Preparing the next generation of leaders

Reading is probably the most fundamental skill to a successful life. If you can't read, it's hard to succeed in school, graduate from college and earn a good job. Most of us probably can't even remember how we learned to read, but we can probably remember a teacher that instilled in us the love of reading.

UNI student field experiences

Kelsey Fish, a UNI student majoring in elementary education,

shares a funny moment with a Lincoln Elementary student

during their reading lesson.

The University of Northern Iowa has been a leader in providing strong literacy programs for lifelong teachers and aspiring teachers.  Thanks to an endowment from Des Moines businessman Richard O. Jacobson, the university has established The Richard O. Jacobson Center for Comprehensive Literacy focused at improving literacy for all students. The center oversees three literacy projects 1) Partnerships in Comprehensive Literacy (PCL), 2) Reading Recovery Center of Iowa and 3) the Literacy Education Professional Development School (LEPDS).

The LEPDS is really focused on better preparing UNI student educators to become strong literacy teachers. UNI students majoring in elementary education or minoring in literacy have the opportunity to be a part of the LEPDS model at Lincoln Elementary School in Waterloo, Iowa.

The LEPDS is an apprenticeship model where students apply their UNI coursework to hands-on learning experiences in the classrooms. Fifteen UNI students are accepted into the year-long program. Students take their UNI courses three mornings a week at Lincoln, taught by UNI instructors. The courses are integrated with field experiences where students go right into the school classroom and teach what they are learning.

"When the program at Lincoln was over and I moved on to my Level 3 field experience and student teaching experiences, I already understood how a school functioned and I knew myself as a teacher," said Leah Poe, '11, a kindergarten teacher at Lou Henry Elementary School. "I knew my strengths and my weaknesses. I could take this knowledge and set my goals for Level 3 and student teaching."

It's integration at its finest. Students are learning in real-time, applying what they learned, gaining feedback and mastering their teaching.

"I was able to teach an amazing group of kids

and learn from wonderful and knowledgeable professors.

I am student teaching in a first grade classroom this

semester, and can say without hesitation that the UNI

literacy cohort program provided the knowledge, ability,

and confidence I needed to excel in this step," said Sinnott.

"The UNI literacy program at Lincoln Elementary was without a doubt the defining experience of my college career, " said UNI senior Abbey Sinnott. "UNI's traditional education courses are wonderful and I learned a lot in them as well, but this program provided such an authentic, engaging experience for us as future teachers."

UNI students also serve as classroom assistants, participate in parent/teacher conferences, teacher meetings, school workshops and more.

"The field experience at Lincoln provides UNI students a chance to be in the school and see what happens," said Tammy Bakken, a literacy coach and teacher at Lincoln. "They get to feel like they already work at the school since they come so often. The UNI students work with Lincoln students and they can see what teachers do behind the scenes as well as what they do when school is in session.  I think the experience helps UNI students decide if they want to be teachers."

Sinnott echoes those feelings. "All in all, this program was what it took for me to really see myself as a teacher. It provided opportunities for me to take risks and learn from them, to observe the daily life of a classroom teacher, and learn what it means to really get to know your students."

UNI student field experiences

UNI student Morgan Misfeldt, a junior majoring in elementary

education, works with Lincoln Elementary students on their

book selections.

"I was able to teach an amazing group of kids and learn from wonderful and knowledgeable professors. I am student teaching in a first grade classroom this semester, and can say without hesitation that the UNI literacy cohort program provided the knowledge, ability, and confidence I needed to excel in this step," said Sinnott.

The partnership has been a win-win for teachers at Lincoln as well. In addition to serving as mentors to the UNI students, they benefit through professional development opportunities led by UNI faculty about best practices in literacy education.

"We are seeing progress in students' reading performance and we have prepared some of the finest reading and elementary teachers now employed in Iowa's schools," said Rick Traw, associate professor in curriculum & instruction and director of the LEPDS program.

The UNI Jacobson Center has joined with several other universities in the Partnerships in Comprehensive Literacy (PCL) initiative led by the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. PCL prepares literacy coaches to provide training and support for school teachers in the area of literacy education. Under this model and partnership, a teacher at Lincoln Elementary School is joining UNI faculty members in literacy training and mentoring to work with teachers and students to enhance literacy.

"The most important goal is to improve the literacy learning of children at Lincoln Elementary School. Unless that occurs, none of the other program goals are worthy," said Traw.