Redefining Learning Enviornments

By Adrienne Cytto, SED 2015

As if student teaching in Sydney, Australia was not enough of a new experience, I immersed myself into the new depths of an open space learning environment at Claremont College Primary School. Although challenging, working in the modern and flexible learning space was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had through SED. When you walk into the space of the year four room, you see that the limits to the ways in which student learning can take place is much greater than that of a general education classroom, especially when you are trying to accommodate for a year group of 53 students.

This open learning space coupled with a co-teaching model was anything but what we think of as traditional U.S. classrooms. Yet the particular set up of the space provided an exciting learning environment, one that was constantly changing and redefying the limits of the classroom. As a student teacher in this setting, it pushed me beyond my comfort level – physically and intellectually as I honed my teaching skills to adapt to the new setting. Below I outline a few of the benefits and challenges I saw to the open learning space and how I implemented instruction to make it an effective environment.


  • One of the great things about open learning spaces is that each nook and cranny can be utilized as storage for teachers and students as well as for displaying student work. Additionally, a majority of the walls and posts in the space were whiteboards, allowing students to practice solving math problems, brainstorm new ideas, and record something new they learned each week.
  • The year four space, which was shaped like an “L,” included a mini-kitchen with a large conference-like table and chairs, curved and straight tables that could be configured in many ways, and a large meeting/carpet area. This arrangement made it easy for students to be active and constantly move around the classroom and transition from whole group instruction to finding a place to work individually or in small groups.


  • As someone with a naturally soft-spoken voice, you can imagine how getting the attention of 53 students in a huge space can be quite difficult. Luckily, in addition to practicing projecting my voice (which did get louder by the end of my placement), I made use of management tools my teacher already had in place. These included ringing a bell, clapping and more to get the attention of all students as they were spread out, which was extremely helpful. While the classroom space was innovative in itself, I also had the opportunity to implement a trial microphone/speaker system that every high-energy classroom needs! As I carried a microphone box around my neck, different speakers were placed around the room. Instead of me having to leave the students I was working with in one area to go monitor off-task students in another area, I could simply use the microphone to give those students a friendly reminder of what they should be doing through a speaker. Not to mention, the system helped me amplify the sound of small, little me to reach 53 students. No system was perfect, but having multiple tools and classroom management routines in place was essential to captivating everyone’s attention at a given time.

I often find that the more choices I am given, the harder it is for me to make a decision. Free range in any given situation is not necessarily an easy task to acquire and I think this is something to remember when entering any learning space. In order to make a classroom successful, there must be a purpose for everything you do. Tables or other work areas should be arranged and rearranged as needed to give all students the best chance to be engaged learners. Also making students partners in the learning environment is crucial so that they take ownership of their belongings and individual space within the class, as well as the shared space and resources that they are fortunate to receive. Keeping these notions in mind, I think open space learning environments can be successful in the future of our classrooms and even more traditional learning environments can borrow modern and flexible tools to incorporate into the classroom as well.

Adrienne Cytto is a 2015 graduate of the School of Education with a degree in Elementary and Special Education

Lessons Beyond Subject Matter: Morality in the Classroom

By James Teixeira, SED 2018

I have always been a strong advocate for incorporating moral lessons into a curriculum. ED100, SED’s Introduction to Education course, inspired me to further reflect on the importance of teaching these lessons in the classroom, including instructing students on values that will help them to be contributing members of their communities. Often times, discussions in ED100 about the rigidity of curriculums in certain districts made me question if this was the right job for me. I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, hoping that someday I could touch the lives of children like some of my teachers have done for me over the years.

My teachers have always been a special part of my life, and I feel like they have the ability to boost a child’s self esteem in a way that no one else can. Because of this, I find it extremely important for teachers to build relationships with students, and in doing so, guiding them down the right path academically and morally. As ED100 came to a close, I realized that the course had reaffirmed my beliefs about the importance of education and the need for a child to have strong adult role models in their lives.

While there is no singular formula for successful teaching, there are shared qualities that effective teachers possess to help students rise to the challenge of academic achievement. Many of these are academically based tools that are fundamental to motivate students to rise to the challenge of achieving academic success. For example, educators stress the importance of having qualified teachers who establish a rewarding curriculum and set sufficient expectations for students. I believe that one extremely important component, however, is realizing the positive impact that teachers can have on a child’s life. While it may seem to be a difficult and daunting task to establish a positive impact, many teachers manage to do so.

