NIU to give honorary doctorate to Tetovo’s ‘rector of the people’

Vullnet Ameti

Vullnet Ameti

NIU will confer an honorary doctorate degree this fall to Vullnet Ameti, a man who demonstrated his belief in education as a human right by helping to establish the only Albanian university in Macedonia.

The rector of the University of Tetovo will receive his distinction during the Graduate School commencement, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, in the NIU Convocation Center.

Anthony Preston, director of Global Programs in the NIU College of Business, nominated Ameti on behalf of the university’s Division of International Affairs.

“Dr. Vullnet Ameti is one of the most charitable and courageous men I have ever met,” Preston said. “He is truly a man that cares about the people of his nation.”

He has proven his commitment many time over, Preston added.

“In the early ’90s, the government did not recognize Albanians living in Macedonia as equal citizens,” he said. “They were not allowed to vote, or use the same facilities, and were not granted the right to education.”

Change began in 1994.

“Rector Ameti, along with other Albanian intellectuals in Macedonia, led the protests in front of the rifle barrels of the Macedonian gendarmerie,” Preston said. “Until then, Albanians only dreamt about the possibility of earning a secondary degree in their home country.”

For Ameti, those dreams took him from his homeland to Yugoslavia, where he earned his bachelor’s (1985) and master’s (1989) degrees at the University of Pristina, and later to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Tuzla in 2008.

But it was in Macedonia where Ameti would build his legacy.

ameti-vullnetWorking with his fellow ethnic Albanians, Ameti began to recruit teachers to open and staff a university. Students and teachers held classes in churches, mosques, restaurants and even private homes.

“On June 4, 1994, Rector Ameti and his family donated a small piece of farmland for the purpose of starting a university. This was the first, and as of today the only, Albanian university in Macedonia,” Preston said.

Ten years later, the national government finally recognized the University of Tetovo as a state university of higher education.

More than 27,000 students now are enrolled in pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees, including the Ph.D. level.

“He has taught thousands of students and continues to be a rector of the people,” Preston said. “He is never afraid to get his hands dirty. I have witnessed him on many occasions lay bricks for new buildings on campus, cut bushes and trees and feed the homeless.”

Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman visited the University of Tetovo in 2015 to dedicate the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, a joint venture with NIU meant to foster better social platforms for younger generations and a better society.

The center hosted its first international conference last December. Around 225 people, including a contingent of five from NIU, attended “The Impact of U.S. Policy in Promoting Democracy, Peace, State-Building, Economic Recovery and the Protection of National, Religious and Civic Values in the Countries of the Region.”

Freeman returned to Macedonia in May of this year to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Tetovo.

Vullnet Ameti and NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman

Vullnet Ameti and NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman

“Rector Ameti always has impressed me with his bravery in the face of resistance and his determination to provide higher education to ethnic Albanians living in Macedonia. What he has done – what he continues to do – is remarkable, inspirational and humbling,” Freeman said. “I always look forward to our visits, as well as our conversations about access to education, and it will be my great privilege to present him with this honorary degree.”

Patrick Roberts, an associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, shares in the enthusiasm for Ameti’s NIU recognition.

Roberts helped to plan and lead last December’s international conference on democracy, and is spearheading a mostly photographic exhibition depicting the history of the University of Tetovo.

The exhibit, hosted in the Blackwell History of Education Museum in Gabel Hall, will open in December to coincide with Ameti’s visit to DeKalb.

Logo of the University of Tetovo“Under Professor Dr. Ameti’s leadership, UT has become a world-class institution that continues to be committed to educational access and equity, its founding vision. The story of UT is really a story of community and courage, and we’re excited to tell that story here at the College of Education’s Blackwell Museum,” Roberts said.

“Dr. Ameti has been wonderfully supportive of our efforts to pull the exhibition together, and that’s just one example of the many things he’s done to nurture the partnership between NIU and UT,” he added. “What’s so admirable is that he has established a forward-looking vision for UT’s future that remains firmly committed to the social justice issues that have animated its past. That’s inspiring.”



KNPE students lead fun, games at Brooks Elementary field day

brooks-parachuteCold winds blew across the Brooks Elementary School playground Halloween morning, but those chills couldn’t stop the fun of bowling soccer balls and poofy balls toward a 10-pin pumpkin or running relays around hay bales.

Within the warmth of the building, an orange-and-white parachute fluttered up and down, balls bouncing atop its bright stripes. On the other side of the wall, children quickly paced the length of the gym, trying not to spill spoons full of candy corns.

Elsewhere, they tossed beanbags through the mouth of a jack-o-lantern painted on a wooden board, ringed pumpkins with hula-hoops and played tic-tac-toe on the floor with gourds in place of X’s and O’s.

Fall Field Day 2017 offered more than fun, games, laughter and cheers, however.

It also provided a hands-on learning experience for two dozen NIU Physical Education majors in their first or second semester and still awaiting official admittance.

Paired with kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders in the morning, and third- through fifth-graders in the afternoon, NIU’s students demonstrated, facilitated, cheered and, in some cases, even participated in the games and activities.

brooks-spoonAt day’s end, after also eating lunch with the children and attending their recess periods, they walked away with the kind of first-hand understanding of their future careers that no textbook can describe.

