Johns Hopkins Gazette: January 9, 1995

SI-MAT Moves Teaching Theory to Head of Class

By Karen Fay

     Twenty-two-year-old Jon Leslie stands in front of a well-lit
classroom full of fifth-grade students at Pointers Run Elementary
School in Columbia explaining the rules of "bingtac," a game
devised to help them understand the complexities of
multiplication.  He copes with the usual disturbances teachers
face with 10- and 11-year-old prepubescent students: notes passed
back and forth, cliques forming that make it harder to assign
students to work together.
     His calm voice and demeanor belie the fact that, with only
six months of teacher training behind him, his appearance in
front of the class is as much a learning experience for him as it
is for his pupils.
     In the back of the room, another teaching intern,
29-year-old Neils Dunn, watches closely, occasionally jotting
down notes he'll discuss later with Leslie in a peer coaching
session.  He is, as he refers to it, "Jon's eyes and ears for the
math lesson."
     While Dunn may not be teaching at the moment, he is
discovering a great deal about his own abilities by observing
Leslie's teaching style and interaction with students.
     Both Leslie and Dunn are students in the School Immersion
Master of Arts in Teaching program, a unique new teacher
education curriculum developed by the School of Continuing
Studies Division of Education. SI-MAT requires that education
students, whether just out of college or seeking a career change,
have a bachelor's degree in either liberal arts--if they plan to
teach at the elementary school level--or in the discipline in
which they plan to specialize. Then, they are immersed in a
15-month internship that involves them in a single school, with a
single class as they teach and learn themselves. 
     The SI-MAT program was created by Ralph Fessler, professor
and associate dean of the Division of Education, and his
colleagues. It grew in conjunction with recommendations of a task
force report on teacher education reform headed by Fessler and
commissioned by the Maryland State Board of Education and the
state's Higher Education Commission. 
     As educators, legislators and administrators debate the task
force's proposal, the SI-MAT program is testing it.  SI-MAT 
is being piloted during the 1994-95 academic year in a
partnership with the Howard County Public School system at
Pointers Run and Swansfield elementary schools in Columbia, Md.
     Leslie and Dunn are two of 19 interns in the SI-MAT program
who have come from as far away as Alaska and as close as Howard
County to take part in what many educators believe to be the
leading edge in teacher education. Leslie is a 1993 alumnus of
Towson State University with a degree in English. His only
post-college work has been as a proofreader for six months. Dunn
has more than eight years' experience in the finance and criminal
justice fields, after graduating from Howard University. Their
peers have worked in jobs as varied as a bondsman, a children's
ski instructor, an actress and a wilderness therapy counselor.
     It is not their past that binds them, though; rather, it is
the innovative approach to creating teachers and the chance to
make a difference even as a student.
     "The intensity of the program is very appealing," Leslie
said.  "I liked the chance it gave me to immediately immerse
myself in teaching."
     "Our program is quite different from the traditional student
teaching experience, which is usually one semester long with the
student having little prior knowledge of the school," said Toni
Ungaretti, chair of the Department of Teacher Development and
Leadership within the Division of Education.  
     In contrast, interns in the SI-MAT program are involved in
every aspect of the school year, from summer introductory
sessions to the closing day in June.  For example, interns
familiarized themselves with each school's curriculum, policies
and procedures prior to their classroom experience, in addition
to spending the summer months providing one-on-one instruction in
reading and math for elementary school children.    
     "We wanted the interns to have an initial dose of personal
work with students, so when the time came for them to teach in
front of an entire class, they would view each child's needs
individually, instead of as one whole group," Dr. Ungaretti said.
     Lenore Cohen, assistant professor and coordinator of SI-MAT,
left her job as coordinator of the Montgomery County Teacher
Education Center because she viewed the new program as an
exciting challenge.
     "Programs such as SI-MAT are the future of teacher education
and school reform," she said. "I want to be a part of it."  
     She compares the program to a teaching hospital:  "Interns
learn theory throughout the year, during six hours of coursework
held two evenings each week," Dr. Cohen said. It's a
problem-based approach to learning, in which the interns are
presented with a situation and must conduct research around it. 
We then set up workshops based on the problem they discover and
the theories that will help to resolve it.  
     "The exciting part is that students are able to immediately
see how the theory is implemented in the classroom setting," she
     "I can't imagine another way the program would be as
effective in terms of in-class experience," Leslie said
enthusiastically. "The full year allows for a greater opportunity
to absorb the teaching profession. I can already see things
starting to gel and the program is only half over.
     "It's also tougher in some ways," he said. "I find myself
juggling my roles in the classroom and asking 'Am I a teacher? or
am I a student?' There is a lot of reflection necessary."
     SI-MAT interns are provided with an extensive support
network to assist in understanding and coordinating their dual
roles.  Each intern is assigned a mentor within the schools,
although they have the opportunity to meet with other mentors and
observe different teaching styles throughout the year.  As
various classroom situations occur, specialists are brought in to
cover related theories. 
     For example, when questions arose about the development
level of 7-year-olds, Dr. Ungaretti built a series of human
development seminars around those questions, illustrating the
full spectrum of human development instead of merely
concentrating on one age group. Specialists are also recruited
for such subjects as language and social studies.
     Interns gain the most support from each other. Some is
structured, such as the peer observation Dunn conducted for
Leslie.  In the discussion the two held immediately after
Leslie's math lesson, Dunn's constructive criticism is positive
and uses phrases that encourage, such as "planned effectively"
and "well thought out."  The two discuss for a few minutes some
of the more difficult moments in the lesson, particularly when
one student became upset and teary-eyed.  Underneath the formal
review, the underlying elements of friendship and teamwork are
     The peer reviews, the lesson plans, the research and other
materials created in the program, such as daily progress
jour-nals, as well as samples of students' work and letters from
parents, are compiled in portfolios developed by each intern.
     "The portfolios are the invisible architecture behind the
program," Dr. Fessler said. "The interns have to present evidence
that they are meeting SI-MAT's objectives, so portfolios are the
vehicle for documenting their research and teaching experience
throughout the year."
     "In the long run, our interns will recognize that their
experience is more marketable, because they have had exposure to
more than one classroom in different grade levels.  They have the
ability to examine the full scope of curriculum and their view of
the classroom is more global in nature," Dr. Cohen said.
     "SI-MAT teaches the interns to look at bringing the world
into the classroom," Dr. Ungaretti said, "as opposed to the world
being the classroom."

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