In 40th Year, Yale-City Teachers Institute Shares Ideas

The following information about the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute was contributed by the program’s Josiah Brown.

Curriculum units that teachers from sixteen New Haven public schools developed as Fellows in four Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute seminars in 2016 are available at this website. (http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/)

Two-fifths of the 2016 Fellows participated in the Institute for the first time; others did so for a second, third, fourth, fifth, tenth, or even in one case a nineteenth time.  Overall, nearly half of the Fellows completed the Institute for at least the third time, developing their and their schools’ teaching capacity.

This year the Fellows represent sixteen schools, eight of which have two or more Fellows each – including Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, which has seven Fellows, and Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS), with five.  Other schools with multiple Fellows are Conte/West Hills, Creed/Hyde, Davis Street, Metropolitan Business, Nathan Hale, and Wilbur Cross.  Also represented among the 2016 Fellows are Betsy Ross, Bishop Woods, Clinton Avenue, Edgewood, John Martinez, King/Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and Strong schools.  (In addition, Fellows from previous years are at schools across the district.)  Three of the 2016 New Haven Fellows – from Cooperative Arts and Humanities, Edgewood, and Roberto Clemente schools – were also in national seminars, among National Fellows from 16 school districts in eight states and the District of Columbia.

The new volumes of curricular resources contain units by New Haven teachers, who worked as colleagues with Yale faculty members in the humanities and the sciences who led four concurrent seminars on campus during the spring and summer.  The volumes are:

    “Shakespeare and the Scenes of Instruction,” from a seminar led by Leslie Brisman, Karl Young Professor of English

    “Literature and Identity,” led by Jill Campbell, Professor of English

    “Citizenship, Identity, and Democracy,” from a seminar with a similar title led by Heather K. Gerken, J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law

    “Physical Science and Physical Chemistry,” led by Charles A. Schmuttenmaer, Professor of Chemistry

Literature, including Shakespeare; Identity, Citizenship, History; Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM)

The curriculum units include appendices with references to academic standards they pursue in the teaching of reading, writing, literature, mathematics, science, history, art, music, and Spanish, as well as English.  The units that Fellows prepared across the four seminars are intended to challenge and motivate students, while complementing district curricula.  Many of the Fellows explicitly cited Common Core standards – and, in a few cases, the emerging Next Generation Science Standards – to which their units relate.  Fellows also cited standards for such areas as music/arts; social and emotional learning (SEL); Spanish-language instruction (and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, ACTFL); and Advanced Placement (AP) literature and composition courses.

In introducing the volume on “Shakespeare and the Scenes of Instruction,” Leslie Brisman noted the seminar “was conceived as a way of getting teachers and students more deeply involved with the art and wisdom of Shakespeare … and as a way of exploring how attention to scenes of instruction within literature might affect our understanding of and excitement about the scenes of instruction in which teachers and students are actually engaged.”  Emphasizing “the actual syllabus of plays we discussed in seminar was determined by … the seminar participants,” he asserted, “there are a number of plays that could not be omitted…. The first of these is Hamlet.”  Professor Brisman continued, “The other Shakespeare play most frequently taught in the schools and calling for careful consideration of the problematics of scenes of instruction is Macbeth—to which, at the Fellows’ request, we also devoted two sessions…. Our seminar also studied Much Ado about Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1 Henry IV, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, and Measure for Measure.  At the request of the Fellows, we concluded with a session on Shakespeare sonnets that allowed us to approach some of the more dialogic of these great poems as scenes of instruction between one speaker and an implied auditor—and to think anew about lyric poetry generally as solitary singing or conversational or ‘classroom’ communication.  We concluded with meditation on the great classroom exercises of having students respond to a poem with a poem they write or—following the brilliant model of Helen Vendler—inventing the poem to which the poem being studied could be imagined to be a response.”  He concluded, “Members of this seminar have … done work far beyond the particulars of their own teaching situation…. I want to thank all of my Fellows for their exciting work in the classroom and in their curriculum units.  It has been a real privilege to be the student of each and every one of them, and I hope many reading their units will share my sense of excitement and delight.”

Robert Schwartz, who teaches English at Cooperative H.S., participated as a Fellow for the fourth straight year in 2016.  Now, for the second year, he is a Representative for his school.  In 2016, he prepared a curriculum unit called “Posting Daggers: A Twitter-Centric Approach to Hamlet.”  He said, “The Shakespeare seminar was one of the most fun and challenging seminars I’ve taken.  As an English teacher, I of course found the professional development invaluable.  But beyond that, the experience of collaborating with Leslie Brisman (our seminar leader) and teachers from around the district expanded my grasp of Shakespeare as not simply subject matter, but a way of thinking.  I can’t wait to share it with my students.”

