For the past five years, at the end of the spring and fall semester, I have waited with excited anticipation for the major end-product of my educational psychology class – the Developmental Dossier. I have now enjoyed, really enjoyed, reading at least 400 of these dossiers produced by students in both Castleton State and Franklin Pierce College.Each dossier is dedicated to an in-depth examination of an individual’s life journey from a psychoeducational perspective. The subject could be anyone important to the student. Typically the choice of subject is a brother or sister, mother or father, boyfriend or girlfriend. The dossier incorporates a rich and varied collection of material devoted to that person’s journey or part of the journey, along one or more developmental pathways. More often than not the student chooses to examine his or her own life. The dossiers tend to be exceptionally powerful if this is the case.
Some call the dossier a “scrap-book” and in some ways it is. I certainly encourage a creative approach to its production. Many students indulge their passion for “scrap-booking” and spend hours upon hours making it worthy of a special place in their home or as a special present for a loved one. However, for the most part it goes way beyond a scrap-book. Usually it does include photographs. They tell a story – often quite moving. They are included to highlight particular points along the developmental process.
Students choose, for example, between emotional, physical, cognitive, moral, and, or social development as guide posts along the way. They may look at strengths, possible weaknesses, personal triumphs, family disasters or history. We might have pictures ranging from “this is me being cuddled by my mom an hour after I was born” to “me graduating from high school.” In between there may be pictures of “me playing soccer” or “my brother when he was a heroin addict.” The pictures are accompanied by all manner of materials – school documents, school reports, evaluations, newspaper cuttings, pieces of creative writing, poems, art work, interviews of teachers or moms and dads or grandparents, and anecdotal material gathered over the semester.
Everything combines to provide a multifaceted profile of the subject in the process of development and is closely linked to the principles and concepts associated with educational psychology and the process of teaching and learning. The story could depict the development of a little kindergartner into an undergraduate student or an innocent baby into an abused child in elementary school or an undergraduate student trying to overcome the trauma of a divorce that took place back in elementary school days or an elementary school-aged child trying to concentrate on learning at school while at the same time as living with an alcoholic parent at home or a young individual handicapped with some unusual disease.
For the final exam at the end of the semester, the dossiers are used as “textbooks”. Each student is required to analyze his or her story from the perspective of a teacher, psychologist or counselor, establish the psychoeducational lesson or lessons that come from the story and then teach a lesson to groups of peers. The stories never fail to provide a privileged insight into someone’s very private life. However, the student is never required to share anything that he or she feels is completely confidential or embarrassing in some particularly hurtful way.
The title of this piece is “Raising conscious awareness.” I am constantly astounded how this developmental dossier does exactly that – raise conscious awareness. Almost without exception, the process involved in creating the dossier seems to bring a mix of sadness, joy, and genuine pleasure to my students. It is not uncommon to experience a young man or woman in floods of tears while relating his or her story. I remember one particular student who carefully explained her relationship with her brother and how it underwent many changes on his journey from little brother to a “stranger” completely addicted to mind-changing drugs and back to big brother completely cured. Everyone cried when this story was related to the class. Another story I especially remember is that of a young woman whose parents went through a divorce.
The creation of the dossier provided the opportunity for the very first realistic examination of the issue that had been troubling her deeply for several years. By going through the photographs, talking with the parents, and examining the situation as a potential professional, she was able to come to terms with the problem. She realized that for the first time she was able to talk about the pain and its impact on her as a student. It was cathartic.
I am certain that by raising conscious awareness in our students we can stimulate intellectual and emotional growth. In doing so, we can also facilitate personal transformation . and, even at times, psychological healing.
The test of a good teacher is not how many questions he can ask his pupils that they will answer readily, but how many questions he inspires them to ask him which he finds it hard to answer – Alice Wellington Rollin