Photography for Teacher Preparation in Literacy: Innovations in Instruction
Cappello, Marva, Issues in Teacher Education
(ProQuest: ... denotes "strike-through" in the original text omitted.)
My new graduate students in Curriculum and Instruction at San Diego State University reacted with surprise when they discovered that the syllabus indicated no requisite textbook. Instead, access to a camera was required. "Any camera will do: disposable, film, or digital." I recommended several texts to the students, including Wendy Elwald and Alexandra Lightfoot's I Wanna Take Me a Picture: Teaching Photography and Writing to Children, but none of these texts were necessary to be successful in the course. This was during one summer semester when I had the opportunity to teach a course entitled "Innovations in Instruction." My broad goals for the course focused on experienced-based and student-centered learning. These unusual course requirements unnerved some students and motivated others, engaging all that first afternoon.
This cohort of 26 teachers was enrolled in their final semester at the university, many of them already at work on their master's projects. All were credentialed teachers with varying years of classroom experience. Many of them taught in elementary schools across San Diego and Riverside Counties, others worked in high schools. One teacher worked in a California state-run program for juvenile offenders, and another taught abroad during the school years, returning home only for the summer. This cohort worked with children from diverse linguistic, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. The teachers represented a similar diversity in socioeconomic background, including those who learned English as their second language in school while speaking Spanish, Tagalog, and Farsi at home.
The curriculum of this class was unusual for me, too. My typical teaching load includes courses in literacy methods and assessment. However, I did bring two important characteristics to the experience: (1) my belief in constructivist principles for teaching and learning, and (2) my background in photography.
At the core of my personal learning theory is the belief that we are all active learners who use our own prior knowledge to make sense of new information, also known as constructivism. These ideas led me to explore the potential of experience-based learning where instruction is student-centered. Elements of constructivism and other social-epistemic theories are evident throughout my research in literacy. My background in photography includes a Bachelor of Fine Arts from a noted school of photography (Rochester Institute of Technology), several years managing photo libraries for advertising agencies, and recent research projects exploring the potential of photography for inquiry in education (Cappello, 2005, 2006; Cappello & Hollingsworth, 2008).
This article describes the students' experiences and my practice around one major course assignment, The Neighborhood Alphabet Book, developed to effectively demonstrate course objectives. This project emerged naturally and opportunistically from the crossroads where my background and interest in photography intersect with my involvement in teacher education in literacy.
Innovations in Instruction
This course encourages teachers to explore instructional practices, with an emphasis on innovative teaching strategies. I focused the curriculum on experience-based learning, a model that integrates theory and practice and promotes student-centered learning within a strong context of creative and critical thinking (Dewey, 1938; Kolb, 1984). Photography workshops in the curriculum encouraged creative thinking and served as a tool for expressing critical ideas and understandings. Indeed visual literacy-knowledge of and experience with visual conventions- was a significant component of the course because it is an interpretation-based process. Visual literacy "emanate[s] from a nonverbal core, it becomes the basic literacy in the thought processes of comprehending and composing" (Sinatra 1986, p. …