By Paul Abraham, Ed.D.
A: We felt that the Graduate Program in Language and Literacy at Simmons College was very closely aligned with the International Dyslexia’s Association’s (IDA) Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading. The program is housed in our Special Education Division and revolves around a focus on language structure, both features that are uncommon in graduate reading programs in our area. The program was created to prepare licensed teachers to enhance their skills at working with students who experience difficulty in reading and, in most cases, to become reading specialists. Our research-based program exemplifies IDA standards. The Program incorporates multi-sensory structured language methodologies for use in both specialized and general education settings. The Program’s coursework, fieldwork, and clinical experiences emphasize visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile methods designed to reach all learning styles. Program courses address the areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, oral language and writing.
Q: How was the experience of preparing for and participating in the review?
A: The timing was fortuitous for us. We had just completed our Massachusetts State Program Review process and, thus, much of the work had already been done aligning our program to state standards and providing triangulated evidence demonstrating how standards were met. Our on-site reviewer was professional and collegial.
The specifics in our IDA review letter helped us to reaffirm the many strengths of our program. Our recognition also cited “the breadth and depth of the program, the outstanding faculty members, as well as the important connection between oral language, reading achievement and writing.” In addition, the report gave us suggestions for improvement.
A: IDA recognition means a great deal to Simmons College. We are a small private university in the center of Boston and, as such, we have a great deal of competition from the many colleges and universities in the area. Part of our strategic plan is to make the many strong programs at Simmons more visible to a broader audience. Even though the Language and Literacy Program provides the option of licensure as a reading specialist and the advanced, Education Specialist Degree for those who already hold a master’s, the Program still needs to differentiate itself from other Boston area programs that may appear similar. Having the national recognition of IDA showcases the program to a national audience and distinguishes it from other area reading programs. This recognition has been added to our website and highlighted in recruitment efforts. The administration is pleased to have this coveted national recognition.
Q: Describe some of the innovative ideas you have implemented to give students a richer practicum experience.
A: One of the most successful components of the Language and Literacy Program at Simmons College is our alignment with the Wilson Reading System. Having the Wilson System, a research-based, multi-sensory structured language program, incorporated into our coursework provides our graduate students with career–ready expertise in teaching. The intensive practice not only gives our graduates the skills they need, but also mirrors our program’s philosophy of a balanced theory and practice approach. Graduates of the Language and Literacy Program at Simmons College know how to teach reading when they graduate.
We would add that the IDA review has also provided us with advice on how to make our successful program even better. We are grateful for that part of the review process, as well.
Q: How has your program leveraged outside partnerships to increase students’ learning experience?
A: We continue to build and improve our existing partnerships with schools where our students complete their practica in order to meet the ever-increasing demand for expertise in literacy instruction. Our partnership with Wilson continues to be an essential part of our programming. We also partner with The Reading Institute in Williamstown, western Massachusetts, where we provide the same quality master’s level preparation in an area of our state underserved by quality programs aligned with IDA Standards.
Paul Abraham, Ed.D., is a Professor of Education at Simmons College in Boston where he has been a faculty member since 1993. He earned his doctorate in Reading and Language at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. During his tenure in the Education Department at Simmons, he has served twice as Department Chair. His research interests are in the theory and practice of second language reading. He was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Santiago in Chile in 2003 and a Fulbright Specialist in 2013 at Dong Thap University in Vietnam. He currently serves as Director of the Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language and the Language and Literacy Programs, both housed in the Education Department.
Allan S. Blume, Ed.S., is an Associate Professor of Practice in the Department of Education, Programs in Special Education, at Simmons College. He is a graduate of the University of Vermont and holds two degrees from Simmons College. He joined the faculty of Simmons College in 1995 after 18 years as a special education teacher. In addition, he served as Chair of the Department of Special Education for two years. His primary area of expertise focuses on the laws, regulations and processes of special education. He also oversees practica and teaches a seminar for graduate students which blends the theoretical and practical aspects of the craft of teaching and the practice of special education. In addition to his teaching, he consults extensively to schools throughout Massachusetts about special education regulations, individualized education programs (IEPs), and disability awareness.
For information about the reading degree programs at Simmons College, link to: http://www.simmons.edu/gradstudies/programs/special-education/language-literacy.php
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