Maymester Unit Aims to Ease Education Students' Transition

Junior-Year Experience Precedes Traditional Student-Teaching Placement

June 4, 2013

Jon Cannell shows artwork created using shaving cream and food coloring during the Showcase of Learning. Photograph by Dave Lawrence
Jon Cannell shows artwork created using shaving cream and food coloring during the Maymester Showcase of Learning in the Science Complex. (Photo: Dave Lawrence)

While significant attention has been given to cultural differences between Albion and Marshall in recent weeks, one prospective teacher from Albion College explored how assumptions and perceptions can create beliefs that shape realities. His ninth graders at Albion High School worked together through a unit of inquiry that helps develop reading and writing skills while comparing and contrasting cultures between communities.

Jon Cannell, an English major who is concentrating in secondary education, worked with mentor teacher Anne Lake during the Education Department’s Maymester program, a unique offering for junior-year education students developed jointly by Albion College education faculty and administrators, education students, and Albion Public School teachers. Maymester is supported by the College’s Fritz Shurmur Center for Teacher Development and underwritten by a grant from the State Farm Insurance Companies Foundation.

With the College celebrating a year of global diversity in 2012-2013, each Maymester team developed a study unit over several months that was added to the spring curriculum for certain grades. The students spent the spring semester working as teacher assistants on their Maymester projects, and were in the classroom full-time after Albion College dismissal in early May.

Cannell said the focus of his unit was based on a textbook, Non-Negotiable Skills: Everything You Must Know for College, Career, and the Common Core—Level 1, detailing the essential reading and writing skills necessary to be successful in any subject. At the beginning of the unit, Cannell gave the class a college-level textbook definition of culture for them to deconstruct. Throughout the rest of the unit, the class explored other cultures through reading and research opportunities, invented its own word, explored words that don’t translate to English easily, and made sentence structure and pattern flipbooks to be used as a tool for writing.

Making Connections Through Art

The use of art, however, may have been the most interesting aspect of Cannell’s unit. The class visited local artisan Nobel Schuler to make bowls inscribed with a word they made up or a word from a different language that doesn’t easily translate into English. Students also mixed food coloring and shaving cream to create the design for the front of notecards used to display the student’s writing.

“The purpose of the [shaving cream art] project was for students to be open-minded and to explore other uses for shaving cream and food coloring beyond their assumptions, and to see that each print is unique and as diverse as the human populace,” Cannell, who hails from Vicksburg, said.

Students also created “placemat” posters that represented their culture, a representation of a selected aspect of the Albion community’s culture, and a representation—comparing and contrasting the same aspect they explored in the Albion community—of a place where the people speak the same language as the word they selected from the list of words in another language that don’t easily translate into English.

Taken collectively, Cannell said the piece of pottery, the cards, and the “placemat” poster became a cultural "dish" that framed the students’ final inquiry of cultures and writing projects.

The center of Cannell’s display at the Maymester Showcase of Learning Fair was a collaborative student writing effort to summarize the learning of cultural competency and use of the context of the expected transition by Albion High School students to Marshall next school year to explain something relevant to their future lives.

“When we go to Marshall we will try to stay positive, respect others and their differences, and have an open mind. In the classroom we can learn with other classmates and get to know them better.”

Furthermore, one of the writing prompts on the inside of the cards extended this position, requiring each student to look inwardly to identify one cultural identity marker and explain how it would help them make the transition to a new school in the fall.

'A Good Segue to Student Teaching'

Other prospective teachers from the College developed units around the global diversity theme by examining the foundation, formation and realization of the American identity; using math to determine supply and demand of a food product in the global market; and blending history with the reading of To Kill a Mockingbird to examine the issues that can develop when diversity is not valued.

The Maymester experience builds on Albion College’s brand of turning critical thought into action by allowing prospective teachers the opportunity to live in the day of a teacher even before the traditional senior-year student-teaching placement, which often serves as their capstone before being launched into the real world.

“I learned there is a lot more to teaching than standing in front of a class,” Brandon Allwood, a history major from Williamstown, Vt., said. “There is a lot of planning and professional development [included in each day].

“It is a good segue to student teaching in that there were no distractions. We spent the whole day at school.”