Of course parents want the best for their children and hope that they will thrive academically, but I believe it is essential that they do so in a caring environment. It is important for students to learn to solve math problems and to become advanced writers, but only in a context that honors values such as love, care, compassion, and acceptance. Parents will often worry about teachers influencing their child’s beliefs on particular issues that pervade the media. Worried that “teaching values” might mean pushing their child to believe certain things, parents will sometimes reject the importance of it in the classroom. However, teaching values is meant to be instruction on the core components of character education. From the beginning, schools have been environments that foster the American community. I believe this moral training is essential to promote good citizenship and to create members of society who are honest and driven leaders.

James Teixeira is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in History Education

One World Youth Project

By Rachel Hanson, SED 2017

When I first transferred to Boston University in the fall of 2014, I knew I wanted to get into the classroom right away to get more experience. ED100 got us into a school, but it wasn’t as hands on as I was looking for. CT375 also puts us into schools, but again, it seemed to be lots of observing and smaller group interactions. It might have been a little ambitious of me, but I wanted to actually teach a class or two! I wanted to get the feel of it as well as put into practice some of the methods we had been taught starting with ED100 all the way through methods courses. That is when I heard of One World Youth Project (OWYP), a global non-profit education program.

Its vision is “a just world built though the actions of empowered, discerning, and empathetic generations of global citizens.” The way OWYP accomplishes that is by training and sending college students into local middle schools across the world and have those students teach a curriculum centered around culture, identity, and a global understanding. OWYP’s program ambassadors (“teachers”) are given a curriculum with lesson plans already written, a classroom at The Eliot School in the North End, and a partner. But the best part, in my opinion? College students from the United States to Guyana to Pakistan are bringing these same lessons into classrooms and sharing what their students are doing with another classroom across the world.

Every class, we take pictures and videos of what we are doing in our class and what our students want to know about our partner class in another country and send it to our partner classroom and they send some pictures and videos our way too. It is a great way for students to look at their own culture and explain it to students who may not know much about Boston or the United States. Also, it is an incredible experience for students to be able to ask questions and learn about other cultures around the world and getting a perspective from someone their own age.

As an aspiring teacher, this has been a valuable experience for me because I have been able to teach a lesson weekly to actual students, which is what I wanted to do all along. I must say, it is pretty nice to have lesson plans already created for me that I just need to go over a few times then teach it. My experiences with One World Youth Project only further reassure me that I am very excited to one day have a classroom of my own.

Rachel Hanson is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in History Education

Kids Say the Darndest Things

By AnneMarie Schiller, SED 2015

A compilation of quotable moments from the students of my kindergarten, third grade and fifth grade classes.

A fifth grader during free writing time:

“Look Ms. Schiller, I’m putting together a PowerPoint on binary, converting binary values to decimals and from decimals. But I’m not adding any animation because I want to keep it simple.”

While debating over a cartoon character:

Boy 1: “Is that a boy or a girl?”
Boy 2: “Obviously a girl, she’s rolling her eyes.”

One Recess, Two Proposals

A second grade girl took the ring off my pointer finger, walked away, ran back to me and said, “Give me your hand.”

She was then interrupted by one of my fifth grade boys who said, “No, no, no,” took the ring back off my hand, got down on one knee and said, “Will you be my best teacher?” then slipped the ring on my finger.

When asked, “Who is the rival of the Red Sox?” my student pointed to me, a native New Yorker, and known Yankee fan. Success.

“Ms. Schiller, have you listened to #Selfie?”

When my student in Australia found a quarter:

Student: Is this George Washington?
Me: Yes, he’s on the quarter. It’s worth twenty-five cents.
Student: Is George Washington still put on coins today?
Me: Yes, he’s always on the quarter.
Student: Well shouldn’t Barack Obama be on the money?

A new rendition of a classic:

“The itsy-bitsy spider
Climbed up the water spout
Down came the rain
And washed Ms. Schiller out…”

The wise words of a five year old:

“What’s the unluckiest kind of cat? A catastrophe.

What do you call a pile of cats? A meowtain.

If you’re really big and are a vampire, then you’ll get diabetes.”

Discoveries of a seven year old:

“I have lots of things with my name in it: Jackhammer, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and the Candlestick, Jack like the pumpkin, and The Jack by AC/DC.”

Student: Ms. Schiller, are you married?
Me: Oh my goodness! Do you think I am?
Student: No.
Me: Then why did you ask, silly?
Student: Because you’re old and you should be married.

Me: Do you know any other languages?
Student: Apple juice!
Me: Languages, silly! Like Spanish, French, Italian…
Student: French!
Me: Really? What can you say?
Student: Hola!

