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January 25, 2010

NIU launches tutoring internship inside DeKalb High School library

DeKalb, Ill. — Twenty-two future teachers who are students in the Northern Illinois University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will put their lessons to good use this semester at DeKalb High School.

DeKalb High School - District 428/NIU Partnership Schools

NIU’s new tutoring internship awards academic course credit to students who are signed up to tutor three hours a week at the high school, which in 2011 will become the newest professional development school between NIU and DeKalb Community Unit School District 428.

After an orientation session takes place this afternoon, the new tutors will tackle whatever comes their way daily during no-appointment-necessary availability in the high school’s library. The free tutoring is provided before and after school and during lunch.

Tutors also will log all their interactions with the teenagers, helping to produce a rich source of data about what kinds of academic support were needed, what advice and plans were delivered and what feedback was communicated back to the teachers.

“This will be an excellent experience for everyone who wants to be a teacher, and we have a great group of NIU students who want to be great teachers,” said Judy Cox-Henderson, the coordinator of clinical experiences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who designed the ILAS 300 internship with DHS psychologist Stacy Bjorkman.

“They’re learning how to work one-on-one with students – large-group teaching is only a small part of teaching – and they’re learning how to diagnose a student’s learning needs,” Cox-Henderson added. “It’s also an addition to their résumé, something they can talk about in a job interview.”

For DeKalb High School, the interns are augmenting a critical service. A district budgeting reallocation now provides free after-school tutoring for a targeted group of students. This innovative tutoring partnership will greatly expand the number of students able to access the after-school tutoring opportunities.

It also lends strong visibility to the fruitful and still-blossoming partnership between NIU and the school district, said Jennie Hueber, the high school’s assistant principal.

“Anything we can do to support students and raise student achievement is a good thing, and tutoring is tremendously important,” Hueber said.

“Many times, within a whole class, a student doesn’t feel comfortable in asking questions. But in a smaller setting – one-on-one, where they’re getting direct feedback – it can make a world of difference, be it for clarification or for their own knowledge,” Hueber added. “I really hope our students take advantage of this. Many times, they’re hesitant, but once their friends start going, and they see the positive results that occur, they become involved too.”

NIU’s students will keep busy on top of their actual tutoring responsibilities.

They must attend five workshops (two of which already have taken place) on such topics as effective tutoring, reading strategies and Response to Intervention, the three-tiered model that makes education effective for all learners. They’re required to interview and observe teachers and to analyze textbooks to determine their user-friendliness.

They’ve already made classroom visits at the high school to promote the drop-in tutoring services. (They’re not the only ones: DHS Principal Doug Moeller also has recorded a telephone message to advertise the service to parents and will pitch it to parents of eighth-graders tonight. Meanwhile, high school guidance counselors also have spread the word.)

During each tutoring session, they must collect various data from the students they help: name, subject(s) in need of tutoring, teachers’ names. Tutors also make their own notes about each session and fill out general tally sheets about academic skills they covered.

They must write weekly “reflection” papers that address learning styles, teaching styles, behavioral issues and student motivation. They must participate in discussions with other tutors and, near the end of the semester, present a final report to the high school’s Professional Learning Team.

“For our students, this is their first real-world experience with gathering and analyzing data,” Cox-Henderson said. “This is not busy work. It’s to make this program run smoothly and to get good information for themselves and for the other students.

Students are eager to begin.

“This gets my foot in the door,” said Megan Nelson, a senior from McHenry who plans to teach English. “This is the first time I’ll be one-on-one with students, and I’ll be helping them confront issues with their homework. I’m hoping to help them in any way possible.”

Ben Snow, a senior from Sterling who will teach history or government after graduation, expects the tutoring will provide a two-way street: Both he and the students will learn.

“I’m 80 percent excited and 20 percent nervous, but I’m excited to do my best and help out these students,” Snow said. “I want the one-on-one experience. Each student is going to be bringing something different, and if I can learn how to relate to individual students here, then I can relate to individual students in my own classroom.”

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Media Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
Phone: (815) 753-9472
Email: mmcgowan@niu.edu