Tag: middle level teaching and learning

Clinton Rosette seventh-graders ‘teach’ NIU Middle Level majors

crms-6Would you rather have hands for feet – or feet for hands?

Would you rather have the hiccups for the rest of your life – or the feeling that you’re about to sneeze? Would you rather eat brownies for the rest of your life – or cookies?

Nearly 100 seventh-graders from DeKalb’s Clinton Rosette Middle School pondered those questions and more Oct. 25 during a morning of fun, games and, yes, learning at Anderson Hall.

Their visit to the NIU College of Education mostly was spent with Middle Level Teaching and Learning majors, who conceptualized, designed and delivered activities geared toward one goal: teambuilding.

It’s a critical ingredient of successful middle schools, where students typically receive their first exposure to moving individually from classroom to classroom and teacher to teacher.

“One of the key concepts of middle school is teambuilding,” says Donna Werderich, acting chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and coordinator of the Middle Level Teaching and Learning (MLTL) program. “Our teacher-licensure candidates are learning how important it is to build community in the classroom and to build positive relationships with one another.”

Amanda Baum, a seventh-grade math teacher at Clinton Rosette, collaborated with Werderich to organize the trip and its events, which also included a question-and-answer time with six NIU Huskie student-athletes

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Amanda Baum, left, and Donna Werderich provide final instructions
to NIU Middle Level Teaching and Learning majors.

Happy to find in Werderich “someone as excited about this opportunity as I was,” Baum foresaw multiple benefits for the first-time endeavor, which is part of the college’s Educate Local initiative.

She also came to campus in advance to present a workshop for the MLTL teacher candidates that addressed the importance of building relationships with students, offered different ways to accomplish that and explored “what happens when you don’t do it.”

“This is a really awesome experience for my students to get out and be in an academic setting with older role models,” Baum said, “and it’s a really neat opportunity for Middle Level teacher candidates to practice on real-life kids.”

Middle school teachers also must understand, and tend to, the social, emotional, physical and cognitive needs of young adolescents, Werderich added.

Bringing the Clinton Rosette students out of their academic classrooms and into Anderson Hall’s gymnasium opened windows into those aspects of young adolescent development, providing NIU’s 15 future teachers with invaluable knowledge.

As the young people rotated through the stations, one activity wrapped them into six-person “human knots” by intertwining their arms. They then had to figure out, working together, how to unlock themselves.

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The word on the card is “syrup.”

In another activity, an index card inscribed with a type of food was taped to each forehead. Students needed to determine the words written on their cards – for example, “spaghetti” or “meatballs” – and then find the classmates whose cards paired with theirs.

Powers of description were on display in a challenge where the seventh-graders stood back-to-back in short rows, one of which had a pre-made Lego construction. The other row had the right Legos to build something identical, but had to rely on the oral instructions without the benefit of sight.

Clinton Rosette Principal Tim Vincent liked what he saw.

Vincent, a three-time alum of the NIU College of Education, often encourages his teachers to visit other classrooms to see how their students function in different settings and subjects. NIU’s exercise demonstrated exactly that for future teachers of English, math, social studies and science.

“Middle school is a different animal,” Vincent said. “Any contact the candidates can have here with students that they are going to be working with in the future is a benefit, no matter what.”

The Huskies are in the early stages of their clinical experiences, currently spending half-days in Huntley, Ill., where they observe teachers in action and learn how to craft lesson plans.

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Sarai Rivera, a junior in the Middle Level Teaching and Learning program, enjoyed her opportunity to take charge.

Sarai Rivera

Sarai Rivera

“Today definitely gives me a chance to have my own soapbox, and to direct the kids the way I would in the classroom,” Rivera said. “This is my first time having my own group, classroom management-wise, and it gives me good insight into how I’m going to manage my classroom.”

Rivera, who plans to teach math, also closely observed group dynamics.

“We can see how different groups of kids work together,” she said. “This gives us an idea of classroom spacing.”

