I have had the great benefit of coaching EASE (Everyday Arts in Special Education) for 3 ½ years in NYC schools throughout the 5 boroughs. This program is unique because it does not carry the typical dynamic where the teaching artist is leading a class while the classroom teacher only assists or observes. Instead, not only is the classroom teacher the main focus, but the ultimate goal is to have the EASE activities continue after the TA leaves. In addition, the curriculum consists of various fun and engaging arts-based activities that are carefully constructed and explained. Another unique aspect is that the EASE program involves a three-year coaching process. In the first year teachers are obliged to follow the curriculum very closely, but then the second and third year focus more on integrating academic curriculum and implementing EASE activities and pedagogy.
One of the teachers that I work with Cynthia is a science cluster teacher at 387R@RR in Staten Island and is in her third year of coaching. She moves from class to class, bringing whatever she needs into the classroom. In my experience, I noticed that the “Cameras” activity is a uniformly successful activity in the classroom, and now iPads have made the activity even more accessible and fun because students can see more clearly how they are capturing an image that is in front of them, unlike other devices that generally have a smaller viewfinder, which require scaling.
Third year EASE teachers are asked to plan a unit of four classes that connect from lesson to lesson and that build on a particular curriculum. Cynthia, for example, chose “Weather”. In lesson one, students worked in pairs searching for evidence of rain outside with their iPads. They explored the large playground surrounding the school taking turns with the iPads, and later Cynthia would collect and print out all the pictures the students took. In a subsequent lesson students looked at the pictures and checked off the ones they thought best showed evidence of rain. The selected photos were cut out and glued onto construction paper to create a large display titled, “Picture Rain Art.”
What I think I enjoy most about this activity is the curiosity and creativity it engenders in the students. When we take a picture we are making all kinds of creative choices such as choosing the content and the composition of the photograph. We are instinctively tapping into our own aesthetic and creating something in the process; a moment in time and space that marks our presence. When the students were looking over the pictures a month after taking them, I saw them pause over each photo, reflecting back to when they took them. They were reliving the memory while admiring their work.
– T. Scott Lilly