“It’s just so important that they get into a school and immerse themselves,” says Laurie Zittel, a professor of Adapted Physical Activity in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE).

“We want them to see the diversity at the school,” Zittel adds. “We want them to be able to witness positive things. We want them to witness challenging things relative to behavior. We want them, as young professionals, learning how to work with a group of students and how to manage a group of students.”

Brooke Condon, principal of Brooks Elementary, tallied benefits on both sides.

“It’s great to get the NIU students out in the school and really experience what the school day looks like,” Condon says, “and it’s really cool just to watch how our kids respond. We have a lot of students who’ve never had experiences like these before, and they’ve made connections with the NIU students.”

Home to 320 students, Brooks hosts monthly, all-school PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) celebrations that build community and acknowledge successes. The school also collaborates frequently with KNPE, which underscores the teaching of social skills through physical education.

Victoria Newport, president of the District 428 Board of Education, visited Brooks that morning to observe the interaction.

“For NIU students to come in and work with our students is valuable for both sides of the partnership. It’s very positive,” Newport says. “This is giving the NIU students an opportunity for hands-on, practical experience as teachers, and it’s giving our kids the opportunity to identify with another adult in the building.”

brooks-pumpkinNewport was eager to share what she saw Halloween morning with her colleagues on the school board, something that reinforces the strong collaboration between District 428 and the NIU College of Education.

“It’s important for me, as school board president, to get out and see what’s happening in our buildings,” she says, “and to support our staff in whatever they want to accomplish.”

Jamie Craven, superintendent of District 428, calls the day a “win-win.”

“I saw a lot of kids laughing. I saw a lot of kids clearly enjoying the experience – and when I say kids, the NIU kids are kids to me because I have kids that age, so it’s wasn’t just the Brooks kids, it was the NIU kids, too,” Craven says.

“From the NIU student side, I think it’s a great opportunity for them to see what goes on at schools, well beyond the classroom, that these kinds of celebrations are just different learning opportunities,” he adds. “Our kids got to interact with different young adults who were bringing a different level of enthusiasm and a different level of engagement with the activities.”

Laurie Zittel

Laurie Zittel

Zittel is pleased that her students earned the respect of the District 428 leadership: She had prepared them in “understanding the importance of professionalism.”

“I told them, ‘You’re now a representative of NIU. You’re in a public school with teachers, principals, secretaries, custodians, administrative people from the school district, parents, teaching assistants,” she says.

The professor was pleased with their performance as well.

“Watching my students just collapse on the floor in exhaustion was hilarious,” she says. “It was a full day of activity, but they were all very happy that we did it. They got a lot out of it.”



External and Global Programs honored for international work

Terry Borg accepts a plaque from NIU Graduate School Dean Brad Bond (back) while Office of External and Global Programs colleagues Gail Hayenga (left) and Ted Moen (right) share in the honor.

Terry Borg accepts a plaque Nov. 14 from NIU Graduate School Dean Brad Bond (back) while Office of External and Global Programs colleagues Gail Hayenga (left) and Ted Moen (right) share in the honor from International Affairs.

Annual winners of the Award for Outstanding Department Contribution to International Education at NIU all have something in common.

Each brings “the perspective of the world to Northern Illinois University and the expertise of Northern Illinois University to the world, through international mobility of faculty, students and ideas.”

For 2017, it’s the College of Education’s Office of External and Global Programs that best meets those towering goals.

“We’re extremely pleased and energized to receive this recognition,” says Terry Borg, director of the office which also includes External Programs Coordinator Ted Moen and Conference and Event Coordinator Gail Hayenga.

“The university has recognized that we were able to tie our global programming into efforts that, one, yielded greater NIU student international awareness and understanding, and, two, that we were able to do it in a revenue-positive fashion for the university.”

Members of the award selection committee in the NIU Division of International Affairs were provided a long list of accomplishments to consider.

educate-global-logoCollege of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper’s nomination incorporated “everything we’ve done over the last five years,” Borg says, “from housing youth on campus from Taiwan and Korea, to certainly Educate Global, to supporting multiple faculty in their global pursuits.”

“I believe that this award really recognizes the college’s efforts and our faculty who supported those efforts,” Borg adds. “We’re here to serve faculty, students and their interests.”

Other evidence of the office’s impact included:

  • representation and support on various trips to China, South Korea and Taiwan to identify potential demand for NIU programs;
  • support and technical assistance for Memorandums of Understanding, including Ethiopia’s Jigdan College, and international guest visits, including delegations from Istanbul University in Turkey and National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan;
  • providing advice, funding strategies and budget planning for a humanitarian service/mission trip to Guatemala in 2014;
  • hiring international graduate students as graduate assistants; and
  • the securing of external dollars to support international initiatives, such as the American Education Summer Camp in 2014, funded by the National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School.

oegp-2Borg is excited to see where the International Education Week acknowledgement will lead. He’s already received an invitation to explore collaboration with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

“It’s really raised our profile to the point where other university offices are interested in partnering with the College of Education,” he says. “Our colleagues from different colleges and departments on campus are very interested in how we were able to put together a program like Educate Global, which is basically self-sustaining with student airfare, housing, food and select cultural tours being provided by our hosts at no cost.”

