New Student-Teaching Approach Addresses New Education Realities

By every measure, the Hope College Department of Education is hitting it out of the park when it comes to preparing students to be teachers. Hope’s teacher education program is consistently ranked near the top in the state of Michigan, as well as in the nation, for quality and effectiveness.

Additionally, classes of Hope education graduates regularly experience exceptionally high placement rates. In 2017, that rate was perfect: 100 percent of Hope students with education certification earned a teaching position within three months of graduation.

Why then did two Hope professors decide to revamp Hope’s approach to student-teaching if all is already going so well?

Nancy Cook

The short answer: “It was just time for us to really take a critical look at what we were doing and why we were doing it,” says Nancy Cook, professor of education and director of student teaching.

The long answer: That critical look was brought about by the difficult reality of finding student-teacher placements. Because children’s standardized test results are scrutinized in professional teachers’ evaluations, teachers “often are reluctant to turn their classrooms over to a student-teacher for a long period of time,” Cook explains. Additionally, the education program’s desire to reassess its own good practices as well as the department’s upcoming re-accreditation process by the Council of Accreditation for Educator Preparation played a part in the decision, too.

Dr. Susan Brondyk

The confluence of those three factors had Cook and her colleague, Dr. Susan Brondyk, take a hard and creative look at the way student-teaching had always been done and lead it toward a new way. And that new way would involve a more thoroughly collaborative approach, with a new assessment and evaluation tool at its core, for all players involved the process —student-teacher, cooperating teacher and college supervisor.

“The typical student teaching model had been this gradual release where the classroom is turned over little by little to the student-teacher and the cooperating teacher leaves the classroom fully in that new teacher’s hands,” explains Brondyk, assistant professor of education. “Now though, the cooperating teacher and the student-teacher are co-teaching for the entire placement, and that can take on various forms like one teaches and the other assists, or parallel teaching, team teaching and station teaching.

“Then, the cooperating teacher and college supervisor are also co-mentoring the student-teacher more intentionally by conducting three-way conversations using STAT (Student Teacher Assessment Tool) which is really at the heart of this project.”

The new way would involve a more intentionally collaborative approach, with a new assessment and evaluation tool at its core, for all players involved the process — student-teacher, cooperating teacher, and college supervisor.

STAT is a modification of nationally-renowned Charlotte Danielson’s A Framework for Teaching which evaluates for competencies in four categories: planning, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities. Hope’s version assesses for competencies in seven abilities, each deemed historically and culturally important by Hope’s teacher education standards. A Hope student teacher is now assessed on 43 performance indicators found in STAT in the areas of Ethical Educator, Skilled Communicator, Engaged Professional, Curriculum Developer, Effective Instructor, Decision Maker, and Reflective Practitioner.

Venn diagram showing the intersection of student teacher, cooperating teacher and college supervisor. Venn diagram showing the integration of learning to teach with learning to mentor.

For developmental reasons, a Hope student-teacher is not seeing STAT for the first time when that capstone student-teaching experience occurs either. With TCAT (Teacher Candidate Assessment Tool), “our students are seeing a shortened form of STAT all the way through their classes and placements from freshman to senior years,” says Cook.

As for the cooperating teacher and college supervisor, they not only attend intensive workshops to prepare for the use of STAT and to the discuss methods of mentoring, they also receive monthly follow-up meetings and calls. This is in addition to check-ins by the two professors to see how things are going for the 70+ Hope student-teachers who are getting a taste of a “real world” educational setting. This process helps equip mentors to facilitate three-way conversations in ways that promote learning for their student teachers.

“None of these conversations in and of themselves (throughout the student-teaching process) are unique, but it’s the intentionality of the conversation, the frequency of those conversations, and most importantly, the content of those conversations that are unique to this new model.”

“None of these conversations in and of themselves (within the triad, throughout the student-teaching process) are unique, but it’s the intentionality of the conversations, the frequency of those conversations, and most importantly, the content of those conversations that are unique to this new model,” explains Cook. “All of this is meant to educate our student-teacher well and to also support cooperating teacher and college supervisor.”

Cook and Brondyk have presented this new student-teaching model at both national and statewide teacher education conferences. Their talk, “A Story of Transformation: How One Educator Preparation Program Reinvented Student Teaching,” has been given to standing-room only audiences with feedback that others hope to recreate some form of this new model on other campuses too.

Back in Holland, cooperating teachers are grateful for this new student-teaching model. “I love this model. It allows for more student contact and more in the way of formative assessment,” says Ann Exo-Thompson, an elementary special education teacher for Holland Public Schools. “We have seen such incredible growth in our students in such a short time. It allows us so much more time with our students and it’s paying off.”

