Ms. Patalano's 1st Grade Class, Veazie Street Elementary School
Ms. Patalano's classroom speaks eloquently of her attempt to cultivate creative and artistic expression in her first grade students at all times. The walls of the classroom in the Veazie Street Elementary School are covered with artwork, essays, and assignments. Colorful student mailboxes, a computer corner, a large globe and a colorful rug make the room more inviting. The classroom is filled with reading materials about families and children from different walks of life. All the materials are within arms reach of the typical six-year-old who comes to this classroom daily.
Ms. Patalano's method of leading story time illustrates her endeavor to have the students gain a voice and express their imagination in the classroom. Selecting topics, such as "families" that would be familiar to every student, she incorporates a call and response style in the reading. Stopping at different words (such as "barricade"), she asks the students to come up with the meanings. This story time is made particularly valuable by her attempt to relate all the stories to the personal lives of the students. Thus, the children bring into focus their own interactions and what they hold dear.
This concept is extended even into math class, as each child draws a picture of his or her own family. Basic math is thus taught using the number of people in each picture. The children then frame their pictures by creating patterns. They draw symbols on a sheet of paper and determine the number of diamonds, squares or circles in a row. The exercise includes graphing the pictures framed by shapes and symbols. This is an innovative way to make math more interesting and personalized, as well as link learning math to learning about families, backgrounds and cultures.
These resourceful practices are combined with deep cultural sensitivity to the students' varied backgrounds. The ethnically diverse class consists of Latinos, African-Americans, Caucasians, Portuguese, and Pacific Islanders. Through constant communication with the parents, Ms. Patalano learns about the specific background of each child, and brings this information into the classroom to create an atmosphere rich in sharing diverse experiences -- such as differing accents, a vacation in Hawaii, or a grandparent who speaks another language.
Accommodating difference in the classroom is visible in another seemingly simple strategy -- maintaining a "good deeds" journal, in which students note their good deed for the day. This becomes the means to initiate conversations about different lifestyles -- for instance, the good deed of a student living in a house with a yard and a dog is different from that of a student living in a housing project. This exercise enables students to acknowledge their different backgrounds within a framework that stresses equality and student agency.
Working within a standardized and highly structured curriculum, the teacher nevertheless manages to sustain her agenda of linking school to home. A vivid example of this is the construction of a kindness tree. The kindness tree has a small plaque in the corner of the wall's three-dimensional artwork. Phrases such as "We can make a difference" and "Don't forget to do your good deeds" are written on leaves that are stapled on the branches that billow out. Each child has a kind deed or a goodness quote represented.
Under the topic "We can do so many things," there are pictures of the students' artwork. There are children riding bikes, jumping rope, walking a dog, playing with sisters and brothers. Each picture has a sentence on it that clearly encourages high expectations and reminds students of the values of the classroom. In this way, an aspect of the children and their artwork is presented at the same time as the classroom is connected to their families and their home environment.