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Iona Education Students Collaborate with Yonkers Middle School Teacher to Teach Lessons on American Immigration

Teacher candidates enrolled in EDU 383 and EDU 350 collaborated with Joseph Fitzgerald, a middle school social studies teacher, to teach four separate lessons on American immigration at the Dodson School in Yonkers during November 2016. The inter-school teaching collaborative consisted of four Iona College pre-service teachers: Mariah Ortiz, Steven Hernandez, Rosemarie Villani and Gabriella Osso. All were enrolled in a social studies methods course taught by Professor A. Vincent Ciardiello and a field experience course supervised by Professor William Zimmerman.

student teachers in middle school class

Background of the Iona College and Dodson School Collaborative

Prior to the inter-school teaching experience, education students in EDU 383 had studied and compared the immigrant experiences of newcomers at the immigration depot centers on Ellis Island in New York City and Angel Island in San Francisco. For this unit of study, students prepared lesson plans on the topic. All students visited the Ellis Island Museum to obtain information and to study artifacts of the living conditions of immigrant detainees. They also learned about conditions on Angel Island through virtual tours and videos. Simultaneously, eighth-grade students in Mr. Fitzgerald’s class were taught the same topic in a unit of study supported by an oral history grant from the federal government. As further background, both the Iona pre-service teachers and the Dodson students viewed the presidential debates and then performed mock debates regarding the issue of immigration.

student teachers in middle school class

The Inter-School Teaching Initiative

The Iona teachers-in-training shared their previously written lesson plans for EDU 383 and adapted them for the inter-school team teaching experience. They worked together to prepare for teaching the eighth-graders in cooperative learning teams. The lessons were devoted to compare the immigrant experiences on both depots during the height of American immigration (1880 -1940).

A major focus of the lessons described the stark differences between the living conditions for detainees on Ellis and Angel Islands. Students learned how the detainees on Angel Island, in contrast to those on Ellis Island, were treated as prisoners and expressed their dissatisfaction through anonymous poems written on the walls of the barracks. Examples of these protest poems were read and analyzed by the Dodson students. For reinforcement, the Iona teachers recommended that the Dodson students create their own poems pretending that they were detainees on both immigration depots. They shared their poems with other students in the class.
Below is a sample of their poems:

"On Ellis Island"
America, land of the free.
Freedom was promised along
with opportunities
New York, the big city
The chapter in my life
I will never forget.
It was rigorous.
But worth it.

"On Angel Island"
How much longer am I going
to be here?
All the suffering and pain
is getting to me.
I didn't sign up for this.
I just wanted to be free.
How is this freedom?

student teachers in middle school class

Self- Assessment of Collaborative Teaching Experience

One of the pre-service teachers, Mariah Ortiz, evaluated her own experience and those of her fellow team members in the following way:
“This experience taught me to push boundaries in my teaching and to have confidence in my growing pedagogy, my skills and my style of teaching. It was amazing to see that while (our) lessons shared the same theme and information, we used different structures, strategies and styles.”

Pre-service teacher Rosemarie Villani referred to another positive dimension of the collaborative teaching experience:
“While I know the students learned a lot from what I taught them, I learned a lot from them too. It showed me that there is always a way to make a lesson fun for students in a way that makes them want to learn.”