International School

A Surprising Tranquility – My Day at PreKindergarten

One of the best ways for adults to really understand how a student experiences life and learning in school is by spending a full day shadowing a student. A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about my experience of shadowing grade 4 student, Maria: A day in the life – Shadow a Student Challenge. This year many of our leaders at ISP are shadowing students, including Tony McLaughlin, ISP Communications Manager. He tells his story called “A Surprising Tranquility” below:

This week I took on the International Shadow a Student Challenge at ISP. It certainly proved an interesting and enlightening experience, and I think and certainly hope my ‘classmates’ enjoyed me being around too!

Some of my “classmates”

I have worked at ISP for almost a year now and it has in some respects been quite a steep learning curve, not least in terms of getting to grips with some of the educational terminology used around the school. I have, however, greatly enjoyed familiarising myself during my time at ISP with the day-to-day workings of the school and how teachers go about the business of educating students in such a diverse environment. Spending the day shadowing in PKK (PreKindergarten) came about rather organically through a conversation with Jimena Zalba, Elementary School Associate Principal, about the possibility of shadowing in the ES. This led to a subsequent chat with PKK teacher (and my fellow Scot!) Ms Kerry about the possibility of joining her class and she responded very positively.

My ‘official’ shadow buddy Amalia

While I was looking forward to the shadowing day, I must admit to having a very slight feeling of trepidation. I wondered for, example, if the children might react with shyness? Maybe they would behave differently due to my presence? I needn’t have worried, as the initial reactions of the students ranged from apparent apathy to amusement, with quite a few thoughts in between that I couldn’t quite detect.

During the initial 15-minute session of the PKK day I attempted to integrate myself with my classmates after Ms Kerry had introduced me as being a “big kid” for the day. The day, from my perspective at least, didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts. My initial attempt to enquire whether the large box they were playing in was a house or a den was met with an almost deadpan, “This isn’t a house – it’s just a box”. In a way though this put me at ease as it reminded me of something my own children might say.

The first part of the day – the short free choice section was when I was introduced to the girl I would shadow, Amalia. Amalia informed me right away how to say “hello” in Hebrew. It quickly became clear that shadowing a day in the life of a single student was in fact a whole class affair, as I was fortunate to have the opportunity to observe and speak to all children in the class over the course of the day.

Ms Kerry reads The Terrible Plop

For me it was an eye-opener to see the day unfold as it offered something of a paradox. The day seemed unstructured, although there was a clear structure in place which the children almost seemed subconsciously aware of. This was particularly the case at snack time, when different children had their snacks at different times without even a murmur. Looking back to my own childhood, this could have kicked off a near riot in the McLaughlin household, so it was very interesting to see the comfort that the children felt in their learning environment. Despite Ms Kerry having said that it was a “crazy busy” day, nothing seemed hurried or frantic.

Taking photographs around the school is part of my job as Communications Manager so I was familiar with the next part of the PKK Day, Music Presentation, as I’d been asked to photograph it on two occasions. It was very nice (as ever!) to see the irrepressible Ms. Jarka in full flow, happily exhorting the children to “sing their name” and lead the song about the naughty pussy cat who “has butter on his whiskers” which is not a phrase I hear too often on a regular Tuesday morning working in the Advancement Office. It was a pleasant change to personally take part properly in the singalong as part of the class and see such a great turnout of parents (and grandparents!) fully engaged in the school day of the students.

The next part of the day was probably the part that took me most by surprise, not in that students were focused as such, I had expected that. What surprised me was that there was a quiet, almost tranquil atmosphere in the room. I had, maybe from my own experiences at home with my own kids, expected a room full of four year olds to be slightly more boisterous. Instead, there was a surprising tranquility – this was evident in the attitude of the students and was encouraged by the classical music softly playing in the background.

Children again were not pointed in any direction during this session but instead followed their natural curiosity to the activities which interested them under the supervision of Ms. Kerry and Miss Elsy. These included continuing on the woodwork projects the students had been recently working on with visiting artist Jan Nováček and working with new and improved red modelling clay. This certainly brought my ‘original’ shadow partner, Amalia’s creativity to the fore. She confidently employed me as a holder of her woodwork creation until the glue set while she went about her business.

Lunch

After lunch the pace really dropped with rest time. To my surprise most of the students actually did rest! For the more energetic children I read a few books which was a warming experience for me as I actually revisited for the first time in a while the Julia Donaldson books that my own children and I took great pleasure in reading previously.

