August 29, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

A $200,000 Teacher Quality Grant allows Calvin's education department to enhance the teaching of reading in local schools.

In early August, more than 50 teachers from Buchanan Elementary School, The Potter's House and Living Stones Academy spent four days at Calvin, improving  their skills in reading pedagogy. The conference was funded through a $200,000 Teacher Quality Grant from the Michigan Department of Education—Calvin’s fourth Teacher Quality Grant in seven years for improving the teaching of reading in local schools.

 “This partnership grant has been a wonderful way to deepen our relationship with the Grand Rapids Public Schools,” said Calvin education professor James Rooks.

Learning Communities

The grant project is geared to building professional learning communities among teachers. “These teachers will meet regularly to continue digging into topics that they have learned at the conference. It’s proven that professional learning communities are a promising means for professional development—new learning—to be applied to the classroom … ,” said grant coordinator Megan Cooke.  “Mainly, it’s a way that teachers can support each other, so it’s not just left to individual teachers to determine how to apply something or figure out whether it’s working.”

The grant enables Calvin faculty to meet regularly throughout the school year with teachers of the same grade level from across the three schools. This learning period is bookended by two conferences, of which August’s was the first. Faculty from Calvin’s English, CAS and information technology departments will participate in the learning communities, lending their specialized areas of knowledge to the project.

The grant focuses on five goals applied to the broad subject of language arts: balanced literacy and universal design for learning; writing; assessment; technology, and teachers working collaboratively. Teachers are trained to help students spend quality time in both teacher- and self-directed reading. They will also learn to teach students to write more thoughtfully, to design curricula flexible enough to meet individual needs and to incorporate the appropriate technology into reading.

The teachers will be assessing their results collaboratively, and they will also be assessed in voluntary classrooms by Calvin Education Department instructor Dr. Mary Rozendal and Sonny Huisman a graduate student in Calvin’s Graduate Education Program.

Supporting teachers

“The teachers are learning new ways to do ongoing assessments with their students.  It’s not enough that the students are getting really excited; they have to prove that what the students are doing is worthwhile,” said Cooke. The theme for this year’s conference was Focus. “We get feedback from the teachers that if you keep learning new things, you’re spread very wide and thin in your learning but not very thick,” she said.

Cooke holds both a bachelor’s degree in special education from Calvin (2003) and a master of education in learning disabilities from Calvin (2010). She loves supporting teachers: “When you support teachers, your advocacy spills over from the teachers to the students. The teachers from these three schools are just so dedicated and excited for new learning …They do a really big job. And expecting teachers to do that big job on their own, without any support, is simply unrealistic.”

Rooks is enthusiastic about how Calvin’s series of Teacher Quality Grants have helped the college build solid relationships with a series of local schools: “I think it started with, ‘Who are you?’ and it became, ‘We know that you understand us and come alongside us and work with us—and don’t preach to us about the right way to do things. It’s been a great partnership,” he said.

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