Previous winners of the Award for Outstanding Department Contribution to International Education at NIU include the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education (2005) and the then-named Department of Literacy Education (2012).



Physical Ed majors provide ‘structured recess’ programming for Brooks Elementary children

Zach Wahl-Alexander

Zach Wahl-Alexander

Recess is fun and games at most elementary school students, but it’s not always without problems.

For one, it’s often lightly supervised. And, says Zach Wahl-Alexander, professor of Physical Education, it’s likely parent-volunteers and not teachers who are in charge.

Meanwhile, Wahl-Alexander adds, small misunderstandings between children can quickly escalate into physical conflict.

But at schools such as DeKalb’s Brooks Elementary, that time on the playground is constructive thanks to the concept of “structured recess.” And it’s NIU Physical Education majors who are making that happen.

“Our students get there around 1 o’clock with some stuff planned to implement a physical activity,” Wahl-Alexander says. “They teach different games and activities the kids can do, they also try to promote some positive, affective behaviors.”

Part of the engaged curriculum for KNPE 344: Elementary School Physical Education/ Methods and Field Experience, the hands-on leadership of structured recess “gives our students the opportunity to be around kids, to build their skills and to build rapport.”

Students in that course also are getting a first taste of teaching physical education lessons to first- and third-grade students at DeKalb’s Jefferson Elementary School.

But at Brooks, the half-dozen Huskies who visit for recess are getting the opportunity to create organized activities outside the academic environment – and it’s thanks to their professor’s willingness and ability to modify the course curriculum.

“The teachers and administrators at Brooks reported an increasing number of students needing support in the area of social-emotional learning,” says Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development in the College of Education.

brooks-sign“In response to this need, Zach redesigned his field experience model to provide Physical Education teacher candidates opportunities to engage with Brooks Elementary students during their recess time,” Johnson adds. “This model allows elementary students and NIU candidates to focus on relationships, cooperation, motivation, goals and outcomes in an authentic and developmentally appropriate space. “

And it’s flourishing.

“Teachers have reported seeing the transfer of these skills from the playground to the classroom,” Johnson says. “This dynamic field experience model is an example of innovative practice, designed to meet the identified needs of our partner district while providing our candidates an enriched hands-on teaching experience.”

Members of the District 428 site council, which supports the partnership between NIU and the local schools, are in agreement: They recently cited the model of this field experience course as exemplary in responding to the needs of elementary students.

Even though the children are not required to participate, NIU students will encourage them to join in the fun – especially if the children are lingering off to the side or alone.

Games include baseball, three-on-three basketball (or just shooting baskets), capture the flag, tag, soccer, relay races, hopscotch, foursquare and even obstacle courses on the jungle gym.

“The feedback from our preservice teachers is that it’s highly enjoyable for them. They’re learning how to be around kids,” Wahl-Alexander says. “In our Physical Education program, we constantly reinforce concepts of behavior management, feedback, effective demonstrations, pedagogy – with this we’re saying, ‘Just go out there, play with the kids and have some fun.’ I’m not looking over their shoulders.”

Children at Brooks, meanwhile, are receiving multiple benefits.

hopscotch“From a physical activity standpoint, the more structure that’s there to recess, and the more activities they have access to, the more active they’re going to be,” the professor says.

“From an interpersonal standpoint, their teachers are trying to get them to deal with conflict in other ways than yelling or hitting or just storming off,” he adds.

“What we’re trying to do – because conflict is going to come up – is to say, ‘OK, there’s a little dispute. Let’s figure it out, and let’s get back to the game.’ If they don’t learn that from school or from their parents, they’re not magically going to learn those strategies. Play, and especially structured play, offers an opportunity to learn those skills, and might help them with their relationships down the road.”



Kyung Kim brings ‘knowledge structure’ research work to NIU

Kyung Kim

Kyung Kim

Accolades are mounting quickly for Kyung Kim, the newly hired research assistant professor in NIU’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment.

Kim received two prestigious awards from Association for Educational Communications and Technology during his trip earlier this month to the organization’s international convention in Jacksonville, Fla.

  • Distance Education Best Practice Award (lead investigator), Division of Distance Learning
  • McJulien Scholar Best Paper Award (lead investigator), Culture, Learning, and Technology Division

What demands the recognition of the IBM Fellow’s peers is his groundbreaking work in knowledge structure – his visual analytics tools are used in a half-dozen countries and languages – as well as his development of a knowledge structure visualization system called Graphical Interface of Knowledge Structure (GIKS).

Potential applications are limitless, including an exploration of the relationship between what readers pay attention to when reading and how their visual behavior relates to the knowledge structure reflected in their writing – something never examined before.

“My research focuses on the intersection of visualization, knowledge structure and design. I study how the visualization of knowledge structure, can support teachers’ practice and scaffold students’ learning,” Kim says.

The knowledge structure visualization supports “the design of instructional strategies that target individual learning problems in deriving better outcomes,” he adds.

