Fall 2003

It’s around two o’clock in Regan Galipeau’s second-grade classroom, time for the math lesson. But this isn’t some routine muttering of multiplication tables: the room crackles with energy as kids throw up their hands, competing to offer the “right” number. Galipeau ’00 is holding an auction and as her students bid play dollars and cents on items like bright smiley-face stickers and a Mickey Mouse doll, they are almost unconsciously putting skills to work:how much money do I have and how long can I keep bidding? Will I have the cash if something better comes along? Can I negotiate with my neighbors and share the toy for a fraction of the cost?

If it’s been a few decades since you walked the halls of elementary school, welcome to a new world where communal tables have displaced desks, where project-based learning beats a teacher at the blackboard and where a child’s “multiple intelligences” are targeted every day.

It’s a bit of a new world for Champlain, too, having just in the last several years shifted its focus from early childhood education to preparing undergraduates for careers teaching kindergarten through sixth grade. But with its emphasis on experiential learning—and strong facultystudent relationships—the College is proving to be an ideal training ground for the best kind of teacher: creative, empathetic, passionate.

Most unique is that students get right to work with children—from their second semester freshman year until they graduate.“I admit you get taught a lot about math and literacy,” Galipeau says,“but getting into the classroom was the biggest thing for me. At Champlain there’s plenty of opportunity to get in and teach what you learn.”

It’s just that point—that you need to act on what you learn—that has rocked classrooms from kindergarten to college, at least the good ones, according to Champlain Education Director Colin Ducolon. “Kids learn through play,” he says. “We’ve known that for a hundred years.” Educators may have intuited that truth,but over the last few decades, science has backed them up, clearing the way for a new style of teaching. And if play is a hands-on, interactive exercise for kids, then the lesson holds true for adults too. These findings are changing not just the way we teach kids, but the way we educate teachers as well.

“The research on young children is telling us that we all learn best when we can do something with the information, not just listen to it and write it on paper,” Ducolon says. “That’s the impact [the science] has had on education today. We know that if we want kids to understand any concept, whatever it happens to be, we’ve got to do something with it. So you make a project, you go out into the community, you take pictures, you do a Power Point. I think that’s had a tremendous effect.”

Ducolon admits that high schools and particularly colleges have been slow to change.The notion of a bow-tied professor lecturing as students feverishly take notes (or nod off in the back of the room) is deeply entrenched. But not in the classrooms of Ducolon’s team.

“We teach in the style that we would expect students to teach children—working in small groups for collaboration,” he explains.“And the kinds of assessments we do are not necessarily tests the way we took in school. They’re more action-oriented.”A recent final exam in a social studies course, for example, required students to choose an article from the Burlington Free Press, analyze it and design a lesson around it.

But it’s the teaching time that education majors log that makes the theory come alive. Students bring their experiences back to the Champlain classroom where they become fodder for discussion and the basis for self-reflection. They trade tricks on everything from getting a class’s attention (a gentle rain stick works better than a sharp handclap) to dealing with difficult parents.

“That’s probably one of the most important aspects of the education program,” says Jessica Pettigrew ’03 (see “Student Teacher of the Year,” page 12). “We could share what things worked and what didn’t—and avoid making the same mistakes we saw other teachers making. It’s always nice to be able to go back and talk to your professor. It lets you know that what you did was okay or at least gives you the comfort of knowing that someone else has been through it.”

That feedback is crucial, says Associate Professor Paul Koulouris, who emphasizes Champlain’s highly structured system for supervising student teachers. In the second semester of the senior year, when student-teaching becomes full-time, faculty observe each individual every other week, an intense schedule by most standards. But again, the process is more interactive than passive. “I observe, take notes, often videotape the lesson,”Koulouris says. “Then we get together and talk about how it went and look at the children’s work.We celebrate what went well and discuss areas that could be strengthened.We do a lot of reflection.”

One reason these exchanges are so profitable to students is the extraordinary access they have to faculty. It’s a common practice for full-time student teachers to call or exchange long e-mails with their advisors in the evenings before heading back to their classrooms the next morning. “You had the security of knowing that someone was there for you if you had a problem,” says Pettigrew.

When Champlain faculty work closely with students, they’re doing more than providing support—they’re modeling one of the most challenging tasks the young teachers will face in the classroom. Today’s teachers are not only expected to get to know each child, but to tailor their lessons to meet individual needs.

