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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Look at Enriching the Prison Educational Program

By Linda A. Beam

Correctional educators constantly strive to become more effective when teaching students. Seeking new ideas or striving for newer and better retention techniques are constant issues faced by a correctional educator. The basic content of the curriculum for the Adult Basic Education (ABE/GED) student is math, reading, and language. From my point of view, teaching only these ‘basic needs’ and nothing else puts a strain between educators and students. As a correctional educator, I teach the basics but also move my students beyond these. Correctional educators need to ignite their students’ curiosity and encourage motivation. Through thought provoking, instructional but fun-to-do lessons, boredom will lessen or diminish. The outcome will be continuous gains, improvement on tests, and most importantly, a successful reintegration into the community.

A research project did a study on factors in instruction that could possibly lead to increased reading and writing and to doing higher levels of learning outside of the classroom.[i] The article explained that through the use of authentic activities in instruction, which focuses on newspapers, magazines, letters, etc., the students increased the level of reading and writing. The study argues that instruction should be drawn from the actual lives of adult students.

The article also states that drawing on life experiences would be limited in a correctional setting, but teachers can be creative and can produce these ‘authentic activity’ materials. I agree that authentic activities as defined can increase interests. For example, when I use the News for You, a teaching supplement published by New Readers Press, my students really get involved with it.[ii] This is like a petite newspaper with lots of current news. I am in agreement that these so-called ‘authentic materials’ described in the study are limited in a correctional environment. However, I see a more difficult process in asking an inmate to draw upon his life experiences as the study reveals. Trying to teach resident students by drawing upon their life experiences is not easy; it is complicated for these students. Life experiences for most resident students are not bursting with enough variety. Judy Woods (2002) stated that “Teaching is not filling a bucket. It is lighting a fire.”[iii] I feel that in order to light a fire, there must be fuel in the bucket. Most resident students do not have this fuel, because their buckets do not contain enough of life experiences. Definitely, if life experiences for the resident students had been fully rounded, there would be no problem. Besides, the life experiences of most of the resident students are nothing more than street fights, trashy low-income housing, and many times difficult-life experiences. It would be difficult for any student to get enthused over such a past as the one mentioned. If correctional educators want to focus curriculum on real life experiences, then as one, I feel the need to give the resident students a chance to savor and view life in a different way by introducing some rich experiences. Through enriching the curriculum, correctional educators can supplement the resident students’ lives with activities upon which to draw. Ultimately, filling their buckets with fuel.

By enriching the curriculum taught at correctional facilities, lessons can explode into new experiences for many students. Enrichment of the prison educational program can be done through many avenues; however, I will expand upon only three main strategies. Sometimes, educators feel that being inventive or getting access to different instructional materials is not as easy as the click of a button. What I have included in this article are plans that spurred inexpressible interest in my students. Through this article I will assist educators to explore and develop curricula that will stimulate interests in their students. These unique units-of-fun goad the minds of the students and keep them wanting and waiting for more. Ultimately, it will fill their minds with wonderful thought-provoking experiences and enhance life memories.

HOW? Firstly, capitalize on specific hobbies whether it is the teachers’ or the students’. Hobbies are loaded with countless learning potential. Secondly, use multicultural activities so that the students’ minds can incorporate a better understanding of how important it is to learn about cultures. Understanding cultural studies is probably foreign to many resident students. In many instances, the closest some resident students get to know about cultural differences is from eating at Chinese restaurants. Thirdly, produce learning modules that I call ‘conglomerates’ from which to teach by. Conglomerates are, in a geological sense, clusters of different materials such as pebbles and gravel cemented together into a rock. Used in the same way are the educational conglomerates: different materials cemented together into a solid learning module.

The first activity might be a real challenge, taking into consideration the environment. It is mirrored after the show-and-tell technique. I utilize my hobbies. Of course, drawing upon the student’s hobbies also works. Of my show-and-tell schemes, two projects were the more successful. The first was on the subject matter of rocks and minerals. Being a rock hound since youth and after getting permission from security (a must when working in corrections), I loaded up a carrier with many different rocks and brought them into class. The students were greatly impacted and mesmerized by all the different colored rocks and minerals and the diverse shapes. After letting the students view and touch the rocks, I randomly picked up certain rocks and talked about them. Many students knew nothing about rocks and minerals. I asked my students if they were aware that a rock could float or knew that crystals grew inside some rocks called geodes. The knack of the rock and mineral adventure is to cite examples of rocks and minerals that are UNIQUE in nature.

