Improving the most fundamental of skills for students in grades 6-8 – reading comprehension - will be the focus of The University of Southern Mississippi’s 2010 Teacher Leader Institute, funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and administered through the State Institutions of Higher Learning.
Twenty lead teachers, school principals and administrators from the Hattiesburg, Petal and Lamar County school districts will be trained during a 20-session summer program to prepare their teachers to improve student language arts skills and comprehension, while connecting those skills to subject areas beyond reading and writing.
Institute instructors will include Southern Miss College of Education and Psychology faculty with K-12 experience. Those instructors are Dr. John Bishop, Dr. Margo Guilott, Dr. Gaylynn Parker and Dr. Stacy Reeves.
“Essentially, the missing piece in student achievement is literacy,” said Dr. Ron Styron, associate professor of educational leadership and director of the Southern Miss Gulf Coast Instructional Leadership Center. “Our goal is to embed literacy strategies across content areas that will help students improve their scores on standardized content area tests, and ultimately succeed in all academic areas.”
Styron believes that in many cases, students with challenges in math and science, for example, have problems not with the subject matter but with deficiencies in literacy. “The concepts (of the subjects) aren’t the issue,” he said. ‘It’s because the students had problems with reading and writing.”
Employing the Mississippi Department of Education’s (MDE) Understanding by Design curriculum framework, participants will be shown how to design units aligned with approved content standards through online resources; apply Understanding by Design and Depth of Knowledge strategies; and utilize coaching techniques to facilitate knowledge transfer during district-wide in-service programs during the following school year.
“We will explore grade-specific MDE Language Arts Frameworks, further familiarizing and distinguishing between competencies and objectives and how they specifically relate to ways we approach instruction aimed at improving MCT2 (Mississippi Curriculum Test) scores for our students,” said Styron, citing an example of strategies to be reviewed during the institute. “Furthermore, we’ll explore the MDE’s vertically aligned curriculum, addressing knowledge construction between grade levels.”
Improvement of coaching/supervisory skills for participants is also a desired outcome of the institute, Styron said. Just as coaches of sports teams motivate and lead their players toward success, school leaders should do the same for their teachers to maximize the opportunity for achievement in the classroom.
“One of the best ways to help our students succeed is to provide training for both lead teachers and school principals, as they are the ones who deal directly with curriculum,” Styron said, “and good school leaders at all levels help their teachers achieve things they didn’t think possible.”
Jackie DeFatta, a teacher at Baxterville Attendance Center in Lamar County, attended the institute last summer and said its programming gave her insights and strategies for improving literacy that are “empowering,” and she sees their impact on the school’s students. She concurs with Styron that literacy is key to overall student success, regardless of subject matter.
“It’s been proven that if a student can excel in reading, they can excel across the board in all subject areas, and test scores go up as well,” she said. “We learned many great tips and strategies at the institute to help students achieve those goals.”
DeFatta shares the lessons of her institute training with fellow teachers at the school. “We were instructed on UbD (Understanding by Design) lesson planning as well as data analysis,” DeFatta said. “We also learned how forming a data team on our school's campus can increase MCT 2 scores, as well as creating organized assistance (literacy strategies, etc.) in the areas of the test where the students were deficient.”
The institute has enjoyed tremendous growth and success over time, and earned positive feedback from school district administrators, Styron said. “Superintendents know we do a good job preparing their school teachers and leaders, and I believe it’s because we connect theory and practice for our students.”
For more information about the institute, call 601.266.4580; online, visit http://www.usm.edu/leadershipinstitute/
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.