Featured Teacher: Karen Batten
Karen Batten teaches English and Spanish at Oakridge Junior Senior High School—a district serving about 500 students in a town with a population just over 3,000. According to Karen, “Most classes are open to any grade. For example, in my Spanish 1 and 2 classes, I have students from all grades 7-12.”
Karen joined the very first cohort of STELLAR participants, where she quickly revealed herself as an outstanding teacher and colleague. When the first cohort finished its year of training, she joined the STELLAR team as a mentor, assisting and advising new participants in their training and practice. Her contributions have been vital to the STELLAR Project’s efforts in Oakridge and elsewhere, as having mentors on-site to answer questions and work through issues is particularly useful in remote districts.
“Since STELLAR, I definitely feel an even stronger sense of collegiality, of team spirit, of working toward a common goal,” Karen says. “In our rural town, some teachers are local, and some commute in. Teachers already have very full, busy schedules, and a job where we’re isolated from other adults most of the day, and adding a commute for many of us makes regular professional and social gatherings pretty difficult to schedule. Being able to meet on-line was wonderful . . . You can be in your PJs, but you can access great professional development and contact with colleagues from your school and from all over. STELLAR gave me more time with my colleagues.”
STELLAR provides participating teachers with a free field trip to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, an experience which Karen says she found especially memorable. “It was great to get to take them to an actual museum and have them experience art in person instead of just projected from a computer . . . It’s rewarding, and no extra “trinkets” or “awards” are necessary. Satisfaction and fun are the ultimate reward.”
In the classroom, Karen found Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), which is one of the STELLAR Project’s key ingredients, to be an effective tool to keep students engaged and curious, while encouraging an environment of mutual respect and collaboration. “During VTS discussions, students listen to each other, build on each others’ hypotheses, explain evidence to support their opinions, and rethink and revisit assumptions.” While Karen herself uses VTS with middle- and high-school students, she states that the strategy works with many age groups. “I’ve seen colleagues do VTS at the elementary level. It’s super for all ages, and it naturally lends itself to varying degrees of depth and complexity.”
Though Karen incorporates a traditional VTS session into her lessons at least once a month, she doesn’t just use VTS for visual art. She also uses it in teaching grammar in her Spanish classes, and in literature discussions in her English classes. “I can tell students are more eager to contribute . . . I think VTS discussions help students be more open to being proven wrong, to considering multiple possibilities . . . VTS helps teach students that it’s ok to go through a process, to change your mind, to entertain many possibilities, and to not know.”
Karen believes that VTS builds skills that benefit students far beyond just the classroom. “VTS helps students learn about, practice, and start to incorporate some great life skills: hypothesizing, holding different possibilities in mind, considering others’ views, supporting your opinion, reevaluating, and more. I see students more open to believing that mistakes are welcome, that thinking things through is as important or more important than knowing what some expert says about the theme or symbolism . . . Students are more engaged. Learning feels fun, and the skills we’re practicing are applicable to… everything.”
Now that she is a STELLAR mentor, Karen’s VTS training continues, as does her use VTS in her classes and her daily life. “[VTS] has served as a good reminder to pause, to look deeply, to wonder. You know, it’s helped my communication skills, too, when I remember to use it. ‘What do you see that makes you say that?’ accompanied with genuine curiosity, is so helpful for understanding people in your life!”
The Oregon Writing Project is pleased to honor our outstanding participants and mentors in this new Featured Teacher series. Check back soon to learn about more of our fantastic teachers!