'Student teaching' is not just for college studentsWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Partnerships between universities and K-12 schools are blurring the lines between students and teachers.
On the leading edge of this national trend is Purdue University, where the School of Education has forged a relationship with a local elementary school that's making learners of everyone involved. University faculty, Purdue elementary education majors, classroom teachers and kindergarten through fifth-grade pupils are all teaching each other and learning together in a professional development schools project at Amelia Earhart Elementary School in neighboring Lafayette, Ind.
"Professional development schools is a broad term used nationwide to describe an affiliation between K-12 schools and universities that prepare teachers," explains Deborah Dillon, professor of literacy and language education at Purdue. "The relationship can be as simple as an agreement to place student teachers in certain schools or as complex as a collaboration on teacher education, curriculum revisions and research on learning and teaching. We're doing the latter at Earhart."
The partnership began before construction of the elementary school was even completed in 1995. Purdue literacy professors and Earhart teachers worked together to convert a traditional reading curriculum with specific texts and tightly controlled vocabulary into a program that uses literature written for children to teach reading and writing skills and strategies. Since then, Purdue's literacy courses for elementary education majors have been revamped to reflect the same changes. Also, Purdue puts its students into K-5 classrooms for practicum experience as early as their sophomore year of study, almost two years before they would normally do their formal student teaching.
"Our partnership with Earhart could easily become a model for other schools of education to follow," says Carol Hopkins, professor of literacy and language education at Purdue. "Together we're doing some cutting-edge work in terms of providing extended teaching experiences for our students in an actual school setting, as well as ongoing professional development for ourselves and our colleagues at the elementary school."
Two mornings each week the Purdue elementary ed majors split time between course work taught by a faculty member on site at Earhart and actual classroom interaction with the K-5 students.
"The teachers and administrators at Earhart have truly become partners in preparing our students for careers as educators," Dillon says. "Every teacher has opened his or her classroom to our students for observation and hands-on team-teaching experiences."
Elementary education majors at Purdue must complete nine credit hours of literacy course work during their sophomore and junior years. Until two years ago, the courses had been divided into three separate classes and were taught on campus in a traditional college setting. Beginning in the fall of 1996, the courses were integrated into a block and moved to Earhart on a pilot basis.
"We wanted our students to be able to put the research and theory they were learning into practice as soon as possible," Dillon says. "The literacy block and practicum at Earhart allows them to reflect on their experiences and improve their skills while they're still undergraduates."
The pilot effort was so popular that it was expanded for the 1997-98 school year.
"It became clear early on that being immersed in the elementary school setting was promoting more thoughtful and sophisticated learning on the part of our students," Dillon says. "They all wanted to take the literacy block at Earhart."
The program now has more than 100 Purdue elementary ed students working with youngsters at Earhart each week.
Earhart first-grade teacher Becky Dick says the partnership benefits her students as well.
"Not only do my first-graders receive lots of individual attention, but they also do a wonderful job of teaching the Purdue students how young children learn to read and write," she explains.
A further benefit of the program has been the opportunity for Purdue faculty members to spend extended amounts of time in an elementary school.
"We have a responsibility to keep on top of what's happening in today's classrooms," says Beverly Cox, associate professor of literacy and language education. "If you don't put yourself in the elementary school on a regular basis, you might not remember why teachers use some of the strategies they do. They have time constraints, disciplinary issues and limited resources in terms of materials and equipment. These are factors you can't duplicate in a college classroom."
Dillon, who taught grades 4, 5 and 6 from 1979 to 1983, now finds herself instructing kindergarteners and first-graders alongside her Purdue students.
"It's important to keep my skills sharp as an elementary school teacher," she explains. "Sometimes university faculty can forget that there are still things for us to learn. My work with the teachers and students at Earhart has made me a better professor."
Sources: Deborah Dillon, (765) 494-2354; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org