Month: July 2017

College of Ed continues to post nearly perfect edTPA pass rates

Nicollette Wlodek

Nicollette Wlodek

Nicollette Wlodek knew that the video camera was rolling, but she didn’t mind.

Wlodek, an Elementary Education major from NIU, stood confidently before a classroom of Huntley School District fifth-graders to teach a literacy lesson on comparing and contrasting characters in a fictional story.

She changed nothing in her delivery, even though she was keenly aware that this one demonstration of her teaching would become part of her mandatory edTPA submission. Passage of the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s abilities in planning, instruction and assessment, is required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states.

Despite the high stakes, Wlodek says, “the edTPA did not change my personality, or the way I was acting, when they were videotaping me.”

But the edTPA will make her “a better teacher,” she says.

“I am already a very reflective teacher, but the edTPA taught me to do that in a more formal setting where I am documenting my thoughts,” she says. “It really forces you to sit down and analyze what it is you taught your students and how well they understood it. What problems did they get right? How does that compare to the rest of the class? What can I do to make these skills more understandable? I will take the time to really analyze my teaching.”

One hundred percent of the 52 Elementary Education majors who submitted edTPA materials this spring passed. So did 100 percent of NIU College of Education graduate students in teacher licensure programs.

All but one student in each of the college’s other licensure programs (Early Childhood Education, Physical Education and Special Education) also passed the edTPA, maintaining the college’s 98 percent pass rate.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson, the College of Education’s director of teacher preparation and development, credits some of the success to assistance and preparation provided by professors and the university’s Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation.

Faculty in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, for example, integrate aspects of the edTPA throughout their coursework. Help is also available from Judy Boisen, the Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation’s full-time edTPA coordinator.

However, Johnson says, it’s the students who truly deserve the applause for meeting and exceeding the demanding standards of the edTPA.

“Because the edTPA is a performance-based assessment, our candidates are being asked to demonstrate more than what they have learned in their teacher-training programs,” Johnson says. “They are being asked to demonstrate an understanding of teaching and learning within their own context of the student-teaching experience.”

Thanks to the edTPA, she adds, prospective employers know that NIU graduates “are prepared to be contributing members of academic teams.”

Meanwhile, she says, passage boosts morale and confidence: “I believe the successful completion of the edTPA reinforces for our candidates that they are ready.”

Wlodek is ready.

Raised in Streamwood, she is breaking new ground in her family by becoming a teacher. She is also fulfilling a longtime ambition that matches her personality: Even at family gatherings, she says, she spends more time playing with children than socializing with other adults.

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Wlodek teaches a math lesson to Huntley fifth-graders.

“I have such a caring heart, and I think kids are just amazing. They don’t get enough credit for what they can do, and they can do so much,” she says. “Ideally, I’d like to teach third- through fifth-grade. I really like those ages. They’re fun, and they come in at the beginning of the school year shy. I like seeing them grow as individuals, not just academically but personally.”

Juggling her edTPA submission with her student-teaching and her part-time job proved challenging and time-consuming, she says, but the May graduate believes that her hard work was worthwhile.

“Children will benefit from teachers who have gone through the edTPA,” Wlodek says. “Teachers are taking more time, really looking into the students’ strengths and weaknesses, and when teachers are doing that deeper analysis, children are getting that much more individualized attention.”

She also has advice for current College of Education students following her footsteps.

“Listen to the NIU professors when they say, ‘Try to get ahead,’ ” she says, “and form strong, genuine bonds with your students; it makes for a strong will to learn.”



Social Justice Summer Camp offers educators ideas to reach students in ‘a different way’

sjsc-5Long lines in the lunchroom. Climbing the gymnasium rope. Nagging parents. The quadratic formula.

Anxieties like these are the stuff of high school.

For LGBTQ teens, though, they take a backseat to the issues of sexual orientation.

Changing clothes not in a locker room but in a nurse’s office on the other side of the building, a welcome accommodation that also comes with isolation. Never knowing whom to trust with their feelings. Bullying not just from classmates but also from fathers who threaten disownment and siblings who heartlessly mock them and their friends.