Another storytime followed – there was evidently a lot of time spent in Pre Kindergarten on cultivating a love of reading, and of storytelling and listening. The book of choice this time was The Terrible Plop by Ursula Dubosarsky. After the story it was time for the final outdoor play of the day and it was time for me to get back to my day job. I felt a glow of pride when Ms. Elsy told me at the end of the day that while I was by no means the first person to observe the class, I was nonetheless the first to be around for the entire day.

The Gruffalo with MJ and George

Ultimately, I found spending the day at pre-kindergarten very fulfilling, it was inspiring to see the dedication, patience, kindness and professionalism of teaching staff at close quarters. I learned a lot from the energy of the students and was interested at first hand to see what really switches them on in what is a nurturing, creative environment. It was important for me, who spends quite a lot of time on words and explaining our mission to see it being lived by staff and our younger students. Its an experience I’d like to repeat in other parts of the school in the near future.

Activities with Ms Elsy

A day in the life – Shadow a Student Challenge

As part of the international Shadow a Student Challenge, last year I blogged about my experience of shadowing a grade 9 student, Grace, throughout her day at the International School of Prague. In a very positive sense, I got much more than I bargained for.

This time it was Maria in grade 4 whom I had the pleasure of shadowing throughout her day of learning at ISP. I can truly say that while I was exhausted at the end of our day, I was also energized by what I observed and learned with Maria and all of her grade 4 classmates.

Maria – Grade 4

From the moment I entered Mr. Ryan Malone’s classroom, I was struck by how students were engaged and had considerable choice in how they were learning. At the same time it was clear that the structure and purpose of what students were learning was clear and well structured. What follows is a short version of my day of shadowing Maria primarily told through pictures and video:

The morning began with students rotating through the classroom reading through poems they may wish to learn and present. There was a palpable sense of focus as the students absorbed different styles of poetry.

Picking a poem

After that it was off to music class with Mr. Allen. The class was filled with a variety of engaging musical activities from vocal warm ups, to singing Solfègeto composing our own rhythms, to performing on Orff instruments. Mr. Allen’s music class was active, fun and focused.

Visiting Mr. Allens music class

After returning to class we were off to PE with Mr. Choudhury. First we warmed up with some dodge ball. Here I must mention that the students were intent on hitting me with a ball but then politely handed me another ball so I could join in again, only to be “attacked” once again. It was fun! Then we got into an introduction to badminton by watching some footage of professional players. After some conversation about our observations, it was time to try it out for ourselves.

Once back in Mr. Malone’s class, students led by fellow student David, took turns nominating people, parents or friends, who had something positive and special. For example:

Sam said. “I nominate my dad for playing the Math game with me yesterday.” and then David asked the class to give “3 snaps for Sam’s dad.” What a great way for these young students to think about and recognize how others help or support them.

Next the class smoothly segued into math learning, beginning with some sequential math problems.

Then the class tackled a conceptual problem, The Box Factory.

After working individually, students took turns describing how they would represent a crate of oranges with numbers.

Later the class continued its study of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To introduce this part of the unit Mr. Malone had announced to the students that they were going to watch a video about “Fuzzy Bunny’s Magical Trip to the Human Rights Forrest,” but they were in for a surprise. As the class gathered around the screen, they were startled to see an ominous “hack” of the internet by an interplanetary alien, STHGIR (“rights” spelled backward) who posed a challenge to the students. After the startling appearance of STHGIR, Mr. Malone explained that there wasn’t a real alien but that his challenge was for students to see if they could come to agreement on what they believed were the five most important human rights.

Students first reviewed and rated the rights individually and then worked in pairs and then groups to see if they could reach consensus on five rights. This was an excellent way to get the students to better understand all the rights in the declaration through considered debate and discussion.

STHGIR’s ATTACK

 

Working to reach consensus

Even though it was a bit cold outside, it was now time to go outside in search of “metaphors.” Once outside we were asked to find an object which students could describe from a variety of perspectives and to write descriptions of each in the appropriate “room,” such as the Sound Room or the Feelings Room. This was a wonderful way to allow students to discover the concept of metaphor without simply telling them what it was.

Looking for Metaphors

I am a rock?

