Pre-Texts, a program of the Harvard Cultural Agents Initiative, recently delivered a three-part professional development series to educators in partnership with the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Office of English Language Learners (ELL). From October 3rd-5th, thirteen BPS afterschool educators and fifteen Harvard University students learned how to use the Pre-Texts approach to guide students through challenging literary texts. By exploring literature as “recyclable” material, Pre-Texts participants had an opportunity to rework and personalize texts by means of arts exploration (painting, choreography, photo shoot, play, music, etc.).
Doris Sommer, Director of the Cultural Agents Initiative at Harvard and Ira Jewell Williams, Jr., Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures explains, “With Pre-Texts, students stay engaged—they master the elements of reading in order to produce an original artistic interpretation. This hands-on manipulation of literary material through a range of artistic media is both fun and strenuous exercise in higher-order thinking. It promotes student ownership of challenging texts through the experience of turning a text into a prompt for personal expression and for exploration of meaning.”
At the heart of the Pre-Texts approach, educators are encouraged to build students’ cultural capital and stimulate critical thinking in ways that connect them to one another, to their school, and their community. Turning a classroom into an arts studio multiplies the opportunities to participate in meaning-making and generates mutual admiration among students. The Pre-Texts methodology is inspired by popular Latin American practices that capitalize on communal resourcefulness. Notable literacy projects have turned tobacco factories into learning academies and transformed discarded cardboard into skillfully designed books that have been selected for national gallery exhibits.
On October 6th, the Cultural Agents team along with the teachers of Spanish Heritage Academy Program at the Mario Umana School, officially kicked-off the Saturday Pre-Texts family program. After the success of the BPS Spanish language pilot delivered during the summer, Pre-Texts is facilitating a Saturday program focused on students from 3rd to 5th grade. The Cultural Agents’ Pre-Texts team provides on-site coaching support during the program through June 2013. During the 2011-2012 school year, Pre-Texts provided professional development to teachers, afterschool educators and families in fifteen BPS schools.
Through the extended professional development and on-site support, BPS educators are learning first-hand how merging literacy goals, arts exploration and civic values can spark student interest and generate new confidence to work with multifaceted texts.