His development of GIKS, with support from a Penn State grant worth $50,000, can capture, visually represent and compare knowledge structure inherent in a text.

aect-logo“I’ve applied the GIKS to English Language Learners to explore the effects of knowledge structure visualization on their science reading comprehension; for example, to identify an optimal use of first language in second language science reading,” Kim says.

“The GIKS also has been applied to diverse STEM online courses; for example, to explore the effects of real-time knowledge structure formative feedback in high school online physics courses,” he says, “to visualize discussion forum interaction in college-level geography online courses and to score weekly writing assignments in college-level statistics online courses.”

Research findings indicate that the formative feedback regarding the structure of one’s own knowledge boosted the understanding, and reduced the misunderstanding, of online learners – something unique compared to other traditional feedback systems that only serve to improve comprehension and fail to lower misconceptions.

Better yet, Kim adds, is that GIKS “is not language-dependent, so it can be applied in any language context and for cross-language comparison and analytics.”

Students with visual disabilities also are potential benefactors.

“If further supported, the GIKS and its visual analytics can be quite promising for learning and teaching for sighted learners, but not for learners who are visually impaired,” he says. “Research suggests that learners who are blind need to extract the structure of content from a quite chaotic audio babble from their screen reader device, and this structure needs to be revealed to students who are blind in explicit ways.”

Of images, sound, text and interaction – all of which help to convey information – it’s images that most help to clarify and simplify information.

assistive-technologyConsequently, Kim says, “visual material scan be very helpful for reading, writing and learning for learners who are blind if a visual artifact is accessible to the blind.”

With second round of funding from a Penn State grant worth $50,000, Kim developed an accessible version of GIKS that can automatically convert “viewable” knowledge structure content to “touchable” on touch-sensitive tablets or swell-touch paper.

This GIKS also can convert any two-dimensional graphed data such as statistical graphs into tactile graphs, allowing for navigation with the fingers.

“I’m now planning pilot-testing of the GIKS with NIU and DeKalb-area local students who are blind, especially in the STEM disciplines,” Kim says, “and will pursue additional grants in collaboration with NIU scholars.”

He’s also working the GIKS with a braille device developed in Michigan that allows on-screen display of multiple lines of text but cannot convert visual data to braille.

“We plan to integrate the two systems to make it possible for the visually impaired learners to read and touch both textual data and visual data on their touchpad immediately as sighted people do. This integrating technology could give people who are visually impaired an opportunity to gain literacy skills and new levels of learning independence,” he says.

Wei-Chen Hung

Wei-Chen Hung

Other upcoming projects include the pursuit of additional funding for his ongoing research projects, including a grant application to the National Science Foundation to design and develop a computer-based scaffolding systems using GIKS.

The tool would automatically identify specific areas of strength and weakness, understanding and/or misunderstanding of online learners based on their writing assignments or online discussion interactions. It then would immediately provide specific, individualized remedial instructional feedback and materials, including videos, exercises, games and texts.

Kim, who chose NIU based on the respectful and supportive environment he found in Chair Wei-Chen Hung and his ETRA colleagues, believes his work will promote the active engagement of students in their own learning. It also will help educators to understand the thinking and knowledge structure of those they teach, he adds, and ultimately lead to better pedagogy and individualized instructional strategies.

“I hope that my knowledge structure approach and its visual analytics and technologies can contribute to the reputation of ETRA, especially in online learning, for diverse students.”



Early Childhood majors practice screening at Campus Child Care

assessment-3Stephanie DeSpain understands well the process of screening preschool-age children to ensure that their pre-academic, motor, speech-language and social skills are developing as they should.

“Professional practitioners just go in and look quickly, maybe 15 to 20 minutes, to see how the children are doing,” says DeSpain, an assistant professor of Early Childhood Education. “Any kids who we come across who might have difficulty, we say, ‘Let’s try preschool.’ If they fail, and we have significant concerns, that might force us to give a recommendation for services.”

Children are asked their names and ages. They are shown pictures on cards and asked to identify them. They are asked to correctly identify items, such as scissors, and explain their functions. They discern between concepts such as big and small and same and different.

They count. They quantify. They recognize and name colors. They stack blocks, draw shapes, writer their names and sketch pictures of people. They walk a straight line, hop on one foot and stand one foot. Older children are asked to recite their home addresses and phone numbers.

It was something DeSpain engaged in constantly when she worked for a decentralized special education co-op of LaSalle County school districts and private preschool programs, but teaching the procedure to NIU College of Education students has proven a bit “nebulous.”

Stephanie DeSpain

Stephanie DeSpain

“Unless you’ve worked with real students – real kids – through this process, it’s kind of hard to conceptualize in your mind what this looks like,” DeSpain says. “I tried case studies, talking through what you do if you were making decisions, but they still had lots of questions: ‘How does this actually work?’ ‘How do I coordinate this with school districts?’ ”

DeSpain found a solution in the Campus Child Care, located just steps west of Gabel Hall and the Department of Special and Early Education.

One call to Kristin Schulz, director of the NIU-owned center that provides care and education for children from three months old to age 5, set her plan in motion.

