This time I didn't go far, I stayed in Carcavelos, a nice little coastal town in the municipality of Cascais.
This visit came as a consequence of the first visit I did back in February, to the Agrupamento de Escolas de Carcavelos. Back then I told the principle, Adelino Calado, about this project of mine and I showed him my interest in visiting one of the elementary schools of the network of schools he runs.
So, after some weeks we got to talk and we decided that we should make sure I could visit at least one school until the end of the school year (as I'm having a baby after the summer and that kind of puts a halt in visits for a little while).
And last week was the last week of school year, so it seemed like a good idea to go ahead and visit! Routines were slightly changed - due to the fact that second grade classes had national exams, which started at 09h30, instead of the normal 09h00 schedule - and they had the end of the year party, as well as a field trip scheduled, but I did not mind at all. After all, these things are all part of the school life, and that is exactly what I want to see.
When I got there I was welcomed by the third grade teacher, António, who opened the doors of his classroom for me and happily showed me his group and their routines. We talked a lot the first day and he explained how the school works, how the articulation with the whole "agrupamento" is made and so I got a good big picture of the whole system.
He doesn't follow a single method, in turn he mixes a few different ideas of a few different methods, in order to make it work for everyone in his class. Wonderful, exactly what I try to do!
The next day I was invited to visit the first graders and see a little bit of what they did during the year. By then they had learned all the letters in the alphabet of course, so there was not much to learn anymore. So instead of watching a normal class, I watched as they presented to me the way they learned the letters and how to read and write. And, let me tell you, I was completely in love by the end of it!!
Their teacher, Carla, used a method I had never heard of called "fonomimics". This method was developed by Paula Teles, an educational psychologist specialized in dislexia, and its basic idea is that each letter has an animal, a song and a gesture associated with it. So every time they speak about the letter D, for instance, they talk about Dinis, the Dinossaur, sing its song and do the gestures.
This is amazing!! Especially for the students with a more developed kinaesthetic intelligence. And one has it all in this method: sparking the curiosity for sciences (which animal comes after?); the shape of the letter/phoneme; the sound; the gesture... All is there! I thought it was just amazing and I was happy to discover a new way that I'm sure will please a lot of different kids!
Apart from this, the rest of the process of training each letter is quite straight forward, with the kids doing some worksheets where they get to practice the letter, where they get to see it in other contexts, other phrases, etc.
Another idea I loved was one that was shown to me by the second grade teacher, Idália. She had made the "Come and Go Book". This was a simple notebook, which each student could take home on Monday and bring back by Friday. On this book, the student together with their parents could write about a research project of their own. They could choose the theme, they could choose where to look it up and how to get the answers they wanted. And they had the whole week to do so. On Fridays, the student who had taken it would bring it back to school and present their work to his classmates and teacher. The parents, if they wished to do so, could also come to this class and assist with the presentation.
This is such an ingenious idea to get the kids to do some "homework" without actually sending any mandatory tasks! It develops their creativity, it helps the parents get involved with the learning process and their child's interests and it is a great way to develop research skills, interpreting and summarizing skills as well!
By the end of the week, the whole school made a little party for the parents and the students, where they made a few dancing shows and a theater play. The play, by the way, was all spoken in English! I was amazed at how much they memorized and were able to do in a foreign language! Very impressive!
The last day was also a special day becuase we all went to visit the longest trails in the world of dinossaur footprints, in Serra d'Aire as well as the Caves, in the same region. Both visits were absolutely incredible and the children were mesmerized by the size of the caves!
The most interesting part for me in this visit - apart from the sites themselves - was that I got to be in the teacher role, without actually being the teacher. So I got to see the teacher side of things, but also the kids' side... And so it was very interesting to me to see how much I've changed already as a teacher and how much more relaxed I am in situations like these.
It doesn't make sense to try and quiet down the kids when there are 40 of them inside of a huge cave that echoes and has all sorts of interesting stuff to look at. Of course they are loud, of course they don't shut up. And that's ok!
But I still remember being the teacher in this situation. I still remember how I used to quiet them down for them to listen to the nice guide that was taking us on the tour...
And it's a waste of energy, frankly. The kids don't have as much fun, the teachers get tired and frustrated and in the end the whole point of these trips is to have fun, to develop a kind of love for discovering and getting to know more and to develop a sense of curiosity. Right?
I am extremely grateful to the whole team of teachers I got to meet this week, not only for welcoming me into their classrooms as if I had always been a part of them, but also for the amazing discoveries they led me to make. Team Lombos rules!