Literacy Unbound: The Road to a Culminating Performance

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imageThis post is a follow-up to the previous one about Literacy Unbound, an arts education program. Adele Bruni, Brian Veprek, and Nathan Blom designed and planned this program at The Center for the Professional Education of Teachers (CPET), a not for profit organization operated at Teachers College. Literacy Unbound is a two-week program designed to help students and teachers interact with literature and informational text using the arts as a method to further analysis and understanding. I designed the picture to the left after exploring the themes in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, the novel chosen for this year’s program. (In the picture, Edna is walking into the water, casting off restraints and hoping to set sail and fly without restraints that seek to encumber her life). During the program, there were five teaching artists who helped us explore the motifs in the novel. The overall goal of the program was to create our own “play” for the culminating performance. During the performance, visual art was displayed, music was played, songs were sung, scenes were acted, monologues were performed, and both choreographers and dancers danced.

Firstly, we explored dance and movement from various character viewpoints. We moved according to the ideas of some of the characters and we designed dances based on our interpretations of the characters thoughts and actions. For example, we knew that Edna Pontillier, the protagonist in the story, was seeking to break barriers. As a result, we designed group movement that illustrated her breaking free from a cube, while others tried to hold her back.

Secondly, we explored remixing poetry, music, and sound. We explored a section of the text and found music and poetry that related to it. We were exposed to soundscaping, a technique that is great for remixing sounds and music to further interpretation. We then combined a few lines from the text, with the found music and poetry, and remixed it with our own.  Some of the participants shared their work and remixed other work that was shared in subsequent days.

Thirdly, we worked in groups and individually to create many pieces of visual art. We were told to work individually in our group. We could not discuss our work with the group members while we were creating. After each group was done, we were allowed to talk to each group member and the other members of the other groups. Subsequently, we put all the pieces of group work together to visually tell the story of The Awakening.

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Edna swims against the current.

Lastly, one of the artists helped us understand the music in the novel. Music is an essential part of the novel. We listened to music and created movement based on our understanding of it. The following invitation to create bests illustrates some of the work we were asked to create concerning music. image

Invitation to Create

“Can you think of a particular piece of music that you love? hate? Can you recall your earliest memory of that piece of music? What specific event may have shaped your relationship with that piece of music? What may have caused your relationship with this piece of music to change? What other senses might that piece of music arouse? Visual images? Smells? Are there people or places associated with it? Does it elicit a physical response of some type?”

During the last week of the Institute, we made decisions on the work to be included in our play and the order of each piece to be performed. We each had to give up “ownership” of the work. Just because we created the work did not mean that we would perform it. We adjusted quickly and easily to that decision because we wanted our performance to go smoothly. We spent two full days practicing in addition to other times as the performance day neared. It was somewhat stressful because most of us were in multiple scenes and we had to memorize and perform our scenes. Many people were invited to our performance.

Roberta Kang, one of the workers at CPET, wrote a two-page letter to us commending our performance and its outcome. She states, “Your work has been artful. Each year has been a different experience for the Literacy Unbound Company, but I knew approximately what to expect…” Roberta further opined on the performance when she said, “Let me be clear about this: I had pretty high expectations. When I first talked with Adele about this year’s program, I squealed with delight about The Awakening. I read the book in my High School AP English class and it was one of those texts that I hated, until I understood more about the historical implications of a woman’s life at that time. It was one of the first books that I hated, and then loved. And now, I love this text. And I believe in the vision of Literacy Unbound, and the expertise of the facilitators. I knew it was going to be a good show. And that it would be meaningful to you as (I hoped) you were inspired by the experience.” Furthermore, Roberta stated that “As players, you didn’t just remix or retell the story, you embodied the tension of a life without options, and I felt my own opinion of Edna transforming before my eyes.” Roberta’s emotional connection with the text was the outcome we were looking for from the audience, especially if one was familiar with the text. We aimed to prompt others to read or reread the text.

The day after the performance, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to participate in a make-believe art auction. We were given the titles and artists of various pieces of art. We then had to look for the art and make arguments why a particular character from the book (we were assigned a character) would purchase the art work. We then had to bid on the work with the fictitious money we were allotted.

Lastly, Literacy Unbound, a truly transformative education program, has changed my pedagogical approach. It has the ability to transform both the teacher and the student. Infusing art into a curriculum that otherwise would be lackluster is a way of thoroughly engaging a diverse student body.

