By Elissa Arndt Rader, Ph.D. and Donna Robinson, Ed. D.
A: Gordon College was privileged to participate in the IDA Review process during the second accreditation round in 2014. We place the International Dyslexia Association in high regard because of what it stands for and how its far-reaching impact has improved the field of reading and our knowledge of dyslexia. The master’s program that was reviewed by IDA has more students than our other master’s and licensure programs, and we wanted to highlight the good work we are doing in preparing teachers to address reading disabilities in schools, clinics, and individual settings. This program has been intentionally crafted to include best practice strategies based on current, evidence-based research. Having IDA accreditation affirms our rationale and gives us a blueprint from which to operate as we move forward.
Q: How was the experience of preparing for and participating in the review?
A: The review was a welcome opportunity for us to examine our reading program, to determine its strengths, and to recognize areas in need of improvement. In order to prepare for the review, we knew that organization and communication would help us to successfully report all required information. Before we began the self-reporting template, we dedicated a room for collection of all syllabi, textbooks, Blackboard resources, supplementary articles, and student work samples. Having all resources available to us at the beginning helped us understand and study our program from the scope and sequence level all the way down to the level of individual articles and lecture topics. In addition, our faculty and adjuncts were supportive and offered crucial insight into the IDA standards that pertained to their classes. It was truly a collaborative effort! We appreciated how the IDA review team clearly outlined the process for us and quickly responded to any questions we had about the standards or evidence required. The team’s feedback was prompt and helpful in highlighting our strengths and giving us next steps.
A: The field of reading is dynamic and a review of such high caliber keeps us on the cutting edge of how to best prepare our teachers. For instance, as we prepare teachers to enter into reading specialist roles, IDA standards and current research are showing us the important links between reading and writing, and how writing instruction is increasingly coming under the role of a reading specialist. To address some of the changes in the field, all faculty and adjuncts met to agree upon course modifications based on feedback from the review process and our own internal review of course content. It is important to us, as an educational institution, to provide students with the best information available. IDA recognition affirms our achievement of that goal.
Q: Describe some of the innovative ideas you have implemented to give students a richer practicum experience.
A: Our reading program integrates a variety of cutting-edge courses to prepare our students for their practicum experience. For example, our Advanced Disciplinary Reading class examines the components of oral communication, higher-order thinking/comprehension, reading, and writing that experts would utilize in specific disciplines. Such course content in disciplinary literacy is just beginning to be understood and researched. As they complete literature reviews on this topic, our students are examining the tenets of this field through the lens of scientifically–based research. We are committed to the understanding that rigorous and discipline-specific reading instruction in middle and secondary education is vital to learning.
Prior to the practicum, students observe reading specialists in a variety of settings performing different types of duties (e.g., assessment of learner needs, differentiated instruction, and remediation in tutorial settings). Following these observations, students participate in two separate practicum experiences. The first practicum is at a reading clinic located in an urban area where students put into practice their assessment skills and the Orton-Gillingham methodology they have learned. This experience gives students an opportunity to work with diverse learners and their families. The second practicum provides opportunities for students to learn the various facets of the reading specialist role at an in-school clinic where the college partners with different school districts. This dual practicum experience allows Gordon College the flexibility to provide a wide range of experiences related to student interest.
Q: How has your program leveraged outside partnerships to increase students’ learning experience?
A: The program works with a technology consultant in Washington, DC who partners with the reading faculty to create a paperless and engaging course. Students are required to create lessons with technological tools that enhance student reading and writing instruction. The course is packed with the most up-to-date technology tools, apps, and computer-based programs that teachers may use in their schools. Given the expectations placed on students due to technological advancements, this is an important resource and knowledge base for teachers to develop.
Due to the diversity of the reading specialist role, partnerships exist with practicing reading specialists in many school districts and locations so our students are exposed to different kinds of experiences. The reading clinic partners with local urban schools to offer reading remediation services for those otherwise unable to pay for such services. Our students receive practical experience in the field while giving back to communities in need.
For more information about the reading degree programs at Gordon College, please visit our website at: http://www.gordon.edu/graduate/reading and our course catalog at: http://catalog.gordon.edu/?catoid=12.
Elissa Arndt Rader, Ph.D. CCC-SLP teaches in the graduate education program at Gordon College. She has taught courses ranging from assessment, remediation, and intervention to language acquisition and literacy coaching/professional development. She graduated from the Florida State University in 2010 with a Ph.D. in Reading and Language Arts and worked at the Florida Center for Reading Research from 2005-2010. Elissa is a speech-language pathologist and reading specialist.
Donna Robinson, Ed.D. joined the faculty of Gordon College in September, 1998 and has taught both undergraduate and graduate education courses since that time. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell with an Ed.D. in Reading and Language Arts in 2007. Currently, she is teaching several reading courses designed for Reading Specialists with an emphasis on disciplinary reading, reading research, higher-level thinking and comprehension, and the integration of technology in reading and writing.
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