Such overwhelming concerns can impede learning; require understanding and sensitivity from teachers, most of whom probably can’t relate. Students from diverse ethnic and racial populations, also confronted by generations of oppression, equally yearn for that kind of support. Again, it’s often in vain.

But K-12 teachers and other educators from DeKalb and Elgin who attended June’s inaugural Social Justice Summer Camp at the NIU College of Education will return to their classrooms and schools this fall with eyes wide open to students from diverse and historically marginalized backgrounds.

That progress starts with the recognition that educational disparities exist although they likely are invisible to those not impacted.

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Campers talk after a LGBTQ panel discussion.

Joseph Flynn, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and one of the camp’s organizers, said the participants had “a wonderful time, intellectually and socially.”

“People left on a high note, invigorated to get back to their schools and districts and to get to work. Some were talking about addressing the climate within their schools. Some were looking at specific policies as well as the practices and curriculum in general,” Flynn said.

“Overall, the comments we had from campers were largely positive,” he added. “That doesn’t mean that some folks didn’t struggle with some of the issues, and we anticipated that. Learning about issues of oppression in all forms can be challenging because it’s speaking against the status quo.”

NIU’s camp, organized by Flynn and colleagues James Cohen and Mike Manderino, the three-day camp featured keynote speakers, panel discussions, film screenings, experiential activities, reflective conversations and the development of social justice action plans for schools.

Themes of the days included “Building from the Beginning: Understanding Multicultural and Social Justice Education Historically and Currently,” “Pieces of a Whole: Recognizing the Relationships among Systems, the Collective and the Individual” and “Now What? Considerations on the Practice of Social Justice Education.”

Mike Manderino

Mike Manderino

History lessons of how various forms of oppression emerged, along with the thought-provoking content of the films, spawned many side discussions.

“The film series was especially powerful,” Flynn said. “We would finish a film, and an hour of conversation would go by – and we still weren’t done talking.”

During a June 13 panel discussion featuring three DeKalb High School students who are LGBTQ, however, the language was plain and the message clear.

“We’re just trying to make it through, like the rest of you,” one teenager said to the audience. “School should not be a place you fear or dislike.”

Members of the audience, meanwhile, were able to walk in someone else’s shoes.

The three students spoke of bullying in the hallways, observing that teachers often “won’t step in until it gets physical and someone gets hurt.” They talked of academic lessons illustrated only with “white, hetero families” and history curriculum that ignores the contributions of LGBTQ individuals. They discussed sexual education that covers sex and abstinence but not asexuality.

They expressed hurt over hearing the attendance called with their birth names and of being addressed by the wrong pronouns – situations that are not only uncomfortable but also potentially dangerous if the teachers inadvertently “out” students.

Yet they also smiled camaraderie available through school, especially when groups such DeKalb High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance are active. Meeting other LBGTQ students means “I’m not broken,” one said. “There is nothing wrong or strange about this, and I don’t have to be ashamed. This is something other people have experienced. I’m not alone.”

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James Cohen (left) was one of the camp’s organizers.

Educators in the room stood and applauded.

“I’m in awe of your courage,” one told the panel. “Thank you for being who you are.”

The teens also provided advice for the teachers who might have LGBTQ students – or parents – in their classrooms.

  • “Normalize your curriculum.”
  • “Give students someone to talk to. Let your students know you are available and open to them. If a student comes to you and tells you about their parents not accepting them, be there for them.”
  • “Respect every one for who they are – or who they want to be.”

Andria Mitchell, principal of DeKalb’s Tyler Elementary School, came to the Social Justice Summer Camp to reinforce the work of District 428’s diversity planning.

“This has been an amazing experience,” Mitchell said.

“It has been liberating and emotionally draining. It’s been an eye-opener with big moments of aha. I even had to catch myself a couple times, and say, ‘Oh! I have that bias,’ or, ‘I’ve never thought of it that way.’ ”

Mitchell believes teachers must respect diversity with the same level of importance they assign to knowledge and content.

“When you’re able to have this social justice lens, along with the latest knowledge, you reach your students in a different way,” she said, “and you reach all of your students.”

