SL teachers go back to school

Krystle Wagner • Jul 27, 2016 at 11:00 AM

A group of Spring Lake teachers look forward to putting what they learned at a recent institute into action when school resumes this fall.

During a weeklong Teachers College Reading and Writing Projects institute at Columbia University, Mary Cotterall, Megan Dean, Mary Goodin, Julie Kitchel and Kelly Ortquist worked alongside educators from around the world as they learned about literacy workshop methods to ensure each child understands lessons.

Cotterall, a literacy coach for Spring Lake Public Schools, said it’s a methodical process that helps meet each student at their level and help them move forward.

“The process is made for everyone in the room to get it,” she said.

During the 8-hour days, some of the lessons teachers learned include strategies, critical reading, using book clubs in workshops and ways to hold students accountable for their best work.

The workshop method is a way to meet each child where they’re at, give support to the students who need more assistance, and provide different opportunities to students who don’t need as much help.

Last spring, Spring Lake schools adopted Lucy Calkins’ Reading Units of Study. Cotterall said it’s a “research-based reading curriculum that focuses on the workshop method of teaching.”

Educators at the institute also heard from speakers Donalyn Miller, author of “The Book Whisperer” and “Reading in the Wild;” Mary Ehrenworth, author of “Pathways to the Common Core;” Kathy Collins, author of “Growing Readers” and “Reading for Real;” Kathleen Tolan and Amanda Hartman, senior director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Projects.

Spring Lake teachers received grants from the Marion A. and Ruth K. Sherwood Family Fund, Mary Ann Sherwood Families and Children Field of Interest, North Bank Community Fund and Doss Family Fund through the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation in order to attend the conference.

Spring Lake Pubic Schools also “committed tuition funds throughout this cycle,” Cotterall said.

Cotterall applied for the grants after having attended last year’s program and felt it was “phenomenal.”

During the next three summers, 41 teachers K-5 – every K-5 teacher in the district – and administrators will attend the institute. Although some funding will be received from the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, the district and funds raised by Cotterall.

Cotterall said she’s committed to raising the remaining portion of the funds to give teachers an “invaluable experience.”

More than 1,000 Spring Lake students will receive the benefit they will carry into higher graders, Cotterall said.

After learning the method, educators had hands on experience to use the methods with their peers. Cotterall said the system has built in steps along the way to check and see that students understand the material.

Teachers also learned about the organization it takes and how to analyze the data.

Cotterall said the institute helped form stronger relationships among the Spring Lake teachers who work in different schools.

Cotterall noted they also learned from each other as they shared what they learned in their sessions.

Kitchel, a fourth-grade teacher at Jeffers Elementary School, said her favorite part was learning “how to improve small group instruction” and practice the methods. By receiving feedback from other teachers, Kitchel said it will help take her teaching to the next level.

Dean, a kindergarten teacher at Holmes Elementary School, said the institute was the “most inspirational and informative professional development opportunity” she’s attended. Dean said leaders, authors and researchers provided her with simple and real life ideas to help structure her reading workshops.

“While their focus was on raising lifelong readers, they also taught me how to individualize my reading instruction to meet the needs of all the little people in my classroom,” she said. “I can’t wait for September and the chance to give the gift of learning and love of reading to the kindergartners who walk into my classroom.”

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