A school is just a block of buildings and a classroom is just a room, but what makes these places learning environments is the collaboration between students and teachers that breeds academic and personal growth.
Turlock Unified School District and California State University, Stanislaus are fostering successful learning environments to benefit students at the grade school and university level through Practicum, a program that allows qualified CSUS students to work with TUSD students on remedial reading lessons. While the Practicum program itself is not a new feature at the university, this is the first year that university students have been able to work with students at their school site instead of bringing TUSD students to the university campus.
“Practicum has been around for 35 years plus, but it used to be offered on campus at a center for direct instruction. We outgrew our facility and had to look externally to be able to accommodate the growing number of students enrolled in Practicum, which is where we were fortunate to form a partnership with Turlock Unified Superintendent Dr. Sonny DaMarto and the Director of Special Education, Jeff Santos,” said Dr. Granger Dinwiddie, professor and coordinator of the CSUS Practicum program.
This expansion has afforded CSUS the ability to accommodate 100 percent more Practicum students this semester. Qualified Practicum students include undergraduate Liberal Studies majors with a concentration in Exceptional Children in Youth or those in the Preliminary Education Specialist Credential program. After four weeks of intensive instruction at the university, these students begin work at their assigned school sites where they work with special and traditionally educated students on remedial reading skills.
The pilot year of the new partnership between CSUS and TUSD required finding teachers who were willing to host Practicum students in their classroom as well as locating school sites to accommodate the program. While TJHS was a natural selection due to its proximity to the university, Wakefield Elementary and Crowell Elementary were selected in part to diversify locations geographically.
“I think the selection of those three sites was really based on the fact that those three teachers wanted to do it, but also have the skills. They have the direct instruction background which is needed as supervising teachers,” said Santos. “We also wanted to offer extra remedial support for students at those sites.”
TUSD site instructors serve as coach figures to aid Practicum students in their transition from the student role into an authority figure in the classroom. Practicum students measure success by administering the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test to students at the beginning and at the end of the semester. WRMT tests four subjects and allows Practicum students to evaluate student growth based on elements such as word comprehension, passage comprehension and word identification. During the semester Practicum students work one-on-one with students as well as in small groups which provides Practicum students hands-on teaching experience and gives TUSD students more individualized attention.
“One of the things that the Practicum students also learn is how important it is to create a dialogue with the students and understand who that student is because even though you have three students in a small group, each one of them you have to treat different as an individual person based on their strengths and weaknesses and I think they learned that,” said Dianna Nordyke, a lower learning handicap TJHS instructor who hosted Practicum students in her class and is also a former Practicum student herself.
Susannah Manalo, a credential student in her fist year at CSUS, experienced firsthand the differences between being a student and teaching one. Practicing amongst her peers at the university was smooth compared to teaching students in the junior high classroom where errors are authentic and behavioral issues can hinder instructional time. Manalo administered the WRMT test to her student who is enrolled in 8th grade but was at a 1st grade reading level. While he initially showed a lack of effort, Manalo’s student grew five months in passage comprehension and demonstrated significant growth in other ways.
“The growth he gained was more than in actual numbers. He tried more. When I first administered the test he would not try to answer several questions. By the time I administered the second test at the end of the semester, even in areas that he did not show academic growth, he still answered all of the questions,” said Manalo. “This communicates that he is more confident in his learning and he is trying and that is successful.”
The Practicum program does more than help TUSD students grow as it lends university students an instrumental experience of trial and error as they work towards accomplishing their degree. According to Dr. Kimy Liu, who prepares the students in the Practicum course at the university prior to their integration, the program instills confidence in CSUS students.
“I really think Practicum is a touchstone of the program. It instills confidence in our students as they interact with the students and learn to implement the curriculum. There is an element of trial and error and they make mistakes but they have made good mistakes and because of those they become a better teacher,” said Liu.