Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Interviews

Oswaldo Malave, assistant principal, P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts, Brooklyn, New York

Leonore Gordon, visiting writer, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Brooklyn, New York

Allison Sicuranza, first-grade teacher, P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts, Brooklyn, New York

Goldie Rich, African strand team leader, P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts, Brooklyn, New York

Oswaldo Malave
Oswaldo Malave has been an assistant principal for 15 years. He has a bachelor’s degree from Queens College, a master’s degree in education from City College, and a professional diploma in education administration and supervision from Pace University. He received his training in the arts primarily on the job and through workshops, such as those provided by the Center for Arts Education in New York.

Q. How are visiting artists selected for the arts residencies?

A. The writers are selected by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative. When the program began in 1996, we didn’t know the writers they sent. At the end of that first residency, the teachers decided which writers would return. The writers who have been most successful over the years have been those who have a good rapport with the students, are familiar with classroom management, know how to relate to children, are considerate of classroom procedures, are available for meetings, and are able to communicate with children as teachers rather than as professional writers.

Q. Please list the visiting writers and their classes in a typical year.

A. [They include the following:]

Leonore Gordon, visiting writer, Teachers & Writers Collaborative

  • First grade, African strand, three classrooms
  • Fifth grade, Native American strand, three classrooms
  • Sixth grade, jazz music strand, three classrooms

Dave Johnson, visiting writer, Teachers & Writers Collaborative:

  • First grade, African strand, three classrooms
  • Third grade, Asian strand, three classrooms
  • Third grade, Flamenco strand, three classrooms

Andrea del Conte, Flamenco dancer, Lotus Music & Dance

  • Third grade, Flamenco strand, three classrooms

Caren Plummer, visiting dance artist, Lotus Music & Dance

  • First grade, African strand, six classrooms

The New York City Opera also conducts a strand for four fourth-grade classes. These are somewhat different, because the opera sends different artists to work with the children for four or five sessions.

Q. How are visiting artists matched with the classes and teacher with which they will work?

A. Artists and classes are matched by grade and strand. For example, the first grade has an African strand, so it gets an African dancer. Sometimes a writer doesn’t feel comfortable working with the younger children. If that happens, we will give the writer an older grade. As the strand is determined by grade level, a writer who would request an older group would therefore be working with whatever strand that grade was doing.

Q. What kinds of training do classroom teachers and visiting artists receive before they start working together?

A. The first year of the program, we had intensive training for the artists, including a retreat, with workshops for teachers and artists. The second year, we had less funding and therefore less training, but as the same core of artists were returning, the same intensive level of training was not necessary. We did have on-site training for the new artists with the program, in which we discussed what the program was about and what we expected.

Before every strand, we bring the artist and teacher together for a 45-minute meeting — a dialogue in which they exchange expectations and ideas. We don’t throw an artist into a classroom with no preparation. Teachers and artists meet weekly to discuss what they will be doing and how they can work together.

In the case of a visiting dancer, she might say, “Today I will be doing this step, that step.” The classroom teacher might have the children write a story, and the artist will tie in the dance to their stories: What step will go well with this particular part? How can we do a dance step to this line or phrase?

If the artist is a writer, she might tell the classroom teacher, “These are the poems I will be reciting, this is what we will be expecting the children to do, and this is how you can help me.” All the writers have been with us since the beginning, so by now they come in and know exactly what to do.

Q. Please explain how the visits are scheduled. How many sessions with the artist does each class receive?

A. Currently, there are eight weeks in a residency, down from 12 weeks before budget cuts. Artists meet with each class once a week. Sessions are typically scheduled on Wednesday or Friday afternoons.

Q. How many residencies does each class have in a typical year?

A. Each class has at least two residencies per year — one with a writer and one with a dancer or other artist. There is a performance at the end of each strand.

Q. Who decides the content of the artists’ lessons? Who decides what the final project will be?

A. The artist decides in collaboration with the teachers. There’s a strand meeting with the artist, classroom teachers, and a team leader on each of the days that the visiting artist comes in — either at lunchtime or after school. They will discuss the lesson plan, content, and how to integrate the material into various subject areas or with standards.

Q. Does the dance program at P.S. 156 satisfy the state and national standards for physical education? If not, how do you meet these standards, since at your school dance replaces physical education?

A. Most of the physical education standards are taught through the dance activities. If we were unable to meet a standard, it usually was because we lacked the facility, such as a gymnasium, in our former, temporary building.