Discussing the volume on “Literature and Identity,” seminar leader Jill Campbell observed, “The curriculum units designed by Fellows … offer students opportunities to explore questions of identity through speaking and writing as well as reading, sponsoring their development of individual voice and their powers of story-telling.”  She recalled, “In our shared readings for the seminar, ranging from Frankenstein (1818) to Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (2014), Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese (2006), and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006), we found that literature in fact offers multiple approaches to identity:  a means to reflect on and articulate what we already feel; a virtual community of people who are like us in one or another way, who have felt what we feel and expressed it openly; a window into the experiences of people very different from ourselves, across time and space; and models of the power of story-telling to make sense of individual lives and to find meaning in them, even in suffering, conflict, or confusion.  Throughout, we were mindful of the particular intensity and challenge of questions of identity for young people.”  Professor Campbell said, “In some of our readings and discussions, we attended closely to the broad, socially-recognized categories that contribute to the composition of individual identities:  gender, race and ethnicity, class, able-bodiedness or disability, sexuality, religion, and geography (whether national region or city neighborhood).  The social and political events of the year gave special urgency to these discussions; the daily news of racial strife and protest, mass incarceration, debates about religious difference, refugees, and undocumented immigrants, and the struggles of transgender people for acceptance entered into our discussions of our own classrooms, of our students, and of the works we read.  Often our discussions moved among these levels, as we found links between literary treatments of identity and our own struggles to afford others their full due as individuals as well as to understand ourselves.  Several of the units developed by Fellows build on the intuition that developing and articulating a stronger sense of one’s own identity may also allow more empathy and acceptance of others, in all their differences from oneself.”

Richard Cuminale, who teaches English to high-school students at ESUMS, participated as a Fellow for the first time in 2016.  Now he is a Representative for his school.  His unit addresses, “Discovering Yourself in the Voices of Others: Exploring Literary Aspects of Constructing an Identity.”  He said, “I enjoyed the informed reading selection and discussions at seminar meetings, but even more I appreciated the feeling of openness and possibility in the seminar.  There was naturally a lot of reflection that happened as the literature and conversations challenged us to see things in new ways, and we left every session with ideas that we were enthusiastic to use in the classroom.  Often we as teachers have new ideas but think, ‘That will never work.’  What I personally loved about the seminar was knowing that, this time, these ideas could actually happen.  I created a unit plan far more ambitious than I otherwise would outside the community and environment of the seminar and Jill Campbell’s thoughtful guidance.  Also, I received encouraging feedback, direction, and resources that gave me confidence to challenge myself as a teacher.  The seminar brought out the best of me, and I left it having learned much about myself and the English discipline.”

Heather Gerken, who led the seminar on “Citizenship and American Democracy” through which Fellows prepared the units collected in the volume on “Citizenship, Identity, and Democracy,” introduced those units: “We discussed how citizenship marks those inside and outside of the community and explored the ways in which the fight for equality is often waged under citizenship’s banner. Those discussions naturally segued into conversations about democratic participation and equality.  We began the seminar by studying the conceptions of citizenship held by the Founders and puzzling over how they could maintain deeply egalitarian commitments and still exclude so many from voting.  Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality served as our guiding text.”  Participants, she continued, “also explored the ways in which identity issues were worked out in debates over federalism and state citizenship.  Next we traced the quest for inclusion undertaken by different groups, including African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and women.  We often grounded these discussions in Supreme Court cases, including Hernández v. Texas, Brown v. Board of Education, and Korematsu v. United States…. We covered such topics as felon disenfranchisement, constitutional rights in times of emergency, and political participation.”  According to Professor Gerken, “We spent a great deal of time talking about the relationship between law and politics…. Social movements like the civil rights movement have always been necessary to breathe life into constitutional rights and turn those parchment barriers into robust shields.  Because citizenship is both a legal concept and a normative ideal, fights for equality and inclusion are often waged within the framework of constitutional law.  And because citizenship is so deeply tied to membership in a community, it brings with it both benefits and burdens…. While these units are deeply connected to contemporary events, they touch on issues of identity and belonging that are profound and enduring.”