 

 

 

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The Awakening: Literacy Unbound

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imageCurrently for two weeks, I am participating in program, Literacy Unbound, at Teachers College, Columbia University. The program’s intent is to bring  literature to life through the infusion of art modalities into the analysis of a text. Near the end if the program, all of the participants perform pieces collectively, then we debrief, and plan the next steps for integrating the ideas into our daily practice. We were given a novel, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, to read. We were also encouraged to reread the text to further our analysis. The Awakening, a previously banned book published in 1899, is the story of Edna, a married woman who seeks to find herself while having two brief affairs. She dreams of a better life without her husband and children. She lives during an era in which her behaviors are not sanctioned. At the end of the text, she drowns herself, in pursuit of becoming her own woman. The text offers much “food for thought” and is the perfect book for an art infused curriculum. After reading the text, we were given twenty invitations to create something via different modalities that relate to the analysis of portions of the text. For example, here are two invitations that were given to us:

INVITATION TO CREATE #9, June 23

“She slept but a few hours. They were troubled and feverish hours, disturbed with dreams that were intangible, that eluded her, leaving only an impression upon her half-awakened senses of something unattainable.” (XII)

What does Edna dream?

INVITATION TO CREATE #10, June 24

“Impossible!” she exclaimed. “How can a person start off from Grand Isle to Mexico at a moment’s notice, as if he were going over to Klein’s or to the wharf or down to the beach?”

“I said all along I was going to Mexico; I’ve been saying so for years!” cried Robert, in an excited and irritable tone, with the air of a man defending himself against a swarm of stinging insects.
Madame Lebrun knocked on the table with her knife handle.
“Please let Robert explain why he is going, and why he is going to-night,” she called out. (XV)

Please let Robert explain why he is going, and why he is going to-night.

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Below are my responses. The first response to the first invitation is a remix of two of Langston Hughes’s poems with words/ phrases from The Awakening and my own words. The second is a monologue that I created based on the second invitation. The third is a monologue that I created based (an additional invitation to write a monologue based on one of the voiceless characters) on the silence of the nurse, called the “quadroon.” Yes, the black characters are voiceless!

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Edna’s Dream

What happens to Edna’s dreams?

To fling her arms wide in the face of the sun

Intangible dreams that aren’t easily won

To dance whirl, whirl ’til the man’s world is done

And rest beside the sea when a new day has begun

 

What happens to Edna’s dreams?

Do her dreams of self-possession leave a lasting impression?

Or dry up like a raisin in the sun

And awaken her senses like a harsh lesson

Do they taste sweet as sugar and then run?

 

What happens to Edna’s dreams?

Edna’s dream may elude her today

But her dreams will one day bud like a flower

In the cool of the early morning May

Wiping away all of her sorrow tomorrow.

 

For her dreams will invigorate the masses

As they serve to liberate all classes.

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Robert Speaks

“Edna, I don’t know how to explain. This is a difficult conversation. Let me begin at the beginning. For days, we have talked. I have sat at your feet listening to you talk. I feel as if I’ve known you for years- that we seem connected in some way. There were so many things that I could have done, but I wanted, no I needed to spend time with you. I’ve enjoyed  our conversations and I see the beauty in everything that you say. But that’s the problem. You see, Edna. I know that I have developed some unspoken fondness for you. Every time, we see each other, it stirs up some emotion, some feeling that can never be uttered. I should not even be saying what I’m saying. I don’t want to be the source of interference in your marriage. Please understand me. I must put some physical and some emotional distance between us. I know that I have spoken about Mexico. You see, I have been thinking about this for a while. I must leave with no misgivings. There is no other way. People may talk. Your husband, your family……What will they think? I may never forget you, but I can’t cause you to be scandalized,  to lose everything because of me. If I’m in Mexico, there is no way that I will act out those feelings. Please understand, Edna. I need you to understand. Your status in the community is very important to me and I will never jeopardize it. If you never hear from me again, just know that you will never be forgotten. Goodbye, Edna.”

