Cathryn Peterson, 8th-Grade Language Arts
What is the overall progression of the eighth grade World Cultures curriculum, and where does the unit on genocide/ethnic cleansing fit?
The genocide/ethnic cleansing unit is the third unit of study in the World Cultures class. Our first unit covers social rules and norms of a culture (universal themes of culture, unwritten rules, and so on). We use Romeo and Juliet as a tool to teach these ideas and we focus heavily on theatre.
The second unit of study takes the students into Aboriginal cultures. We focus on the components of culture - religion, food, tradition, government, and so on. Students begin to analyze what makes up a culture and understand how cultures are similar and different. Students complete a major project where they design a model of a house.
The third unit is the genocide/ethnic cleansing unit. We look at cultures in conflict and what happens during a conflict. Students write a major research paper and use visual and written art to discover more about conflict.
The fourth and final unit focuses on how cultures reconcile after a conflict. We look closely at the continent of Africa. We read the autobiography Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane and we take a first-hand look at apartheid. We look at the changes in South Africa and what is still happening today. In addition, we look at other countries in Africa, the conflicts, traditions, and artwork. We try to find time to make some masks modeled after traditional African art forms.
What was required in the research paper that students wrote for the genocide unit?
They really had free reign as to what they would like to learn. Many studied a specific instance of genocide, group resistance, or a political artist. Students needed to use 10 -15 different sources, triangulate their research, use quotes, and so on. We get them to focus in on their topic by having them write questions to which they want to know the answers. In addition, the students need to tell a story about what they have learned. This means we want them to take a perspective, include opinion, and choose visuals carefully. We always talk to them about what side of the story they are showing, especially when the subject can be quite sensitive.
What does being at the Fine Arts Integrated Resource School mean for you in your teaching?
I know that everyone views the arts as part of the academics and that people are concerned with the process of learning, not just teaching skills. I find that students are exposed to a wide variety of opinions and are encouraged to really share their thoughts, questions, and ideas. Being so performance-based, students are willing to take risks, show their work, and speak out. I have always loved the arts and have surrounded myself with opportunities for enjoyment. I continually call on my colleagues to help me learn and to find new resources. Being here challenges me to be my best, to think beyond the textbook, and to find meaning in my teaching.
What kinds of growth did you see in your students as a result of their work they did in their arts classes for the Finding Your Voice unit?
The work in the arts classes made them think about what they believed, what they wanted to know, and how they could share it with others. What always amazes me is that when you truly integrate art, you see many students shine in ways that you don't see in a typical classroom. Some students need an alternative outlet for expression to build their confidence, organize their ideas, and take leadership. In my experience, students can then write or talk about the topic in a clear, concise manner.
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Rachael Hoffman-Dachelet, Visual Art
When students felt stuck or at a loss for ideas in developing their Finding Your Voice project, how did you help them?
I had very few students who didn't have any ideas at all. In part, this is because their overall curriculum is so rich and challenging that they are overflowing with ideas. In the past, when I did this unit alone with just the issue-related drawing, I had many students who couldn't come up with an idea. In part that's developmental. They simply don't know enough about the world or have enough personal experiences to have strong feelings about issues.
I look to the kids to help find artists to inspire them, perhaps discussing music they enjoy and teasing issues out of the music, or we page through art books until they are drawn to an image, and then we discuss what it's about and what the artist might have been thinking.
As an inter-district school and a school that focuses on integrated instruction, how do you deal with standards and standardized tests?
Well, we were named a five-star school on the state report card this year, the only school with our percentage of students receiving free- and reduced-price lunch and our ethnic makeup to get five stars. So we feel we’re doing OK test-wise. In fact, I believe the state commissioner of education is going to come visit our school to find out why we are doing so well.
Interdisciplinary education works. It builds strong associations in students' minds for the information, which allows for greater recall and retention. Rich, experiential learning fosters strong positive emotional states, which cement information in memory. Interdisciplinary education asks students to engage in inquiry, use skills in meaningful contexts, and remember content because of its relevance. These things support any reasonable state standard.
We see World Cultures teachers Cathryn Peterson and Robert Prater leading an interesting discussion about artwork by Samuel Bak. How do you interact with teachers in ways that help them use artwork in their classroom?
We have the opportunity to be trained as a staff in the Visual Thinking Strategies model, which I feel is one very effective way of approaching art. Cathryn and I regularly e-mail one another about what we are doing, and even if it doesn't result in a unit or idea at that moment, we at least can reference concepts later if they come up. And we are willing to ask for help from one another.
How does technology fit into what you do?
I use the Internet a lot. I pull images from museum pages and artist statements from galleries and use them to spark discussions with students. I can't tell you how much easier and faster preparing for a slide lecture is now that I can pull images from the Internet. It beats checking out art books from the library and using an opaque projector or shooting my own slides from books. That ease and speed allow me to teach in a way that is much more timely and responsive to my students’ interests and confusions.
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