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      A New Approach to Teaching and Teaching the Teachers

      Widener’s Community Engaged Teacher Education Program Centers Around Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

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      Connecting with Students

      Stetser Elementary School students perform a play they wrote about Rosa Parks after reading a book about Parks selected for them by Widener teacher candidates.

      Students in kindergarten through sixth grade at Chester Upland's Stetser Elementary recently put on the first "Books Like Me" event under the guidance of 19 Widener University teacher candidates. Each grade read a different culturally responsive title and then worked to develop a performance based on their assigned text.

      The event had multiple goals, explained Dr. Dana Reisboard, an associate professor of education at Widener. One main goal was to present the Stetser students with culturally responsive materials while simultaneously coaching Widener teacher candidates in culturally responsive pedagogy.

      "We wanted the Stetser students to have access to books in which the characters were more representative of them," said Reisboard. "This is important because it helps these young students connect better with the characters, the plots and the coursework overall. It helps them see themselves in the literature and also see beyond themselves."

      After reading a book about Rosa Parks, one class put together a play about her life and her courageous stance against segregation. When asked who Rosa Parks was, several members of the class yelled out enthusiastically, "She's our hero."

      Community Engaged Teacher Education Program

      Widener faculty hope that these noticeable connections to the "Books Like Me" reinforce the importance of culturally responsive materials and pedagogy to the Widener teacher candidates. The 19 teacher candidates involved in the event make up the inaugural group of senior education majors in the Center for Education's new Community Engaged Teacher Education program. The teacher candidates take a block of courses that focuses on their immersion in Stetser Elementary and the Chester community using interdisciplinary themes to connect the theoretic bases of their coursework with the reality of the classroom through culturally responsive pedagogy.

      "The overall goal of the Community Engaged Teacher Education program is to help Widener teacher candidates realize the importance of connecting with their elementary- aged students within the context of their community," said Dr. Nadine McHenry, a professor of education who is heading up the CETE program. "Ultimately, we want to address the opportunity gap and provide our teacher candidates with the necessary tools to be successful in racially, culturally and linguistically diverse urban communities. By preparing future teachers to be culturally responsive, we will be able to provide quality educational opportunities for the children in our community."

      Widener faculty collaborated with teachers at Stetser Elementary and community members from the city of Chester to design the CETE program. The inaugural teacher candidate participants will complete pre and post surveys to measure their urban teaching intentions, perceptions of urban education, multicultural attitudes and self-efficacy. A second study will investigate the effectiveness of the community of practice approach to developing and executing this program.

      Although Widener's CETE program is in its early stages, those involved see its potential for changing teacher preparation so that both the teachers and their students achieve success.

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