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September 2009  |  Return to issue home

Elementary Teacher Ed: Literacy Program at Bailey-Gatzert

The UW College of Education teacher education program is dedicated to improving ways it links theory and practice in the teacher education program by placing current students in local high needs schools during their academic training. As a part of these efforts, College of Education teachers-in-training learn lessons on-site and apply them immediately. Last year, 30 of the elementary teacher education program students worked at Bailey-Gatzert elementary school, providing one-on-one instruction to high-needs elementary students and receiving hands-on training for their teacher education curriculum. Everyone wins—the teachers in training, the elementary students, the teachers, and the school system itself.

Bailey-Gatzert elementary school was the ideal candidate for this program due to the proportion of high-needs students at the school and close proximity to the University of Washington Seattle campus, says instructor Anne Reece, who created and manages this particular placement session. Through her previous work with teacher education students in 2007, Reece had experience working with teacher education students in local schools to support their learning and teaching.

The program provides teacher education program students with an opportunity for clinical practice within one school, where they learn curriculum, witness teaching in real-time, and apply their methods learning to one-on-one interactions with a particular student.

As Reece describes, “With the 2007 cohort [literacy classes], we were doing studio days, where we would take students to a school for the day and they would hear from everyone—the principal through to the custodian and learn about the school—and we would build in classroom observations and a little bit of work with kids. Repeatedly the interns kept telling me the most beneficial part of the day was working with kids as well as observing teachers. I kept thinking about how we could improve it.”  In summer 2008 she took the program into a Seattle school for a five of the ten class sessions. After her work with Nancy Place and Tony Smith at the University of Washington Bothell, she refined the process even further.

Laying the Foundation

For this literacy project, Reece planned a three-prong project that included methods work in real-life classrooms, classroom instruction led by Reece, and partner work with elementary students.

As Michaela Koerner, a teacher education program student in the 2009 spring cohort explains, “From a students' perspective, the literacy project connects the instruction and methods into a studio learning experience. We attend lectures, observe literacy lessons, and demonstration assessments, and we also work with a elementary student partner to practice our learning.”

This combination has real benefits for the teachers in training. Koerner explains, “As we bring our work and learning to "real" students, the course content jumps off the page and comes to life in the classroom.”

But it took hard work, on the part of the College of Education, Bailey-Gatzert, and, most important, Anne Reece, to get this program underway. Reece initially kicked the project off with several conversations, first with College staffers and then with Bailey-Gatzert’s principal, Norma Zavala.

Once Zavala approved the collaboration, Reece opened a dialogue with the Bailey-Gatzert teachers. As she summarizes, “I went in and communicated with teachers and explained what I was hoping to do…I have had to work hard to get to know the teachers quickly and they have been awesome in providing access to kids and being willing to negotiate dates and times to work with the kids and times to observe them teaching.”

There is no doubt that this partnership works because of the support and cooperation from Bailey-Gatzert’s teachers and administration. The teachers in particular provide the fuel for the methods work section of this literacy class.

This year the spring cohort of teachers in training work for two weeks with kindergarten level classes, taught by Katy Hasted and Barbara Dixon, and for up to six weeks with second grade classes, taught by Amy Allan and Visala Holbhein.

Class Work: Regular Classroom Instruction for Teacher Education Program Students

Every Thursday, the teacher education program students, or interns as they are called for this project, arrive bright and early at Bailey-Gatzert for their own class. They convene in an empty classroom, their own working space. As they arrive, Reece greets them and answers queries about their ongoing work, bandying about literacy phrases such as “self correction,” “read alouds" and “data point.”

“Essentially the students learn a concept and then they go and do it with a kid then come back and reflect on it all in one morning—it is a powerful way to learn,” Reece explains. “But it is stressfu, too, because you can’t sit back and learn theory,  you have to apply it, and each week they have to prepare to work with their partner. For the interns this ramps up the stress even more. But we are talking together and learning together how to support each other in this work.”

In total, the teachers in training gather six weeks of data on their assigned second grade partner, after which they will interpret the data and select a specific course of action for their assigned student.

Dan Azer, a teacher in training, explains his take on the literacy project. Azer graduated from the University of California Davis with a degree in economics, after which he spent two years teaching English in Japan. He says that this particular project allows him to, “learn about a method of teaching literacy in an academic way and then immediately add a dimension of practical knowledge by using the method with real children.”