The Nurse Speaks

My day was long and hard. I took care of the two children, but Mrs. Pontilier acted as if I was not around. She kept making me feel as if I were in the way, as if I didn’t matter. In fact, she used me to dress them, to brush and comb their hair. I have to brush and part their hair everyday. Have you ever heard of such a thing? One thing I noticed, was that those children love me. They cling to me. Mrs. Pontillier has to pry them away from me. But my day was long today especially because she forced me to sit for hours before her palette, patient as a savage, while the housemaid took charge of the children, and the drawing room went undusted. Something strange happened while I was her model. She kept singing, “Ah! Si tu savais/ ce que tes yeux me disent* ” over and over again. I asked her what it meant. She wouldn’t tell me, but I asked one of her guests. That woman said, “If you knew.” Then I said “I don’t know.” Then she said again, “If you only knew.” But, I said again, ” But, I don’t. One day I will know what it means. It keeps playing in my head. I’m tired. Honey, please give me a cool drink of lemonade so that I can sit in this rocking chair and relax.

*Oh if you knew/ what your eyes do to me

Next week, I’ll follow-up with visual art I created. Comments are welcomed.

Going Green

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BeFunky Design1

According to Ziegeran “Technology has the power to transform the learning process in ways that reimagine learning and bring about systems change.” My main focus for the 2016-2017 school year is to eliminate most and possibly all of my paper consumption in the math classes I teach. I am challenging myself to utilize Microsoft One Note for my two math classes.

Microsoft OneNote helps with organization, curriculum delivery, interactive lessons, and class collaboration. In order to be successful with this new change, it requires preparation and good organization skills. I want to use OneNote as a daily station in my classroom that pairs with an interactive lesson. My second station will always be a teacher station where I will be using either manipulatives or OneNote and my third station will continue to be Dreambox.

Switching to Microsoft OneNote comes with pros and cons. I hope to be able to work out any problems as time progresses.

Cons

#1 Making sure that I have content in my notebook/library at all times;

#2 Ensuring creativity on my part and the ability for students to be creative;

#3 Having working technology all the time;

#4 Having good quality styli;

#5 The fortitude to persevere when I feel like this is too much and paper seems so easy to grab and copy.

Pros: Microsoft OneNote in the classroom and similar programs are the future of our ever changing classrooms. While pencil and paper has its benefits, we are moving to a more technologically advanced society in which the skills they learn in my classroom will better prepare them for the future. My students will still have opportunities to pick up a trusty pencil but will spend the majority of their time picking up their trusty stylus!

If you want to hear from teachers who are already using OneNote, I have attached the video below. I plan to update how OneNote plays out for me in the classroom as time goes on.

OneNote for Educators

Are you using OneNote or a similar program in your classroom? Would you like to join me in going green this year? I would love feedback on this topic.

Helping Children Develop Social and Emotional Learning

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Bonding during an activity

In a culture of education reform, educators have tried numerous solutions to increase the academic performance of children. Often, with new administrations, teachers are inundated with new educational programs that guarantee that children will learn and reach the academic standards that have been implemented for every academic discipline. In addition, every school has to achieve and maintain certain standards in order to be in compliance with federal regulations, state standards or with the Common Core Standards of Learning. Additionally, schools have high stakes testing which often forces teachers to focus on academic competencies while neglecting other areas of a child’s development. In a climate in which there is an increase in negative and violent behavior, educators are realizing that for academic success to occur, the social and emotional needs of our children must be addressed. In support of this concept is the development of an educational process that addresses the social and emotional development of children. Social emotional learning (SEL) is a process that helps children reach their full development in a caring environment. SEL is the process of acquiring the skills to recognize and manage emotions, develop caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations effectively. If students acquire these skills, then their academic learning will increase. Educational theorists and researchers have shown that teaching these skills will enable the whole child to be successful emotionally, socially and educationally; however, the support of the leadership is critical to the success of such a program.

The social and emotional development of children is essential to the academic development of children so that they can actualize their total potential. Children reach their full development in social interaction with adult guidance. Learning is inherently social. If we fail to recognize this truth, the social and emotional needs of children will be ignored. Children need to be taught these life skills. In addition, emotion drives attention, which drives memory and learning. Emotional and social learning must intersect for the benefit of children and education. These areas include accepting and controlling emotions, using metacognitive activities, using activities that promote social interaction, and providing activities that have an emotional context. If children lack these behavioral competencies, social and emotional dysfunction will develop and persist. These behaviors are manifested in the form of social withdrawal, anxiety and depression, attention and thinking problems and aggressive and delinquent behaviors. These behaviors can result in poor academic performance.

