Thursday, October 8, 2015

Partnership is a win-win for college students and Manchester kids

Even before college students majoring in education look for student teaching opportunities, they’re getting real world classroom experience in a Manchester school. Nearly 60 sophomores, juniors and seniors from Southern New Hampshire University’s School of Education are working closely with students at Weston Elementary School. The result is a “working learning lab,” which gives the older students a chance to put teaching methods into action, while the younger students receive supplemental instruction.

“Like most people, they learn best by doing,” Cathy Stavenger, associate professor of education at SNHU, said of her students. “There’s a real value in the field work we offer that provides the experience they can’t simply read about or role play in the college classroom.”

Groups of SNHU students are divided into three education courses: Methods of Teaching Elementary Mathematics, Foundations of Teaching and Learning, and The Inclusive Classroom. Each week, the education students take their own class at Weston and then spend two hours of time interacting with the elementary students.

The foundations and inclusive courses focus on topics like lesson planning, instruction strategies and adapting teaching methods to students of various levels and abilities. Those SNHU students are assigned to at least one class in grades K-4 for the semester and support the Weston teachers during the school day.

“I’m seeing first hand that every student is different and watching how an experienced teacher responds to each situation,” said Susan Wieszeck, an SNHU sophomore working with second and third graders. “I’m learning so much more that I would just from a textbook.”

The SNHU math methods course emphasizes the approaches for teaching mathematics. SNHU students coordinate with all three fifth grade teachers to provide enrichment, reinforcement, or practice to every student. Ten fifth graders at a time from each class take turns going to the SNHU room where the students work in pairs or even one-on-one with an SNHU student on math skills they are currently learning.

After these sessions, Professor Stavenger can discuss with her students which strategies work and why, or how to adjust instruction for specific students who might need a bit of extra motivation or clarity about a lesson.

“The students come in thinking that they are solely there to learn new math concepts from us, but in reality they are helping us learn so much about ourselves as future educators, too,” said Alivia Shea, and SNHU junior.

While their classmates are working on math with their SNHU partners, the Weston students remaining with their teachers receive small group instruction in whatever subject the teachers wish to focus on for those particular children.

“This is a wonderful collaboration for all of us,” said principal Liz MacDonald. “Not only do our students learn and grow with the additional time to practice skills, but our teachers have an opportunity to work with their students in a practical and more meaningful way.”

The college students also appreciate the chance early in their undergraduate endeavors to get a clearer understanding of teaching and decide if it is the right career choice or confirm their aspirations. Wieszeck started the semester wanting to be a kindergarten teacher. But after working a few weeks at Weston?

“I think third grade would be great,” she said.

As an administrator who interviews and hires new teachers, Mrs. MacDonald says this kind of undergraduate opportunity will give some of these SNHU an edge.

“I talk to many newly certified and talented teachers, who, outside of student teaching, have no classroom experience,” she said. “These students will enter the field of education with a stronger knowledge base and confidence.”

SNHU School of Education students get field experience in eight other school districts in a similar way, and on a smaller scale, they work in two other Manchester schools. At Parker-Varney Elementary School, the college students work with special education students in several classrooms and grade levels. Gossler Park Elementary School also hosts three courses and has welcomed the SNHU students into a variety of classrooms across grade levels. 

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