University of New Mexico graduate students, Perfelia Zohnie and Frankie Montoya talk about their graduate projects, Wednesday at San Juan College.
University of New Mexico graduate students, Perfelia Zohnie and Frankie Montoya talk about their graduate projects, Wednesday at San Juan College. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)
FARMINGTON — With their final presentations behind them, area teachers enrolled in the master's degree program at the local branch of the University of New Mexico are ready to bring their studies into the classroom.

Situated in the San Juan College 30th Street campus, the graduate teacher education program is one of several graduate programs offered by the satellite office.

Instructor Frances Vatali said that because the program is practitioner-based, the teachers' work reflects their attempts to improve learning in their classrooms.

"It showcases what they are doing in the classroom and seeing how their children are doing things different and learning better in the process," Vatali said.

Two of the eight graduating teachers from San Juan County school districts shared their experiences in the program Wednesday night.

Each had to give an oral presentation about a topic they were interested in researching and testing in their classroom.

Perfelia Zohnie, a third-grade teacher at Eva B. Stokley Elementary School in Shiprock, chose to focus her presentation on using storytelling to inspire her third-grade class to speak, read and write.

During a class lesson, she discovered that her students were starting to lose focus. But when she started telling a story about the U.S. Postal Service and the Pony Express, it grabbed the students' attention. That discovery prompted Zohnie to try and introduce storytelling into subjects like math and social studies.

"I wanna keep storytelling in my classroom. It was my way of getting my students the background knowledge that they need and finding out what catches their attention during lessons," Zohnie said. "I learned how to come up with my own math stories to introduce math subjects. They liked it. I had them write down comments, and they said they enjoyed the storytelling.
University of New Mexico graduate students, Perfelia Zohnie and Frankie Montoya talk about their graduate projects, Wednesday at San Juan College.
University of New Mexico graduate students, Perfelia Zohnie and Frankie Montoya talk about their graduate projects, Wednesday at San Juan College. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)
"

Another teacher in the graduate program, Frankie Montoya teaches third-grade at Animas Elementary School in Farmington, said she was surprised by Zohnie's ability to use storytelling in the classroom.

"It was interesting because Perfelia told us she learns history better through stories because she herself related through better through stories," Montoya said. "It was amazing she could share that."

For her research project, Montoya looked into what happens when her students have more chances to practice critical thinking during math lessons.

With changes in teaching and testing with the Common Core Standards, Montoya said she wanted to see how her students worked together.

"I knew I wanted to go in that area. It's very important for our students to work collaboratively, and to be able to discuss what they learned and be able to discuss what they are thinking," Montoya said.

Montoya discovered her third-graders learned best in pairs, not in groups. When students were in groups, she noticed that one student in each group was sitting idly.

"Kids are used to (teachers) telling them what to think and for them to make decisions for themselves. It was difficult for them to adjust," Montoya said. "It's not just getting the right answer. It's the strategies they're using to get there."

Vatali said the students were able to learn from their interactions and their hardships.

"One of the best things was to communicate and bounce ideas off each other. It was amazing when someone came in and said, I'm having a bad time with this, and I had a really bad day because of this,'" Montoya said. "It was amazing to share each other's knowledge and find solutions for the problems we had."

Joshua Kellogg can be reached at jkellogg@daily-times.com; 505-564-4627. Follow him on Twitter @jkelloggdt.