Jackie Jagielski, a sixth-grade gifted program teacher at Glenbrook Elementary School in U-46, wants to ensure that all children are provided with “opportunities to use their voices” and safe spaces.

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Campers came from the DeKalb and Elgin school districts.

NIU’s camp offered “concrete ways” to do just that, she said.

“I’ve always had an interest in social justice issues, particularly now in the political climate we find ourselves in. It’s harder for people to find common ground,” Jagielski said. “We need to celebrate and humanize all of our students, regardless of their backgrounds and in all the ways that they can be diverse.”

Roy Kim, a social worker in District 428, appreciated the camp’s “wealth of historical context” and “hearing the experiences of the other attendees.”

“Social justice is half of my job description,” he said. “Nothing could be more relevant for me in doing my job effectively.”

Ana Arroyo is principal of Elgin’s Parkwood Elementary School, a Title I school where 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Most are Hispanic.

She attended NIU’s camp to help her teachers advance their “understanding of where our children are coming from,” something already in progress. Parkwood, nominated for PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) “Gold” recognition, is one of the Top 5 safest schools in U-46.

“I’m planning to deliver professional development to my staff on teaching to our population. It’s about listening to students, and giving students a platform to speak, share and engage in their learning,” Arroyo said. “If we can impact change at such an early level, that’s going to continue through middle school and high school.”



Werderich, Wickens leading Curriculum and Instruction

Donna Werderich and Corrine Wickens

Donna Werderich and Corrine Wickens

Two familiar faces are leading the Department of Curriculum and Instruction during the search for a new chair.

Donna Werderich and Corrine Wickens began serving July 1 as acting chair and acting associate chair, respectively.

Werderich will oversee undergraduate programs and the Master of Arts in Teaching while serving as the coordinator of Elementary and Middle Level Education programs.

Wickens will oversee graduate programs, which include three different M.S.Ed. programs and the Ed.D., while maintaining her role as reading coordinator for the reading/language arts unit.

Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, calls Werderich and Wickens “a dynamic duo who will provide excellent leadership for the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.”

“Donna and Corrine are both great teachers, researchers and colleagues, and they have a strong commitment to NIU, the College of Education and to Curriculum and Instruction,” Elish-Piper said.

“They have both served as program coordinators, chairs of committees and task forces, and in leadership roles in professional organizations,” she added. “They bring a perfect balance of history and vision for the future of the department.”

A member of the College of Education faculty since 2007, Werderich is grateful for the opportunity to lead the department and to facilitate and supportive, collaborative environment.

“I want to help support teamwork, encourage collaboration and the building of meaningful relationships so that we can continue to work together toward the common good of all,” Werderich said.

“We have a department filled with diverse skills, talents, knowledge and expertise. I hope to seek out ways to help members realize their potential as they are our greatest resource who will continue to strengthen and positively affect the future,” she added.

“More than 20 years ago, I entered in to the teaching profession with a love for teaching and strong desire to serve and make a positive difference in the lives of students and the broader field of education. I feel very fortunate to be able to continue on this path by serving alongside a cadre of dedicated and talented colleagues.”

Wickens, who joined NIU in 2008, is excited to help lead a department with “so many great opportunities and yet untapped potential.”

“We have a new doctoral cohort in U-46, a flourishing ESL/Bilingual unit, new opportunities in Elementary Education with new pathways in the program and articulations with local community colleges,” Wickens said.

“We also have a first group of candidates scheduled to graduate in spring 2018 from the new Middle Level Teaching and Learning program, a new online program in the MS Ed Literacy-Reading program, growth within the ALL postsecondary unit and the recent and successful Social Justice Summer Camp,” she added. “Donna and I hope to continue to support the innovative practice going on within these diverse areas within our department.”



Anderson joins CoE to lead finance, operations analysis

Alicia Anderson

Alicia Anderson

Alicia Anderson began Monday as the College of Education’s new administrator of Finance and Operations Analysis.

Anderson comes to the college from the NIU Controller’s Office, where she has worked since joining the university in 2014 for a role focused on asset management and financial reporting.

Her responsibilities in the college will focus on development and implementation of the college budget; financial and productivity data analysis; budget modeling; and reporting.

