Tag: Laura Hedin

SEED faculty chosen to present at engaged learning conference

Laura Hedin

Laura Hedin

Laura Hedin leaves no doubt of her feelings on engaged learning.

“It’s the best way for students to learn. That’s the bottom line,” says Hedin, who teaches Special Education in the Department of Special and Early Education (SEED). “If it’s just listening – and not doing – then students are not getting everything they could be getting from my expertise. Practicing their skills just bumps everything up in Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.”

The associate professor is one of two College of Education faculty members chosen to present at NIU’s first Conference on Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship.

Natalie Young, an instructor of Early Childhood Education in SEED, is the college’s other “exemplar” at the Tuesday, March 6, event in the Holmes Student Center.

Several faculty and staff will present on best practices in engaged learning, teaching and scholarship. All are welcome to attend; registration is open online.

Lisa Freeman, acting president of NIU, will deliver the opening remarks as well as the keynote address: “Bringing NIU’s Mission to Life through Engagement.”

Concurrent “Best Practice” sessions begin at 9:15 a.m., 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. A plenary session is scheduled from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m., and a poster session will begin at 11:45 a.m.

Participants will close the day with a discussion on “The Future of Engaged Learning at NIU.”

kanelandHedin will discuss her department’s collaboration with Kaneland School District 302, where her teacher-licensure candidates in Special Education are collecting and analyzing assessment data to design and deliver effective lessons.

“We have so much positive feedback from our candidates, the district teachers and the school districts,” Hedin says. “It’s one thing to hear something from a professor, but it’s another thing for that information to come directly from your clinical site and your cooperating teachers. Our students get that reflection; they get that piece where they say, ‘You know, I just saw this in my clinical placement. Why do you do it that way?’ ”

Faculty, meanwhile, are on site in Kaneland.

“As we started working with the district representatives about what they need, we made them aware of the advantages of having a cluster of candidates working there so that we could bring our coursework to Kaneland,” she says. “We came up with some curriculum to deliver to their classroom teachers, specifically about writing IEPs and IEP goals.”

Young will talk about Open Doors, her Educate Local program that takes NIU students to teach at Lincoln Elementary School in Bellwood, Ill.

Natalie Young

Natalie Young

Open Doors has two motives, one to motivate the college aspirations of Lincoln’s first- and second-graders and another to expose NIU teacher-candidates to “understand the importance of having experiences in a setting where minorities are the largest population.”

“When reflecting on their experiences through the Open Doors program, my students express appreciation for additional hands-on, in-the-field opportunities with young students,” Young says. “Students collaborate on teams to create lessons specifically targeted to the needs of the students. We go, and we work directly with young students directly. Who doesn’t learn best by doing?”

Experiences like the ones provided by Open Doors are essential for undergraduate students before they become actual classroom teachers, she adds.

“I can give my students lots of articles and tell them to read about what others say it looks like to teach in predominantly minority schools. We can read, read, read, and we can discuss, discuss, discuss,” she says, “but it’s completely different when you meet that primary school child who’s right in front of you, connecting with you, and you’re connecting with them. It’s different when you’re sitting there crisscross-applesauce, working directly with and engaging with students of color in a way in which you may have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing.”

Hedin and Young are eager to learn from the other presenters, and are grateful for the opportunity to do so.

“I am a lifelong learner, and I need not only to continue to work on my skills but to engage with colleagues who are doing the same things. I also need to be a model of that for my students,” Hedin says.


Open Doors

“To have engagement initiatives like this come down from the president and the provost is terrific,” she adds. “It really shows a dedication of resources to actually make certain that engaged learning occurs and to help people understand how it can occur.”

Young, a doctoral student in her department, regards the ELTS conference as a university-based version of what goes on in K-12 schools all the time.

“I like to see what types of engagement activities and program others are doing,” Young says. “I’m always curious about what other educators are doing and how it’s working for them, and that’s what teachers do all the time. We get creative ideas from each other, and if we listen and collaborate, we continue to grow as professionals.”

For more information on the ELTS conference, call (815) 753-8154 or email rkersh@niu.edu.

Cream, sugar, skills: Café 432 coffee vendors strut their stuff for future special ed teachers



Every Monday and Wednesday, the crew of Somonauk Middle School’s Café 432 Coffee Cart makes the morning rounds, selling hot cups of joe to caffeine-craving faculty and staff.

Mondays are for James R. Wood Elementary School. Wednesdays are for their own school, home to fifth- through eighth-grades, and the nearby high school. The prices are unbeatable: 50 cents for black coffee, $1 for coffee with mix-ins, 75 cents for a plain hot chocolate and $1 for hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Sometimes, these students who are all in the Life Skills program don their blue aprons to serve coffee to local veterans. Sometimes, it’s to the village’s firefighters.

