Source: Issues in Teacher Education, Volume 20, Number 1, Spring 2011, p. 95-108.
(reviewed by the Portal Team)
This article describes the students’ experiences and the author's practice around one major course assignment, The Neighborhood Alphabet Book, developed to effectively demonstrate course objectives.
Specifically, this assignment had three main objectives:
(1) to provide opportunity for creativity as a key element for critical thinking,
(2) to model an alternate tool for expression that might benefit their young learners, and
(3) for teachers to discover and experience their school communities.
The participants were 26 teachers was enrolled in their final semester at the university, many of them already at work on their master’s projects.
All were credentialed teachers with varying years of classroom experience.
Many of them taught in elementary schools across San Diego and Riverside Counties, others worked in high schools.
This cohort of teachers worked with children from diverse linguistic, ethnic, and economic backgrounds.
The teachers represented a similar diversity in socioeconomic background, including those who learned English as their second language in school while speaking Spanish, Tagalog, and Farsi at home.
The teachers were grouped into teams of two or three, based on school and district partnerships when possible.
Each team was given a different commercially available alphabet book and asked to complete two tasks: create a “book talk” for their text over viewing content and engaging their audience, and identify specific text features of their book.
Planning sessions included an examination of the California State Content Standards in literacy, science, or social science at their grade level and ways to incorporate these standards in their Neighborhood Alphabet Books.
Teachers brainstormed ideas about their community.
During the semester the author and her students participated in many workshops designed to promote success with assignments.
Together, the author and her students learned about visual thinking and photography.
Back at the university, they conducted workshops in bookmaking and learned binding techniques.
The teachers tried out these creative processes and technologies in a place where they were safe to take risks and where they had her support and the support of their classmates, before sharing their new knowledge with their students.
On the last day of the semester—and for their program—they transformed their university classroom into a gallery where they could exhibit and share our Neighborhood Alphabet Books with our classmates.
This project began as a way for me to create opportunities for teachers to learn from experience-based lessons as the author continued to investigate the potential of photography for education.
The success of the project resides within the following important instructional elements:
(1) Students worked within a broad assignment framework, not a rigid template;
(2) Support was provided throughout the semester in the form of workshops hosted in and out of the university classroom; and
(3) The project created reasons for individual problem solving.
The author concludes that once the teachers had the tools, they became an important source for project development.
Every new workshop prompted questions from the teachers that the author had not anticipated.