School of education receives grant for middle-school literacy project

The College of William and Mary’s School of Education has received a grant for $152,500 from the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia to help fund middle-school literacy efforts.

“This is an area of critical need,” said Virginia McLaughlin, dean of the William and Mary School of Education. “Schools have made great progress in improving literacy in the elementary grades, but the demands for reading become much more intense at the middle school level. Many times, students’ performance in science, social studies and math is more reflective of their lack of reading skills than their lack of knowledge of the actual subject area. Not being able to read textbooks or tests is a real handicap.”

The grant is the latest in a line of “No Child Left Behind” grants that have been submitted by William and Mary on behalf of the School-University Research Network (SURN), a partnership between the College and 26 area school divisions. This year’s grant will fund a SURN project entitled, “SURN Collaboratories: Middle Grades Literacy Across Content.” The project will develop and mentor teachers at middle schools in Hopewell, Norfolk and Petersburg that have not met accreditation standards for literacy.

“The College has been partnering with Petersburg on a number of community-building and service-learning opportunities. We were particularly excited to target this No Child Left Behind grant to the Petersburg schools because it connects so well with the work the university is doing there,” said McLaughlin.

The project will begin when teams of interdisciplinary teachers from the three divisions attend a two-day summer training academy in Petersburg at the end of August. The teachers will learn instructional and motivational strategies and then will implement those strategies in their classrooms when school begins in the fall. Throughout the year, the teams will reconvene to receive more information and share what they have learned. Additionally, members of the project faculty will visit classrooms and provide one-on-one coaching to the teachers.

A new component of this year’s grant allows project faculty members to set up model classrooms in local schools with experienced teacher mentors. Members of the project teams may set up appointments to visit the model classrooms and see the strategies they are learning in action, said Jan Rozzelle, director and lead faculty member of the project.

“It helps when a teacher who has been through the program models what the teams are learning in a classroom with real students,” she said.

Several School of Education faculty members are serving as faculty on the project, and a graduate student is working as the project graduate assistant. Additionally, teachers who have participated in a SURN project before and excelled are serving as teachers-in-residence for the project.

The project will conclude with a conference in March 2008 in which the teams will share their findings, lesson plans and research with the other SURN partners.

Although student gains will be monitored closely throughout the project to determine its success, the true goal of the program is to impact teachers’ knowledge and skills.

“If we can change the way teachers plan and deliver instruction, then we can begin to impact student learning,” McLaughlin said. “That’s where you get your most important and sustainable improvements in education—by focusing on teachers.”