GVSU co-teaching program enhances education curriculum, student experiences

By Kyle Doyle | 2/19/17 9:35pm

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GVL / Courtesy - Alpine Elementary Grand Valley student teachers working alongside Alpine Elementary School teachers and students.

by Alpine Elementary / Grand Valley Lanthorn

The time and dedication a devoted teacher puts into their work is monumental. These educators put their students’ best interests first and try to create the best learning environment they can.

The educators who dedicate extensive time to their students usually see the best results, which begs the question, shouldn't all educators to be this devoted?

Alpine Elementary

GVL / Courtesy - Alpine Elementary Grand Valley student teachers working alongside Alpine Elementary School teachers and students.

At Grand Valley State University, future educators are being trained to be just that.

A co-teaching partnership between the GVSU College of Education and Kenowa Hills Public Schools (KHPS) focuses on giving students in the teaching program an opportunity to see what it’s really like in the classroom by providing a hands-on learning experience that differs from the traditional model.

“From the very beginning of the fall, (the co-teachers) assume responsibilities that are student-centered all the time,” said Sheryl Vlietstra, affiliate professor of education at GVSU. “Both the mentor-teacher and the teacher-candidate are engaging in some way and interacting and teaching children at all times.”

The co-teaching program differs from the traditional program in that the co-teaching program puts the student in the same classroom for an entire school year. In addition, the students involved in the co-teaching program aren’t seen as “guests” in the classroom but as equals with the teacher, said Kevin Cook, a GVSU student involved in the program.

“As the year went on and they had me there every single day, especially the second semester that I’ve been there all day, every day, it’s really transformed their view of me from the assistant in the room to this is one of our teachers,” Cook said

As part of the program, the GVSU co-teacher is in the classroom for half the day during the fall semester and then is there all day during the winter semester.

During the 2015-16 school year, the program managed to produce impressive results: any class with a GVSU student teacher had better test scores than a class without a GVSU co-teacher.

The program itself began at the beginning of the 2015-16 semester when staff members had come to KHPS with a plan to put GVSU students in classrooms as co-teachers instead of student teachers in an effort to give them more experience.

Right off the bat, 10 KHPS teacher volunteered to have a GVSU student in their classroom, and since then, those same teachers have wanted more students to fill the role that the previous student have left behind.

“It doesn’t surprise me when you take a high-quality pre-service teacher and pair them with a high-quality in-service teacher that you’re going to get a good result,” said Doug Busman, associate professor of education at GVSU.

Not only does the program offer the opportunity for GVSU students to get a more hands-on feel for the classroom, but it also gives young school-age students a helping hand. Vlietstra said with the addition of GVSU students as full-time teachers, the number of kindergartners who were crying or missed their parents and guardians was brought down.

Along with this, the kids get to form a bond with the teacher more so than if they were only in the classroom for half a day for half a year. Cook said the relationships he builds with the kids is amazing, and everyone learn better due to being better connected.

Along with that, he’s able to step outside his comfort zone and try things that will make him a better teacher in the long run, like the time he overcame his shyness of using character voices when reading children's books.

“(The kids) picked (a) children's book that was basically all singing in it,” Cook said. “And they were like, ‘You have to sing it! You have to sing it!’ And when a group of second graders is telling you you have to sing it, that really put me in a spot where well, now it’s time to learn how to have fun and just let loose. So I sang it to them.

“I think that was a really big turning point for me with my comfort in the classroom, but it also let me be a real person to them.”

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