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Leonore Gordon
Leonore Gordon began teaching poetry to elementary school students on Long Island when she was in 11th grade, at the request of her fifth-grade teacher. While she was attending Oberlin College, majoring in creative writing, she volunteered to lead poetry groups in public schools in Ohio, and in local libraries while home from college. In 1978, she joined Poets in Public Service while completing her master’s degree studies at Bank Street College of Education. She taught poetry in numerous senior centers in the late 1980s and continued teaching poetry in schools from that point on. In the 1990s, she became involved in the Teachers & Writers Collaborative.

Q. How do you collaborate with classroom teachers?

A. I work with teachers by initially assessing their curriculum needs and seeing how poetry lessons can interface with the curriculum. This is actually an ongoing process. Once we’ve started a residency, teachers are asked weekly to help students finish poems we’ve started, look at my comments and requests for editing after I’ve returned poems, and instruct students to have poems ready for me for the next class. With strands, such as the first-grade African strand or the fifth-grade Native American strand, we try to have weekly meetings to plan for the final performance, where dance, drumming lessons, and poetry from my residency get integrated into the final show.

Q. From an artist’s perspective, what are the challenges of collaborating with classroom teachers?

A. Challenges include trying to share with the classroom teacher common artistic visions of writing, so the teacher is on the same page creatively with the writer. For example, we want to stretch students’ writing and imagination beyond predictable language, and we want to make sure the teacher really is hearing what is being asked during a lesson.

Q. What can the artist do to make the collaboration effective? What can the teacher do?

A. The artist can take the time to make goals explicit, involve the teacher in the class’s poetry and suggest books about teaching writing. Teachers also need to be willing to read students’ poems and make editing corrections consistent with what the writer is looking for — lots of sensory details, surprising language, similes, metaphors, personification, and other literary techniques. Teachers really need to spend time with students with disabilities that the poet might not be aware of, quietly discipline difficult students, and help students complete the assignments. Finally, teachers need to help students produce edited final copies of poems for anthologies.

Q. Can you describe one of your most rewarding assignments with the Teachers & Writers Collaborative?

A. All my collaborations with P.S. 156 around strands have been incredibly rewarding, especially my most recent one, when we met weekly to discuss all aspects of an upcoming fifth-grade Native American show. We covered the themes of each class’ skits (three eras in Native American history), how the African drumming and dancing classes related to the themes, and how poems and myths could contribute to each class. Input was welcome from all participants, and the show was wonderful.

Q. Please describe one of your most difficult assignments with the Teachers & Writers Collaborative. What was your strategy for dealing with the challenges? What was the result?

A. My most difficult assignment was at a school with a very conservative principal and assistant principal, where teachers were discouraged from being creative with children. There were very prescribed definitions for sanitized, “nice” creativity. An anthology with the word “pig” in the title had to be covered with a new jacket containing more “pleasant” language. My strategy was to be as creative as I could, which is what the teachers did as well. Somehow we still got great poems from students.

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Allison Sicuranza
Allison Sicuranza gained experience through various meetings with the artists, working collaboratively with them, viewing videotapes, and reading literature.

Q. Please describe the process of collaborating with a visiting artist.

A. The visiting artists come into our school once a week and work with our students. For example, the writer comes in and introduces a poem. The children are then expected to write a poem based on the theme of the work they are reading. I then take the next week and work on and revise the poetry with the children individually.

Q. How did working with the artists affect your growth as a teacher?

A. I have been collaborating with both a writer and a dancer for quite a few years. I have found it to be a very rewarding experience, both personally and professionally. Before I began working with the writer, I found myself shying away from teaching poetry to young children. However, through working with Leonore Gordon, I have found that poetry can be a wonderful experience for young children. Ms. Gordon has helped me to teach poetry effectively. I now feel comfortable teaching poetry appreciation as well as writing poetry.

Q. What are the challenges and how do you address them?

A. The biggest obstacles I have with the visiting artists are time constraints. Teachers’ schedules are very tight and sometimes create stress to finish writing on time. Creating a performance also takes a long time, even though it is very rewarding in the end.

Q. What specific benefits do you see in your students from working with the poet?

A. My last year’s class as well as my present class have demonstrated a great love of poetry. Their writing is far beyond expectations for a first-grade class. I have found that some children begin writing as a means of expressing their innermost feelings and that writing helps them to work through obstacles they face in their lives.

