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SRU expands co-teaching instruction

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - New Slippery Rock University students studying to be elementary school teachers will find an updated curriculum designed to immerse them in the elementary classroom.

Compared to traditional models, the new curriculum will enable teacher candidates to be out in the schools earlier, receive more University supervisor coaching and feedback, and participate in co-teaching practices intended to provide maximum success for their students, said Keith Dils, dean of SRU's College of Education.

"It is a new program for pre-school through grade four that is designed to meet new Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines and mandates," Dils said.

"Our faculty have been working and planning for the new program since the guidelines were released by the PDE," he said. "They are enthusiastic and involved, in fact, we recently held a teleconference to offer ideas to our fellow higher education institutions facing the same PDE directives and looking for ways to better involve their own students."

Under the new teaching program, SRU students as early as their freshman or sophomore year will begin interacting with p-4 school children.

"The first step involves observation - simply watching how a classroom operates; how the teacher develops the lesson; and how the children absorb and integrate their learning," Dils said.

The next step is to involve the SRU students in 30 hours of tutoring small groups of children in the classroom. The student teachers will work with selected students that may be having difficulty in keeping up with their peers and need a little extra help, Dils said.

"Here, our students will connect theory to practice. They will see both typical and atypical child development through observations in a variety of education and education-related settings for infants through fourth grade," Dils said.

"Our teacher candidates will provide their first one-on-one instruction in the field," he said. The program will involve spending time at three different Head Start schools, one in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center School, one at a rural Head Start school and one at an urban Head Start school.

"This way they get a variety of school settings, which is particularly important since at this point in their career they don't know what type of school they may be eventually employed by - or where their true interests lie," Dils said.

The National Academy of Early Childhood accredits Head Start programs.

"This part of the program will allow our student to interact in the daily routines of the children. By the end of the rotation, candidates will have spent more than 25 hours in the schools."

While participating in the program, the SRU students will continually receive feedback from their SRU faculty serving as supervisors and coaches.

"Students are not only immersed in the classroom, but they are also responsible for learning about the community in which the children live," said Pamela Soeder, SRU professor of elementary education and early childhood and a supervisor for the student teaching program.

The overall program will offer five practice teaching opportunities, with each experience requiring the teacher candidate to assume more complex teaching responsibilities and meet higher expectations.

"When the future teachers return from these early experiences, they are excited, energized and enthusiastic, not only about working with young children, but about the possibilities for teaching in diverse rural and urban settings," said Lee Williams, professor and chair of elementary and early childhood at SRU. She said every participant has said the opportunity is "'the best experience ever.'"

Following the early field experience, the SRU students, as juniors, will spend time in a 40-hour placement involved in teaching math and literacy, then a 120-hour placement where they will handle a full-range of courses. The senior program will continue to offer the traditional 15-week student teacher experience, but with the added component of co-teaching, an approach in which the student teacher and the co-operating teacher team to provide whole-class instruction and individualized tutoring.

"In this program, the student initially starts with observation and tutoring, then gradually takes over more responsibility for the entire classroom. If all is going well, the co-operating teacher switches roles with the student teacher by assuming less of the whole-class duties and more of the tutoring portion," Dils said.