“I believe that children develop at different rates,” says
Koulouris, who has a background in developmental psychology. “It is our responsibility to know where a child is developmentally, cognitively and emotionally.The research shows that we need to differentiate our instruction based on where the child is.”

But how does a teacher accomplish such a feat in the swirl of special projects and pulled pigtails and mandatory standardized tests? “You work really hard,” Koulouris answers.“You have to be skilled in teaching and skilled in managing time.Teachers have to make that quality time in small groups or one-on-one. It’s just so crucial.”

In her bustling fourth-grade classroom, with the art projects and the plants and the geometry and biology posters that seem to cover every surface, Jacie Knapp ’00 meets that challenge with passion and grace. The job is made tougher by the socioeconomic reality of the students in her school.Seventy-five percent, she says,come from broken homes. Some come from great families, some from families where they get little care and attention, and some have landed in foster care.“I give them a lot that they don’t get at home,” Knapp says. “Stability, clear guidelines that make them feel safe, tender love and care.”

And she makes them feel smart. “Any kid who walks into my room can learn and will learn. But every child has a different way of learning,” says Knapp. She explains about her work at Champlain on multiple intelligences, the idea that there are different ways to demonstrate intellectual ability, ranging from spatial to verbal and even to rhythmic or musical. “We do math a thousand different ways,” she says,“hitting all those intelligences to see how they learn. That drives everything I do.”

Clearly Knapp’s style works. In June she said good-bye to a little boy who came into her class struggling. His parents were splitting up; his self-esteem was low. But she looked deeper and saw a bright and eager child. Her strategy was not to let him get frustrated because he didn’t understand what she said. Instead, Knapp facilitated his own discoveries.“And he got lots of hugs,” she emphasizes. “That was a huge piece.” Early on she had reminded him of the story of the little engine that could. “All year,” Knapp says,“you could hear him tell himself,‘I think I can.’”

With teachers like this, it seems possible that they all can. O

Student Teacher of the Year:
Jessica Pettigrew '03
[ image above, left ]

A literature lesson that includes a map quest on the Web. Clapping in rhythm to kick off morning story time. Jessica Pettigrew’s creative, thoughtful and original approach to curriculum design earned her Champlain’s top teaching honor.

“Jessica has excellent communication skills, unflappable poise and a wonderful sense of humor,” says her supervising professor Paul Koulouris. “And she took the time to get to know her students. They absolutely loved her.”

If the children loved Pettigrew, the feeling was mutual, says this former music major who found her way to the classroom by giving piano lessons and encouraging her students to sing and perform. “That’s when I decided what I wanted to do,” she says. “I loved watching them learn.”

Today Pettigrew, who is from Rhode Island, favors third- and fourth-graders and especially loves teaching math—once she overcame her fear of it. “It’s fun to teach [this age] research skills, then let them follow their own interests,” she says. But she never strays too far from her musical background. “You can always implement music in your curriculum,” says Pettigrew. “Kids like to do anything with rhythm. It gets their attention.”

“My biggest goal is to just get better at what I’m doing,” says fourth-grade teacher Jacie Knapp ’00 (center).
Nina Tupper ‘00, teaching technology.
Associate Professor Paul Koulouris (right) with graduating seniors Brian Amero ‘03, Jennifer Hazard ‘03 and Martha Bishop ‘03.
(From left) Stacey Dolan ’03, adjunct faculty Ken Reisig, Colin Ducolon and Melissa Young ’03 review senior teaching portfolios, which include lesson plans, examples of children’s work and a personal philosophy of education.

Evolving Education
When Champlain launched its bachelor’s program in elementary education in 1996, it graduated one student. Last spring 34 teachers earned their degrees. With the growth, it’s clear that the transition from the program’s roots in early childhood was necessary, if difficult. “Childcare workers do wonderful work,” says Education Director Colin Ducolon. “I gave most of my professional life to early childhood, but I also know that you have to be realistic and earn a salary that lets you put food on your table.”

As the program evolves, it is becoming increasingly rigorous. For the first time this fall, juniors are required to pass Vermont’s Praxis I exams in reading, writing and math before enrolling in the Language Arts Methods course.

The scope has also broadened. The College is working on three new programs that, if approved, should be ready by fall of 2004: a middle-school program, a high school program in English and social studies, and a graduate-level certificate program that would prepare students for licensure in special education. Look for these degrees to have a unique Champlain spin: high-tech tools will give grads an extra edge in the classroom.

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