Hope student-teachers feel the same way. Watch this video of Sara Frank as she explains the benefits of co-teaching math in a Hamilton public school classroom with cooperating teacher Val Capel.

New App by Hope Students Provides the Freedom to (Easily) Read

A new web-based, plug-in application created by two Hope students gives those with learning disabilities the means to read online articles at a level that best suits their reading comprehension. The app, called Articulus (meaning “article” in Latin), allows for greater reading understanding and success in school and life. Senior Amber Carnahan and sophomore Jori Gelbaugh, under the supervision of Hope professor, Dr. Michael Jipping, professor of computer science, developed the program during the summer of 2017. Though currently and primarily in use at Black River School in Holland, as a Chrome extension, Articulus is also available to anyone, free, in the Google Chrome Web store.

Senior Amber Carnahan (right) and sophomore Jori Gelbaugh (left) created the app, Articulus, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Jipping, professor of computer science.

And it all got started because of a conversation in a grocery store aisle.

“The more I thought it was a really cool thing for Hope students to do, and it could be very contributive for others, too.”

“I was in Meijer and I ran into a friend (who works with students with learning disabilities),” said Jipping. “And we were chatting and grocery shopping and he said, ‘You know what I would love. I have students who do research online and they always run into web pages that are above their reading level and it’s just so frustrating for them. What we need is a plug-in for Chrome that reduces the reading level of these web pages.’

“At first, I said, ‘Okay, thank you. That’s really hard.’ But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought it was a really cool thing for Hope students to do, and it could be very contributive for others, too.”

So Jipping made the project a priority for the Hope Software Institute (HSI). A software development arm of the Department of Computer Science, HSI gives experience to Hope students who are interested in pursuing careers in the software industry while delivering applications to real clients, usually a non-profit organization that could not afford a professional developer.

They wrote code in Java Script and designed the app in regard to its features, aesthetics, and usability.

Carnahan, a computer science and English double major, and Gelbaugh, a computer science and international studies double major, were hired by Jipping (yes, HSI pays its student workers!) to tackle the complex work of learning a new programming language to make the English language less complicated. Over the course of the nine-week project, they learned to write code in Java Script and determined how that code interfaced with Chrome and Chrome extensions. They also designed the app in regard to its features, aesthetics, and usability.

All of that, though, needed to precursor, a run-up to understanding how reading levels are measured and thus can be changed.

“As soon as we were hired for the summer, and before we started programming, we met with Professor Laura Pardo (of the Department of Education),” says Carnahan. “She gave us a number of reading metrics that showed us the areas in reading where people can get caught off guard. We settled on two…kind of. We worked with those for a while but in the end, we combined the two to develop our own metric… As an English major, I was excited to look at English language problems.”

Dr. Pardo also encouraged the two students to not just consider word and sentence complexity but also visual distractions that can be prevalent on web pages.

“So, we built into our app ways you can toggle images or just remove ads even before they load on the page,” adds Carnahan. “Those are some of the things we looked at as well as sentence length, synonyms options, and grammar.”
Besides working with closely with Dr. Jipping and Dr. Pardo, Carnahan and Gelbaugh also meet with their Black River clients every two weeks to discuss the app’s progress. From prototype to the (mostly) finished project, the feedback has been positive, says Jipping. And not only from Black River. The 2017 Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges (CCSC) Midwest was also impressed. At their recent 2017 conference, CCCS honored Carnahan, Gelbaugh, and Jipping with the best poster award.

“I think technology is incredibly powerful. It can be used to really build people up and improve their lives. Really, that was the best part of all of Articulus.”

Though there are some changes the group would still like to make to the app, for the most part, they are happy with what they created for both technical and humanitarian reasons. Both student developers are delighted they were able to create something that helps others in meaningful, educational ways. Their product tagline — The Freedom to (Easily) Reading ‘Em — sums up what they wanted Articulus to do best.

“This process showed me how we can meet up with people who have a problem and then make things better and in this case, it was with reading,” says Carnahan. “I hope that students can now feel better in class because they are not worrying about falling behind. They can be grasping the content without having to lose as much time.”

“For me, I have a brother who struggled with reading throughout his education,” adds Gelbaugh. “So this was a very personal project for me. I think technology is incredibly powerful. It can be used to really build people up and improve their lives. Really, that was the best part of all of Articulus.”