For John Gallione, a future social studies teacher, many of the young faces were familiar ones. The non-traditional student works part time as a one-on-one instructional assistant at Clinton Rosette.

“These are awesome kids. They couldn’t have picked a better group,” Gallione said. “This is a really great opportunity for the Middle Level Teaching and Learning students to practice with bigger groups of kids at a rapid-fire pace. It makes us really have to think on our feet.”

John Gallione

John Gallione

Gallione said the event also enabled Middle Level licensure candidates to link theory to practice.

Not every lesson is fun, he said, so teachers must know how to motivate every student. Teachers cannot “fix their gaze,” he added, and must keep their eyes and attention moving.

“We’re learning how to keep kids engaged in prolonged activities,” he said. “This is huge for when you get into the classroom.”

Tammy Leigh, a clinical placement supervisor who meets with NIU licensure candidates in the field to observe them and reflect with them, called the morning “fantastic.”

“I just love to see how they’re interacting, how their personalities are coming out,” Leigh said. “When I walked in this morning at 8, they were all here to greet me, raring to go.”

NIU students gained hands-on experience with middle-school students, got a feel for the collaboration of co-teaching and forged professional networks with Clinton Rosette, Leigh added.

Sure enough, Vincent – committed to employing “a diverse population of teachers” at Clinton Rosette – is eager to welcome next semester’s crop of student teaching placements from NIU’s Middle Level Teaching and Learning major.

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Rock-Paper-Scissors — with cheerleaders!

“I’m excited about what the program can offer us because of the focused training they’re getting,” he said. “For them to identify their passion as middle school really excites me.”

Beyond the learning opportunities for the NIU students, the Oct. 25 visit proved aspirational for the seventh-graders.

During question-and-answer sessions near the end of the morning, the young people quizzed their temporary teachers on aspects of college life that included online classes, daily schedules and residence hall living.

“It’s just nice to get them on campus,” Vincent said. “There’s only so much we can do at the school to show them that college is possible, because some of them don’t have that model in their families.”

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College welcomes 2017 group of Dean’s Achievement Scholars

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper greets Alivia Hansen.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper greets Alivia Hansen.

Some have known forever.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” says Halley Fogerty, a pre-Elementary Education major from Wheaton. “I like the consistency of school. I like going to classes, taking notes, doing homework. It’s not just learning; it’s a lot of fun.”

As someone who vividly remembers rushing home from school as a young child to make PowerPoint presentations for her family, Fogerty holds dear the elementary years.

“You learn a lot about yourself. You learn to be resilient and to push through things that are hard,” she says. “I think this is the critical point in life. If you have a bad educator at an earlier age, you’re less likely to apply yourself when you’re older.”

Karli Tillema, a fellow pre-Elementary Education major, shares those sentiments.

“I’ve always wanted to teach since I was in kindergarten myself. I’ve never thought of anything else,” says the Belvidere native.

“Elementary school is a really big thing in how kids grow up and learn in the older levels – middle school and high school. It’s the start of their education,” she adds. “To know that I’m helping kids learn about things they will need to know in the future makes me happy.”

Alexis Safstrom

Alexis Safstrom

For some, the dream to teach is new.

Huntley native Samantha Panek, a percussionist, originally planned on a career in music. Thinking about her own years in middle school, however, convinced her of another path as an English teacher.

“Middle school is when kids are going through puberty and hard times. In middle school, I was still figuring myself out. I was kind of a quiet loner kid, but when I hit eighth-grade, I made friends. I had teachers who were supportive of me, and that I would talk to every day,” says Panek, a Middle Level Teaching and Learning major.

Now, Panek says, “I want to be that role model for students. I want to be one of the people they come to when they need to talk. I want to make sure they come to me when they need help.”

Others cite a personal connection.

Lauren Brooks, a Special Education-Learning Behavior Specialist I major, is a cousin to a young woman with special needs.

