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 Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter

IN THE SPOTLIGHT


Confronting trauma in the classroom creates opportunities to learn and grow
by Allison Sylvest

It is generally acknowledged that our experiences shape us. Can even difficult life events be engaged to mold and positively redirect school experience?

Even well after the initial influence of a particular trauma has faded, its effects can have a long-lasting impact not only on emotional wellbeing, but also on how an individual functions intellectually. Elizabeth Dutro, associate professor in the School of Education, has focused her research on the ways in which students’ traumatic events can be brought into the classroom to aid in their ability to learn and grow. “By purposefully allowing traumatic experiences into the classroom, teachers, students and their peers can get past the discomfort and tap into these experiences to develop and enhance literacy,” she said.

Dutro’s work in this area grew out of past research on the intersections of literacy and identity in children with challenging backgrounds such as poverty. Her early teaching in an inner city school gave her insights into the effects that marginalized backgrounds can have on a child’s opportunity to build positive relationships with school and learning. Her own traumatic experience as an adolescent provided personal knowledge, and gave birth to the concept of expanding such influences beyond social class and identity to include the difficulty of dealing with distinct experiences, such as a death in the family or a parent serving time for a conviction.

Through research with local K-12 teachers, Dutro outlines ways to apply this kind of engaged teaching in the classroom. The Teacher Research for Equity and Opportunity (TREO) research collaborative, a project she founded in 2008, works to meet two main goals: 1) to establish a collaborative research group at CU-Boulder focused centrally on issues of educational equity and opportunity, and 2) to employ a collaborative research model to build and disseminate understandings about how students are positioned within classrooms, the multiple factors that influence opportunities to build positive relationships with schooling, and strategies for increasing school engagement and success. “Teachers are able to come together to share their insights from working with children in different age groups,” she said. “This creates understanding about how kids process experiences from the time they are small children throughout their teenage years.”

The learning generated from this project will be shared with participating teachers’ colleagues, pre-service teachers at CU-Boulder, and larger groups of educators and researchers both locally and nationally. The project has supported two doctoral students as collaborators, providing experience that directly applies to their dissertation research and future roles as tenure-track faculty. In addition, an undergraduate student collaborates on the project through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), and the project continues to seek opportunities to benefit undergraduates by sharing findings with students enrolled in education courses.

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