What are they learning?

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Did they learn anything?  A 5th grade project studying value with paint, plus a cityscape collage made with newspaper and oil pastels.

What are my students learning? In the extremely short time that I have with them each week, is anything getting through, or is it like a chaotic daycare where they get to have fun with materials?

As I find my feet on the ground in Nablus, I am turning my attention more fully toward my role as a White, North American female educator. In any cultural context, it is critical to be aware of how this might slant my curriculum, the language I choose to use, the artists I present in class, and even the way I manage my class and discipline students. Coming from a position of academic and social power can be scary to navigate, especially as a person who seeks to dismantle and equalize the culture of power.

I am incredibly fortunate to be able to essentially create my own curriculum, and although our time together is extremely limited, I want to make the most of it. I wish I had begun sooner, but instead of dwelling on that, I’m looking forward to making some changes in my classroom.

Students sit in groups of four. Typically, if someone has a question or wants validation for their work, they get up out of their chair and come talk to me, which can end up being quite disruptive. I have begun to address this by telling students that there is always at least one “expert” at every table, and often more than one. This is someone who might be able to answer their questions and help them out. I’m hoping that this encourages them to interact more and appreciate one another. I also want to be careful that it doesn’t create a divide between students.

Also new this week, I am developing a series of art criticism cards that we can examine and discuss in class together. The cards will feature work by Palestinian artists, and we’ll have a chance to relate them to our current projects. By discussing art in a variety of ways, I hope that my students will gain some powerful communication and critical thinking skills. I also hope that by seeing their own people and culture reflected in the art, they will be able to better identify with the content, and thus learn more deeply.

Other ideas: having older students work with younger ones on a project; critiques with partners, small groups, and the whole class; having students present a new skill or technique to their classmates.

I am excited to try out these new ideas, but still I must ask: as equalizing as they feel, do they not still come from me, the White female North American teacher? Does that make them inherently a part of the culture of power which I so desperately wish to absolve?

Answers forthcoming, hopefully.

5 thoughts on “What are they learning?

  1. This resonates with me after we had our first serious class meeting where the students critiqued my class and made suggestions on how it would be more meaningful. Trying to equalize the culture of power is not only about refocusing our lens as teachers, but counteracting the passive and subservient learning that students are accustomed to. Clarity is developing, yet it seems like many of my answers are coming in the form of more questions!

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    1. Thank you Billy! It’s so great that you are doing the work of active reflecting and adjusting. I am inspired! Keep asking the questions, keep refining, keep teaching…and let’s catch up soon!

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  2. Katie, you are one of my heroes. You are making significant personal sacrifice in order to be a teacher in a dangerous part of the world, and you are doing it so very thoughtfully!

    Here is my advice: be confident in your skills. All students, everywhere, want to be engaged in meaningful work. You are doing your best to be culturally sensitive, and you should continue to do so. I would advise you to add upon that by challenging their abilities to practice and develop art-related techniques. They will enjoy it! . I also wouldn’t shy away from introducing them to a variety of culturally significant pieces of art from throughout the globe that are meaningful to you. Your enthusiasm will be contagious. In my experience, boredom is the worst thing that can happen in a classroom. Being engaged in meaningful art work will dispel it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your support Emilie! I really appreciate your advice and suggestions. You are so right: I must remember to be confident and enthusiastic! And this happens naturally when I’m teaching art that I’m excited about….thanks for reading and replying. Keep in touch!

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