On Saturday, March 2, 2013 I conducted a workshop with teachers from the Urban Charter Schools Collective, a coalition of schools in urban areas around California that operate under charters allowing them more freedom to innovate in their curriculum and administration. About half of the participants were from the Yav Pem Suab Academy, a public elementary school in Sacramento, California, where the workshop was held. This unique charter school primarily serves the Hmong population in Sacramento. The Hmong are fiercely independent hill people from Southeast Asia who helped the United States fight the communist Pathet Lao during the Laotian Civil War, and were rewarded for their courage by being allowed to immigrate to the U.S.
The Yav Pem Suab Academy provides a dynamic curriculum based on the work of brain-based and integrated thematic instruction pioneer Susan Kovalik and multiple intelligences innovator and Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner. Its curriculum includes teaching the language and culture of the Hmong, instruction in tae kwon do and hip hop music and dance, and a solidly academic program. The deep respect that the Academy has for its students is revealed by the practice of referring to them as ”scholars” rather than students.
I had the good fortune to be invited to Yav Pem Suab Academy by Kovalik, the developer of the Highly Effective Teaching Model, who works full-time for the school in developing its curriculum and helping to optimize its positive school climate. Susan is an incredibly dynamic teacher who has made a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of students across the United States. She began the workshop by having the teachers read Leonardo da Vinci’s IEP Meeting. We discussed how the gifts of students with special needs often get neglected in the special education process, which tends to focus mainly on their deficits.
Then I presented my workshop, entitled ”Eight Ways to Teach Practically Anything: How to Develop Your Students’ Multiple Intelligences.” After reviewing the eight intelligences in Dr. Gardner’s model (through experiences of those intelligences), I taught them the physics concept of Boyle’s law using all eight intelligences, introduced them to a lesson planning tool that would enable them generate strategies for any instructional objective, provided some examples using Dr. Seus and multiplication, created seven activity centers around the room, and led them in brainstorming strategies around specific objectives.
Finally, the teachers planned lessons using the multiple intelligences. Topics they chose included cooperation, spelling skills, math division, and telling time. I was pleased with the way the teachers responded with enthusiasm to the materials, and how they came up with so many great ideas for helping their scholars master these academic objectives. I was also impressed with the questions that the teachers asked during our discussions. For example, one teacher wondered whether highly ”word-smart” students who learned a lesson linguistically, would start to feel confused when being taught the same objective through some of their less developed intelligences (I suggested that the student be continually shown the connection between the linguistic representation and the, say, spatial or musical representation of the objective).
I encourage you to visit the website of Yav Pem Suab Academy and learn how important the urban charter schools movement is to helping students in the inner city develop their curiosity, creativity, and academic capacities in a safe and supportive environment.