“I told Kristin, ‘This is what I would love to do. This is my idea,’ ” DeSpain says. “She was so amazing. She jumped right on board and said, ‘Let’s try it. Let’s see how it works.’ ”

Thirty-five of DeSpain’s juniors in SESE 423: Observation and Assessment in Early Childhood Special Education course made the short walk this fall to conduct actual screenings of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds enrolled at the center.

NIU’s students prepared and practiced in and out of class with the BRIGANCE Early Childhood screening scripts to build their proficiency, DeSpain says.

When the first day of the two-day activity arrived, they divided into groups of two – one to conduct the screening; the other to observe. On the second day, they switched roles. DeSpain circulated through the three rooms, looking for comprehension and providing guidance if needed.

Her initial anxiety – “I was anticipating that they would be nervous, because I felt like I could have used more time to get them ready” – proved unnecessary.

assessment-2“My students did great,” she says. “The preschool students were so wonderful and engaging, and we went in and got the data we needed. I shared that with Kristin; now she has information on students she might have concerns about, and we talked about strategies.”

During a time of debriefing back in their Gabel Hall classroom, she says, students brought thoughtful questions and insightful reflections, including the need to reword questions that children might not understand at first.

“I was impressed by their professionalism. I was impressed by their ability to think on their feet, which you have to be able to do when you’re teaching,” DeSpain says.

“They were really well prepared to be respectful, to work with other teachers and follow directions, and the Campus Child Care teachers were so much more supportive than I would have anticipated,” she adds. “I was always nervous of people coming in to my classroom, but they were so open and willing to let my students come in and work with their kiddos, which I appreciate.”

Students were grateful for the experience, she adds.

“They said, ‘We really liked it. We liked having this better than having a case study in class. We loved working with the kids; we don’t get enough direct contact,’ ” she says. “They said, ‘We appreciated being able to come in and work the students and go through a screening, with you here, with a partner, in a place where the process was set up for us.’ ”

assessment-1It also will put them a step ahead of their peers in the job market.

“When they go into the school districts, and they’re charged with helping those districts perform those screening services, they’ve already been through it. They understand. They can help, and provide guidance,” she says. “If you’re working in that birth-to-3, or 3-to-5 world, you have to facilitate or help in some way with those screening experiences. Most have to learn that process on the job or on the fly.”

DeSpain hopes to expand the program in coming years.

Beyond providing the practical skills to NIU students, she says, it offers valuable information to the Campus Child Care.

“If we can say that they were able to give the assessment, and score and interpret the results with fidelity, Kristin could say, ‘Hey, we do have concerns with this child, and it’s reflected in this screening that this group of students did,’ ” she says.

“We did have a couple students that the teachers had some concerns with, and yes, this matched; this is what we’re seeing, and you see it too,” she adds. “It’s validation for those teachers that it’s not just them. We are seeing those concerns also.”



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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DACA-ready: NIU College of Ed prepares teachers empowered to advocate for all students

Cynthia Taines

Cynthia Taines

When President Trump acted this fall to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, Cynthia Taines immediately looked beyond the inflamed political discourse.

Taines, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, thought instead of the youngest of children, of adolescents and, naturally, their teachers.

“Undocumented students disclose their status to people they trust,” Taines says, “and it seems to me that it’s a a pretty common experience that undocumented students are talking to their teachers.”

She has seen it firsthand from teachers and students in Chicago and the north suburbs, thanks to her work with the Metropolitan Community Project. She has seen it in DeKalb as well, thanks to guest appearances in her classes from DREAM Action NIU and the CHANCE Program.

And, Taines says, she has seen that some of the future teachers in her courses aren’t personally familiar with the changing political landscapes that challenge undocumented children in U.S. schools.

“Many of them don’t think that they know anyone who’s undocumented,” Taines says.

For that reason, she makes sure that all of her students understand the gravity of the situation and its impact on the role they soon will play as professional educators.

“I bring real-life voices – their fellow Huskies, their fellow students – who look and sound like any college student. Not all disclose that they’re undocumented, or say that they have family member who are, but some do. They’re really brave,” she says.

“They talk through their struggles, their strengths and where they found support, and it’s often from friendly approachable people in schools, like teachers and educators,” she adds. “I’m trying to encourage empathy and some sort of moral response that doesn’t necessarily come out of a less reflective place or from parroting things you might hear on the news. I’m making this more human and more real.”

James Cohen

James Cohen

Her approach reflects and reinforces a deep-seated philosophy of the NIU College of Education, which proudly stands for educational equity and access for all. The college strongly believes that education is a human right, and that all students can succeed.

James Cohen, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, enthusiastically shares those principles.

“Over 70 percent of the American population believes that DACA should be continued because they see that you can’t punish kids for the choices their parents made,” says Cohen, who teaches courses in multicultural and bilingual education and was an organizer of NIU’s Social Justice Summer Camp this past summer for K-12 educators.

Students in his classes learn about the injustices that exist in society, including institutionalized and systemic racism. They also are taught to view students from a “strength model,” where children feel welcome, respected and motivated to work, rather than from a “deficit model.”

