By Holly Lane, Ph.D.
A: The University of Florida’s (UF) Unified Elementary Proteach Dual Certification program provides students with preparation and certification in both elementary and special education. Some of our graduates become elementary classroom teachers while others become special educators or reading interventionists. Our intention is for all graduates to leave us prepared to help any struggling reader.
The notice about the second round of reviews came at precisely the right time for our program. We had recently undergone some significant program revisions as part of a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The revisions were designed to increase the program’s focus on evidence-based practices and to enhance our prospective teachers’ knowledge and skills related to reading intervention. These changes put us in a good position for examining our program using the IDA Standards.
Q: How was the experience of preparing for and participating in the review?
A: The process was actually quite helpful—it reinforced our belief that we were doing what we should be doing. Because we had just undergone program revisions, most of the information on specific IDA Standards was readily at hand, but the review process forced us to organize it. We also made changes to some of our syllabi to make things clearer. Our university is engaged in continuous self-study, and the Department of Education grant has rigorous requirements for documenting evidence-based practices, so much of the work was quite familiar.
We are preparing now to embark on our next round of accreditation review with the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP, formerly NCATE). Having just completed the IDA review, we feel like we have a head start.
A: We have received plenty of positive attention as a result of meeting the requirements for IDA accreditation. The news releases and subsequent publicity have led to increased interest from prospective students. We also have received many more inquiries from parents of children with dyslexia who are interested in participating in our practicum experience. The IDA accreditation logo is now proudly displayed on our program website, and students are thrilled to be able to include information about the accreditation in their portfolios as they interview for teaching positions. One graduate reported that a simple mention of IDA recognition was the deciding factor in her being hired for her dream job.
Q: Describe some of the innovative ideas you have implemented to give students a richer practicum experience.
A: I believe that our reading practicum is the strongest component of our program. In addition to earlier field experiences, students work for four weeks in the summer reading intervention program at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School (PKY), UF’s lab school. PKY has a new state-of-the-art facility and exceptional teachers, so our UF students are able to see an ideal situation. Because PKY is very well equipped with technology, our students are able to incorporate laptops, tablets, and interactive whiteboards into their instruction.
Our students deliver about 1.5 hours of small-group intervention and 1 hour of one-on-one tutoring each day. They work in pairs to plan the small-group intervention sessions and to take turns teaching or observing each lesson. Both their host teachers and their university supervisors provide feedback. The one-on-one lessons they prepare are observed at least five times by a university supervisor, and each student conducts at least five peer observations. This means that our students become very comfortable with being observed and critiqued, and the quality of their instruction increases dramatically over a short period of time.
One of the most successful innovations this year has been to hire some of our best graduates from the previous year to assist with supervision. We could never have predicted the tremendous impact these fresh, new, enthusiastic teachers would have on our prospective teachers!
Q: How has your program leveraged outside partnerships to increase students’ learning experience?
A: The partnership with P.K. Yonge has been a critical factor in the program’s success, but we also recruit students for the one-on-one tutoring from the area’s public schools. Because our program has a strong reputation, schools are eager to refer parents to us. The schools share children’s testing data, which gives our students valuable experience in interpreting data. In one of the earlier field experiences, each of our students provides one-on-one tutoring to a struggling beginning reader. Schools have embraced this effort because they have witnessed the positive impact it has on their first and second graders.
Another partnership that has made a difference to our students is a connection to a famous alumnus. Tim Tebow, UF’s 2007 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, has dyslexia, and so do his older brother and his father. For the past two years, Tim’s mother, Pam, has visited our students to share her family’s experiences with dyslexia. Her talks have helped our students understand the importance of working with families, and she has inspired them to excel.
Holly Lane is associate professor in the School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She can be reached at: email@example.com
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