“I just want to give kids an opportunity to succeed and to take their learning seriously,” says Brooks, who is from Aurora.

“They have tons of opportunities and potential, and I want to open their eyes to that and give them those opportunities. I’ve seen how my cousin has been kind of limited because of that, and how people treat her because of that, and I want to change that.”

Margee Myles chats with (from left) Adina Buetow, Cameron Clark and Lauren Brooks.

Margee Myles chats with (from left) Adina Buetow, Cameron Clark and Lauren Brooks.


Emily Wines
, also a Special Education-Learning Behavior Specialist I major, discovered her calling thanks to an inclusive Physical Education program built on open minds and big hearts.

“When I was in high school, we had a combined P.E. class, and this one girl I was paired with came every day with a smile,” says Wines, from Ladd, Ill.

Her former classmate has Down syndrome and hearing issues, Wines says. “She inspired me,” says Wines, who plans to focus on severe disabilities as opposed to learning disabilities. “If she can do this every single day with a smile on her face, I want to do anything I can do to help.”

These five future teachers are among the 2017-18 class of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients in the NIU College of Education.

Chosen for stellar academic performance in high school, each receives a $2,000 scholarship for the 2017-18 academic year with the possibility of renewal for the next year based on grade point average.

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David Walker learns more about Adina Buetow (left).

Rounding out the group are, from the Department of Special and Early Education, Adina Buetow (Vision Impairments), Cameron Clark (Learning Behavior Specialist I), Lisbet Firman (pre-Early Childhood Studies) and Abby Howard (pre-Early Childhood Studies).

Other scholarship recipients, from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, are Alivia Hansen (Elementary Education-Reading), Tirza Lisle (Elementary Education), Hailey Pezdek (pre-Elementary Education), Alexis Safstrom (pre-Elementary Education) and Peytonn Weaver (pre-Elementary Education).

The scholars met Sept. 12 with Dean Laurie-Elish Piper, associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker and leadership from three academic departments and College of Education Student Services.

“You are the top new incoming freshmen,” Kristin Rinehart, coordinator of Recruitment for College of Education Student Services, told the group. “You’re at the top of the list.”

Margee Myles, director of College of Education Student Services, then raised the bar: “We truly are expecting great things from all of you.”

From Elish-Piper and the associate deans, the freshmen heard about the need to enhance their experience outside the classroom through the college’s Educate and Engage Program, the University Honors Program, undergraduate research and student organizations.

Peytonn Weaver (left) and Halley Fogerty

Peytonn Weaver (left) and Halley Fogerty

Beyond the networking and leadership development opportunities, Elish-Piper told the students, embracing all the college has to offer will enable them to grow as individuals as they gain more experience, more qualifications and more confidence.

“We know that you are all academic superstars,” Elish-Piper said, “and you have made a fabulous choice in NIU.”

Brooks, like the others, calls herself honored, surprised and grateful to receive a scholarship.

“I feel a lot of doors opened for me. I feel I have a better connection with the College of Education now,” she says. “I really want to try my hardest to get good grades all of my semesters here.”



Educate U.S. travelers celebrate another successful trip to Texas

Abby Spankroy, Elementary Education major

Abby Spankroy, Elementary Education major

One by one, the names of Farias Early Childhood Center students are called as the morning attendance is taken.

When there is no response – no “Here!” or “¡Aquí!”– a child stationed at the front of the classroom carefully removes that classmate’s photograph from the outside of the “We Wish You Well” heart and places it inside the heart.

“They say, ‘Let’s put them in our heart and wish them well,’ ” says Wendy Castillo-Guzman, an Early Childhood Education major in the NIU College of Education. “When I first saw that, I honestly teared up. I just thought it was beautiful because teaching kids at that age to care about their friends, and caring about one another, is so important.”

Castillo-Guzman, who spent the week of May 15 in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) as part of the College of Education’s Educate U.S. initiative, plans to adopt the heart-shaped ritual for her eventual classroom.

