Ten hours of pre-service field experience is both a requirement and right of passage for students in education programs throughout the country. How those ten hours are spent varies a great deal, and in most cases depends on the structure of the college or university. As a principal, I have a responsibility to help shape the next generation of teachers by providing classroom experience for pre-service teachers. However, I have to admit, in the past, it took very little effort on my part; an email addressed to the staff asking for volunteers to host a pre-service teacher for ten hours. Most of the time I had enough volunteers who opened their classrooms to these college students, however they did little else besides provide the classroom. All the pre-service teacher had to do was spend ten hours in the classroom, whether it be five hours on two days, one hour for ten days, or any other combination, and the classroom teacher would sign their form.
This structure did very little to prepare student teachers, as the very next semester they would come in to student teach just as green as if they had never stepped foot in a classroom before. It was time to radically change the structure and the expectations of pre-service and mentor teachers. As part of our partnership as a Professional Development School with the College of Saint Catherine, professors, teachers, and I sat down and hammered out a new and improved program of field experience for pre-service teachers. We eventually created the “literacy lab,” an intensive literacy field experience that revolutionized the ritual of ten hours of “anything goes.”
Today, three years into the program, the literacy lab is mandatory, aligned, consistent, data driven, focused, and collaborative for the benefit of all participants.
The literacy lab is mandatory for all of the college students enrolled in the literacy methods class. The methods class is held at our elementary school in the morning before school starts, and when the bell rings the college students join our students and teachers in the “lab.” Hosting a pre-service education student is no longer an option for my teachers at grades three through six, as the literacy lab has become a formal response to intervention. It is also mandatory for identified elementary students to participate as well. In the past, we held an after school program for students who needed additional support, but that was underfunded and poorly structured and, in many cases, the students who needed the additional help the most were the ones who did not attend, as after school programs cannot be mandated.
Literacy content in the college methods course is always aligned with Minnesota Standards for Effective Teachers for the preparation of teachers of reading. The Lab gives pre-service teachers the opportunity to apply knowledge from the standards in an authentic setting. Mentor teachers and the college instructor give feedback on lesson plans before they are taught and provide feedback during and after teaching. This includes a debriefing session with the college instructor immediately after the pre-service teachers complete work with their guided reading groups. Literacy lab objectives are also aligned with our School Comprehensive Improvement Plan and District Strategic Plan. Our school’s overarching goal is to close the achievement gap. One of our initiatives under this goal is to continue to strengthen our partnership with the college through mandatory implementation of the literacy lab, along with joint staff development opportunities. Classroom lesson planning is then ultimately aligned with the college students’ lesson planning.
Prior the literacy lab project, pre-service teachers taking the literacy methods courses were placed in schools throughout the metropolitan area with minimal consideration of the degree to which research based best practice might be experienced and with little control over the possibilities for their actual teaching. Today, pre-service teachers are placed in two elementary schools where they see and help with literacy blocks each time they go to the school. Each college student works each week with a small, guided reading group consisting of the same three to six students needing additional work on reading. At our school, we used to have pre-service teachers from all over the Twin Cities metro area come in at random times to put in their obligatory ten hours. Now, all of the students we work with are literacy methods students from the College of Saint Catherine. This ensures that the same college students work with the same mentor teachers and students for a full semester term on the same day and time every week.
The classroom teachers and I analyze the Minnesota state assessment data to determine which students are not performing at grade level proficiency in reading. We determine which students will participate in the literacy lab based on their proficiency level. There are four levels of proficiency: exceeds standards, meets standards, partially meets standards, and does not meet standards. We identified all students falling in the partially proficient range as literacy lab participants because we felt they would benefit the most from this type of intervention. Pre-service college students are assigned guided reading groups using both formative and summative data.
Once we identified which students would be participating in the literacy lab, we wanted to have the pre-service teachers focus on specific skills related to their students’ reading deficiencies. We provided the college students with additional formative data that indicated each student’s current reading level so that they would administer the appropriate reading assessments. Pre-service teachers gather data from their administration of running records, which is then reviewed with mentor teachers. Together, college students and their mentor teachers determine focus skills and strategies to work on throughout the eight weeks of their Literacy Lab.
The college and our elementary school have created a professional development school partnership that benefits college education students, college faculty, mentor teachers, and elementary students in various ways. By holding the college class held at the elementary school, college professors and students are able to keep abreast of exactly what is happening in the schools on a daily basis, which enables professors to continually add new, relevant material to their courses. We also started a joint book study group, which enables all college faculty and elementary staff to participate in dialogue focused on current issues in education. College professors participate on the elementary site council, and I participate on panels at the college that include conducting mock interviews with students, working with student teacher placement supervisors from around the state and, most recently, with the college’s education program accreditation process.
Our partnership continues to strengthen, and by presenting our literacy lab project at the Professional Development Schools National Conference last week, as well as by attending other sessions at the conference, we are continually exploring ways to strengthen our position as a professional development school and the means by which to shape the next generation of teachers.
Fisher, B., Flynn, N., and Tierney, B. (2009). Growing stronger, How one PDS
developed from a straightforward clinical placement site into a full
partnership presented at Professional Development Schools National
Conference, Daytona Beach, Florida.
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