Breaks Away: Deborah Van Duinen

sabbatical (n): a break from customary work to acquire new skills or knowledge, traditionally occurring every seventh year

Breaks Away: Sabbatical Stories of Hope
Each academic year, a number of Hope faculty take sabbatical leaves away from the college, submersing themselves for extended periods of time into their favored fields of inquiry. If viewed from above and all together, those fields would look like a calico landscape, so varied and colorful is the topography of their collective research, writing, and creative pursuits. Offering restoration and adventure both, sabbaticals are a bit like information and imagination transfusions. These breaks away from normal classroom and committee work give Hope academicians a boost to reinforce and revitalize their teaching and scholarship.

Any endeavor that goes from big to bigger requires effort, vision and good old-fashioned gumption. So when Dr. Deb Van Duinen decided to take the highly successful Hope-Holland Big Read of 2014 and create the Bigger Read of 2015, she was fortunate to have a sabbatical leave to focus her efforts and vision, but especially her trademark gumption, on the next version of bringing a community together through one book.

Dr. Deborah VanDuinen, assistant professor of education and Towsley Research Scholar, is the program director of Hope and Holland’s next Big Read.

The Big Read is a program created by the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) “to broaden our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.” Through the careful planning of program directors like Dr. Van Duinen, it provides opportunities for citizens to read and educators to lead as stories are told, meanings are found, and communities collectively react to both. With a lover of books, a specialist in adolescent literacy and English education, and a positive, energetic person like Dr. Van Duinen in charge, reading can’t help but be anything but big.

Harper Lee’s long-beloved and critically acclaimed To Kill a Mockingbird was the selection for Hope and Holland’s first Big Read in 2014, for which Dr. Van Duinen secured an NEA grant. The month-long event was so well-received (more than 3,000 Hollanders and Hope-ites participated) and the book so thoughtfully and thoroughly considered that an encore was requested. The Hope education professor determined to orchestrate another Big Read, affectionately renaming it “The Bigger Read,” with the help of a second NEA grant. This fall, Hope faculty, staff and students, along with Holland residents, will wrestle with The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s weighty and award-winning book about soldiers in the Vietnam War.

Dr. Van Duinen admits that, at first, the selection of The Things They Carried made her and her Big Read committee a little nervous due to the subject matter (war) and volatile time period (the moody 1960s) of the book. But this collaborative professor heard the feedback calling for variety and selected an NEA-approved book with a dissimilar feel from last year’s familiar read. She was not about to shy away from “an opportunity to let people’s stories come through” as they read the book. “In fact,” she says, “I’m honored to be able to play a part in helping people get shaped by story.” She adds, “People were willing to listen and learn from each other’s stories last year. I have no doubt that despite the different topic and themes in The Things They Carried, this year will be the same.”

“The nature of storytelling allows us to think of our own stories too. What are the stories in our own lives? How do we refine the past? How do we tell stories to save our souls?” Dr. Van Duinen ponders. “These are questions books ask us.”

Launched this past Monday by Dr. Fred Johnson, a former Marine and current associate professor of history at Hope, with his presentation, “The Legacy of Their Burdens,” the Big Read, and thus O’Brien’s stories, will engage 15 high school teachers and their students from 10 area schools. At Hope, the book has created space for introspection and new knowledge in courses like Senior Seminar, English 113, First Year Seminar, Creative Writing and even a Latin class. And while schools are great places to talk about books, so are coffee shops, art galleries, churches, bookstores and breweries. Several of these locations around Holland will host 15 different book groups for the Big Read for the next three weeks. And of course, there is a long list of corollary events scheduled too.

Perhaps the biggest coup of all, though, for the Big Read will be a presentation by the author himself. O’Brien — whose appearance was secured by Dr. Van Duinen and the Big Read committee in partnership with the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series and Herrick Public Library — will give a keynote address on Thursday, November 19, at 7:00 pm at Evergreen Commons. Though his book is certainly about war and loss, it is about love and honor and memory too.

“The nature of storytelling (in books) allows us to think of our own stories too. What are the stories in our own lives? How do we refine the past? How do we tell stories to save our souls?” Dr. Van Duinen ponders. “These are questions books ask us.”

As if going from big to bigger wasn’t enough while on sabbatical, Dr. Van Duinen also published two peer-reviewed articles from her Big Read research, submitted three other manuscripts for publication, earned a grant from the Christian Scholars Foundation to study spirituality in young adult literature, and started a mother-son book club, a sentimental and scholarly project because it is where “my life as a mom overlaps with my research.”

The mothers and sons under Dr. Van Duinen literacy leadership recently finished another American classic and Big Read approved-book, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. But of course, why wouldn’t they? Little boys can read big too.

Dr. Deborah VanDuinen is an assistant professor of education and Towsley Research Scholar in the Department of Education at Hope College.