“If you look at how our society is structured, it’s structured for people who are in power. It’s not structured for people who have brown or black skin, who don’t speak English as a native language and especially not for people who don’t have legal documentation to be here,” he says.

“In my classroom, I have students doing a lot of reading. They read about what it means to be an undocumented immigrant and what it means to live a live without documentation,” he adds. “We discuss it, and we build empathy. We don’t build sympathy. Sympathy is, ‘Oh, I feel bad for you.’ Empathy is, ‘I need to do something about this.’ ”

Cohen makes sure that his future teachers understand, and are ready to fulfill, their role as “advocates who actually act and don’t sit back and do nothing.”

“There’s a concept called social mirroring. If you belong to an ethnic group – which we all do – and society views your certain group as X, Y or Z, it’s very difficult to not believe that you are X, Y or Z,” he says.

“As teacher-advocates, our students need to advocate for their students so that they do not believe in all of these negative stereotypes that float around in our society,” he adds. “If you start believing that you’re lazy, or you start believing that you’re a troublemaker, those can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. You might drop out of school, get into trouble, join a gang or believe that school is not meaningful.”

Sandy Lopez

Sandy Lopez

Sandy Lopez, assistant to the director at NIU’s Center for Latino and Latin American Studies, is counting on NIU College of Education graduates to make a positive difference for current and future generations.

Around 4.5 million K-12 students currently in the United States are U.S.-born with undocumented parents, Lopez says. Another 1 million are undocumented with undocumented parents; of those, 65,000 graduate each year from high school.

Between 7,000 and 13,000 will matriculate into higher education, which is only 20 percent at best.

“It’s important for teachers to work with these students to let them know that there are opportunities to continue and to go to college,” she says. “Otherwise, these students will disengage.”

Immigrants bring many strengths to their classrooms – “They’re balancing two worlds. They’re bilingual. They’re bicultural,” Lopez says – and are resilient students, many of whom have learned to advocate for themselves, their families and their communities.

Yet they worry about their families being separated. They worry about being deported. They worry that their schools will report them, something that can cause anxiety rather than concentration in the classroom as well as mistrust of principals and other administrators.

Many children also serve as translators on behalf of their families, juggling critical interactions with everyone from landlords to doctors along with their nightly homework.

Teachers must strive for sensitivity, Lopez says, creating a safe space where children can find support while they share their fears and their successes.

“It’s so critical that these kids know that they’re not alone, and that their school is not going to turn them in,” she says. “They have no reason to divulge that information to anyone.”

Colleges are not immune, she adds.

DREAM Action NIUFollowing President Trump’s announcement, Lopez says, “I had a student who came into the center, shaking. She was having a hard time breathing. I said, ‘I didn’t realize you were undocumented.’ She said, ‘I’m not. My parents are.’ ”

Stories like that motivate Taines and, she believes, her students.

“Educational equity drives me,” Taines says. “That’s the reason I got into education. It’s a large piece of how we can achieve social equality, because education is one of the main drivers of opportunity. Just because there’s a language issue doesn’t mean that a student is not going to achieve or achieve highly.”

Taines accentuates her objective by sending students to research the language-learning programs of the high schools from which they graduated.

“Every time, I get some initial pushback: ‘My school doesn’t have that program. We didn’t have any kids in my school who were language-learners.’ I say, ‘I just want you to look. It’s possible that’s changed.’ The students come back and say, ‘I didn’t know we had this,’ ” she says.

“They realize they had only a slice of understanding about the institution as a whole,” she adds. “Their communities are changing quickly. The suburbs are become more diverse. Thinking through these issues, having them think through the issues and connecting to them on a human basis, will help them serve their future students.”

Cohen makes his point through a role-playing exercise where he is “the angry man on the plane” who’s in favor of mass deportation. The students must persuade him otherwise.

“It’s amazing. You can see their wheels turning,” he says. “You can see how they’re trying to convince me that what I’m saying is based on ideology and not on facts. They put me in the shoes of an immigrant student. They make it more relevant to me. They try to convince me that bilingual education and equal treatment of undocumented immigrants are the right, ethical and moral choices.”

DREAM Action NIU

DREAM Action NIU is a student-led organization that works in collaboration with the Latino Resource Center to raise awareness of the situations undocumented students face in the U.S. and, in particular, on campus.

Students gain the solid foundation for their arguments during every class period of the semester, he adds.

“My bottom line is that teachers have to be thinking about their students and less about themselves. We can’t blame our students for the context or the predicament they’re in. I want my students to learn the facts so that they can teach the facts,” Cohen says.

And it’s working, he says.

“We are turning out teachers who understand the systems and hierarchies of injustice that exist. We are producing teachers who know how to advocate for kids. We are producing teachers who are good pedagogists. I’m very proud of being a faculty member in the NIU College of Education and of all the good work we are doing here.”



Ed Psych professor encourages future teachers to ‘stop thinking of your students as students’

dugas-1

Special Education major Ashley Manor (left) questions a classmate
about her 16-year-old self before permitting her entrance
to the educational space known as Dugas Island.

Ashley Manor stands just outside the door of Graham Hall 336, facing a line of her classmates.