Unique, bizarre rocks act as magnets and draw the students into the learning module. My first choices of rocks to talk about were pyrite (fool’s gold), geode (hidden crystals inside), mica (transparent layers), pumice (a rock that floats), fluorite (a crystal always found growing in a diamond-shape), and others. In addition to the discussion, handouts were used with the lesson. One handout was on mineral uses and another defined the three main groups of rocks. For the last handout, the student was to choose one rock that was interesting to them and describe why it was interesting. After choosing the rock, they were asked to describe the rock on paper. Each student was instructed to do research on his stone. The class enjoyed the final handout the most. In finalizing this activity, the students were given a chance to show their selected rock and to tell the class about its secret. Words cannot describe the curiosity or passion of the students. This activity furthered their knowledge in life's miracles and furthered their experiences.

The second activity I used in my classroom was a mini-cultural event, the culture of the Native American Indian. The outcomes of teaching about cultures lend to the students' recognition of diverse cultural groups and to a better interaction and appreciation for people with different views. I introduced the lesson by using the words of a poet, who stated that “All the colors are tied.” [iv] I explained that given any nationality today, they are one of these four colors: black, brown, white, and yellow. Being born half Native American and being active in the Indian community, I had many things I could bring into the classroom. I packed up an assortment of items: some regalia (outfits), jewelry, pipes, and fans. Again, with working in corrections, permission must be given for many of these things. These items were on display for the students to see as they entered into the classroom.

Because Native American regalia are colorful and very artsy, the students went straight up to the items upon entrance. They were drawn to and excited about the display. Many students had never been exposed to Indian things at such a close proximity. After the students sat down, I discussed the high probability of half the students sitting in the room having some percentage of Indian. I talked about how many Americans stereotype Indians, caused by watching too much television. I related to the students that by knowing about different cultures is to understand about cultures. I spoke on the present life of Native Americans and how they are just like everyone else with the same feelings and the same problems.

Next, I randomly picked different items from the display and discussed the importance or history of them. One item I chose was the Cherokee Tear Dress. I pointed out that it was sewn together from material that was torn into strips to make the dress plus it was called a Tear Dress in reference to the Trail of Tears that Cherokees were made to endure.

In order to make provisions for addressing diversity even more; I talked a little about the history of the Native American people, which is different from what is taught. I stated that according to Kentucky history, no Indians lived here; they only hunted here. However, research had been done on Kentucky Indians and found documented proof that Indians not only hunted in Kentucky but also lived here. Next, I mentioned several books for them to read if interested in knowing more about the Native American culture.

To build more exposure to the Indian culture, I disclosed that some items on display had great significance to the Native American; one such item is the pipe. The pipe is very sacred to the Sioux. It is one of their sacred objects used in their ceremonies. The legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman is that she gave the Pipe Ceremony to the Sioux. I communicated to the class that this legend is still told; however, all tribes have variations in their beliefs. One variation is that the Cherokee people believe the tobacco is considered sacred. The pipe, to the Cherokee people, is merely a tool for holding the sacred tobacco. I stated that the significance of the pipe is different from tribe to tribe. The students were very surprised to know there are many differences among Native Americans.

To finalize my lesson on Native Americans, I addressed Native American jewelry. I revealed that jewelry is considered just as significant and is one of the most beautiful items of Native Americans. I talked about symbols in the beads on the jewelry and the fans. To give students the idea of the symbols, I showed one item with a seven-sided star. I explained that the Cherokees use the seven-sided star as a motif in much of their jewelry items, and that this star represents the seven clans of the tribe. This little presentation gave them a glimpse into the creativity, the history, and the diversity of the Native people.

Following the lesson plan, the resident students' enthusiasms peaked as they embarked on their assignment. The students were assigned to read a handout on the Treaty of New Echota, 1835, which is a government document. It disclosed information about the Removal Act signed by the president, Andrew Jackson. The handout revealed information about the many Indians who were removed by force and driven to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. And how that after five years, Cherokee Chiefs signed a treaty in New Echota, the Cherokee capital, giving up claims to their homelands. The students read about the many Cherokee people who died in the journey to the new land. The students learned that this forced walk became known as the Trail of Tears. After reading the handout and discussing it, the students indicated that they were more endeavored to become aware of the different cultures.