An optimal SEL program begins early, is age appropriate, and continues throughout the education of the child. It also intertwines the efforts of school, community and home. Although, it should begin early in a child’s life, it can begin later. Intervention at any age is critical to the whole development of children. Thus, if children of high school age have not heretofore received education that focuses on life skills, they still can benefit from its introduction into the curriculum. SEL encompasses and is consistent with many movements in educational reform, providing a framework for many educational theories and educational legislation.  Social emotional learning provides evidence based instruction, anti-drug education and the promotion of high academic standards.

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Ashley and Wendella have great character!

Lastly, programs and activities that help develop social emotional learning must have components that teach resilience, relationship building, collaboration, team work, grit, and goal setting. Often students do not want to work with others because sometimes there is an imbalance in the volume of work that each student performs. If the students are made to feel responsible for each other and for the total outcome, then they will work better together. They can learn to collaborate with others and set goals for the group.  Teachers must periodically check to see if the students are reaching their goals and if there are any setbacks.  Encouragement is key to the success of the students. Some activities can be non academic. For example, schools can schedule a field day or a barbecue to facilitate teamwork. Never underestimate the power of “play.” Children can learn to play chess and play checkers as a way of teaching grit.  Students can, therefore, learn how struggle often promotes success. Failure should not be seen as a negative, but as a positive step toward achieving success. In my experience, students with the best social and emotional skills, achieve success at higher rates than those lacking these skills.

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Teamwork

For implementation to be successful, school leaders must support this initiative by engaging the faculty, the staff and the community in the process. Engaging these constituencies in the decision making produces ownership. Otherwise the faculty and staff will believe that the program is another imposed educational reform. Everyone in the learning community should help develop a shared vision of SEL for implementation and sustainability. It does take a village to raise a child. For further development, read Paul Tough’s latest book, Helping Children Succeed and his previous book, How Children Succeed.

Creative Engagement: Performing Shakespeare

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Workshop with the Royal Shakespeare Company

This year I had the pleasure of introducing performance based Shakespeare to all of my students. My seniors and I participated in a three month residency with a teaching artist (TA) from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). My sophomores and juniors, however, had a much more limited program with two teaching artists from the Classic Stage Company (CSC). To prepare my students for their final shares at either BAM or at our school, my students read and performed many edited scenes from either Othello or from the Henriad (Henry IV Part One, Henry IV Part Two, and Henry V). During the last month of the residency, we had seven members of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) conduct two – one hour workshops with my kids. The RSC, the teaching artist, and I worked on voice projection, tableau, scene interpretation, analysis, gesture, countenance, and movement. BAM’s program began with a pre survey to determine the potential impact of the program. The BAM teaching artist came in once a week for a total of fourteen times and the two artists from the CSC worked in tandem five times. Because the artists from CSC had limited time, they worked on tableaux and scene interpretation. Each artist’s program included warm up activities to acclimate the students to the artistic demands. The artists worked on the artistry while I helped with reading, analysis, encouragement, interpretation, memorization, and speaking. I reinforced the skills that the TA taught. With the help of the TAs, we achieved success. To prepare myself for the intellectual and pedagogical rigor, I participated in a conference with representatives from the RSC, the Folger Shakespeare Library, Ohio State University, and BAM. Moreover, I enrolled in a BAM sponsored professional development program with the Folger Shakespeare Library.

To prepare my students for success with our end of year Shakespeare culmination, I started teaching at the beginning of the year social-emotional skills (teamwork, collaboration, and tenacity) as well as the academic skills needed for success. I started requiring the students to write and perform poetry, and to perform edited scenes from Romeo and Juliet. I held them each accountable to the members in their group. They had to assist and encourage each other, and to memorize dialogue, a skill to which most of them were unaccustomed. Not everyone was willing to speak in front of a group for fear of ridicule. I encouraged them throughout the year. Furthermore, I had a number of students apply for after school performing arts programs. These programs helped develop my students’ public speaking ability and helped allay their fears. They also formed friendships with like-minded individuals. Moreover, I developed relationships with all of my students, even the cantankerous ones! By having a relationship with them and through encouragement, the students were able to succeed. From the first day of class, the expectations were set. Never once did I lower the expectation. The students had several opportunities to perform throughout the school year. With each performance, their comfort and skill level increased. Some students with IEPs outperformed some of the general education students. Two of my English language learners excelled throughout the year. The ESL teacher assisted in helping the ELLs with the text and with memorization.