Each must answer her question before walking into the classroom. “If you could go back and talk to your 16-year-old self,” Manor asks again and again, “what would you say?”

For most of her respondents, that journey through time is not a long one. They’re college undergraduates, after all, barely removed from their teenage years. For Professor Daryl Dugas, who also must offer a reply to gain admission to his own classroom, the well of wisdom from which to draw is at least a couple decades deeper.

Dugas begins each semester on the other side of this brief inquisition, posing questions to his students as they queue up in the hallway, backpacks still slung over their shoulders.

He considers the greeting process integral to the “holistic learning” process, regarding his question-and-answer ritual as an invitation to enter an educational space known as Dugas Island.

“My philosophy of teaching is that it’s not just about delivering content. I’m creating an environment,” says Dugas, who teaches in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

dugas-6

Daryl Dugas, right, works to make sure students feel a sense
of ownership in his Educational Psychology classes.

“To really learn, you have to expose yourself, and that’s a really vulnerable activity. My students and I are building relationships together to support them through challenges. It’s very enriching,” he adds. “The underlying model of what I’m doing is a process based on principles of group dynamics. We’re not just a group of individuals. We are a group together. We are in a process together. We are growing together.”

When students arrive for the first day of the semester, they find the classroom door closed and locked. Dugas eventually appears with the “key” – a question they must answer in order to enter.

“I might say, ‘What’s something, other than education, that you’re passionate about?’ The questions evolve over the next few days,” he says. “I’ve had students tell me, ‘I thought you were crazy on the first day,’ or ‘I didn’t know what to make of you on the first day.’ ”

But through their answers, he says, he can get to know them better. He can watch momentary anxiety at the door unlock positive learning experiences on Dugas Island, to which they have “a temporary resident agreement.”

Students such as Manor, a junior Special Education major from Mokena, volunteer to serve as the greeters as the semester progresses.

That’s by design, Dugas says. “Within the ritual, something was getting lost when I always did it. There needs to be the ritual, but it needs to change as well,” he says.

“The most important thing is your relationship with students, not your content.”

“The most important thing is your relationship
with students, not your content.”

An in-class brainstorming exercise years earlier – something integral to Dugas Island – provided a strategy. “A student asked me, ‘Why don’t we ask you a question?’ I said, ‘That’s a phenomenal idea. This is your class, too, not just mine.’ Students really feel a sense of ownership.”

Dugas, an assistant professor in the Educational Psychology program, teaches classes in child and adolescent development as well as classroom management.

His goal is to instill in students that effective teaching-and-learning relationships must go beyond lecture, PowerPoint, note-taking and tests. He strives to elevate his curriculum in ways that prompt students to draw connections between the classroom and their lives.

“The point of my class is to stop thinking of your future students as merely students but as developing human beings,” he says. “A major problem with our educational system is that it deals mostly with curriculum content and forgets about the young people we are supposed to be nurturing toward adulthood.”

His path to this realization began in his previous career as a high school chemistry and physics teacher; he taught for six years in suburban Downers Grove and four years in a Chicago charter school.

Plagued by misgivings of his own efficacy with the teens, and whether he was teaching them things they actually would need to know as adults, his life changed when he discovered a mentor: a social worker steeped in the philosophy of group dynamics.

Through work with his mentor, he began asking himself questions about his own personal development: Am I an adult? Am I a man? He also jumped at the chance to help his mentor lead an after-school program for teens.

dugas-3

When he began incorporating those experiences into his chemistry classes – for example, he would spend the first two weeks of class not teaching content but instead establishing the learning environment – he earned a scolding from the principal.

Content, he was told, took precedence. That was his job.

“I feel like now I’m trying to deliver a counter-message to that: The most important thing is your relationship with students, not your content,” he says. “We shouldn’t pretend that all of our content is useful and that you’ll need it; rather, we should focus more on building connections with our students, and through that share them with them our own excitement about our content.”

As a teacher-educator, Dugas believes it’s vital to foster in his classrooms the kind of environment he encourages future teachers to cultivate in their own classes.

He shows his NIU students that content delivery is enhanced by prompting a sharing of personal stories, from both students and teacher, that relate to the lessons.

Such conversations lead to “feeling connected, a very valuable experience to have with one another.”

dugas-5“Everyone who wants to be a teacher wants to make a difference in students’ lives, and very few people talk explicitly about how to do that,” Dugas says. “I’m trying to demonstrate to my students that it is possible to create a unique, connective experience in their classes, but that it requires hard work.”

The benefits, he says, go beyond just having a pleasant time. “Through our work as a group, future teachers can begin to examine their own blind spots,” he says. “You can’t guide someone through a developmental process you haven’t been through yourself.”

His students also gain experience in pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones in how they participate and share in class. “Doing this in my class helps them build empathy for their own future students,” he says, “and how difficult this can be.”

Young people will respond, he says.

“Research on resilience shows that adolescents need adults other than their parents to look up to, an adult who’s in their corner – one caring, competent adult who took an interest in their life,” he says. “When I began working with my mentor, I realized that I needed to have something to share with my students other than chemistry. I needed a caring ear and words of wisdom. Once I began sharing that, it meant the world to them.”

