Drs. Rani, DeRosa Contribute to SED-Trotter Partnership
Dr. Swati Rani, Lecturer in Elementary Education, and Dr. Don DeRosa, Clinical Associate Professor in Science Education, are not only continuing SED’s eleven-year tradition of clinical and teaching involvement at the William Monroe Trotter Innovation School in Dorchester, but strengthening it as well.
Through courses they’ve taught and subsequently transformed, Dr. Rani and Dr. DeRosa have involved the Trotter School in providing soon-to-be educators a valuable introduction to working with elementary-age students. Bridging the gap while using non-traditional teaching methods has proven to be both empowering and refreshing for SED and Trotter students alike.
Dr. Rani’s SO211 course: “Race, Culture, Gender, Language, and Identity in the Urban Classroom” is a case study in this transformation. The class has been grandfathered in over the years by new instructors who’ve been given flexibility in how the course is taught. While the overall philosophy has remained intact, the pedagogical approach has varied with each instructor. One of Dr. Rani’s variations is what takes the place of traditional homework: after each session, her students have 48 hours to write an entry in a community blog, which incorporates their perspectives and helps build their teacher voices as scholar activists.
An aspect of the current syllabus that has had staying power was originally written by the course’s founding architect, Associate Professor Emerita Carol Jenkins, with subsequent revisions by SED faculty members Jennifer Bryson and Dr. Christopher Martell. This section highlights the course’s relevance in today’s educational landscape by emphasizing a teacher’s understanding of their students in specifically urban-based schools. To this point, it communicates that “SO211 introduces important educational and sociological concepts related to urban schooling. The focus of this course is on helping future teachers acknowledge the power, privilege, and discrimination embedded in American culture and schooling.”
With that foundation, Dr. Rani has made an important, unique curricular addition based on critical pedagogy, which centers on four “grouping” configurations: Lotus Time, Pod Time, Nest Time, and Circle Time. Lotus Time occurs before Trotter students, referred to as ‘little rocks,’ are brought in and serves as a reflective period where the class writes responses in their notebooks to an assigned case study. The case study helps to connect the dots of the broader sociological theme of the week and allows Rani’s SED students, appropriately called ‘big rocks,’ share their thoughts on paper before engaging in the more socially-focused latter portions.
Pod Time involves three or four “big rocks” in groups discussing issues of “pedagogy, critical problem solving, and working on developing the ‘engagement of social justice social interaction’ for young people.” The purpose is to prepare SED students for conversations they’ll have in their pairings with Trotter students later in the day. These pairings occur during Nest Time, where big rocks match up with their designated little rocks and learn to deeply listen to them on issues of social justice, such as racism. The groups start with social dialogue introducing the day’s topic, and a story reading by Dr. Rani to the entire group while sitting together on two large red rugs. Finally, Circle Time is for the big rocks to concentrate on digesting everything discussed in their nests in order to develop takeaways for the next visit. Using these four groupings, SED and Trotter students move through a morning’s lesson together, each enriching the other’s experience and knowledge.
Similarly, as part of the CH 300 “Methods of Instruction: Elementary Science Education” course offering, Dr. Don DeRosa has brought pre-service students to the Trotter School once per week throughout the fall semester to develop in-the-field teaching strategies related to science topics. His classes have worked primarily with Ms. Brenda Richardson’s fourth grade students at Trotter, where she serves as its science program specialist and helps SED students observe and teach her own.
Dr. DeRosa’s students get involved by interviewing the younger group, observing their current science lessons, supporting students to engage in scientific problem-solving, and even teaching lessons. Each SED student is matched with the same two or three Trotter students each week to develop a familiarity with the hope of increasing understanding and dialogue over time. Additionally, Dr. DeRosa’s group is expected to “submit draft lessons, rehearse [their] lessons with peers, and then teach and submit a reflection based on [their] teaching.” Recently explored subject matter included how energy flows throughout the atmosphere with regards to clouds and solar energy.
The atmospheric subject matter is something of a theme for these students. Much of the course’s content on weather education is derived from data and protocols gathered by GLOBE, a government program dedicated to providing accessible information about Earth’s atmosphere and global environment. This information aided the group when visiting the Blue Hill Observatory and Science Center in Milton toward the end of the semester. At Blue Hill, groups of SED and Trotter students worked together on a variety of activities, including launching balloons into the air to track the direction of wind patterns, touring the observatory, and engaging in topics of science and engineering.
What both courses represent is a shift in how teacher educators are training their students in the role of power dynamics. Dr. Rani specifically emphasizes these relationships when it comes to elementary education and critical pedagogy, explaining why she’s trying to restructure them, “There’s this beautiful term called ‘interlocutor’ that comes out of discourse studies, which basically means that knowledge is created by having a social interaction. And social interactions where power is more balanced typically leads to deeper learning.”
Both Dr. Rani and Dr. DeRosa admit there must be a high level of trust building and a willingness to partially let go of class control for the Trotter template to expand. They do mention, however, that there’s a sense of critical consciousness in dual-learning for all involved, rather than one side solely instructing the other.