This semester, we had the opportunity to go to Rhode Island College’s 17th Annual Promising Practices Conference: Culturally Responsive Curricula in STEM. The conference was held on November 1, 2014. After finding out I had to spend my Saturday at RIC, I was definitely annoyed, but after attending the conference, my view had changed. I decided I would sign up for Making It Personal and Comedy in the Classroom. The description of each of these workshops seemed as if they would really help in making me a better educator. So, even though I hated that we had to wake up early on a Saturday, I was excited about learning something new about education and bettering myself.
The first workshop I attended was Making It Personal. This workshop was presented by Buddy Comet whom is the Dean of Pedagogy in Central Falls, and Karen Oliveira who is from the School of Social Work at Rhode Island College. The main idea of this workshop was personalized learning. Buddy used an example of his experiences working with self-contained high school students. He wanted to achieve a balance between individual autonomy and collaborative work, so his solution to that is station learning. In station learning, there are 5 or so stations set up that each focus on the same topic, the one we used during the workshop was slope. So, the students would go to each station in groups and would work there for some time and achieve an answer both individually and collaboratively. However, in order to achieve this, there are some things that need to be in place. The first thing is well written directions. The students who will be using this method of learning have a range of disabilities, so it is important to use clear and concise directions. As Delpit says, “If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier” (Delpit, p.25). Students, especially those with disabilities, need these codes in order to participate actively and successfully. The second thing that is needed for this foundation of teaching is that the students must have prior knowledge on the subject. The station learning method is used to strengthen their knowledge, not to teach a whole new subject. So, it is crucial that students are familiar with the subject, or they will be completely lost as they try and complete the activities at each station. The third aspect that must be implemented in order for this to work is to mix children. This means that in each group there must be some low performing students and some high performing students. This type of inclusion will help both the low performing students and the high performing students in various ways. In “Schooling Children With Down Syndrome” by Christopher Kliewer, he says that “school citizenship rejects the idea of a gap between normality and down syndrome, in the movement toward classroom membership, diversity is viewed as normal, people are considered of equal worth, relationships are of mutual benefit, and belonging is a central societal theme” (Kliewer, p. XX). The last major aspect of this is to create a safe space in the classroom. When it comes to children with disabilities, the classroom needs to be a safe place they can go to and feel 100% comfortable to learn and socialize. I couldn’t help but to think about Gerri August’s piece “Safe Spaces.” Though she mainly focuses on creating a safe environment for LGBT students, her main point can be applied to any classroom. Classrooms need to be a place where students can go and learn, and be successful while feeling like they belong and are welcomed. All of these things will make for a very successful method of inclusive learning. After Buddy closed his remarks on station learning, we were then introduced to Karen Oliveira and the work she does with the school of social work. College students who are involved in the school of social work have the opportunity to work with students who are suffering social/emotional problems usually due to trauma. While working with the kids they get to develop IEP goals and really just get to know the child and develop a personal relationship with them, all while teaching them. I really enjoyed hearing about this program because it seems like something that is really working for these troubled children. It was interesting to hear the various benefits of it such as an increase in school attendance, study habits and behavior habits.
The next workshop I made my way to was Comedy in the Classroom. I was so excited to take part in this workshop. It's focus was using comedy as a behavioral management technique. The description said that it would touch upon bullying, truancy, and multiplication. While waiting outside of the location for the workshop, I noticed that there were kids in the room – I was a little confused, but excited to see what was going to happen. Finally, the doors opened and we were able to go in and find out what we were going to be doing. The first thing I noticed was that the room was packed. There were a lot of adults and a lot of kids, I didn’t know where to look or what to think. We were then introduced to Corinne McKamey and Elizabeth Anne Keiser as well as Tall University kids who pretty much ran the workshop. Tall University, The innovative Transition through Arts Literacy Learning (TALL) project is designed to accelerate acquisition of English language skills for Central Falls English Language Learners and addresses students' English language proficiency through a variety of special events and activities. The district-wide TALL University project bridges the gap between limited language skills and learning by using teaching tools that integrate course content with the performing arts.The kids were hilarious, confident, and great at public speaking. As the workshop progressed, I grew more and more confused. We started by doing an icebreaker that took up the majority of the time and wasn’t too useful for me personally as an educator. The next half of the workshop was just as confusing and kind of wasteful. We were grouped with some of the students from Tall University and had to come up with a skit about math. Some were about dancing, some singing, and mine were sort of set up like a game show. For my skit, there were students who had to ask another set of students a question about math, and the students who were responding, had to answer in their own creative language. We then had to translate what they were saying. This again, confused me. The kids just kind of made loud noises and then we were left with trying to come up with cohesive answers to the questions. It just didn’t really make sense to me, and I was confused on how it would make me a better teacher. As the workshop closed, one of the speakers started to actually talk about education and teaching. With two minutes left of the workshop, she did say something that stuck with me, and that was, “It only takes one bad teacher to make school horrible.” I definitely thought that this was true, and I wish she started off with this discussion and then used the activities as a way to ensure that we, as future educators, wouldn’t be that one bad teacher. Overall, I just thought it was really unorganized and didn’t make a whole lot of sense, there was also no talking about how to manage bullying in the classroom. I was very disappointed in that because that is a huge thing in schools today, so it would have been interesting to see how to handle this in a light and comfortable way. This video shows what TALL University is all about according to Elizabeth Keiser and what the activities and exercises actually do to prevent bullying in the classroom.
After we have completed our workshops, we all had to head back to Donovan and listen to the keynote speaker – Chris Emdin. Dr.Emdin is an associate professor in the department of STEM at Columbia University. He was a great speaker and I felt like he was really relatable because of the way he spoke to us. It wasn’t too formal or stuffy which I really enjoyed. One of his major points that stuck out to me most was when he spoke about keeping students intrigued. Teachers need to find something that interests the students and incorporate it in the classroom so they stay engaged. I absolutely agree with this. It doesn’t take much for students to disengage and feel unconnected, so this is definitely something I will use as a future educator. Overall, I did learn a lot from my day at the Promising Practices conference. Even though I believe the workshops were poorly described, there are things I can take away from each that will help me in the future as a teacher.