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British International School vs. Traditional American School

One of the reasons I decided to student teach abroad was to experience the ways of a different school system, and to bring back new strategies, approaches, and style. I plan on doing all three!

Right away the biggest difference I noticed was the frequency of classes. Students take the same 45 minute class (Geography for example) twice a week, some meeting three times a week. The school year is set up into trimesters, so during a 10 week term the students only meet for a class on average 20-30 times! Very different from the 5 days a week schedule like in the U.S.

Students in year 9 (8th grade) have to choose a directed path for their next two years of study, called the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education). Final exams for GCSEs are taken at the end of year 11, where students then choose A-levels (Advanced Levels), courses of in-depth study that count for university entrance requirements. Students can take more than one A-level for the last few years of their secondary career, the average being around 4. So while a benefit to this approach is that students can choose their path and get a deeper look into a subject, criticisms are that it might be too focused for students to get the well-rounded education with many different subjects like in the U.S. for example.

On a lighter and less confusing note (I still don’t quite understand GCSEs and A-Levels!), one of the things I like here is that when students are given worksheets or other photocopies, they stick them into their workbooks! No more of the excuse “I lost my sheet…�? because that would entail loosing the whole workbook. However, teachers do need to be careful of flying glue sticks and using up time the students spend on meticulously cutting the edges so they fit--but either way, I like it!

For those of you freezing in Minnesota I'm happy to share that the weather in Madrid has stayed a pleasant 50-60 degrees, with only a few days of rain. But don't worry! I'll be back in the cold in just 27 days. :-)

For more information:
Wikipedia on GCSE
Wikipedia on A-Levels