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It’s 7:30 a.m. at Richland Elementary School, and there are two types of students pouring in the front doors. The first are elementary students, climbing out of the backseats of parents’ cars or filing off yellow school buses. The second are Auburn University students from the College of Education majoring in early childhood and elementary education.

Since September, students in Katie Forster’s Foundations of Language and Literacy class have been working one-on-one with students at Richland to improve their reading skills. Forster’s students began preparing for their field experience on the first day of class before beginning their work two weeks later.

Student teachers were paired with one first-grader, and started by assessing the specific literacy needs with reading, spelling and handwriting. Then, over the next ten weeks, they planned individualized lessons for their student that are explicit, systematic and cumulative. Each lesson allows the first-grader to practice reading and spelling at the sound, word and sentence level in addition to introducing new information.

Forster’s students create cubbies out of trifold boards to create an individualized learning zone for their first-grader and utilize pre-post assessment data to drive instruction during the lessons.

While Richland Elementary students are improving their reading skills, Auburn student teachers are learning about instructional methods and lesson planning in a realistic setting that isn’t easily replicated in a university classroom environment.

“Working with an individual student instead of a whole class setting is a perfect way to ease into the role of the teacher,” said Forster. “Our teachers can immediately gauge the effectiveness of their instruction, learning how to make adjustments on the spot as well as prescriptively plan for the following lesson. Working with a student in need gives our teachers a real opportunity to make a difference for a child in need of support.”

The benefits of this experience highlight the importance of the College of Education’s relationship with area schools. The student teachers make a real difference in children’s lives by providing extra support to both students and teachers at elementary schools.

“I have absolutely loved getting to work one-on-one with a student. It has been such an incredible experience,” said Madeline Schlaman, a student in Forster’s class. “Getting to design a lesson specifically for them is so impactful for both me and the student, as I feel like it has instilled a sense of confidence in them and created a safe environment where they're not so afraid to try challenging things. Getting to see progress every single week is such a rewarding feeling.”

It is also an experience that has proven to be effective. Forster took a similar course at Auburn while completing her degree, and while she says some lesson formats and instructional practices have changed, she still remembers the name of the student she tutored at Dean Road Elementary and remembers it fondly as an experience that influenced her career as a teacher today.

Allie Ruth Black, another elementary education student, already knows she will implement aspects of this experience into her classroom after graduation.

“This project has taught me the importance of differentiation in the classroom,” said Black. “This means that every student receives material that fits their specific learning goals. It is very easy to put all students into one group and give them all the same material to work with, but in reality, students benefit from receiving work that fits their needs. I will take the knowledge I have learned from Mrs. Forster and this experience into my teaching practices every day.”

To learn more about the elementary education programs in Auburn's College of Education, please follow the link below.

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