Dreaming with your eyes open

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 7, 2008

RESERVE. – Learning is not just for students who are attending the Demonstration Dream Classrooms Program on Saturday mornings in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Teachers are also observing the Saturday morning lessons and are learning best teaching practices with the anticipation of implementing these strategies in their classrooms, Mondays through Fridays.

This past Saturday, students from East St. John Elementary and teachers from across the district participated in and observed model classes from the English Language Arts curricula. 

Dr. James Kirylo, an education professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, modeled a writing lesson for fourth-grade students.  In the lesson, he taught students how to gather the information for their writing projects by participating in a “Coat of Arms” activity.  Students were asked to draw six squares, and then in each one, they were to describe themselves, their families, their favorite hobbies, and what they hoped to do when they grew up.  From there, they learned about composing topic sentences, supporting sentences and conclusions.

“The writing process includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing,” Dr. Kirylo said.  “A central key to engage students is to make connections to their interests.  When connections are made, meaningful learning is likely to occur.”

Meanwhile, LaPlace Elementary Teacher Charla Duhe met with eighth grade students in a classroom next door, where the lesson focus was on the elements of poetry.  In her lesson, she focused on “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  She used visual drawings to help depict the poem’s imagery, and she discussed the meaning of many of the poet’s metaphors and rhyming cadences.

“For the students, they were exposed to engaging lessons that heightened their interest and participation in these subjects.  For the teachers, they were exposed to effective practices in all of the five domains of reflective practice – planning and preparation for learning, classroom and behavior management, delivery of instruction, command of the subject matter and affective behaviors, such as patience, enthusiasm and high expectations,” said Dr. Courtney P. Millet, superintendent of St. John the Baptist Parish Schools.

“We believe this program will have an overall positive impact on our education community.  We are working with a laser-like focus on teaching and learning, so we can raise the bar on student achievement,” Millet said.

Millet noted that the program is modeled after the work of Dr. Lorraine Monroe, a nationally-recognized educator who developed the Demonstration Dream School in Harlem, N.Y. Monroe is scheduled to visit several St. John the Baptist Parish public school campuses this school year to offer on-site training and consultation.

Lanette Perrin, Title II coordinator of instructional and professional development, who is organizing the Demonstration Dream Classrooms Program, which are also dubbed Strategy Saturday sessions, said students from West St. John Elementary will participate in the program beginning in mid-October.  She said teachers from across the district are invited to attend all or as many sessions that may apply to their teaching field.

While the latest demonstrations focused on English Language Arts, she said the previous session focused on math.  She said all subject areas, including science and social studies, will be included in the program.

“We anticipate this program benefitting everyone involved,” Perrin said.  “First, students have an opportunity to enhance their learning through participation in exemplary lessons.  Second, the teacher participants who come to observe will learn from the presenters.  Even the presenters will sharpen their skills because they know they will be under the watchful eyes of their peers.”

Perrin noted that the Strategy Saturday sessions are held in the Dream Classrooms at the central office from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. each Saturday.