It’s not the only Texas inspiration she plans to pay forward in her teaching career.

“The teachers there, man – they’re just so loving,” says Castillo-Guzman, a senior from Rochelle.

“They told me that whenever you do something, do it with love, and always do it believing that every kid can excel. Never leave a child back. Show them that you believe in them, and that they can do it. Take the time to work with them. Take the time to show them that you care, and that you’re invested in them.”

Ashley Kivikoski, Early Childhood Education major

Ashley Kivikoski, Early Childhood Education major

Educate U.S., a component of the college’s hands-on Educate and Engage Program, enables select participants to work side-by-side with mentor teachers, observing in classrooms, preparing lessons and engaging in co-teaching strategies.

NIU students chosen for the donor-funded, all-expenses-paid journey further enrich their experience by joining with Houston students, host families and community members in a variety of extracurricular and community events.

And as much as the NIU students relish their transformational time in Houston – “This trip was amazing, and I miss my host family already!” one posted on Twitter – the HISD hosts call the feeling mutual, says Jennifer Johnson, the college’s director of teacher preparation and development.

“Houston teachers love our students,” Johnson said. “The teachers there are motivated by how excited our students are, and it’s fun to have someone come into your classroom who’s so excited. The teachers are so gracious and welcoming.”

Visiting the HISD classrooms during the last week of the school year allowed the 20 students from NIU to observe assessment and grading as well as “closings and transitions,” Johnson says.

“They got an idea of how teachers get the students ready for the next year, where they think the children should go from here and what would be the best fit for them,” she says.

Portia Downey, professional development coordinator in the College of Education, returned to DeKalb with a folder full of sticky-back visitor badges she acquired while observing NIU students throughout the 284-campus school district.

Nycol Durham (right), Early Childhood Education major, and Bailey Fisch (left), Special Education major

Bailey Fisch (left), Special Education major,
and Nycol Durham (right), Early Childhood Education major

Downey saw the 20 Huskies engaged in decision-making over grades for HISD student report cards.

She saw them learning how HISD teachers work in teams. She saw them collecting strategies for differentiating curriculum for bilingual and ELL students.

“It was really eye-opening for them,” Downey says.

Emma Foelske, a Middle Level Teaching and Learning major from Batavia, confirms that she returned to Illinois with a new view.

Frank Black Middle School is 75 percent Hispanic, so I got to see a lot of dual-language teaching, which will be really valuable going forward in my future teaching endeavors,” says Foelske, a junior. “I’ve only been in middle school classrooms in DeKalb, so just seeing the different experiences there just taught me so much that education is not one-size-fits-all.”

She spent her week rotating through sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade social studies classes.

Katelyn Horton, Early Childhood Education major

Katelyn Horton, Early Childhood Education major

“My favorite thing was with the sixth-grade class,” she says. “They were doing presentations on different countries around the world, and I got to grade those projects.”

Like Castillo-Guzman, she found “a lot of ideas” to borrow for her own career.

“I actually spent a lot of time with the department head. He showed me everything he had in his classroom, and where he bought everything. He had an interactive notebook, which was really cool,” Foelske says. “I took a lot of notes.”

Her motivation to teach math and social studies comes from working at a summer camp, she says. “I like how different they are in middle school,” she says. “Sixth-graders are still like elementary school students. They’re innocent. By the time they get to eighth-grade, they think they’re in charge of everything.”

Castillo-Guzman, meanwhile, is picking the pre-school route to make good on a goal formed at her church as she taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.

“At that young age, it’s important for them to have a teacher who cares about them. It needs to start when they’re little,” she says. “I love to see how they grow. You get to see that lightbulb go on in their head when they learn something.”

May 2017 Educate U.S. participants reporting for duty!

May 2017 Educate U.S. participants reporting for duty!



Lone Star stars: Educate U.S. ‘teas’ up for May trip to Texas

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development, talks about Educate U.S.

