Teachers helping teachers

For the past year, two faculty members in Radford University's School of Teacher Education and Leadership (STEL) have been working with teachers at Riverlawn Elementary in Pulaski County on a new program aimed toward improving and integrating new teaching techniques in science and literacy.

Jennifer Jones and Katie Hilden, literacy faculty members at RU, co-directed the project using a grant they received from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). The $92,000 grant provided funding for the project, titled Integration Station, which focuses on the integration of science and literacy instruction in grades pre-kindergarten through fifth.

Jones and Hilden began working with Riverlawn teachers at the beginning of the 2013 school year to apply the best practices in science and literacy. The grant focused on high-quality and continuous professional development for the teachers with the goal of improving teacher knowledge and student achievement.

"Basically, the grant was a professional development grant and we followed a model to gradually release responsibility with the teachers. We started with a typical workshop, but then we followed it up by going into the classrooms and modeling the lessons with the kids, and the teachers watched us," Jones explained. "And then we told the teachers to try it for a little while. We returned and watched them and provided detailed feedback."

As the project progressed, Jones and Hilden asked teachers to analyze their student data and determine areas of need and then to try a new strategy toward integrating science and literacy and to collect pre- and post-data in the hopes of showing student knowledge gain.

"You're only successful with professional development if you can show growth in teacher knowledge as well as student achievement," Jones said.

She said data collected showed an increase in teacher knowledge, and each grade level showed student gains in science content knowledge and/or improvement in reading and writing.

Jones and Hilden noted that much of the project's success came from feedback provided by the Riverlawn teachers. The grant encompassed an Advisory Board comprised of teacher representatives from each grade level in the school.

"We received many notes and comments from the teachers about how much they learned and how they appreciated the fact we didn't just come into the school and do a drive-by workshop and then leave. We really became a part of that school. We feel like we work there now," Jones said.

Jones and Hilden are not finished with the project. Another recently awarded grant from SCHEV ensures the project will continue for another year, and this time it will offer a professional development opportunity to teachers across all elementary schools in Pulaski County Public Schools. Also, participating teachers will earn graduate course credit from RU, and participating teachers will be encouraged to publish their research in journals or present at professional conferences.

Hilden said expectations of the project continue to focus on improved teacher and student knowledge. "Strong professional development just doesn't change the way teachers are teaching; it also leads to student gains," she said.

Aug 20, 2014