On November 5th 2011 I attended the Promising Practices conference at Rhode Island College. This was the first educational conference I have ever participated in. When I arrived on campus I went to Donovan Dining Hall where the conference was being held. At first this experience seemed very overwhelming because there were people everywhere. It seemed like I was walking into the middle of chaos. After reviewing my agenda for the day I was able to relax a little. I grabbed a cup of coffee and found a table where most my FNED 346 classmates were already seated. I enjoyed sitting with my class in a different setting and discussing where they were going to spend the rest of their day.
After a quick briefing we all went our separate ways to the workshop we would attend first. I was fortunate to be able to participate in the workshop Art and Diverse Expressions. The conference was led by Virginia Freyermuth and Kristen Vito-Silva in the Henry Barnard art classroom. I was very happy to have successfully received my first choice in workshops. There were also five of my FNED classmates also participating at the session.
Virginia started the session with the class separated in small groups around several small tables. The presenter explained that she has over thirty years in the art education field and has spent time in New Mexico studying the Taos Pueblo culture. We were shown a short PowerPoint on the Taos Pueblos which I found to be extremely interesting. I learned that it is part of their culture to create “Prayer sticks.” These are from their environment like a stick or branch from a tree surrounding them. After this is gathered they will attach ribbons, strings, feathers, etc. These become symbols for each hope or prayer in the person’s life. After the art is done it would be hung on the wall of their home, alone, with nothing else. When the person that made the prayer stick would need to pray or hope for something they would fulfill this by touching the stick. I found this to be very interesting.
After learning about prayer sticks we were given materials to create our own. I thought this was such a great experience. At the end of the workshop Virginia explained that this activity is a way to make meaningful art. She also said that because we picked the specific materials the entire piece was meaningful. As students make art we as educators must make it relevant to our students own lives. At the end of the session I realized that it is important not to just throw standardized curriculum or objectives down the students’ throat. We need to make the objectives meaningful. One easy way to achieve this is through art.
Our next speaker was Kristen and we learned right away that the class that we were in was really her own. I thought her room was incredible. She told us that at the beginning of the year the room was completely blank with nothing on the walls. During the first class she explains to the children that this room was their learning community and they would be the ones to “build” it. She also told us that she spends the beginning getting to know all of her students and their families. As the year goes on the class learns about art on a literary and artistic level. All of the artwork they create becomes lined all over the walls. This is community building for the children and is very important for them. It also gives them power because they get to create the environment they will be learning in.
We have discussed diversity a lot this semester and one thing that Kristen really hit home was that art sees through diversity and levels the playing field for all students. As teachers we just have to make sure we remember to make it meaningful.
Promising Practices was a great experience from the workshops in the morning, to the teen empowerment session in the afternoon. In the latter session we learned a little about what it is that students we are educating need to succeed and be empowered. They all might have equal opportunity but it is about equity, or the way we as educators treat certain students. I am glad I attended this conference and look forward to attending more in the future.