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Fight scene with Hotspur and Prince Hal and their men

As the students achieved success at various junctures, I increased the level of expectation. Students often complained about the level of work.  Many students felt that the work was too difficult and that they were not capable of  meeting my expectations. I, however, told my students that they were more than capable of rising to the level of my expectation. I began to chart the progress of my students. Seventy-three percent of my students met or exceeded my expectations. The others fell short because of a lack of effort, poor attendance, or social emotional issues.

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Emilia confronts Iago and Othello w/ Gratiano

Last week was the culmination of our art’s program. We performed selected scenes from the Henriad as well as from Othello either at BAM or at our school. My children as well as the audience loved the experience and each was thoroughly engaged throughout.  Thirty-five students out of forty-seven students performed at BAM.  Seventy percent of my juniors and seniors performed at the school. During this time, I saw students, many of whom were normally reluctant to engage in conventional lessons, shine brightly.  These students took to Shakespeare like it was bread and butter. They enjoyed performing their scenes using gestures and interpretive voice During this last year, I have never seen my students more engaged.  As a result of the program, my students learned the following skills: textual and thematic analysis, textual interpretation, collaboration, teamwork, strategies for success, goal setting, and synergy.  In addition, this year, they were exposed to up to five Shakespearean plays in which they read many scenes from each play.

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Katherine, Henry V, baby, and chorus

Lastly, we ended BAM’s program with a reflection on the entire program. Next year, I will work on voice projection because a number of students still struggle with it. I will also have them interpret poetry more often to better prepare them. During the reflection, the students completed post surveys to determine the impact of the program on their academic and social-emotional development. In addition to reading and analyzing challenging Shakespearean texts, my students learned skills that will help them succeed in other endeavors. The students thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. They stated that this experience is something that they will always remember. The volume of work and the personal sacrifice was worth it for me and for my students. What we all gained is immeasurable. Seeing the level of engagement and their commitment brought me immense joy. One student said that I was like his favorite song and that he throughly enjoyed his experience this year. I echo that. Teaching these students was a melody to my ears.

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Permission to photograph was given and is used for educational purposes only.

Critical Thinking

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critical-thinking

“I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.” Socrates

Critical thinking is when we engage with an idea in order to form both an analysis and an evaluation of the idea. It fosters independent thought that allows us to make personal connections to ideas, to our lives and to the world. Without critical thinking we lack the ability to think beyond ideas previously presented to us. Is there a consequence for having a dearth of these skills or a reward for having them? In an era in which everything is instant and in which answers can easily be googled, is there an incentive to think? What’s the incentive for spending hours writing when answers, or more importantly the answers of others, their thoughts, and opinions can be accessed in seconds. How does this lack of thinking play out in the classroom? It creates impatient students who feel as as if teachers are not  helping them when a question goes unanswered. This impatience is reflected in the parent emails that say, “My child is complaining that you aren’t helping him/her in class.” The downcast countenance of students who feel as if they are incapable of resolving a problem on their own exemplify this problem. In this technological age, what would Socrates say? How are teachers able to get their students to think critically?

Despite the struggle, teachers who want their students to do well should spend time developing critical thinkers. When I look at my own top performing students and that of others, I realize that bright students are critical thinkers. Not only do they have the capacity to think critically, but because of this critical thinking, they are able to be flexible with their thinking. I find that students who are both taught and supplied answers are less flexible in their thinking. They are often seen choosing an incorrect answer while knowing it’s incorrect. Their rigidity will not let them pick the unknown answer simply because it’s unknown or because they did not hear the teacher provide explicit instruction. They struggle with process of elimination because they have a difficult time processing new answers or words they have not seen before as possible correct solutions.

Teaching critical thinking in the classroom is an essential skill that is part of sound pedagogical practice. The classroom environment, however, must be conducive to creating original thought, the cornerstone to producing critical thinking. Students must feel comfortable expressing themselves and must be encouraged to support their own ideas grounded in sound reasoning and evidence. Individuality must be exhorted, allowing for students to either agree or disagree with their peers’ ideas, thoughts, and opinions. One technique that develops critical thinking is Socratic Seminars, a pedagogical approach that evolves from natural organic conversations versus scripted facilitation cards and unnatural shifts in conversation because the teacher wants to target a predetermined point. If Socratic Seminars are used correctly, students can develop critical analysis at each level of their education.

