Contributed by the School of Education Newsletter
Kathleen Lord, assistant professor in the Department of Elementary Education is on a mission with a goal: “to help kids comprehend what they’re reading.” Having received the Nuala McGann Drescher Affirmative Action/Diversity Leave grant for Spring 2014, she is examining social studies and science comprehension in young students in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District. Both she and the school district are working with the Newburgh Armory Unity Center, a neighborhood-based community center committed to offering educational opportunities for children and adults, including literacy clinics for young children and English as a Second Language, GED, citizenship, computer, literacy, and tutoring programs.
The Dresher Award is granted annually to SUNY faculty members preparing for permanent or continuing appointments. For her Drescher Award work, Lord is looking at how elementary students process social studies and science concepts and whether or not the students apply their prior knowledge to the concept or ideas they are learning. She explains that the idea behind her project is to identify concepts students are unfamiliar with and to help students apply understood concepts to what they’re learning. Essentially, she is interested in creating building blocks for more thorough comprehension. Through her work at the Armory and in the Newburgh Schools, she is establishing cohesive and comprehensive instructional modules for teachers.
Although her instructional modules follow the Common Core, she is ordering the content in a way that makes sense to young minds: concept over chronology. “For instance,” she explains, “consider the concept of human rights and how people rebel for their rights. Rebellion is a concept…you bring in Martin Luther King, Jr. and Civil Rights, Rosa Parks to support Civil Rights, then other Civil Rights activists, then Caesar Chavez for worker’s rights, then women’s rights…Everything will pertain to rights. There are ways we fight back. The umbrella is Civil Rights.” Rather than teaching civil rights in the order in which they were fought for and granted, have the ideas of rebellion and rights going hand-in-hand. Students are encouraged to relate these concepts, coupled with historic evidence, to the present and apply it to their own lives, understand the bigger ideas, and “intersperse the present with the past.”
Through her modules, abstract concepts will become more clear and applicable to the rest of their learning, giving students a greater chance at thorough understanding of the material and teachers a greater understanding of the obstacles students face when trying to grasp new material. Her resulting publications will “help educators understand the hurdles students come across,” helping teachers discover how to correctly and effectively relay objectives and ideas to their students.