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Using Classroom Literacy Artifacts to Mentor Special Education Teachers. Marie Tejero Hughes Michelle Parker-Katz University of Illinois at Chicago IRA 2006. About the Project.

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using classroom literacy artifacts to mentor special education teachers

Using Classroom Literacy Artifacts to Mentor Special Education Teachers

Marie Tejero Hughes

Michelle Parker-Katz

University of Illinois at Chicago

IRA 2006

about the project
About the Project
  • Special Teachers and Exception Pupils Equals Urban Promise (STEP=UP) is funded by the U.S. Department of Education to prepare teachers to work with children with disabilities
  • Designed to prepare 76 highly qualified special education teachers to work with linguistically and culturally diverse children with disabilities in an urban community
  • Students are accepted into the special education master’s program and take courses and participate in field experiences that include children with disabilities ages 3 to 21
  • Emphasis on support is provided through three innovative structures of field advisories, a strong mentoring component throughout the program and into the first years of teaching, and an induction program
importance of mentoring
Importance of Mentoring
  • Traditionally, mentors work with prospective teachers at the end of their preparation and/or during their first year of teaching (Whitaker, 2003).
  • When the mentoring process is systematically used throughout the preparation program and into the first years of teaching, we believe that mentors and novices can share endeavors that produce new sorts of knowledge particular to their contexts.
  • Through their work, mentors and novices can create communities of a different kind of work ethos. Little (1990) referred to this as “joint work” in which teachers truly engage in work that leads to a different end.
  • They are engaged in what Wenger (1998, p. 4) refers to as “a more encompassing process of being active participants in the practices of social communities and constructing identities in relation to these communities.”
responsibility of mentors
Responsibility of Mentors
  • To see mentoring as a complex and multifaceted practice that requires a teacher to accept responsibility for building and maintaining collaborative professional relationships;
  • To recognize multiple qualities necessary in a mentoring relationship (e.g., knowledge of content, understanding about learning, knowledge about assessment) and view the role of mentoring as an additional practice to be learned;
  • To act as more than just a “local guide” focused on helping a novice survive the current system, and instead act as an “educational companion” who helps novices develop a long-term view of teaching as the examination of learning (Feiman-Nemser & Parker, 1993).
study focus
Study Focus
  • In this project, we argue for a new form of mentoring that centralizes the place of K - 12 students’ learning, and the power of collegial study of that learning, as a major purpose of ongoing teacher professional growth.
  • The use of literacy artifacts of classroom practice as a means for documenting evidence of student learning, and professional problem-solving about it, can be a vehicle for such learning.
  • Therefore, we ask how might mentors use a focus on K- 12 students’ learning of content to help new special educators learn about teaching literacy, both in terms of its academic and procedural components?
  • 38 students currently enrolled (3 cohorts)
    • Completing special education masters program in 2-2 ½ years and will be eligible for LBS1 certification at completion
  • 15 mentors
    • All mentors are Chicago Public Schools special education teachers
    • Mentors teach a wide range of abilities, grades, and content areas
procedures mentor preparation
Procedures: Mentor Preparation
  • Mentors meet twice a year for a two-hour workshop, and they meet for 45 - 60 minutes after each field advisory
  • We also correspond with them on an individual basis as needed through email and on-site visits if they are mentoring an intern or student teacher
  • Individual discussions with mentors fall into three categories:
    • helping mentors organize their artifact choices (e.g., bring in a mask or bring in a “publishing center”; which artifact would allow for the greatest quality of discussion about student learning),
    • configuring ways to include all students in Field Advisory discussions (e.g., how to draw in a student who is less enamored with the discussion, or one who sees the particular artifact as not useful in her classroom or teaching.); and
    • logistics and reminders
procedures mentoring in program
Each novice at the beginning of the program is matched to an exemplary CPS special education teacher who develops a mentoring relationship

Major goal is to expose novices to varied disability populations and delivery models

Mentors are recruited and selected based on ongoing partnership work in the masters program

Novices and mentors communicate through multiple vehicles (email, phone, meetings)

Mentors are prepared for their new roles

Procedures: Mentoring in Program
procedures field advisories
• Regularly-scheduled small-group sessions around literacy artifacts and major topics of teaching

• Meetings enable extension of field-based course projects

• Meetings allow new special educators to learn professional and collaborative problem-solving

Group discussions help novices construct knowledge, skills and attitudes essential to understanding multiple dynamics that shape learning and teaching