To further develop critical thinking, students need a wide variety of knowledge in order to connect ideas to larger concepts. Reading informational texts including broadsheet newspapers, essays, and news magazines will develop the knowledge necessary for critical thinking. Let’s encourage our students to read and analyze more fiction and nonfiction texts and watch them soar to great heights. Use alternative assessments that call for original thought instead of a regurgitation of information.

Ponder the following quote from Daniel T. Willingham’s, Critical Thinking, Why Is It So Hard To Teach?

 

critical thinking is not a set of skills that

can be deployed at any time, in any context. It is a type

of thought that even 3-year-olds can engage in—and

even trained scientists can fail in. And it is very much

dependent on domain knowledge and practice.”

What are your thoughts on critical thinking and building background knowledge?

 

Critical Thinking

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critical-thinking

“I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.” Socrates

Critical thinking is when we engage with an idea in order to form both an analysis and an evaluation of the idea. It fosters independent thought that allows us to make personal connections to ideas, to our lives and to the world. Without critical thinking we lack the ability to think beyond ideas previously presented to us. Is there a consequence for having a dearth of these skills or a reward for having them? In an era in which everything is instant and in which answers can easily be googled, is there an incentive to think? What’s the incentive for spending hours writing when answers, or more importantly the answers of others, their thoughts, and opinions can be accessed in seconds. How does this lack of thinking play out in the classroom? It creates impatient students who feel as as if teachers are not  helping them when a question goes unanswered. This impatience is reflected in the parent emails that say, “My child is complaining that you aren’t helping him/her in class.” The downcast countenance of students who feel as if they are incapable of resolving a problem on their own exemplify this problem. In this technological age, what would Socrates say? How are teachers able to get their students to think critically?

Despite the struggle, teachers who want their students to do well should spend time developing critical thinkers. When I look at my own top performing students and that of others, I realize that bright students are critical thinkers. Not only do they have the capacity to think critically, but because of this critical thinking, they are able to be flexible with their thinking. I find that students who are both taught and supplied answers are less flexible in their thinking. They are often seen choosing an incorrect answer while knowing it’s incorrect. Their rigidity will not let them pick the unknown answer simply because it’s unknown or because they did not hear the teacher provide explicit instruction. They struggle with process of elimination because they have a difficult time processing new answers or words they have not seen before as possible correct solutions.

Teaching critical thinking in the classroom is an essential skill that is part of sound pedagogical practice. The classroom environment, however, must be conducive to creating original thought, the cornerstone to producing critical thinking. Students must feel comfortable expressing themselves and must be encouraged to support their own ideas grounded in sound reasoning and evidence. Individuality must be exhorted, allowing for students to either agree or disagree with their peers’ ideas, thoughts, and opinions. One technique that develops critical thinking is Socratic Seminars, a pedagogical approach that evolves from natural organic conversations versus scripted facilitation cards and unnatural shifts in conversation because the teacher wants to target a predetermined point. If Socratic Seminars are used correctly, students can develop critical analysis at each level of their education.

To further develop critical thinking, students need a wide variety of knowledge in order to connect ideas to larger concepts. Reading informational texts including broadsheet newspapers, essays, and news magazines will develop the knowledge necessary for critical thinking. Let’s encourage our students to read and analyze more fiction and nonfiction texts and watch them soar to great heights. Use alternative assessments that call for original thought instead of a regurgitation of information.

Ponder the following quote from Daniel T. Willingham’s, Critical Thinking, Why Is It So Hard To Teach?

 

critical thinking is not a set of skills that

can be deployed at any time, in any context. It is a type

of thought that even 3-year-olds can engage in—and

even trained scientists can fail in. And it is very much

dependent on domain knowledge and practice.”

What are your thoughts on critical thinking and building background knowledge?

 

The Embodiment of Arts Education

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Note: This post should be read in tandem with the next post!

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Folger Shakespeare Library

As a strict proponent of arts education, I have had the pleasure of working with teaching artists many times. To facilitate arts education, teaching artists from partnering cultural institutions come into a classroom to assist a teacher with a predetermined project implementation. Arts education programs can be used at both the elementary and secondary levels. The goal is to infuse either visual or performing arts into the curriculum as a vehicle for increasing engagement. This year, I had four teaching artists for three separate programs assist me with performance based  education. Both programs exceeded my expectations.

