Monday, October 31, 2016

Learning Experiences Beyond the Classroom

American Studies Academic Walks through West Philly


For students in Upper School American Studies, exploration of the novel Disgruntled by Asali Solomon broke free of the traditional classroom, expanding to the streets of West Philadelphia.  

For two years in a row, each class of American Studies students read Disgruntled during the summer and the author visited the class in the fall to participate in discussions of the book. Solomon, who grew up in West Philadelphia, “elevates West Philly to be a character in the novel,” said co-teacher Lee Payton. “We asked our students to explore their neighborhoods, to investigate it through writing, and their investigations are a springboard to discuss Disgruntled.”

This September, the class walked through sections of West Philadelphia to experience locations Solomon describes in the novel. They checked out Koch’s Deli and the Green Line CafĂ© at 44th and Locust, Henry Lea Elementary a few blocks west, and walked toward and away from the University of Pennsylvania campus to observe the physical, architectural and demographic changes as they walked. 

“The walks are a physical manifestation of what we do in the classroom,” Payton said. “Seeing the neighborhoods, what is there versus not there in each one, helps us discuss different perspectives, what [our late colleague] Cheryl Irving and I termed ‘conflicting realities.’”

“It’s important for students to have academic experiences beyond the classroom,” Payton said.

Co-teacher Shahidah Kalam Id-In said exploring a neighborhood can be a learning experience just as valuable as a classroom lesson. “We want our students to experience learning uncoupled from that," she said.

American Studies is an exercise in interdisciplinary teaching and learning. English texts support the history and current events taught as part of social studies, and classroom discussions of those texts center around their cultural influences and implications. 

“The focus of the course is to examine American culture through the lens of literature and history,” Kalam Id-In said. “Using critical inquiry methods from both disciplines allows us to develop a ‘reading’ of the world that impacts the intellectual and personal lives of our students.”

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