Meetings enable novices to practice demonstrating competence to colleagues

Procedures: Field Advisories
procedures literacy artifacts
Procedures: Literacy Artifacts
  • The use of artifacts is one of the key tools that we use to help our mentors and students connect in their discussions. We define “artifact” as a sample that can demonstrate teaching and learning in a special education classroom.
  • Using literacy as a backdrop, we ask mentors to bring in artifacts from any content area or life-skills curriculum and to feature the reading, writing, listening and/or speaking that is integral to the teaching and learning.
  • When the mentors meet the students at the Field Advisories, they model professional discussion by conversing about the classroom practices from which the artifact emerged.
procedures literacy artifacts11
Procedures: Literacy Artifacts
  • Mentors choose a “literacy artifact” from their classrooms to share with university students. They choose from a variety of different classroom artifacts to demonstrate what happens in their classrooms with respect to varied aspects of literacy in learning.
  • Most mentors choose artifacts from their direct and indirect teaching of literacy across a variety of different content areas.
    • Some mentors focus on pre-reading activities, e.g., “Mystery Bag” that holds hints about the story to come; a “prediction organizer” that provides a graphic for students.
    • Other mentors show modifications during reading, e.g., altering language in a math word problem, creating “strategy cards while reading, a “to do” list of strategies to use while reading
    • A few mentors emphasize ideas for post-reading, eg., KWL and QARs.
data sources records and feedback forms
Data Sources: Records and Feedback Forms
  • Prior to the field advisories, mentors complete an “Artifact Record Form” in which they discuss their choices of artifacts and uses. Sample items:
    • Choose the major literacy component, and in a few sentences, tell how it most emphasizes that component.
    • What do you want university students to learn from the discussion of this literacy artifact?
  • Mentors also complete a “Mentor Reflection Form” directly after the Field Advisory and before discussion.
    • Did you change the way you actually presented it/discussed it? To what extent?
    • Tell us something you will change next time in your preparation, presentation, or discussion about your artifact.
  • At the end of the Field Advisory university students complete a “Student Feedback Form”.
findings selection of artifact
Findings: Selection of Artifact
  • A large majority of mentors focused their choices of literacy artifact on those that show connections of content to the practical world and to their individual students.
    • Practical application/real world connection
    • “Different expectations from each student during group work; always attempt to help students understand connections to the real world; follow up assignments should be connected in some way.”
    • “I chose this artifact because this lesson in particular seemed to really help my students make geometry connections to the real world.”
    • Easily modified for a variety of learners
    • “The importance of finding new ways to teach the same skill. Often working with many different levels of students - how to adapt a lesson to fit all…”
findings literacy focus
Findings: Literacy Focus
  • A majority of mentors’ literacy artifacts focused on students learning of comprehension skills and strategies or writing mechanics and skills.
    • Comprehension skills and strategies
    • “Students need to read stories and books with little assistance in order for them to practice skills and strategies they are learning with guided and shared reading.”
    • “Reading - how to use prompts to get the kids to target key information and identify main components of the story.”
    • Writing mechanics and skills
    • “Writing - students had to compose an email using correct grammar, spelling, form and punctuation.”
    • “Students were required to provide their answers using complete sentences and not just writing a number as they often do in math.”
findings mentors reflection about their teaching
Findings: Mentors’ Reflection About Their Teaching
  • Based on their literacy artifact choices, we noted that mentors focused reflections of their teaching on two key areas:
    • Reading skills and strategies
    • “Hopefully this planner - and the overall project - will strengthen students' ability to read with understanding. Specifically, it is meant to help them identify main ideas - key information about their topic…[artifact is from a unit about Ancient Greece]”
    • “The purpose of this project was to 1.) Help students build comprehension of nonfiction text … and 2.) To reinforce students' ability to locate main ideas and information, while at the same time gaining a better understanding of their subject.”
    • Practical application or hands-on
    • “Each week one student is assigned as "cook show host." They must select their recipe, complete a shopping list and shop for and bring in needed ingredients. Other students are "active audience members."
findings teacher education
Findings: Teacher Education
  • Reviewing mentors responses on what they wanted the novices to learn from their literacy artifacts and discussions the top responses included:
    • Importance of knowing students and meeting their needs
    • “I would like the university students to consider how much energy high school students with a significant deficit in reading ability must give to accessing the curriculum, the anxiety associated with a study guide scenario for a total of seven classes and the options available for the special ed teacher to increase success for the student.”
    • Importance of lesson design
    • “I asked the other students/teachers to look through the book and think about how they might use this in their classrooms, what about the text jumped out at them, and to make other comments.
    • I want students to recognize the value of curriculum mapping. …I do not want my curriculum to consist of, albeit good, disconnected lessons. There should be a systematic approach to lesson planning with the students' end of year achievement in mind.
findings mentors self assessment
Findings: Mentors’ Self-Assessment
  • Mentors’ self-assessment of their work with novices focused on aspects of their learning:
    • University student reaction
    • “The students seemed to understand what the artifact was used for but didn't really seem to have more in-depth questions. I think they got the general idea but perhaps they needed me to give them more probing questions.”
    • “Good interaction but wanted to hear more examples of how it could have been used. I should have asked "How can it be used for literacy…science…behavior, etc?" I was too vague.”
    • Flow of conversation
    • University students gave some very good ideas on incorporating my low readers into the activity and the discussion was much better paced this month and allowed for more discussion (instead of simply me stating the activity).
findings student comments
Findings: Student Comments
  • “The artifact [the mentor] shared regarding picture and fact association was an excellent activity and catered to more than one [style of] learning, which is probably why more students were engaged and comprehended once the pictures were added.”
  • “I need meetings like these [field advisories] to provide me with ideas on how to incorporate language into various projects.”
  • “I liked discussing different ways of having students participate within the classroom. It is a great idea to get students to feel a part of the classroom and to give them different roles to participate.”
  • “I liked discussing classroom life and hearing what goes well and what does not.”
  • Perhaps not surprisingly, mentors are most comfortable, measured by their self-reports, when talking about their own teaching. They know it best, and seem most comfortable assessing it.
  • Our definition of literacy artifact (“a sample that can demonstrate teaching and learning in a special education classroom”), incorporates a focus on student learning. We can conclude that teachers’ self-assessments, therefore, take into account and are perhaps partially based on students’ learning.
  • Mentors continue to focus on student learning as the focus for their mentoring. Yet they struggle with how to do that. They are wary of only “presenting” or lecturing about their artifact. How to focus their discussions to draw out the novices’ thinking seems to be a major and shared dilemma amongst mentors.
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