The class learns about lesson planning by preparing micro-teaching lessons. Each week  they practice a lesson plan in front of the class, teaching by example and flexing their muscles with new curriculum. For example, in one mini-lesson, a  group of five teachers teach another five about syllables. Reece observes their group work, debriefing with the students post-lesson about what worked and what didn’t. Then they went and watched teachers teaching this type of literacy and compared what they saw in the classrooms with the lessons they were learning to prepare in class. In this way they could connect the theory of lesson planning with the realities of classroom instruction.

The instruction focuses heavily on the assessment of reading as a lead into instruction. “The literacy class involves some heavy duty learning about reading concepts which the interns have never dealt with before and as readers don’t really realize they do,” Reece asserts. “So last summer when I did one of the assignments in the school, it really helped me to scaffold their learning by having us working with kids in the one school. So this year I am capitalizing on that even more whereby they are learning a complex assessment over six weeks and the other assessment over two weeks.”

The teachers in training also learn how to do read alouds. They develop lesson plans and work with groups of students at Bailey-Gatzert to implement their plans. To support their self-analysis, students utilize flip cameras in subsequent attempts, which they use to record their teaching and then analyze post-event. Leonard, the teaching assistant, recommends that they analyze each recorded video at least three times.

“Ask what more did I do to trigger this behavior in the kid,” he prompts. “Get deeper into what the video can afford you in terms of reflection on your practice.”

The emphasis on progression, through critical self-analysis and group work, is an essential part of the literacy project.  And that’s driven by the all-important methods work.

Partner Work: Where the Magic Happens

Throughout the course of this project, the teachers in training spend regular, intensive one-on-one time with an elementary student. While some students were shy at first, they’ve built good friendships with their mentors. “It’s magical,” says Karen Harris, College of Education faculty member and administrative field coordinator for the elementary teacher education program.  “The kids benefit so much from these relationships and the teachers in training learn a lot in return.”

During the partner work, the teachers in training conduct literacy assessments, work on reading skills, and practice writing with their partner elementary student. Along the way, they gather data to help chart a course for their individual buddy. Ultimately, each elementary student receives an individualized assessment from the teacher in training. This benefits the student’s learning progress and supports the Bailey-Gatzert teachers’ academic progress with the youth.

Amy Allan, a second grade Bailey-Gatzert teacher who hails from Lake Chelan, taught for three years in Renton before choosing to teach second grade at Bailey-Gatzert because she “wanted to teach a diverse population…and thought [she] could make a positive impact in a high-needs school.”

“My students love working with the interns,” Allan explains. “They get one-on-one attention, which motivates them to do their best and also gives their self-esteem a boost. I hear comments like, “Thursday is the best day of the week” and “My tutor thinks I’m a great reader.” They thrive on positive feedback and attention. It also allowed me time to work with a small group of students in the classroom…”

Reece adds, “These kids have really high-needs and our interns have an opportunity to build some strategies for working with these kids and helping them learn. In some ways it is a full-on, jump in and do it sort of model, but on the other hand the interns have support to talk about the challenges and how to resolve them.”

Methods Work: Observing teachers and children in action during lessons

While on-site at Bailey-Gatzert, the teachers in training regularly observe in the classrooms. Broken into thirty-minute sessions, the teachers in training watch a real teacher teaching literacy. During the observations, teacher education students will sit in on a literacy lesson, which might include anything from guided reading in small groups to a larger group read aloud, and lessons that break down phonics.

After observing, Reece debriefs the students about what they witnessed in class. She asks them to analyze the teachers’ lesson and discuss the elementary students’ responses. What decisions did the teacher make and why? What were the results of those decisions? How did the students respond to the lessons?

Reece also matches up the College of Education students own assignments with the literacy instruction that they observe. In the debrief they also ask how the teacher’s demonstrated literacy instruction relates to their own curriculum?  She asks, what would you have done differently?

Reece and her students attest that the Bailey-Gatzert teachers deserve high praise for the quality instruction they provide to their elementary students. The teachers praise the teachers in training for their individualized work with elementary students.

As Reece asserts, “It creates real opportunities for the UW and the Bailey-Gatzert teachers to work together in partnership. It lays the foundation for extending the model even more.”

September 2009  |  Return to issue home

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