College of Education > News and Publications > 2016: 07-09 news > Philadelphia Urban Seminar gives students impactful and challenging immersion course

Philadelphia Urban Seminar gives students impactful and challenging immersion course

Jeanine Staples’ Philadelphia Urban Seminar transcends a two-week Maymester course that offers a pre-service teaching experience in an urban setting; it’s ongoing research on how to teach students to identify and intercept racist, sexist and ableist ideologies in their own souls, in school and in society.

Jeanine Staples’ Philadelphia Urban Seminar transcends a two-week Maymester course that offers a pre-service teaching experience in an urban setting; it’s ongoing research on how to teach students to identify and intercept racist, sexist and ableist ideologies in their own souls, in school and in society.

Philadelphia Urban Seminar
Participants in the 2015 Philadelphia Urban Seminar pose for picture in Center City.
The course entails Staples and her teaching assistants spending about 18 hours a day with dozens of freshmen and sophomores. They live in the same residence hall and eat, study and write as a group. They engage in emotionally taxing discussions on controversial topics, and they take part in sessions with racially, economically, sexually and linguistically diverse individuals who live in neighborhoods wildly different from those in which her students grew up, Staples said.

Staples, an associate professor of education in language and literacy education in Penn State’s College of Education and affiliate faculty member in African-American studies in the College of the Liberal Arts, presented recently at the American Education Research Association conference.

Her research topic was “Dismantling the White Supremacist Patriarchy Working Against Black Boys and Men, One Teacher at a Time’’; her session title was “Regarding Blackness and Maleness Lovingly: Critically Conscious Reflections from Women Teachers, Teacher Educators and School-Community Activists.’’

The research links itself to the Philadelphia Urban Seminar and while the overall seminar schedule is largely the same on an annual basis, research on the course is constantly updated.

“I update the interpretivist, ethnographic framework that governs the course every year,’’ Staples said. “After eight cycles, the curriculum plan is very well established and particularly reflexive. The readings, assignments, social, cultural and civic experiences, assessments and instructional methods and activities are all now aligned with a scope and sequence that generates a highly impacting and influential, intensive immersion course.

“I make them stretch intellectually and emotionally beyond what they think is possible or necessary. It is a difficult experience.’’ She also said students’ writing and digital assignments are closely examined each year, using methods for critical discourse analysis.

Staples said research revealed that roughly 8 percent of her Philadelphia Urban Seminar students pursue teaching positions in urban settings. She said her students are mostly white, middle-class females, and although she has recruited students of color, Staples said those efforts have been met with only modest success. “Several students of color are more interested in pursuing majors that position them for what they believe are more lucrative careers,’’ she said.

Her students’ in-class success, Staples said, is gauged by their abilities to deeply engage with counter, contrary and complementary narratives about social constructs that affect pedagogical formation and classroom culture. “In this case, deep engagement has to do with persistence and consistency, and to converse intelligently about research and theory and apply concepts posed within their practicum,’’ she said.

“To converse intelligently has to do with the construction of inquiry-based/critically conscious questions and assertions and to meaningfully anticipate the ways course content and experiences can be translated into professional and personal practice over time.

“Without the openness of the course, my high expectations and intensive, direct approach, and teaching assistants’ constant feedback and support, the paradigm shifts evident in the course would not take place,’’ Staples said.

Staples said she and five of her teaching assistants who have taught the course with her are in the process of writing a book that will present research on which the course is based and offer a framework for implementation and inquiry for other teacher educators in various parts of the world.

“The primary research focus of the book is that it centers the research project underlying the course, which has to do with using a New Literacies framework, along with an Endarkened Feminist Epistemology to select readings, design assignments and assessments; coordinate instructional practice and learning activities; and decolonize ideological frames that inform unconscious and conscious biases among teachers,’’ Staples said.

“By analyzing the arch of students’ artifacts, we are able to gauge the extent to which the readings, assignments, assessments and experiences influence paradigm shifts that lead to anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-ableist pedagogical formation among predominantly white pre-service teachers.’’

By Jim Carlson (September 2016)