On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the cart came to Gabel Hall 100 in the NIU College of Education.

“The coffee cart is a great way to teach the kids to be employable,” says Amanda Jungels, a Special Education major from Sugar Grove who spent her fall clinical placement at Somonauk Middle School. “It’s life skills with academics mixed in.”

Her analysis is spot-on, confirms Tim Ulrich, director of special education in Somonauk Community Unit School District 432, who calls the initiative “academics masked as a coffee cart.”



“We’re really focused on what our students are going to be able to do when they graduate, and we want to give them skills that will translate to the workplace,” Ulrich says. “We start them at an early age. The sooner we give these skills to kids, the more employable they’ll be.”

Jungels has been working with Somonauk Middle School special education teachers Kara Scott, an alumna of the NIU Department of Special and Early Education, and Jessica Plante. She will stay under their wings next semester during the first half of her student-teaching placement.

Bringing the coffee cart crew to NIU provided not only a stage to demonstrate “the different things they can do,” Jungels says, but also a good chance “to branch out and serve at a different place.”

“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” she says. “They seem really excited about college in general.”

NIU Presidential Teaching Professor Toni Van Laarhoven volunteered her classroom for the on-campus sale; she and her students became happy customers, as did Dean Laurie Elish-Piper and associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker.

“Kara and Jessica made packets of information for our current Special Education majors that could assist them in developing a similar business in the future. They shared budgeting information and forms, gave a great presentation and shared a great video,” Van Laarhoven says.

“I love that Kara is an alum who was interested in giving back to NIU,” she adds, “and sharing wonderful strategies with our current and future special educators.”

Van Laarhoven also was impressed by the coffee cart initiative: “This is a great example of embedding all kinds of life skills in a functional activity.”


Café 432 workers rotate between four jobs – cart operator, greeter, barista and cashier – in which they interact with customers, take orders, measure and pour coffee, make change and clean up.

Job expectations are clearly defined. For example, the greeter will “smile and make eye contact with the customer, start with a form of greet statement, end with a departing statement and will keep a positive attitude.”

During their shifts, they develop independence while focusing on their math, language arts and social skills. Afterward, they discuss how each morning went.

“We started this at the beginning of the year,” Scott says. “We’re making a budget. We’re learning how to greet. We’re taking time to reflect on the different stages.”

Meanwhile, Ulrich says, the coffee crew has made many friends inside and outside the school walls. “Our students are members of the community,” he says. “Everyone knows our students.”

Laurie Elish-Piper, Toni Van Laarhoven and Kara Scott

Laurie Elish-Piper, Toni Van Laarhoven and Kara Scott

“These guys know more of the people in the district than any other of the kids,” Plante adds. “They know their names. They know their coffee orders.”

Justin Snider, principal of Somonauk Middle School and a double-alum of the NIU College of Education, is proud of the Café 432 students.

“I like to see them out and interacting with new people and new spaces,” Snider says. “It’s a way to enhance their skills. They practice those skills every day, but usually with students and teachers they’re already comfortable with.”

Laura Hedin, an associate professor of Special Education at NIU, calls the coffee cart “a tremendous opportunity” for the Somonauk students.

“Students with disabilities need to understand appropriate social communications, whether it’s just with people they meet out at the mall or in a job setting,” Hedin says. “We need to provide a context in which students can learn what is appropriate. They really need opportunities to go out with new people and to practice those skills.”


Ah, coffee!

Visiting NIU could prove aspirational for the middle-schoolers.

“Everybody has to kind of see themselves in that setting and decide, ‘Is this something I want to have in my future? How do I get there?’ ” Hedin says.

“Some of these student may come to community colleges if appropriate for their own goals and ideas about what they want their future to be,” she adds. “There are also an increasing number of opportunities at four-year colleges as well – specialized programs so persons with disabilities can have undergraduate experiences. Those are expanding all over the country.”

Future teachers like Jungels, who Hedin believes is more than “just a buddy” to the middle-schoolers, can help to make those dreams come true.

“Amanda is an outstanding student, and she’s going to be a wonderful teacher. She already is a wonderful teacher. Kara Scott told us that it hasn’t been like having a clinical student; it’s like having a co-teacher who’s already licensed,” Hedin says.

“Amanda is very creative and a wonderful problem-solver with a heart for working with students with significant disabilities,” she adds. “She has this ability to make these really strong connections with her students but at the same time working toward the academic or social goals they need to be working on. She’s not setting the bar low.”


NIU teacher-licensure candidate Amanda Jungels (right) joins
the Somonauk Middle School coffee cart crew for a group photo.