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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Education students continue in experienced-based learning

How are students gaining outside classroom experience while adapting to the online world?

Teacher education students in reading practicums work one-on-one with children ranging in learning abilities and reading levels. // Illustration by Bella Coronado

By Bella Coronado

The online quarter has changed the way programs under Western’s Woodring College of Education are implementing experience-based classes. 

Schools statewide have closed for the remainder of the academic year, as well as community organizations partnered with the human services program at Western. 

Woodring students are still able to move forward in their programs, said Tracy Coskie, the co-associate dean of Woodring College of Education.

Many Woodring programs rely on student engagement with schools and the community. Coskie said in an email that the amount and nature of community engagement depends on the program, but a lot of time is spent learning outside of the classroom. The change to remote learning has created challenges in fulfilling practicum credits, student teaching and internships. 

For teacher education students, practicums allow them to practice different aspects of being a teacher. “For example, they might have a literacy practicum for early learners, and spend time in schools with young children teaching in small groups or conducting assessments,” Coskie said. 

Coskie said the department has helped students who would normally be preparing to teach find solutions to fulfill requirements this quarter. By micro-teaching in small groups, analyzing videos of other teachers and partnering with schools in other countries through video conferencing, students are able to continue their field experiences. 

“While none of these situations are ideal, our teacher education students are able to move forward with their programs,” Coskie said. 

Third-year Abigail Chang, a student in the special education and elementary education dual endorsement program, has been completing an online practicum this quarter. The reading block she is in offers classes centered around teaching kids how to read. 

Chang said that in normal circumstances, she would be assigned a small group of students to work with, ranging in reading skills and learning abilities. Since the pandemic, adjustments have been made. She is now meeting one-on-one with a fourth-grade student through Zoom.

Other programs under the Woodring umbrella also rely on field experiences as requirements for students. Hope Corbin, the program director for the human services program, said many of the organizations they would have students intern with are unable to have students work with them, including the Bellingham YWCA, Bellingham school district family resource center and a number of high schools in the area. This is due to these organizations being shut down, having other community demands, shortages of PPE and the complications that can come with introducing people into new environments during this time. Corbin also said some Western students have underlying health issues that would prevent them from working in those spaces. 

“So for a variety of reasons we needed to really quickly adapt what our field experiences were going to look like for this quarter,” Corbin said. 

 The recently revised curriculum requires human services students to complete two internships (before they had to complete three), working approximately 12 hours a week in the quarter. Some students had internships lined up in Bellingham that didn’t work out, Corbin said.

“We’ve kind of done a number of different things for students depending upon their situation and which internship is for them and where they’re located,” Corbin said. 

 Some students are continuing to work with organizations remotely, doing projects at home, reviewing training materials and developing curriculum. 

“Between all those options we’re just providing a lot of flexibility for students so they can still get some skills, tools and experiences that will set them up for the future in their professional roles but that are also keeping them safe as well,” Corbin said. 

Student teachers in the teacher education programs have also been able to continue their work with their mentor teachers at public schools, Coskie said. 

“This includes attending district meetings and professional development remotely, as well as planning, preparing and creating online instruction for students and responding to their work,” Coskie said. 

Corbin said that human service students are also working on professional development skills through career services and web-based training. She said the program, students and staff have been flexible and creative during this time.

“Our program is really structured around these internships in a lot of ways and having the ability to still get close to those learning objectives that people have for themselves to accomplish what they need through these field based experiences,” Corbin said. “It’s working because we just have a lot of great people that are adjusting to the reality that we’re in.”

Coskie said that during this time, requirements for teacher certification have been challenging to achieve.

“For example, assessments required for certification are not available because testing centers are closed,” Coskie said. Emergency certification is still available through Washington’s Professional Educators Standards Boards. 

Coskie said emergency certification can be provided if all elements of the program have been completed. Since testing centers are closed, teachers can still get certified with the exception of state-mandated tests. “A graduate could then go and get a position teaching in a school, and they would have one year to pass any test they hadn’t passed previously,” Coskie said. 

Chang said that learning at her own pace has brought challenges to focusing on her studies and practicum. She said she is missing out on the experience of teaching small groups of children. However, Chang said she enjoys the lighter load of meeting with a student one-on-one. 

“I’m learning a lot from this reading practicum. New skills, new ways of doing stuff and actually learning how to teach students to read,” Chang said.

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