The first program this year was the Brooklyn Reads program designed by the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). It involved a teaching artist coming into my classroom eight times during a two month program. Jennifer, the teaching artist,  employed various techniques to assist the students with writing poems. Moreover, we read poems to which they could relate. We worked on delivery of their poems and the spoken word. It resulted in the encouragement of students to participate in our poetry slam in front of a live audience of their peers and of their teachers. Moreover, as part of the program, three students were chosen to go to BAM and have their poems videotaped for possible selection in BAM’s annual poetry slam. Students from other participating schools also had the same opportunity. After all of the poems were recorded, they were uploaded on BAM’s website for students and adults to vote for their favorite poets. Although it was not necessarily a contest for the students determined to be the best poets, it was an opportunity for the winners to be coached and to work with professional artists. Experience is the best teacher. This year, like last year, one of my students represented our school, and performed with other artists for four performances. My student, Rosemary, was full of ebullience; her performance was something that she will always remember. Many of my students went to see her daytime performance, and applauded her work.

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Scene from Henry IV

Additionally, for teaching Shakespeare, I had teaching artists from two partnering institutions, The Classic Stage Company and BAM (once again), assist me in getting students ready with performances of Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Shakespeare’s Henry IV trilogy (this post will focus on Othello and on Romeo and Juliet). We worked on tableaux, status interpretation, movement, voice, and scene interpretation. The culminating event will be the performance of selected scenes both at the partnering institutions with other program participants and at our school. Students were given the opportunity to see The Young Acting Company’s performance of Othello and The Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of Henry V. After the performance of Othello there was a talkback in which students were allowed and encouraged to ask questions. They were then allowed on stage to participate in “Shakespearean insults.” The level of excitement was extremely high. My other classes, after watching Henry V, participated in an online conversation, via Google Hangouts, with three artists from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Combining art with technology engaged the students even more. As part of the program, the Royal Shakespeare Company also led a workshop to assist students with both voice projection and focus. During the latter part of the series of lessons, the students worked on performance.

Currently, they are working on their performances of selected scenes from the trilogy All of the preliminary work of reading comprehension, interpretation, and analysis of the texts has been completed. Selected scenes, depending on ability levels, can be read. My  students have five scheduled performances during May of 2016- three outside of the school, and two within it. Only two were part of the program, but because of their level of engagement, additional performances were scheduled. I will keep you posted (really no pun intended). After the performances, my students will watch selected scenes on DVD from the RSC’s performances of each play in the trilogy and comparatively analyze those scenes with “Hollow Crown,” a British series based on the trilogy.

Give arts education a try. It will engage students, and get them out of their comfort zones. To incorporate this type of program into your school, seek out a not for profit arts institution that has a program, and then apply. The fees vary, but larger established institutions tend to cost less. If your principal will not financially support this idea, seek out donorschoose.org for funding. Take some professional development to educate yourself on this topic.

Lastly, many of these institutions also have arts education programs after school or on weekends. Help students apply. Both you and the students will be richly rewarded.

Creative Engagement with Romeo and Juliet

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Me, my students, and Jen,  my teaching artist, with members of the Royal Shakespeare Company

This lesson is a sample of the types of arts activities spoken about in the previous post.

After participating in the Folger Summer Academy, I decided that my students should engage in performance based activities so that they would not feel as if reading Shakespeare were an insurmountable monumental task. During the Academy, we were given many activities that would help break down the language so that the students would better understand the texts.

At the beginning of the school year, I began teaching Romeo and Juliet to my seniors, because almost all of them had never read any Shakespearean texts (only one had been previously exposed to it). After reading an edited version of Romeo and Juliet, I, along with my teaching artist, Jennifer, decided to engage in a written creative activity for the students that helped them to analyze the texts’ characters and, therefore, write a campaign advertisement as if one of the characters in the text were running for the position of Prince. To help prepare the students for the activity, we revisited several scenes in the text and had the students perform edited versions of the text. Performing the scenes increased their analysis of the characters. The students examined the attributes of the following characters: Mercutio, Benvolio, Tybalt, Romeo, the Nurse, Juliet, Lord Capulet, Lady Capulet, and Lord Montague. The Prince would no longer be the incumbent, because he decided not rerun. Each of these characters was still alive, and eligible as a candidate. Another activity to familiarize the students with the language was reviewing the list of insults. It was irrelevant that they did not know the meaning of many of the words. The words were clearly insulting, but they realized that they could have fun with Shakespearean language

As a result of these two activities, we felt that the students were ready for writing a campaign advertisement that would allow for creativity, analysis, and performance. The students were told that their advertisement campaign could be either positive or negative, or a combination of both. They had to maintain the attributes of each character according to the text, and use information from the text to support their campaign. The campaign could be in the form of a monologue, a poem, a song, or any creative format that maintained the integrity of the assignment. Lastly, they had to recite (several days later) their advertisement in front of the class. Below is a sampling of what the students wrote.

