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NIU faculty, Rockford high school teachers join to improve students’ reading, language skills

August 3, 2011
Twelve NIU faculty members and doctoral students worked with 236 Rockford high school teachers in a two-week intensive seminar this summer to improve students' literacy skills.

Twelve NIU faculty members and doctoral students worked with 236 Rockford high school teachers in a two-week intensive seminar this summer to improve students' literacy skills.

When they return to the classroom this month, Rockford high school teachers will be better equipped to improve their students’ literacy skills thanks to a team of NIU faculty members and doctoral students.

That team – 12 members in all – worked with 236 high school teachers in a two-week intensive seminar this summer. The faculty members showed the Rockford teachers additional teaching methods to strengthen reading and language skills in every class and every subject.

“We learned how to break paradigms,” said Janet Green, an administrator for Rockford Public School District 205. “We learned that reading doesn’t just take place in reading classes. Teachers who lead shop classes or auto mechanics classes can also take steps to help their students improve their reading skills.”

Ultimately, as many as 9,000 students who attend Rockford’s four high schools – Jefferson, Guilford, East and Auburn – will benefit from the seminar and strengthen their reading and language arts skills before graduation and in college.

“These teachers are on the front lines,” said Portia Downey, partnership coordinator in the NIU College of Education’s Office of Partnerships and the seminar’s director. “It’s important they have the latest tools and know the latest methods for their students.”

Many graduates of Rockford high schools attend NIU, Downey said. Strong reading skills are crucial for success in college as well as in every career.

A $276,000 state, Promoting Achievement through Literacy Skills Across High School Curriculum, funded through the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Improving Teacher Quality State Grant program, paid for the seminar.

Past summer seminars have included teachers from different grade levels. This year’s seminar focused on the high school teachers and their students.

“The success of programs such as this would not be possible if NIU did not have strong partnerships with teachers and administrators in Rockford schools and other area districts,” Downey said. “We share one goal: to make sure students have every opportunity to succeed.”

The eight days the Rockford teachers and NIU faculty spent exchanging ideas on improving their students’ reading skills will resonate and ripple well into the school year, Green said.

“The information we learned in the seminar will touch every high school student in our district,” Green said. “It will help students build self confidence and use literacy and language skills in every setting of their education.”

by Gerard Dziuba