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C&I students and fourth graders experience shared learning through 'Spirit of Uganda'

by The College of Education / Mar 2, 2012

Photo of Kay Grabow and Professor Liora BreslerStudents from Liora Bresler’s C&I 581 class recently got the chance to see how fourth-graders learn–not through typical classroom observation–but through a shared experience. Students from both the U of I and Thomas Paine Elementary School in Urbana attended "Spirit of Uganda" at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in February. About a week after seeing the show, they all met on a drab February afternoon to discuss the performance.

The performance itself evoked the sounds and movements of East Africa, as well as the histories, legends, and beliefs of the region. When discussing the show, there was little reservation on the part of the fourth graders; in fact there was so much enthusiasm that it sounded like buzzing bees in the open space of Krannert’s Tryon Foyer. The college students interviewed the fourth graders for about 30 minutes, and the young theater patrons had a lot to say.

Bresler coordinated efforts with Kay Grabow, '70 ED, EDM '72, fourth-grade teacher at Thomas Paine. The two have been friends for years, and decided that they and their students had much to learn from each other.

The interaction between the older and younger students was right in line with the mission of C&I 581, "Aesthetics and Curriculum," which strives to provide "a synthesis of theoretical and autobiographical perspectives on aesthetic issues and the ramifications for the development, teaching, and the critique of the arts curricula," according to its syllabus. The class not only includes Education students, but also students majoring other areas such as dance, music, or art.

Laura Romani, an Elementary Education/teacher’s certification master’s student who will also pursue middle school and bilingual/ESL endorsements, said she appreciated the opportunity to interview a fourth grader and learn more about the performance through his eyes.

Photo of Laura Romani and the fourth grader she interviewed"He had a lot to say about the performance and his class's unit on the culture of Uganda; he even demonstrated to me how he dances," Romani said.

What stood out in Romani’s mind about the interview process was the fourth grader’s honesty and transparency. "I asked him many questions about his perception about Ugandan cultural practices and how that may or may not relate to cultural practices here in the U.S. His answers displayed his acute awareness about race, history, cultural practices, but also some common misconceptions about African ethnic groups," she reflected.

"I learned that kids have such valuable insights and opinions about what they learn in and outside the classroom," Romani said. "I learned that it is important to interview them about what they really get out of the activities that we teachers plan for them in order to see if it matches the content objectives we had in mind for them."

And fourth-grade teacher Grabow said the learning exchange proved to be a rich experience for her students as well.

"To be able to come to the performance, meet the dancers, and talk to others who have seen it makes it very meaningful for my students," Grabow said during the interviewing session. She said the experience as a whole enhanced cross-learning in her classroom. In the weeks leading up to the performance, her students choreographed a dance, learned how to play African drums, raised money for Ugandans by reading books, made posters, played games, and completed assignments during computer labs, all of which incorporated the culture or history of Uganda.

Grabow said the fourth graders relished interactions with college students: "They thought it was cool that someone older was listening to them and valuing their opinion," she said.

Professor Bresler added that, "Ultimately, we are all about learning. Not just for my students, or Ms. Grabow’s students, but my own learning as well. I get as expanded by these activities as they do and am learning as much from them and the interactions."

The student-blending experience, according to Bresler, allowed the students in C&I 581 to be "in touch with themselves as learners and as teachers. Seeing how fourth graders learn can only make (college) students better teachers," she said.

Top photo: Kay Grabow, fourth grade teacher at Thomas Paine Elementary School, and C&I Professor Liora Bresler.

Bottom photo: Education graduate student Laura Romani with the fourth grader she was paired with to interview about “Spirit of Uganda.”