His classroom at NIU illustrates his spirit and his philosophy. Stuffed animals, including an owl, a gorilla, a “Where the Wild Things Are” creature, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, as well as various tchotchkes, are stationed on desks throughout.

Meanwhile, he hopes to embody the teacher that he wants his students to become rather than lecturing them on how to do what he does.

dugas-8In setting up an Oct. 3 lesson on the development of romantic relationships in adolescence, he asked the students to set the morning’s framework.

For his part, he prompted them to set individual goals of how many times they would speak up during the next hour and how many times they would actively encourage others to share ideas. “Remind me to stop two minutes early so we can check in on that,” he told them.

Students broke into five groups to articulate their understanding of the idea of emotions as biological programs, cultural scripts and cognitive assessments; later, each group shared its thinking and opened the floor to comments.

As students shared their own personal stories and examples, Dugas also joined in to spin anecdotes about his young daughter that fit the discussion perfectly. It provided a good model: “The emotional responses you show will teach your students,” he told the class.

The students later played a game – one facilitated and modeled by a fellow classmate – that offered another example of how to connect students and teacher beyond academic content.

When the class ended, Dugas did not call out reminders of upcoming assignments or tests as might seem customary when students are packing up and heading for the exits.

“Thank you, as always,” he said, instead, “for a great conversation.”



And now … Sport Management grad students sell Chicago Bulls ticket packages for class project

Katie Reifurth

Katie Reifurth

Students in an NIU College of Education graduate class in Sport Management are asking an unusual question this semester.

Wanna buy some Bulls tickets?

The class, LESM 551, teaches the practice, strategies and art of ticket sales in the sports industry.

And if part of sales is who you know, or the ability to convince hesitant buyers to say “yes,” then Katie Reifurth is the perfect instructor. Her fiancé, Anthony Horton, works for the Chicago Bulls.

“I said, ‘I’m teaching a ticket sales class. Would there be any potential to have us partner with your sales department?’ ” says Reifurth, an instructor in NIU’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“He was skeptical at first because the Bulls have never partnered with a college program before,” she adds. “I tried to sell him on the idea that I could give him the opportunity to feel out potential future employees, to get to know the caliber of our students and how they sell.”

Horton, who manages Inside Sales for the Bulls, soon liked what he heard. He then pitched the concept to his boss, but initially was met with similar reluctance.

Undeterred, he also forged ahead in making the case that giving students hands-on experience in selling for a powerful brand would allow the Bulls to continuously find and hire local talent.

Swish!

The Bulls have created two unique ticket packages for Reifurth’s students. One includes a Celtics game in December and a Cavaliers game in March; the other includes a Knicks game in December and a Clippers game in March.

Packages are perfect for individuals, friends, date nights or group outings, Reifurth says.

bulls-logo“I pushed to get one of the games in each package to be a high-profile game and have at least one game on a weekend so the students would have a better chance to sell the tickets,” she says. “If people buy from our students, they get a deep discount they couldn’t get on the secondary market.”

She began the class project by allowing students to sell the tickets in any way they wanted, which could include to their personal contacts on social media.

“We know as salespeople, and through the class, that this is very ineffective,” she says, “but it gives the students some hands-on experience with a little bit of failure. They need to be actively selling and using their skills as a seller. They learn to fail, and then they learn to succeed through sales tactics they’re learning in the class.”

Chicago Bulls ticket packages provide an additional lesson, she adds.

“I want my students to understand that selling really does take skills, even selling for a large and popular brand like the Chicago Bulls,” Reifurth says. “I hope they will have a new appreciation for sales, not just how difficult it is but also that it’s not something that comes naturally. People who are in it have to work hard.”

Final sales reports are due Dec. 4.

“They’ll make a presentation, just to me, summarizing all of the things they did in the project, telling me about the sales tactics they used, the number of tickets they sold and what they learned,” she says.

Sales managers at the Bulls “will get a write-up more on the basics of the numbers so they will know what contribution was made by whom and through which package,” she adds. “They will know who has the talent to possibly move into this industry.”

Reifurth, who is new to NIU this semester, is currently completing the dissertation phase of her Ph.D. in Sport and Entertainment Management from the University of South Carolina.

basketballA former intern for the San Antonio Spurs, she moved to Chicago to join Horton – and smartly placed a call to NIU in search of work as an instructor.

When she completes her Ph.D. in 2018, she hopes to continue teaching in higher education while keeping her professional contacts current and vibrant through consulting, an endeavor that will benefit her students.

“More schools and more programs need to focus on selling because that’s where most of the entry-level positions are in sports. It’s better to know the basics than going into these jobs not knowing anything,” Reifurth says.

NIU students have impressed her, partly because her previous experience has taught her that “a sales class is not something a lot of people want to do. It’s just a class they have to take.”

“The NIU students are very engaged, and I’m happy to see that. They’re very open to the possibility of working in sales, and they see the value in that right off the bat,” she says. “They’re also very excited about this project, which I’m excited about. Having passion for what you’re selling just makes it that much easier to do it.”