Impressions by Wendy Nelson Kaufmann 2008

The Richness Within – personal reflections from Mrs. Wendy Nelson KauffmanThis trip was invaluable in bringing the project to the next level for me—personally connecting with students and their culture.  I was able to bring a human perspective and greater understanding of Dutch culture back to my students. An important emotional connection was made in the exchange of student gifts. Based on the success of this project we plan to do a student exchange next spring. In order for this project to be truly meaningful, my students need to do what I did, meet their counterparts and experience a week in their life. They will understand so much more about each other and their cultures, and probably establish long-lasting friendships if they spend a week together. We currently have U.S. students willing to host Dutch students. Those students who are hosting would have priority in visiting the Netherlands in 2010. My current students want to continue this project as an independent study. Some possible ideas are to compare significant moments in Dutch and US History or more contemporary life and evaluate how those events have shaped our two cultures. Next year we want to expand our current project on the impact of immigration on Dutch and

American cultures. We plan to have four additional new classes in 9th grade doing the project.

I learned a lot this week about Dutch schools and international education. It has inspired me to learn more about teaching international education and creating projects with meaningful international connections. For example, Oostvaarders College has someone whose half-time job is facilitating international education. The school does a remarkable job of bridging connections with other countries. Their projects are based on strong essential questions that maintain the rigor of a course, while allowing students from other countries to get to know each other and understand their perspectives. Throughout the classrooms at Dutch schools I noticed teachers incorporating world languages. For example, at Libanon Lyceum the art teacher has students present their projects in Dutch, English and French. Because she does not know French, she will have the French teacher translate and assess a student’s oral presentation. Many different cultures are incorporated throughout the building. Math classes have posters connecting the mathematical contributions of ancient and present cultures throughout the world. In a history class I visited their textbook discussed Cold War events from around the world, not just those concerning the United States. The Dutch schools also understand the importance of being good hosts, something often lost on American schools. From the American flag flying at Oostvaarders College to the ceremony at Libanon Lyceum, I felt important and welcomed. We had visits with many important people, such as representatives from the European Union and the U.S. embassy.
I noticed differences in the facilities, instruction, and student behavior at the three different schools. The facilities of Libanon, Het College Vos and Oostvaarders reflected different eras. Libanon will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. Vos is a post World War II era school, and Oostvaarders is the most contemporary. The schools do a wonderful job of displaying student work, art work and photos. My school, which is relatively new, has just begun to do that. The schools also use more bright colors, from the multi-colored locker bays to the painted hallways. The school buildings were distinct and made a statement. At Libanon Lyceum I was struck by the pride students have in their historical building. The significance of World War II is reflected in a plaque listing the names of their high school students killed during the war. I loved the inner courtyard garden at Het College Vos complete with a sculpture and live chicken. Oostvaarders had artwork painted on columns and walls and a mural on the stairwell which took us from the bowels of the earth to the heavens. (or maybe it was just the third floor)I was impressed by the freedom and responsibility that Dutch students have. When they are 16 they may smoke outside. Unlike my school, teachers are not assigned posts to monitor student behavior. The students sit where they like when it is time to eat, and leave school when they need to. The Dutch students were surprised when I told them that American student must have a parent physically sign them out, should they leave before the school dismissal time. I like that the Dutch students have a different schedule every day, and students do not necessarily start and end school at the same time. We have a more structured environment in the U.S. Like our U.S. schools, there is a room to send students to when they misbehave or come to class unprepared. The Dutch students seem better prepared to be independent. I think of how many American college students go wild when they are finally not being supervised by teachers and parents, because they have not learned to be responsible for themselves.
I was surprised by the instruction that I saw in the schools. Most of the desks were straightforward facing the blackboard. Sometimes the desks were put in small groups. American schools seem to emphasize more collaborative small group work and problem-solving. Having said that, the Dutch students probably cover more material. In the history class that I visited the teacher said it is typical to lecture and write notes on the board for the students to copy during the first 20 minutes. Then for the remainder of the 45 minute class, the students do reading and worksheets on the topic, followed by a review of the answers. The scope of his course was much grander than my history class. Because the Dutch schools have a three-tiered system, the higher levels seem to have a more traditional education. My lower-level students in the U.S. could never do seatwork nor listen for that extended amount of time.One of the most excited parts of the trip was how friendly the students and staff were. Teachers were genuinely interested in how we teach and structure our schools in the United States. The students were enthusiastic and had so many questions about America. It’s amazing to see how well the students speak English, as well as Dutch and a third language. It would be a fantastic opportunity for my students to see not only how much they have in common with Dutch students, but also the different approaches that both cultures take to education and other issues.


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