From theory to reality: SMWC students explore diverse teaching methods during the Urban Education Field Experience

November 23rd, 2011 | SMWC

Hettinger and Bell compare core standards to displayed classwork at Carl Wilde school in Indianapolis.

At 9 a.m. on a sunny October morning, about 10 future teachers filed into Carl Wilde School 79, ready to expand the boundaries of their own education. Through Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College’s (SMWC) annual Urban Education Field Experience, these education majors visited four exemplary Indianapolis, Ind., schools, searching for fresh perspectives and imaginative teaching techniques.

“We’re broadening our students’ horizons,” said Sandra Chappell, Ph.D., associate professor of education at SMWC. “We’re expanding their worlds.”

This fall SMWC students toured Carl Wilde School 79, Francis W. Parker School 356, Theodore Potter School 74 and Center for Inquiry School 302. “We looked at many models of teaching,” Chappell said. “There is not just one way to effectively educate.”

The SMWC students saw four very different, but very successful, models of creative teaching in action. These schools' educational philosophies and student-centered ideologies have proven to be very successful. “We want to see our students make lasting connections between the Urban Education Field Experience and their SMWC coursework,” Chappell explained.

At Carl Wilde, The Woods students explored a one-of-a-kind world of diversity. The school is 70 percent Hispanic and more than 20 different languages are spoken within its halls. Here, the SMWC students learned the value of emphasizing college success, even as early as kindergarten. Dozens of collages of university life speckled the hallways and every classroom had a bulletin board dedicated to the teacher’s alma mater, stressing that college is not an “if,” but a “when.”

“This creates a culture of expectation where failure is not an option. It is very forward thinking,” said junior Elizabeth Hettinger, a future middle school math teacher from Terre Haute, Ind.

The second school on the tour, Francis W. Parker, a Montessori school, showed the SMWC students techniques that emphasize freedom, self-discipline and independence. “There’s a little bit of everything for everyone in here,” said Jennifer Bell, a junior studying elementary education from Sullivan, Ind. 

They began their exploration of Parker with, collectively, little prior exposure to the Montessori method. Many of them looked as though they had stepped into a foreign country. Desks were rare and organized rows were obsolete. Children sprawled out on floor mats, working, not just with pencils and paper, but with inflatable maps, word puzzles and, most importantly, each other.

Bell appreciated the introduction to these nontraditional techniques and was eager to learn more about the benefits of using a student-centered approach. Other students, such as special education major Ashley Mathis, felt that her classroom would require more structure.

Carl Wilde Principal Practicum Alexis Johnson talks to the SMWC students about language barriers and parental involvement in the classroom.

The Woods students started the second day with a tour of Theodore Potter, the 2009 Magnet School of Distinction and the 2010 Magnet School of Excellence. Potter uses a “50/50” Spanish immersion model, where instruction is in English half the time and the rest in Spanish. Potter’s Spanish immersion model showed SMWC students how multicultural exposure benefits both a child’s academic success and personal development.

“These schools seem to have higher expectations of their students,” Hettinger said. “The faculty and the staff seem to embrace it and use it to become better educators. I would like to incorporate that into my classroom.” 

The final school on the itinerary, Center for Inquiry, winner of the 2009 National Blue Ribbon Award and the 2010-2011 Magnet School of Excellence awards, encourages students to learn through their natural curiosity of the world around them. The SMWC students learned effective uses of discovery-style learning and cooperative group work. The teachers, more like facilitators than directors, awaken their students to the joy of discovering knowledge, instead of the monotony of memorizing facts.

“Helping a child develop a love of learning, well, I think that’s the most important thing of all,” Chappell said.

According to many of the SMWC students, these environments are very different from their experiences in the Terre Haute, Ind., schools. “This is a completely different climate,” said Hettinger, who believes exposure to diverse methods in a variety of schools is “inspiring.”

The SMWC students also had open reflection with the group and an assignment that connects the techniques they saw in action to the methods discussed in their textbooks. As they develop their teaching styles and techniques, one thing is certain: their passion for education is tangible. They are excited to become teachers and are devoted to their number one priority: the students.

“You can’t teach if you aren’t passionate about the students,” Bell said. “How are you going to inspire the next president or congresswoman without passion?”

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