By CALVIN PYNN
The faculty of Riverlawn Elementary in Fairlawn are currently working to improve and innovate their teaching techniques in a new integration program, with some help from Radford University professors.
It all started when Radford University wrote a grant last spring titled “Integration Station,” which was designed to integrate science and literary instruction together. The University contacted Pulaski County Public School’s administration, and decided Riverlawn would be a good fit.
“We’re always looking to do anything we can to increase our reading and literacy instruction, and therefore, student achievement,” said Principal John Bowler. “We have been able to take this instruction utilizing science, and also the same strategies in our literacy instruction. I certainly think it’ll be a big bang for the buck as far as impacting student achievement.”
According to Bowler, reading and comprehension have become very important subjects for the school to constantly work on, especially as the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests continue to change. He said their ultimate goal, however, is to see all the students grow in both the areas of reading and science.
“We have a very strong staff here that are always looking for new ways to teach and do things better,” said Bowler. “Radford University is providing us with the tools, we’re taking advantage of it, and we certainly look forward to it having an impact on student achievement.”
The professors from RU come from the School of Teacher Education and Leadership, and work with an advisor board at Riverlawn to determine the school’s needs. According to Bowler, the University and the advisory board have tailored the training for specific faculties.
The team of professors from the University consists of Jennifer Jones, Katie Hilden, and Holly Robbins. According to the three teachers, science and literacy are open subjects that allow the opportunity to incorporate interdisciplinary teaching.
“To be a good scientist, you have to be a good reader, and good readers can be good scientists,” said Jones. “We use a lot of the same strategies; good readers question, and scientists question.”
“Good readers make predictions,” said Hilden.
“…And scientists call those hypotheses,” Robbins added.
According to Jones, these new integrated teaching styles flow more naturally with how people conduct their disciplines in everyday life, and by intertwining science and literacy, the students will adapt to that as well.
“In the real world, we don’t compartmentalize life and the things we do on a daily basis,” said Jones. “By integrating the two, it’s a more natural fit for kids to put the reading into action and to work on discovery and inquiry in the context of science.”
Hilden explained that the integration program is modeled after another program called “Seeds of Science, Roots of Reading,” in which the basic principal is: read it, write it, talk it, do it. The idea is that kids would be doing hands on science experiments and that type of work.
After that, they would read about science, talk about science, and write about science.
According to Robbins, one of their primary goals is to prepare the next generation of teachers. By working with the teachers at Riverlawn, it’s provided a learning experience for both the them and the students, and the professors have learned some as well.
“The strategies we’re using are all research based,” said Robbins. “The bottom line of this program is: do kids learn better?”
According to the three professors, the students have been very receptive and eager to work with the new lessons, and the teachers have shown that same enthusiasm. They even added that the faculty at Riverlawn were already working towards new ideas before the grant was in place.
“When I walk into the classroom and the teachers are doing hands on experiments with the kids, they are so motivated, and we know that from research,” said Hilden. “It’s another thing entirely to go into classrooms and really see what’s happening. The kids love it, but they’re learning a whole lot while they’re doing it.”
Overall, the amount of cooperation has been the driving factor in creating a successful program.
“I think being able to work together in collaboration is what makes this a powerful situation for us,” said Bowler.
As the school and university continue to work together to improve and innovate instruction, their eyes are on the future. With the next grant cycle coming up, the science and literacy integration program could be used throughout other schools in the county.