Medea Lamberti-Sanchez, who teaches grade 6 English language arts and social studies at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School, participated as a Fellow for the sixth straight year in 2016.  Her unit focuses on “Citizenship and Identity through the Lens of a Presidential Campaign.”  About her “rewarding experience” in the seminar this year, she said the seminar leader “provided knowledge that was relevant, concrete, and specifically geared to the race for the presidency and real world connections.  The collaboration among colleagues was truly outstanding.  We worked together, allowing for a safe environment for sharing thoughts and ideas – especially for the writing of our curriculum units.  Heather Gerken assisted us continuously with suggestions for our units.  The seminar lent itself to my unit so well; the materials she brought were directly related and encouraged us to think more globally about the issue of the election.  Overall, it was a brilliant seminar that I was happy to be a part of.”

Charles Schmuttenmaer explained that the “Physical Science and Physical Chemistry” seminar “covered a range of topics in the physical sciences…. Physical chemistry is largely concerned with the description of matter and transformation of matter.  Thermodynamics is the study of energy, heat, and work, and their interconversion on a macroscopic scale…. While thermodynamics treats matter on the bulk macroscopic scale, spectroscopy allows the microscopic molecular properties to be measured and understood.  Spectroscopy is the interaction of light with matter…. This seminar included demonstrations each week, and connections to our everyday life as much as possible.  Some demonstrations were done by me, but each Fellow also shared a demonstration when they presented an overview of their curriculum unit.”  Professor Schmuttenmaer reflected, “We began by discussing the human side of science which included the scientific method, scientific ethics, and pathological science.  We then considered the gas laws which are the relationship among pressure, volume, and temperature of a container of gas, and in this way provide a clear path to thermodynamics … [and then] for understanding physical change, i.e., phase transitions…. This section of the seminar was wrapped up by discussing mixtures, chemical reactions, batteries, fuel cells, and nuclear chemistry.  We then … began discussing physical science more broadly speaking … [including] waves, interference,  light and color, and polarization.  This led to the application of spectroscopic methods to art conservation, preservation, and analysis, which culminated in a very interesting … tour of the Yale University Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage.”  Finally, seminar participants “saw how spectroscopic methods are used in astronomy to characterize the temperature and composition of stars, and in the search for … planets.”  He said, “The curriculum units developed will be of interest to teachers ranging from second grade to senior year in high school.  They provide extensive lists of reading material and other resources, and … a variety of hands-on activities.  One of the recurring themes is that science is best learned in an experiential setting.”

Christopher Finan, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science at Clinton Avenue School, participated as a Fellow for the first time in 2016, his third year of teaching.  Now he is a Representative for his school.  His unit considers “Properties of Matter” through a “Forensic Science Approach.”  He said, “The physical science seminar not only provided me with a great deal of insight into the cutting-edge research being conducted in the sciences at Yale, but it also helped me to develop a seventh-grade forensic science curriculum unit that begins to incorporate many of the skills and core ideas that ultimately must be mastered – albeit on a higher level – for success in college science courses.  Throughout the collaborative process, I learned new content, numerous practical applications of physical science to increase relevancy for my students, as well as tips and suggestions from colleagues to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of science labs and activities.  The most exciting part of the seminar was getting to experience first-hand, through trips around Yale’s campus as well as demonstrations, the innovative technology that is driving physical science in addition to countless exciting phenomena; the only challenge was trying to figure out what I wanted to bring back to my students!”

A Guide to the 2016 curriculum units includes introductions by the Yale faculty seminar leaders, as well as summaries of each unit and recommendations from their authors about subjects and grade levels in which the units might be taught, beyond Fellows’ own classrooms.  Hundreds of additional units are available in school libraries or online through the Institute’s search engine, subject Index, and volumes from previous years.  These resources are available for non-commercial, educational use by teachers, parents, and students of all ages.

Teacher Leadership

Teachers serving as the Institute’s 2016-17 school Representatives and Contacts are disseminating the new curricular resources while canvassing colleagues’ suggestions for seminar topics the Institute might address in 2017 to meet teachers’ and students’ needs across the curriculum.  Interested teachers should speak with their school representative.

Teachers Institutes are educational partnerships between universities and school districts designed to strengthen teaching and learning in a community’s public schools. The Yale National Initiative to strengthen teaching in public schools is a long-term endeavor to influence public policy toward teacher professional development, in part by establishing exemplary Teachers Institutes in underserved school districts in states throughout the country. The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, a permanently endowed academic unit of Yale University, is beginning its 40th year.

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