August 15, 2018

VSU’s Deb Marciano Presents at International Education Conference in Italy

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University’s Dr. Deb Marciano recently traveled to Florence, Italy, as a chosen presenter at the Future of Education International Conference, a two-day event attended by more than 200 teachers, researchers, practitioners, and project managers representing 45 countries.

Marciano’s presentation, “Children’s Literature as a Means to Global Cultural Connections,” discussed the pedagogical strategies applied during a 2015 VSU study abroad trip to Italy. 

“It was exciting because the conference was truly international,” she said. “I met people from all over, and I loved getting to share my ideas and work with them.”

While in Italy, Marciano, a professor in VSU’s Department of Elementary Education, and her husband, Ray Noll, an adjunct instructor in VSU’s Department of Art and Design, revisited where the study abroad trip was based — the town of Murano sul Panaro and the region of Valle D’Aosta, Valdosta’s unofficial sister city because of the similarity in name. They met with Mayor Fulvio Centoz of Aosta, the capital of Valle D’Aosta, and presented him with VSU apparel as well as gifts and city mementos sent by Valdosta Mayor John Gayle.

During the month-long study abroad trip in 2015, Marciano, Noll, and five early childhood and special education students from VSU taught a series of lessons connecting culture, children’s literature, and social studies in five Italian schools to students ages 7 to 16. The lessons centered around a wordless children’s book, “Where’s Walrus?” by Stephen Savage, that depicts a walrus who escapes from a New York City zoo and spends the day blending in to various comical scenes and situations. The Italian students were asked to draw illustrations showing where Walrus would blend in if he visited their cities.

“In Valle D’Aosta, students had Walrus as a mountaineer; as a Roman centurion; and in an Alpine jacket enjoying the local Fontina cheese. In Marano sul Panaro, he was growing famous Duroni cherries and in the town fountain,” said Noll, who provided artistic guidance to the students. “They took us into their local areas and showed us what was important to them in that region.”

The lessons allowed the VSU teacher candidates to teach the Italian students about their culture and vice-versa.

“Using that one piece of children’s literature was the springboard for conversations,” Marciano said. “The VSU teacher candidates, who do not speak Italian, used the book with students who are learning English as a second or third language, and they saw how easy it was to stimulate thought, conversation, and creativity.

“I love being a teacher because I see ways that learning does not need to be painful. It doesn’t need to be rote. It isn’t spitting back what you just read or what you heard in a lecture. I try to provide practical application for the classroom. We were able to do that in another language and another country.

“I wanted to share our experience with an international education audience, and this conference was an excellent opportunity to do that.”

Marciano’s presentation in Florence marks the third time she has discussed the study abroad trip to Italy at a professional conference. She also presented on the topic at the annual Georgia Association of Teacher Educators Conference in 2016 and 2017, along with several of the VSU students who participated in the program.

She has also published two professional articles on the study abroad program — “Opening Eyes by Opening Classroom Doors: Multicultural Musings of Study Abroad in Italy” (Journal of Multicultural Affairs, February 2016) and “An American Wordless Picturebook in Italian Classrooms: Inspiring Global Connections of People, Places, and Environments” (The Social Studies, October 2017). She presented both articles to Centoz and Mayor Emilia Muratore of Marano sul Panaro during her recent trip to Italy.

“I’m a huge proponent of study abroad,” said Marciano, who is Italian-American and has visited Italy nine times. “When you travel, you’re never the same. These were eye-opening experiences for our VSU students. They were exposed to experiential learning opportunities in another culture, and we watched them mature daily throughout the trip.” 

The Future of Education International Conference is an annual event presented by Pixel, an international education and training institution that seeks to promote transnational cooperation and shared good practice in the field of education. Following the conference, Pixel featured Marciano’s presentation on its website as a model example based on the quality of the presentation and its contents.

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