By Jess Kusak
Giving English Language Learners the opportunity to share their cultural experiences in the classroom is critical to their success and development as a student and contributing member of society. Recently, the Nevada State College School of Education celebrated the cultural experiences of the English Language Learners from Whitney Elementary School with a Photovoice exhibit at NSC’s Basic & Water campus.
Through a unique partnership between NSC’s School of Education and Whitney Elementary School, elementary and secondary education majors have worked to bring to light the voices and experiences of English Language Learners through this Photovoice project.
The photo exhibit publicly displayed photos and stories, which illuminates their voices so others are aware of the joys and struggles of being an English Language Learner in our school district, shared Dr. Kevin Graziano, Associate Professor in the School of Education and instructor of this innovative course.
The 17 students participating in Language Acquisition, Development, and Learning (EDRL 471), a required course in the teacher- preparation program, have had the unique opportunity to receive a semester of hands-on experience working alongside an English Language Learner from Whitney Elementary, a Title I school in Las Vegas. Through the Photovoice project, NSC students were asked to identify an English Language Learner at the school, and build rapport, respect and trust with the child throughout the semester.
Eryn Forrest, a senior Elementary Education major, quickly discovered the students at Whitney Elementary are yearning to learn and share their experiences with someone. The students are just waiting for someone to talk with them and spend the time with them so they can start to understand the English language. They just want to know that someone cares.
Part of the Photovoice project asked the child to document their everyday realities as an English Language Learner at Whitney Elementary. Through photography, each child captured images of things on their school campus that may have helped or hindered their experiences learning English. From their photography, the children created a story telling component to coincide with the documentary-style photography, and fully express their experiences in words. The NSC students then developed a presentation, which included their English Language Learners photos and stories.
During the event, it was announced NSC President Dr. Fred Maryanski would award the NSC Promise Certificate a $500 scholarship toward their first semester at NSC to the children from Whitney Elementary participating in this project, once they successfully meet the admissions standards of the college.
The partnership between NSC and Whitney Elementary allowed for Dr. Graziano to lead this course on site with the School of Education students, implementing a teach, apply and reflect model of instruction. This [class] uses an instructional method that can be used in the classroom as a strategy and can also be used as a form of needs assessment, said Dr. Graziano. Graziano stresses the necessity of being creative in the classroom with his students noting, It is important that we share, model and show our education students that there are innovative ways to bring project-based learning into the classroom.
For the first hour of the class, NSC students learned new information, theories and strategies. In the second portion, the students went out into the classrooms at Whitney Elementary and observed the teachers in action, enabling them to apply and observe the strategies and theories in action. During the last portion of the class, students regrouped to debrief and reflect upon their experiences in the classroom.
Mayra Corn, a Junior Elementary Education major with TESL certification in the class, spoke to the importance of having hands-on experiences with students while studying to become a teacher. In many collegiate classes you can only make assumptions as to how your students will be. Because we could go into a classroom of children during every class, we could get a firsthand look at what being a teacher is really like, Corn said.
In addition to having these hands-on opportunities in the classroom, working specifically at Whitney Elementary proved to be very beneficial to the education majors.
Susan Denis, a senior Elementary Education major loved the opportunity to work closely with the students and teachers at Whitney throughout the semester. Being on an elementary school campus and being able to observe and participate in the school culture every week helped fuel my desire to become an effective teacher who can meet the needs of diverse learners, she said.
Corn cited the school’s diversity as being a great help as she continues in her studies as a teacher. There is so much diversity at Whitney, which has taught me that you need to be open-minded and understanding to a child’s language and culture, she said. I was allowed to take a deeper look at culture, community and language, and how they all have an enormous influence on education and how students actually learn. They ve given me endless situations to reflect upon and truly evaluate, she continued.
For the School of Education students participating in this class, the impact was more than what they just got from the course requirements. Dr. Graziano’s class has been very engaging for me as a student teacher because I can visualize what I am learning and how it can be applied in an actual classroom, said Denis. As Corn added, Classes like Dr. Graziano’s are crucial for students because they are purely empowering. Projects such as Photovoice take that empowerment and help the collegiate student pass it on to the young students.