I have never had such an incredible crash-course in curriculum as I think I’m getting here at Stranmillis! I’ve been writing (and re-writing) my unit plans for four different preps: Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and a novel unit using a piece entitled The Illustrated Mum. My time in methods courses at Drake prepared me very well for unit planning, and my first student teaching placement gave me great tools for breaking down Common Core standards to a teachable level. The trouble now is trying to do this with a new set of standards and an environment with a different set of educational values.
One of the places I’ve surprisingly found a lot of difference is the “teaching strategies” I’m expected to incorporate into my lessons. In Iowa, I’ve become very accustomed to many Fischer and Fry techniques, but in Northern Ireland I sometimes feel like I’m trying to ferret out what research they feel is most important to use in the classroom. In my year 8 class, one of the big standards (for lack of a better term) is “Working with Others,” and knowing that my students have to improve in this regard helps me put together activities, projects and self-reflection to get them there. For instance, as we work on Macbeth, they will be doing a lot of their scene work in small groups, and I’ve made a lot of effort for students to think, pair and share rather than having a single student in the class respond to my question. This is a continuing challenge for me; I’m trying to meet Northern Irish standards while still using a lot of the best practice I picked up in the States. I’m sure I’ll get better as time passes, but right now my planning takes quite a chunk of time as I negotiate this!
My best experience this week has actually been with my low year 9 girls. The class only has about 16 students, and many of the girls struggle with reading comprehension and behaviour. At the same time, though, I have probably never had a class so enthused about learning, and on our first day of Romeo and Juliet, we had a lively discussion about the Montagues and the Capulets.
“But Miss!” one of the very outspoken girls exclaimed. “Which one of them is Catholic and which is Protestant?”
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little speechless. To me, though, this was one of the best teachable moments I could have with a class of young girls who live on Shankill road; teaching the themes of love and hate in a world filled with tension is only too real for them. I did not dissuade this girl from her idea that Romeo and Juliet’s families might be split along religious lines, and it lead to a great conversation about what might happen in a Catholic girl and Protestant boy fell in love during the height of the Troubles. We talked about how often prejudice can hurt people, and when we finally watched the Romeo and Juliet trailer for the movie which just came out, I knew every single one of those girls was completely hooked. For a class which can’t always sit still, Shakespeare has become riveting, and I hope through a little old-fashioned, tragic tale of love won and lost I might just be able to teach them some real-life themes and lessons as well.
by Caitlin O’Donnell