AnneMarie Schiller is a 2015 graduate of the School of Education with a degree in Elementary and Special Education

The R-Word

By Allison Nadler, SED 2017

I appreciate language. I love the fact that different cultures have their own language system, various parts of the world have different accents, and other languages rely on gestures or hand motions instead of spoken expression. Ultimately, language is comprised of words that have meaning, implications, and evoke reactions. They have positive or negative connotations, and a single word can have multiple definitions. My favorite word is serendipity; it means a happy accident. There is one word that makes me cringe every time I hear it: the r-word, retarded. As someone who has been involved in the special needs community for about nine years now, I am an avid proponent for the removal of this word from our everyday vocabulary. I emphasize everyday vocabulary because I think that if we completely erase the r-word from our language, we will have nothing with which to teach others. Just like the “r-word” campaign’s motto says, we must “spread the word to end the word.”

Casually, the r-word is used to describe someone who did something wrong or dumb, or a circumstance that transpired poorly. Before the r-word was added to informal language, it was a medical term used to refer to an individual with a cognitive impairment. Today, we recognize that this terminology implies negativity. It refers to an individual with deficits, learning difficulties, and a “slower” demeanor. As society continues to advance, we are changing the way in which we acknowledge an individual with disabilities. For example, instead of describing a child as someone with low-functioning autism, which implies that they are incapable of performing many skills and tasks, we refer to them as an individual with a high need for support; this way we are implying that this individual is someone who can complete tasks, he just needs help to do so. Simply changing the words we use can completely alter the overtone of a sentence or conversation. Using the r-word automatically establishes an association to a person with an impairment, regardless of the context in which the word is used.

Every time someone uses the r-word it reminds others that there are individuals in our communities who can’t. Teachers are reminded that their student can’t, children are reminded that their friend can’t, parents are reminded that their child can’t, siblings are reminded that their brother or sister can’t. Most importantly, it reminds the individual that he can’t, and perhaps, shouldn’t even try. One of the main reasons the r-word bothers me is because every time I hear it, all of the amazing individuals with whom I work are devalued, discredited, and hurt.

When I hear the r-word, I make it a point to ask the speaker to rephrase what they said. Most of the time, the r-word can be substituted with “annoying” or “senseless,” words that are not directly associated with an individual with a cognitive impairment. Occasionally, my interruption will result in a short conversation about the r-word and why the speaker should restate the sentence. I choose to act as an advocate for the disability community. As an advocate, I help raise awareness and promote acceptance. I always encourage others to follow my lead and “spread the word to end the word.”

Allison Nadler is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in Special Education

The Value of an Arts-Based Education

By Colleen Mahany, SED 2015

Prior to the start of my student teaching at Boston Arts Academy, a pilot high school within the Boston Public School District for the visual and performing arts, I associated academics and learning with classrooms, desks, pencils, essays, exams, and projects. While all of these things are still part of my construct of academics and learning, I believe I have enhanced and widened my understanding of what education means.

As a special educator within Boston Arts Academy, I worked closely with a small number of seniors who have various educational needs. They are tremendous human beings and spending each morning with them has been an absolute privilege. However, before I lose my way describing the wonderful nature of each of these young men, I shall return to my original point, an arts-based education.

Each student at Boston Arts Academy is admitted through an academically-blind audition process. Students study within one of four disciplines: music, theater, dance, or visual arts. I instantly saw the uniqueness of Boston Arts Academy upon entering the school and meeting my students. However, it wasn’t until I began to understand each young man on an individual basis that I truly saw the beauty and great importance of arts in education. For example, one of my students is involved in the theater program. He is bright, personable, and has dyslexia and attention difficulties. Even with the support of assistive technology, he struggles to complete reading and writing tasks independently. Nonetheless, he frequently demonstrates his critical thinking skills and intuitive understanding of complex texts with moments of clarity and passion.

While I welcomed and was impressed by his contributions, it was not until I saw him perform in his senior theater showcase that I began to understand that these moments were only the topmost branch of a plant with deep, deep roots. This student took on an incredibly difficult role. He played a criminal with a mental illness, a lisp, and a fairly traumatic burn covering the majority of his face. Not exactly a “walk in the park” role. From the moment he first crawled and shimmied his way across the stage on all fours, I witnessed deep commitment, focus, passion, transformation, versatility, and confidence. Sitting in the audience, I realized that his understanding of this theatrical piece went beyond anything I could comprehend as a non-actor.

I do not think it is a difficult leap to assume that his strengths in critical thinking and comprehension are deeply rooted in his theatrical training. Bringing plays and characters to life has not only enhanced his education, but also allowed him to show a level of understanding and commitment to the written and spoken word that would have otherwise gone unearthed.

For this student in particular, a student that faces academic challenges daily, the opportunity to showcase and enhance his cognitive skills through art is nothing short of invaluable.

Colleen Mahany is a 2015 graduate of the School of Education with a degree in History Education.