The final activity to be used in the classroom is achieved by using a conglomerate. In a conglomerate, you can use many different media to create one teaching module. My choices of media to present my lesson were stamps, posters, and dolls from my hobbies. Most people do not know the wealth of information hidden in hobbies. I chose these because they were different in character than both the rocks and the Indian culture. It could be a new experience for those who had no prior concept about stamps or dolls. I explained that they needed to be aware that stamps are more than mere objects for mailing packages and letters. Plus, they needed to know that dolls are more then mere objects for kids to play with.

As an introduction to my conglomerate, I began revealing the facts about stamps and dolls. I stated that many students, as well as the population in general, have no idea of the historical nature to be learned from dolls. I reported that certain dolls can provide a peek into the past while others can tell us about the historical events happening in the periods when the doll was produced. Additionally, I communicated to the class that dolls were used in advertisements. They advertised for the war (G.I. Joe), for the rise in the motion pictures (character doll such as Shirley Temple), or for promoting a business (Aunt Jemima rag doll). I explained that dolls reflected the history of nations and countries in many ways. This concept of learning about our past through dolls is foreign to most people.

In addition to learning history from dolls, I stated that you could learn about costumes. Many dolls are dressed in national costumes of various countries. Dolls are also dressed in traditional costumes; for example, the Eskimo dolls are made from sealskin and whalebone. Many traditional costumes have symbols painted on them that have meaning for the tribes and tribal families. I explained that doll costumes are shown during special festivals in Japan. These festivals were celebrations as well as a time to display family dolls that had been handed down for generations.[v] Through the dolls, Japanese children learned about their country’s culture and the history of their ancestors. The students listened intently as the meaning of dolls poured forth.

I explained to the students that stamps, like dolls, can also teach about the history of a country or specialize in showing specific things such as birds, dinosaurs, rare ancient cars, and ships to name only a few. Stamps also portray famous men and women such as Benjamin Franklin or the Queen of England. I commented that a stamp could provide us with a look into art and its artists. I revealed that stamps could take us on trips to foreign places. They can tell us about our past events.

My conglomerate was of dolls, posters, and stamps that were symbolic of the effects that World War II had on women. Setting up the conglomerate is fun and important to the lesson. The display sets the mood and lends a peek into the discussion. The posters used in the conglomerate were Rosie the Riveter Poster: World War II and Girl He Left Behind. The stamps used were Japanese stamp of Blue-eyed Dolls, Rosie the Riveter, and Gold Star Mothers. The dolls merged all the items into a single unit. The dolls on display were Madame Alexander’s Rosie the Riveter and Vogue's WAVE-ette. Put together into one unit, this conglomerate was a very powerful resource to teach about how World War II affected American women.

To describe the posters on view, they both displayed a Rosie the Riveter character. The Rosie the Riveter poster displayed Rosie flexing her arm muscle with the words, “We Can Do It!” towards the top. The Girl He Left Behind poster shows Rosie holding a wrench and with a soldier silhouette in the sky. Below Rosie are the words, “The Girl He Left Behind is Still Behind Him. She’s a WOW.” These posters showed American women hard at work in defense of their spouses and their country.

My introduction was a discussion on how wars changed things. I talked about how that before World War II, most women took care of the children and stayed at home. However, this war brought many changes. The American men were leaving and this created many job vacancies. I asked the class if they had heard of Rosie the Riveter. I was surprised that no one knew of or heard of her. I discussed of whom she symbolized and how she became the symbol for the millions of women who worked in America during World War II. I commented that Rosie the Riveter was created as a campaign to employ women in the workforce. Women were needed to fill vacant job positions and to fill jobs created by the demands of wartime. Therefore, Rosie the Riveter was a fictitious person created by the government to help fill these jobs. I commented that in particular, the Rosie the Riveter character was on display just about everywhere and on everything. Rosie had rosy cheeks, wore work clothes, and handled factory machinery.

