December 5, 1997


Education course takes learning out of the lecture hall and into the classroom

U of A students work one-on-one with schoolchildren

Folio Staff

Eight-year-old Michael spells out
his story with Kathy Wood

A fresh pot of coffee and a cheery "Please help yourself!" sign greet you as you walk through the doors of Sacred Heart Catholic Elementary School. All around, children's artwork wallpapers the inner-city building. About 160 students from Kindergarten to Grade 6 are settling down to another school day.

They're not the only students learning in this school. Upstairs on the second floor, 22 aspiring teachers from the U of A sit in the art room listening to education professor Dr. Ruth Hayden. Hayden's course teaches students how to diagnose children with poor reading and writing skills. More importantly, they learn to develop strategies to help children overcome weaknesses.

Raymond Plouffe and Nicole, 10

With more than 20 languages spoken in the various homes and three-quarters of the children receiving English as a second language instruction, Sacred Heart has its share of children who struggle with reading and writing.

But Wednesday has become a special day. Each Wednesday for eight weeks these children get one hour of one-on-one attention with a U of A student. Take a walk down the halls and you'll see a big student and little student in almost every nook and cranny inthe old building.

Sheila Pchenlnyk and Sue Ellen,
9, are all smiles

"In every single session, the student must read to the child," says Hayden. "There's nothing better than an adult role model, because if a child sees an adult take the time to read, it must be important." Children learn to synthesize the information they're reading, predict what can logically happen next, and correct themselves if something doesn't make sense, says Hayden.

Teachers at Sacred Heart identify children between Grades 3 and 6 who need extra help. Hayden also finds out what the children are interested in, so her education students can select appropriate reading materials. By the end of the program, the education students write a letter to parents and teachers explaining the strategies used for the children and what skills they gained.

"It's in-depth intervention set up for each child. It's tailored to individual needs. It's not a recipe," says Charolette Player, principal. Player says the program has a spinoff benefit for the school also. "Some U of A students stay on after they finish the course to volunteer as after-school instructors." That's because many students don't want to pack up and leave what took many weeks to develop.

"You can see they become friends," says Pat O'Connor, assistant principal. "They give gifts to each other and really bond with each other." Some children don't get the attention they need at home so an hour with one person has a resounding impact, says O'Connor.

But it's not just the children who benefit. Diane Lander has been teaching for 15 years. She took a year off to learn more about reading skills and diagnosing reading problems. Lander is looking forward to getting back into the classroom with elementary children. "I won't be pulling ideas out of the air," she says. "I still have to work one-on-one with my students, but now I know what I'm doing." Lander says it was a great feeling to have a Sacred Heart teacher talk to her about the improvements in one student named Freddy.

For Dan Burkinshaw, the program is a means of immediately putting theory into practice. "We get so much theory, theory, theory and we never get to see if it works. Here, I'm seeing results," says Burkinshaw, who wants to be a special education teacher. Melissa, the student he was working with, has greatly improved her reading and writing skills. "She's doing things she never did before."

This is the second last day the children meet with their U of A instructors. Together, they'll plan the presentation the children will make on the final day to celebrate their reading and writing skills with parents, volunteers, teachers and school board officials.

There's an excitement buzzing down the halls. The children are beaming. Their minds are at work. 'It's Wednesday.'

Folio front page
[Office of Public Affairs]
Office of Public Affairs
[University of Alberta]
University of Alberta