cultural differences I
was better able to eliminate confusion and maximize instructional time.
I have also recognized how much teaching and learning differs based on the
number of pupils in the classroom and resources available. There were 30 students in
my P5 classroom, as there were in the other three sections. This was a pretty common
sight throughout the school as the school has been growing in the past several years and
is continuing to grow. This large number of students in my classroom makes it that
much more challenging for the teacher to effectively meet the needs of all the students.
Therefore, the teachers placed a large emphasis on differentiation. The differentiation,
however, often came in the form of a shortened or my simplified task rather than
additional support. This initially surprised me since additional support was my primary
job in my previous placement. However, it quickly became evident that the school
simply did not have the resources or staff to provide the support to all the struggling
students and thus the teachers are doing the best they can to make the content
accessible.

In both settings, teaching is truly intended to be student-centered. I have


observed the use of task boards (Activity Based Learning), group work, partner work,
and discussion based lessons. This really requires students to fully understand concepts
and to take responsibility for their own learning. According to the Lesson Cycle,
students receive new content through brief direct instruction, use a learning activity to
activate new learning, and then continue to receive scaffolding, support, and feedback
throughout the course of the activity. This ensures that all students are engaged and met
at their independent level.
Assessment:
Assessment has been the one area where I have observed the most differences
between the United States and Northern Ireland. While assessment is still an integral part
of education in America, there is not the same kind of emphasis placed on marking as I have
seen in Northern Ireland.
In the classroom setting, teachers mark every piece of work completed by students
whether it is formal or informal. At Dundonald Primary School the students homework
books and class activity books are checked on a monthly basis to ensure that teachers are
thoroughly marking student work. Additionally, the students take a daily test with special
emphasis on their Friday test. Although there is not this same emphasis on formal marking
in America, there is a bigger focus on informal assessment. Teachers appear to give
students more guidance and feedback throughout rather than waiting until the end to
assess their work. This results in students continuing to improve their work throughout
rather than waiting until the end when they have moved past a concept to receive feedback.
Furthermore, in Northern Ireland there is a huge emphasis on culminating assessments,
such as at the end of primary school. I would compare this to standardized assessments in
America; however, these exams do not have the same impact on their future education.
Despite the differences in education, at the end of the day kids are kids. They
have a sense of humor, want someone to care about them, and aim to please. I have
enjoyed getting to know a new educational approach, but more importantly have
thoroughly loved getting to know each and every one of my students and it will be
exceptionally hard to say goodbye to them at the end of the week.

References
Assessment for Learning: A Practical Guide Lesson Cycle, Elements of Practice/Focus on
Learning, p. 23.
Common Core State Standards Initiative (2014) Read the standards, available at
http://www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/ (accessed 15/12/14).
The Northern Ireland Curriculum: Primary (2007).