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Jermain reading his campaign ad

Vote for Romeo

I am Romeo, son of Montague. I want to be the new king of Verona. I am well known throughout Verona as a well- governed and virtuous youth. I wish to end the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets in order to restore peace in Verona. The Capulets may be hard headed foes, but I believe that through compromise we can end this feud. Although my wife, Juliet, is the daughter of the Capulets, I still love her despite our family’s dispute. It shows how far I will go to satisfy the needs of the people. Vote for me, Romeo!

Vote for Montague

Vote for Montague,

The one who gives respect to our fellow men and women

The one who keeps the streets from rat catchers

from the King of Cats and tyrants like Tybalt

Don’t vote for Capulet, the tyrant who disrespected

His daughter Juliet

He called her a disobedient wretch and baggage

This is a man I wouldn’t want in office.

Vote for Montague, for everlasting peace

Vote for love because we learned to love our enemies

 

Vote for me- Juliet Capulet

My name is Juliet Capulet. I am thirteen years old and I believe in love and in the pursuit of happiness. I know that in this day and age many times we as individuals are not able to choose whom we love. Many times we can’t even choose what we want to be. It’s almost as if social customs and family ties are the only things that matter. Although I am young, I have found the man I want to be with for the rest of my life; however, we are unable to be together due to social views and an old grudge. I believe that anyone should have the right to be as happy as is possible to achieve. You should be able to love whomever you want without having to worry over an arranged marriage or social customs. If I am able to win this election, my biggest concern would be love, and the choice of the heart. Vote for me, Juliet Capulet, keeper of love.

 

 

The Vision Forward Team

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Rosa (L) and Deirdre (R) in New York

My sister, Rosa Derricott, and I created this blog to both inspire and encourage teachers and parents to develop an approach to education with maximum results in student preparedness toward becoming college and career ready. One of our goals is also to help our learning community develop a growth mindset by eradicating the fixed mindset, and by moving the learning communities’ vision forward, reducing any hindrances to seeing clearly. Rosa teaches in Virginia, an adherent to their Standards of Learning (SOL) and I teach in New York City, a follower of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). As a result, we will reference the standards as they apply to our communities, although some of the standards may intersect.

Both my education and my life experience allow me to use different approaches to education. As a graduate of James Madison University, Brooklyn College, Temple University School of Law ( I used to practice law), and Bank Street College of Education, I hope to discuss diverse education topics. Certified in English education, in educational leadership, and in guidance and counseling, I desire to offer a unique perspective concerning various educational topics implemented at the secondary level. Having taught only in large urban communities, my blog posts will be centered around the unique challenges that a diverse educational community brings. Additionally, I will focus on social-emotional learning, and its impact on the learning community. As an English teacher, I specialize in bringing literature to life in an attempt to encourage students to develop a love for literature. I also help students, through interdisciplinary learning, to desire to read informational texts so that they have a vast repertoire of knowledge to bring to other texts.

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The best learning is often experiential. My students and I had dinner together recently before our trip to see an opera ballet, “Les Fetes Vénitiennes.” Parental permission for this photo was granted and is used for educational purposes only.

My sister, Rosa, is a certified elementary education teacher in Campbell County, Virginia. She studied psychology and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. Subsequently, using Applied Behavioral Analysis (A.B.A.), she worked at the Faison School for Autism in Richmond, Virginia in which she assisted in teaching students with autism. She has worked at other schools and privately provided A.B.A. services and additional services to students with disabilities. After achieving great success, she attended and graduated from Hofstra University with a Master’s degree in elementary education. After graduation, she worked for the Presbyterian Home in Lynchburg, Virginia. Currently, a regular education fifth grade teacher, Rosa is a big proponent of incorporating technology to aid in instruction. Her primary focus will be on championing change in teacher preparation courses and inspiring teachers across all grade levels to become masters in the art of teaching.

We are looking forward to engaging with you and we welcome your comments and your input.