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development, talks about Educate U.S.

NIU College of Education students selected for the May 2017 edition of Educate U.S. gathered last week in a Graham Hall classroom to learn more about their pending trip to the Houston Independent School District.

Jennifer Johnson, the college’s director of teacher preparation and development, and Portia Downey, professional development coordinator, covered basics such as transportation times, liability forms, ground rules and more.

But the orientation session was mostly fun and festive.

The room was adorned with numerous Texas flags, many taped to the door and walls with others in the forms of paper plates and napkins at the buffet table, which dished up walking tacos, Downey’s homemade Texas Cowboy Cookies, Texas Sweet Tea and drinking glasses in the shape of cowboy boots.

Students also had their choice of Educate U.S. T-shirts and official College of Education red polo shirts.

David Walker, associate dean of the NIU College of Education, congratulated the group for pursuing the “phenomenal program” that sends outstanding pre-service teachers to Texas for donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experiences in a large, urban school district.

Elementary Education majors Marcus Lewis and Abby Spankroy listen during the Educate U.S. orientation.

Elementary Education majors Marcus Lewis and Abby Spankroy listen during the Educate U.S. orientation.

“You made it. You’re the best of the best. We’re really excited for you to be a part of this,” said Walker, who also promoted this summer’s Educate Global program in Taiwan. “When I was a student many years ago, I wish I would have had these opportunities.”

Educate U.S. participants work side-by-side with mentor teachers, observing in classrooms, preparing lessons, and engaging in co-teaching strategies. They also participate with students, host families and community members in a variety of extracurricular and community events, further enriching their experience.

Marcus Lewis, a junior elementary education major, applied for Educate U.S. to glimpse how school is taught outside the borders of Illinois.

“I’d like to experience a different area of the United States, and see how they take on education and pedagogy,” said Lewis, who also is participating in Educate Global this summer. “I value education as a tool for change, and I believe it’s one of the most important aspects of society.”

Lewis, who’s heard “nothing but great things” about Educate U.S., hopes to teach fourth-grade. “It’s a great transition time,” he said. “They’re moving into adolescence. They’re not babies anymore. They’re starting to rationalize.”

Sarah Younglove, a special education major, expects that her week in Houston will provide a view completely unlike her “predominantly white” hometown of Oregon, Ill.

Sarah Younglove (right) and Emma Foelske

Sarah Younglove (right) and Emma Foelske

“I’m from a really small town with less than 4,000 people,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to go to a school district that’s got more than 215,000 students, and to experience different cultures.”

Younglove is equally excited for her future career. “I just feel very passionate about seeing students reach their full potential,” she said, “and I think the world needs as many passionate teachers as it can get.”

Lorena Flores, a transfer student in Middle Level Teaching and Learning, is eager to explore Houston’s bilingual classrooms.

“I’ve never seen that applied at the middle level,” she said. “I want to see how they do it.”

Flores, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who developed a love of teaching as a drill instructor, also looks forward to observing and living “the everyday life of a teacher” who must balance school and home.

Her goal as a science teacher is to emulate one of her former instructors. “In high school, I had a certain math teacher who ended up being my math teacher for three years in a row,” she said. “I hated math – but he made it fun and interesting, and he treated us as people, not just a name or a number.”

texas-tacosEarly Childhood Studies majors traveling in May are Nycol Durham, Malika Lee, Ashley Kivikoski, Wendy Castillo-Guzman, Katelynn Horton, Ashley Hodges, Caroline Stephens and Catherina Rousonelos.

Elementary Education majors are Nicole VanGarsse, Abby Spankroy, Erin Kostos, Sarah Raila, Jennifer Lucchsi and Marcus Lewis.

Middle Level Teaching and Learning majors are Emma Foelske, Samantha Oakley and Lorena Flores. Special Education majors are Bailey Fisch, Rachel Streight and Sarah Younglove.

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