Another important fact that was discussed was that all nations during wartime, including the United States, used propaganda strategies to promote patriotism. I explained that besides radio broadcasting and motion pictures, posters were used for propaganda purposes. I pointed out that numerous posters for advertising women's roles were created. These posters were utilized to promote the armed forces, the working woman, and the women in support. It was a widespread campaign technique to promote the war. The posters displayed in America at this time were pictures of WAVES, of WACS, of Rosie the Riveter, and many other posters of the WWII women, and they were a big success. I revealed that during WWII, the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) were established. I talked about the opportunities that opened up for women. The students were enthusiastically scanning all the items on display throughout my discussion.

For more background and history, I discussed that during this time, dolls played a powerful role in shaping America's future. I explained that dolls were used as another advertising technique for WWII efforts. I explained there were many doll icons of WWII that inspired patriotism. The WAVES and WACS directors previewed a doll in its uniform and both directors stated that this doll was “most important” to the war effort. As a motivator, I showed the class an old ad of Vogue's war dolls. In Vogue’s ad which pictured the WAVE and WAC dolls, it reported, “In keeping with the fast-moving American picture of today, Vogue dolls are designed to express America-on-the-March-to-Victory.”[vi] On display coupled with the posters was the Vogue WAVE-ette doll in her replica of the uniforms worn by the women’s branches of the armed services. The WAVE-ette doll wears Navy cotton coat adorned with brass buttons and the WAVE insignia on the cap. This doll symbolized the fact that women could now enlist in the military.

Madame Alexander, I explained, also made dolls that honored these wartime moments. I reported that one of the most important dolls created by Madame Alexander was none other than Rosie the Riveter. On display and included with the doll were a lunch box and a small poster of Rosie with the words “We Can Do It”. Rosie wore a red bandanna around her head and a blue work uniform. These heroic dolls and posters were used to encourage women to leave their domestic life and to go to work outside of the home to show their support to their husbands and to the war efforts. I explained that it was a proud time for women so it is no shock that North America actually prospered during WWII while other nations suffered major hardships and widespread destruction.

The next step was to focus attention on the stamps. As an introduction to one stamp in particular, I discussed the history of the American Blue-eyed dolls. Before WWII there was tension between Japan and the United States, I explained that American children sent dolls to the children in Japan as a sign of goodwill and peace. These dolls were known as the American Blue-eyed dolls. They were welcomed and distributed throughout Japan. Their name was based on a popular song entitled “Blue-eyed Doll” by Ujo Noguchi.[vii] Unfortunately, when the war broke out in 1941, the ill treatment of Japanese enemy aliens (immigrants) here in America[viii] But, in 1989, Japan issued a stamp to commemorate the Blue-eyed Dolls. This was the stamp on display showing a drawing of the doll that was destroyed. Giving reference to this stamp highlighted an even more extensive background on the effects that wartime had on women across the world. and the confinement of them in the relocation camps, resulted in Japanese officials ordering the American Blue-eyed dolls to be destroyed. Japanese women, faced with the torment of taking a doll from their children, were ordered to destroy the doll. I discussed that despite the order, many Japanese women and teachers hid and preserved the dolls and about 300 out of about 12,000 dolls were saved from this terrible destruction.

There were other stamps on display that portrayed the patriotism of women. I pointed to the Gold Star Mothers stamp and explained that it was issued to commemorate mothers who had lost a child in WWII. It was for those mothers who sacrificed their loved ones; it was a commemoration. The other stamp I had on display was the Women Support America in World War II stamp showing Rosie the Riveter. The label read, “Millions of women join war effort, 1942.”[ix] I reported that according to the publication by the U.S. Postal Service, “The women who answered their country’s call …forever changed women’s roles in the American labor market.”[x] Within each discussion, the major concepts were built in a sequential fashion. As one of the follow-up activities used for this conglomerate, I asked the students to write, in their own words, a summary of what they learned new from the lesson.

Using conglomerates like this one helped to teach resident students and to give these students an advantage. It developed curiosity and encouraged motivation through the use of visual aids. The visual aids were plentiful and geared the discussion to the projected outcome. These educational conglomerates and the other educational options were utilized to conclude that correctional educators can, indeed, provide the life experiences in which are lacking in many of the resident students. Again, I argue that as a correctional educator, I feel the need to supplement the basic studies with a thought provoking, instructional fun-to-do lesson such as described above that will enrich minds and improve re-integration back into the community.

About the Author

About the Author

By Linda A. Beam

2928 Hillsboro Road

Campbellsburg, KY 40011

(502) 532-6453

Associate Professor

KCTCS/LaGrange Education Center

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