She also will perform data collection and analyses to support college functions, and will make projections that will guide the college’s decisions and strategic direction.

But Anderson is most eager to begin collaborating with department chairs and office managers to help them understand how to allocate their funds.

“The Controller’s Office is all administrative and not student-focused,” Anderson says. “I wanted to be on the academic side of things. It reminds me in tough times why we’re here.”

Located in Graham Hall 314, Anderson reports directly to Dean Laurie Elish-Piper.

“I am thrilled for Alicia to join the College of Education because of her strong background in financial reporting and data analysis,” Elish-Piper says. “She is a very collaborative professional, and I am confident that she will provide excellent leadership and support with financial modeling, analysis and data-based decision-making.”

Anderson, who holds a bachelor’s degree in accountancy, has held financial positions in for-profit and non-profit sectors.



Project SLIDE couples lessons in biodiversity with preparation for teaching diverse learners

project-slide-2A chance to explore and learn in a natural, outdoor setting is uncommon for most fifth-graders at Golfview Elementary School in Carpentersville.

But students and faculty from the NIU College of Education provided just that this spring.

“I can safely say that it was an experience the fifth-graders will never forget,” says Gary Swick, an adjunct instructor of Foundations of Education in the NIU Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

“For a lot of these kids, they’ve never been on a trail in a forest preserve, just walking from one place to another in the woods,” he adds. “It was highly sensory and stimulating for them.”

Part of the NIU’s Project SLIDE (Science Literacy in Diverse Education), the day of field activities April 21 at Schweitzer Woods Forest Preserve in West Dundee provided hands-on learning in environmental science and biodiversity.

NIU students first interacted with the Golfview fifth-graders April 7, when they presented five classroom lessons on those topics.

“Gary and I shared some students in their second professional semester – the diversity block, which involves courses about working with diverse learners,” says Dianne Zalesky, an instructor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “In talking to Portia Downey, we heard about Educate Local, and how we could get our students out into a different community with diverse learners.”

project-slide-4Educate Local provides teacher licensure candidates the opportunity to gain experience and develop their perspective of education through volunteering, observing and participating in various campus, community, and educational settings.

Hispanic children make up nearly 96 percent of Golfview’s enrollment, offering a fertile training ground for students in Zalesky’s “ESL Methods and Materials” course.

Curriculum came from Project Learning Tree, a program of the American Forest Foundation that “uses trees and forests as windows on the world” to grow students’ understanding of the environment and actions they can take to conserve it.

“Their motto is, ‘It’s not teaching them what to think; it’s teaching them how to think.’ It’s critical thinking on environmental issues,” Swick says. “My students are certified Project Learning Tree instructors.”

Swick’s students, enrolled in his “Using the Community as a Resource” course, chose the lessons from Project Learning Tree’s book of “outdoor education recipes.” Five teams of Huskies deployed throughout five Golfview classrooms to present. Some taught two lessons, he says, while others tackled five.

“What really impressed me is how well they operated as a team,” Swick says. “It was almost like an internal combustion engine, where you have different pistons firing but they’re all driving the same thing forward. It was rarely one of them standing-and-delivering with the other four watching.”

Zalesky made sure her students practiced differentiation of their lessons to meet the needs of different learners.

project-slide-5“My students learned as much as the fifth-graders did,” Zalesky says. “The more experience you have working with students and applying theory to practice, the better – and that was invaluable. Delivering lessons is not just giving information. It’s interacting with the students. It’s grouping them. It’s classroom management.”

Language-related lessons including writing about shared experiences, she adds, which led to students on both sides of the teaching-learning spectrum creating a book of memories of their time together.

NIU’s students have gained priceless knowledge, Swick agrees.

First, he says, their toolkits now include the planning and delivery of curriculum. Second, he adds, they learned to adjust on the fly and to make improvements from one class to the next.

Their biggest realization, however, might lie in the confirmation of their abilities.

“It was a really great experience for them to be responsible for something this big – so many lessons, which is out of their comfort zone – and being able to adapt things while they’re doing it,” he says.

“Even though it was highly stressful, they thought it went really well, and they knew that if they could pull that off, they could do almost anything,” he adds. “They did a great job.”

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