Learning about metaphors

Once back in class, students excitedly presented their own creations as part of the Class Economy unit. Here they had a chance to “sell” and “buy” items they created to one another. The activity required creativity, thinking about marketing and entrepreneurship, and through the process the students learned about commerce.

So that was our day in a nutshell. What is hard to convey is how much fun it was to learn in this dynamic and focused environment, where the learning of each student was nurtured and supported and where the students could safely take risks and learn from their trials and errors.

Agenda for our day with Mr. Malone

Oh, I forgot to mention, recess and lunch. They were fun too!

Thanks to Mr. Malone, Maria and grade 4 for an amazing day! I learned a lot!

With Mr. Malone and Grade 4

Thanks Maria!

Maria and me

Youth is NOT wasted on the young

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Each year at this time, schools around the world celebrate their graduates achievements and wish them success as they venture out into the world. Last week’s blog highlighted the words of one of our graduate speakers and this week I leave you with my words to the graduates and their families, entitled “Youth is NOT Wasted on the Young.”

Speaking at ISP Graduation June 2016, Zofin Palace

Speaking at ISP Graduation May 2016, Zofin Palace

It is an honor for me to welcome you to the graduation ceremony for the class of 2016! We are all very proud of the young women and men sitting on this stage before us. They have worked hard to become ISP graduates and we are all proud of their achievements.

I have no doubt that the past few months have been a bit of a blur for our seniors. They’ve been in a sort of limbo, between finishing up their high school careers, and simultaneously getting ready for the next chapter in their lives. While a new life approaches each of you, and we hope we have prepared you well for your future, it’s fair to say that each of you will be venturing out into unknown territory.

Whether you are taking a gap year or immediately starting university, whether you’ll be living at home or in another country; even if you are not quite sure what you will be doing next year, you are heading into a new way of being. Whatever you will be doing or wherever you go next, your lives will fundamentally change because you are no longer children. You are young adult women and men who must take greater responsibility for yourselves, actually in a legal sense, you will take full responsibility for your actions. Isn’t it wonderful?… Isn’t it horrifying? Whatever you’re feeling about the future, giddy excitement or dread, it’s in your hands, more than it has ever been before. I think it’s fair to say that those of us who have been around a lot longer than you have, will enjoy living vicariously through your adventures and experiences. This is especially true of your parents, who will look on proudly and nervously as you venture out!

There’s an old saying, Youth is wasted on the young. It means that young people encounter all sorts of new situations and predicaments in life without the benefit of having learned life’s lessons. But that’s part of the fun and excitement isn’t it? Encountering new situations and attaining wisdom through your good judgement as well as your mis-steps?

What would it be like, I wonder, if somehow young people your age could begin life having already attained all the wisdom experience brings; with vivid memories of victories and defeats, successes and failures; with all the important lessons somehow already learned? Could the freshness and uniqueness of every new experience, every catchy song or captivating landscape, every compelling book or great love, possibly shake your soul the same way as it will do, when you encounter life’s twists and turns for the very first time? I think not. In order for you to absorb life and hopefully gain some wisdom along the way, you must take the time to live life, and that will take you a lifetime!

I actually looked into the origins of the phrase “Youth is wasted on the young”. In a slightly different form, it is attributed to the great Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and all around witty person George Bernard Shaw. Someone asked Shaw what, in his opinion, is the most wonderful thing in this world. “Youth,” he replied, “ Youth is the most wonderful thing in this world—and what a pity that it has to be wasted on children!”

We all get what he means, but I would argue that youth is a wonderful thing mainly because it involves the wonder and the delight of first times. Discovering a new culture or delighting in a great novel, or tasting a new cuisine for the very first time, can only be a surprise to the inexperienced or uninitiated. Making mistakes that you yourself have to own and learn from, are also defining moments which make us who we are.

In that sense, youth is not wasted on the young, any more than old age is wasted on the aged. In either case, life is wasted only if it is not lived with purpose. As Shaw himself said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” And that’s the whole point of the journey each of us makes in life, young or old. As you develop and grow, each of you, dear seniors, will be creating who you are. Your life is in your hands and not anyone else’s. What you do and what you become is of your making.

So on this special day, I ask our graduates, to take this unique and precious time in your lives to explore your world and yourselves. Learn from your mistakes and delight in all that you have not yet experienced. See your life from this time on as an opportunity to create who you are. How exciting!