City Spotlights Leadership Program - Reflections From a Teaching Artist

Posted 15 December 2011 12:00 AM by Jeremy Cohen

Gettin bloggy wit it!

Often what passes for knowledge in an education seminar seems far removed from the reality of the classroom. For years I'd heard about 'Asset-Based Instruction' and 'Culturally Responsive Practice', two concepts that basically translate to: respect the knowledge students bring with them into the classroom and let it help guide instruction. Sounds nice in theory, but putting it into practice is another matter.


For starters, striking the right balance between student-directed and teacher-directed instruction can be tricky to say the least. After all, as much was we want to respect our students' perspectives, we as adults also feel we know things that young people could benefit from, things they wouldn't necessarily seek out on their own. In other cases, teachers are under such intense pressure to teach to standardized tests they simply don't have time to collaborate with their students on an 'asset-based' or 'culturally responsive' curriculum.

So it was with great joy that I realized my work with the City Spotlights Leadership Program was nothing if not an asset-based/culturally responsive tour de force! Partly owing to the immense talent of the youth leaders, and partly to the tight schedule we were on, I had no choice but to step back and take on the role of facilitator. As folks who do this kind of work know, facilitation is a very particular skill, one that does not necessarily correlate to artistic talent, or even conventional classroom teaching experience. At times I even felt like, "Man, do I even need to be here"?

In the end, I felt like my co – teaching artist Corey and I did strike that balance with the youth leaders between student-based and teacher-based knowledge. As a result, we were able to come together for an awesome final show on November 17th. Using voices and drums (and a little help from the occasional pre-recorded track) we demonstrated the myriad performing art forms that could be created with just these "original instruments." 

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