A Winning Formula

A Winning Formula

University students in Dr. Heaton's responsive middle school course observe teachers and work in a tutorial situation with "at risk" students.Photo courtesy of Julie Johnson and Chris Harman

by Sharyn Kopf—Cedarville, Ohio

November 21, 2008

In a continued effort to combine coursework with real-world experience, one Cedarville University professor has found a unique way to do just that.

The Northridge Esther Dennis Middle School in Dayton, Ohio, invited Dr. Tim Heaton, professor of education, to provide a beginning-of-the-year in-service for its teachers this past August. As he, two principals, and the guidance counselor discussed topics for the session, a collaboration emerged.

The school — demographically considered “at risk” with its many characteristics that are similar to inner-city schools — was looking for ways to improve on its Ohio Achievement Tests, and Heaton needed a place for University students in his responsive middle school course to observe teachers and work in a tutorial situation with students.

“What makes this unique,” Heaton says, “is that we arranged for our middle childhood education majors to meet on-site in an unused classroom. The students drove on their own gas money to the middle school. We went over our coursework in a non-air conditioned 1940s building, sitting in armchairs with packed lunches. Usually, we would have a special speaker at some point in the day.”

Meanwhile, they observed as the middle schoolers interacted in the hallway and lunchroom, then spent the last period of the day tutoring. Their challenge was to meet with the students to address deficits in mathematical subjects. But first, they had an introductory day, where the Cedarville students set up some fun icebreakers as a way to get to know the specially selected seventh-graders they would be working with.

“We treated it as a reward rather than as a tutorial session,” says Heaton. “We sent home notes, communicating with parents on what skills their child was taught that week.” The parents then signed and returned the slips.

Over the course of their time at Northridge, the students created several different learning centers to address five of the six deficit areas. Each seventh-grader took a sample pre-test, which was scored. They then divided the middle schoolers into groups, rotating them through the various learning centers within the allotted time. Every week they faced a new rotation and learned a new skill. The project ended on Oct. 31 after the final rotation and a post-test to see how much the seventh-graders had improved.

“I enjoyed the challenge of working with students from many different cultures, both inner-city and Appalachian, and seeing them make improvements in their math skills,” says Julie Johnson ’09, a middle child education major from Renssellaer, New York. “We saw how the teaching methods we’ve been learning at Cedarville actually work, and it gave me a better idea of how students learn.”

“The novelty of this arrangement,” Heaton adds, “ was our moving to the students’ territory and becoming comfortable in their environment, rather than treating this as an afterschool or during-recess tutorial situation.”

Many of the course goals were achieved through this endeavor, academically and socially. Heaton and the school administrators are looking for other ways to collaborate for student success, to get the parents more involved in their child’s education, and to involve University students more directly in the learning process.