Exploring complex text through creative play and art making

December 5, 2016 at 3:30 pm
Photos by HPAC

This fall, teachers from nine Boston Public Schools spent five evenings analyzing Carl Sagan’s Cosmos by creating art. As a part of a yearlong professional development on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), 4th and 5th grade teachers attended a five-week course on Implementing UDL through Pre-Texts: Cultural Agents to improve their application of UDL in their classrooms.

"There are many aspects of Pre-Texts that I love,” said Melissa Conway, fourth grade teacher at the Hennigan School in Jamaica Plain. “I love the publishing work on a clothesline. The kids really like putting up pieces of work they worked on. They really enjoy the acting out portion, where they're physically active and can act out the texts.”

Pre-Texts encourages educators to create lessons where students can use art to decode complex texts. In the workshop, teachers gained a deeper understanding of Sagan’s Cosmos by acting out scenes from the text or creating Haiku’s of what they’ve read.

Doris Sommer, founder of Pre-Texts: Cultural Agent, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Director of Graduate Studies in Spanish at Harvard University, purposely used a complex text such as Cosmos as a way to demonstrate what it felt like to be a student in a classroom. She put the teachers in the shoes of the students, and used the Pre-Texts approach to show how students can access texts as complicated as Cosmos using various art forms.

“[Pre-Texts] does help us look at complex texts and helps us with using different strategies to engage with the text,” Conway said.

Teachers spent the workshop creating their own art activity and presenting it to the group. Lessons were aligned with the UDL framework, and each session ended with a discussion on how to ensure lessons are accessible to all students. During the final weeks of the program, teachers were encouraged to apply Pre-Texts by creating lesson plans aligned to the Engaged Learning Curriculum which they currently use in their classrooms.