Independent Minds, Working Together

Focus of Final Exam Shifts from Theory to Practice

“An Evening of Interdisciplinary Arts” enables students to become reflective practitioners

May 10, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Final exams don’t usually look like this. Instead of a neatly printed, carefully stapled packet in a quiet, sterile classroom, students in Matthew Broda’s Interdisciplinary Fine Arts class (a.k.a. EDUC140A) found themselves in a large ornate dining hall with more than 50 young children anxiously anticipating the adventure that awaited them on Monday night.

Fortunately, Broda’s students were well prepared for this unique exercise (titled “An Evening of Interdisciplinary Arts”), and that was precisely the point. Broda, an assistant professor of education at The College of Wooster, is a young, energetic, 30-something faculty member who wants to be sure that his students are properly equipped to enter the classroom.

“My job is to get them ready,” he said. “They need to understand and experience the fact that adaptability, flexibility, and creativity are essential to becoming an effective teacher.”

So, ready or not, the children in grades PK-6, charged to their assigned stations when Broda gave the word. Each of the stations was designed and presented by one of Broda’s students. Kindergarteners could choose three of seven stations, including “TreEmotions,” a creative presentation on the life cycle of a tree, and “Ribbon Rainbow Razz,” a chance to stretch, move, and dance while learning about music, rhythm, and locomotor movement. Those in Grades 1-3 could choose from six stations, each with an intergalactic theme — most notably “Crater Gaters,” which took them on a virtual journey to the moon and back, and “Dance Party in the Sky,” which gave them an opportunity to dance, sing, and move around. The 4th-6th graders had seven options, which ranged from “An Abstract Treasure Hunt,” an exercise in communication through shapes and lines, to “Make Your Own Hieroglyphics,” a chance to create modern hieroglyphics on clay tablets to express ideas about what a modern-day Egyptian alphabet might be like.

The applied “final exam” was the culmination of a semester-long journey designed to help students explore developmentally appropriate practice and curriculum design as well as implementation within the areas of art, music, drama, and movement in the early childhood years (PK-6), according to Broda. “The objective was to encourage students to examine effective strategies for meeting the needs of all learners in lesson planning, assessment, technology, instructional strategies, interdisciplinary planning, teaching and learning, program organization, and classroom management as they relate to the fine arts,” he said.

In preparation of for their “final,” students participated in six field experiences at Wayne Center for the Arts, completed a child-centered artistic observation research project, developed a policy brief about the importance of the arts as an integrated component of school curricula, and worked on several other assignments throughout the semester. Ultimately, Broda was interested in evaluating the effectiveness of the students’ theoretical foundation and presentation of their topics. In addition to his observations, he gave each of the parents a rubric to share their thoughts.

The only one more excited than the children was Broda, who gleefully moved from station to station. “It’s very exciting to see our students apply what they have learned in an authentic setting, and how they respond to the children in their groups,” he said. “It’s fun to see the curriculum come to life.”

Broda also put himself in a position to be judged because many of those in attendance were children of Wooster faculty and staff, many of whom were intrigued by his out of-the box approach to viewing students in a lab-like setting. “I think it is a great form of experiential learning,” said Katie Holt, associate professor of history, international relations, and women’s gender and sexuality studies, who brought her 5-year-old daughter, Rosalind, along. “I really wanted to support what Matt is doing with education.”

In the end, the students passed with flying colors and had a blast in the process. “This particular final was probably the most fun I have ever had taking an exam,” said Abby Rodenfels, a sophomore religious studies major from Xenia, Ohio. “The ‘applied’ nature of the final not only immersed me in the material for my particular 'art station,’ but also made me more responsible for it. Dr. Broda is great at helping his students to think innovatively about education and fine arts education in particular, as this was the focus of the course. I think it was a great hands-on way to end the semester, and we certainly put a lot of work into the evening. At the same time, we were also gaining valuable skills in interacting with our ‘students’ (the children) and adjusting to last-minute changes. Overall, it was a great way to end the semester, and (pull together) the material we had been learning this year.”

Broda was equally enthused. “I was very pleased with the evening and the feedback we received from the participants and the parents,” he said. “After the event, the students were already talking about what they learned from the experience and what they might do differently next time. We encourage our students to be reflective practitioners, and this event was very successful in cultivating that in them.”