Q. How do the students benefit from working with the dance artists on the movement piece?

A. The dancing gives children the chance to be creative and have fun at the same time. It gives them the chance to create a series of movements as it relates to a theme. It helps them to create a story using dance. I have found the African dance artists, Caren and Kojo Plummer, to be wonderfully cooperative and dedicated to the children. They always seem to create an instant bond with the children. They bring out the children’s creativity and true ability from within.

Q. What were some of the resources you and your students used when creating the performance piece for the African strand?

A. The resources we used included the dancers’ knowledge of African history, the Internet, and literature that relates to the theme of the plays. Ideas stem from the children’s imaginations, while factual information comes from research.

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Goldie Rich
Goldie Rich has been a classroom teacher for close to two decades, the chair for her school’s leadership team for five years, and her school’s liaison to parents for two years. She has organized a number of schoolwide activities, including taking groups of parents, teachers, and students to see The Lion King on Broadway. She also organized an event called Walking in Your Child’s Footsteps, in which parents experienced a typical school day at P.S. 156.

Q. Please describe the African strand and its components.

A. This year the African strand included all the first-grade classes and one fifth-grade class. In addition to the team leader, the staff includes a visiting writer, a visiting dance or movement artist, one or two P.S. 156 movement and dance teachers, eight classroom teachers, and some parent volunteers. Together with the students in these classes, we focused on West Africa for 12 weeks. Typically, in implementing the strand, the group first meets to plan and schedule strategies, choose a team, and select a region in Africa to cover. Students then research topics such as food, clothing, family, climate, crafts, education, and politics, using the Internet, pen pals, books, magazines, and other tools.

Throughout the strand, classroom teachers and students keep their own journals that include reflective writings, photos, crafts, videos, and cassette tapes related to the strand. The group also plans strand-related trips, which are facilitated by the team leader. Students write pre- and post-event reflections on the trips and all strand-related activities.

At the close of the strand, the visiting writer from the Teachers & Writers Collaborative and the classroom teacher publish an anthology with poems and other writings from all the students. Similarly, the visiting artist from Lotus Music & Dance, our P.S. 156 movement and dance teachers, the classroom teacher, the team leader, and the students create a culminating performance to bring to life what they’ve been learning. At P.S. 156, we call these culminating performances “never-before-seen performances.”

Q. How are strands scheduled within the school year? From year to year?

A. Presently, the arts program is organized around a multicultural calendar integrated by the following strands. The emphasis is on a different cultural theme or strand each month:

  • October: Native American, fifth-grade classes
  • November: Hispanic/Latino, third-grade classes
  • December: multicultural holiday season, sixth-grade classes specifically and all other grades generally
  • January: European cultures, second-grade classes
  • February: African/African-American, all first-grade classes and one fifth-grade class
  • March–April: Asian/Chinese, third-grade classes
  • May–June: Caribbean, kindergarten classes
  • June: opera, fourth-grade classes

Strands are repeated from year to year, so students participate in all the strands by the time they leave the school at the completion of sixth grade. As they move up from grade to grade, students incorporate and reflect all that they have gained by participating in previous strands.

Q. What is the role of the strand team leader?

A. The team leader coordinates all strand-related activities, including working with visiting artists, teachers, parents, students, and others to attain concrete results, including measurable educational gains. In many cases, the team leader also serves as the liaison to the administration, dispensing directives from the district office to the grades under the approval of administration.

Q. How do you evaluate the success of strand activities? How is the progress and achievement of individual students assessed?

A. The program uses traditional and alternative assessments to measure students’ achievement. More traditional assessments include pre- and post-strand tests. These are given by the school art teacher, movement and dance teachers, and classroom teachers. These tests measure:

  • literacy growth through the arts (Has the student learned the terminology needed for the strand? Can the student communicate about this strand to others?); and
  • basic visual arts, dance, and music skills (Can the student apply the skills learned?).

The school’s art evaluation teams summarize the results of the review process and make recommendations for future curriculum or program changes to administration, the school leadership team, and the team leaders.

Alternative assessments include reflective journals, writing portfolios, videos, and individual students’ arts portfolios in which photographs of performances, trip reflections, and letters from pen pals are kept. These reflective journals, portfolios, correspondence, and other items are reviewed by a committee of teachers who use grade level rubrics to determine the degree to which:

  • New York state art standards were met,
  • aesthetic awareness was developed,
  • cultural sensitivity was addressed, and
  • New York City English language arts standards were met.

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