By Gayle Solis Zavala
Special Education Teacher, Gove Elementary, Belle Glade, Fla.
CEC 2009 Clarissa Hug National Teacher of the Year
Hello again . . . Before I get started, let me tell you a little about myself. I am a California native who now lives in southern Florida and I am married with three adult children and an amazing grandson! I have been an educator for 24 years. I worked as a speech-language pathologist for 10 years and then decided to pursue my master’s degree in Special Education.
Over the years I have enjoyed teaching a variety of classes with students with mild to severe intellectual disabilities. About six years ago, I had the opportunity to pursue a second master’s degree in Reading. I was very inspired to learn about and seek successful strategies to teach reading to students with cognitive disabilities. At the end of this last school year, a new position was advertised at my elementary school and all other schools in our district: an RtI (Response to Intervention or, as some refer to it, Response to Instruction) teacher. My principal selected me and I am looking forward to this new experience.
I find myself interested in additional projects outside of the classroom. Apart from the busy commitments I have through CEC (I serve on the Florida CEC Board as the Children and Youth Advocacy Network Coordinator), I have also been active with VSA arts, the Knowledge Through Friendship Peer Buddy Project, and the non-profit Farmworkers Coordinating Council. I grew up very influenced by my Hispanic culture and the arts. And the arts is something that I feel will always influence my teaching.
A very interesting idea that I was glad to discover this summer was how to use the cordel — stories on a string. I learned of it from a workshop I attended at a multicultural conference. It was presented by Kurt Wooten and Maria del Mar Patron Vazquez, who have created a wonderful center in Merida, Mexico, to promote literacy and art.
The cordel is a Latin American art form in which local writers and artists wrote short stories, sometimes including graphics, and displayed them on a string in the local markets. Sometimes the stories would be read aloud. Townspeople would gather to listen or read the stories and sometimes purchase them.
In the workshop I attended, we were directed to think of a memorable dream and write about it for 5-10 minutes. Then we hung our stories on a clothesline, cordel-style. It was great to read each other’s stories and discuss the similarities and differences in our dreams.
We discussed how students could participate in a similar activity using writing, drawing, cut-out pictures, and photographs. The cordel is not only an excellent art form that encourages literacy, but also works to build a sense of community among participants. This connects to my last blog post about creating a positive classroom climate and I am anxious to use the idea with both students and fellow teachers.
I can visualize this activity taking place in classrooms and in the teachers’ lounge or media center. Topics could be whatever the teachers or students decide. Students could dictate their ideas; copy down the words; use software programs like PixWriter or write with symbols; and add drawings, pictures, or photos. School staff could be given prompts and be encouraged to post short responses (almost like instant messaging, but with a higher purpose and without the computer).
In my next post, I will uncover another great teaching activity that I learned through the same talented individuals: “physical sculptures.” If you want a sneak peek, you can check out their Web site at www.habla.org to gain further information. Until then, I encourage you teachers out there to share your own stories.