My Growth as a Future Teacher Through Meaningful Work at the Iowa Reading Research Center

Emily Crandall at work

During her time working at the Iowa Reading Research Center, Student Assistant Emily Crandall says she has learned more about literacy instructional best practices and about herself as a writer and editor.

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Posted on: May 29, 2018

Editor’s Note: With the end of the school year upon us, we asked Emily Crandall, our junior student assistant from Crystal Lake, Ill., to reflect on her time working at the Iowa Reading Research Center. The elementary education major pursuing an added reading endorsement shares her thoughts about the role her work experiences have played in her ongoing teacher preparation education.

When I first started working at the Iowa Reading Research Center three semesters ago, I only had one semester in the University of Iowa Teacher Education Program under my belt. I had not taken any literacy methods courses, so I thought working here would be a great complement to my upcoming coursework. I was excited to know that what I would do at work would have relevance and meaning to me as a future educator. I knew this was more than a job where you clock in, do insignificant work, clock out, and collect a paycheck. Although I was charting unfamiliar territory back then, three semesters later, I feel buoyed by the knowledge I have acquired while working that has paralleled with my coursework. I now have a deep understanding of the importance of literacy and feel more than prepared to teach it.

Literacy learning is important to me, especially as a future teacher, because at the core of all subjects is the need to read and write proficiently. If a student has trouble reading or writing, then they may also struggle in other subjects. For example, in science students are often required to write up lab reports using complex, subject-specific vocabulary. If a student has trouble spelling, they may get frustrated with the assignment and do poorly. I now have a better appreciation for why it is important that teachers ensure students have a strong base of literacy skills, and how those skills can increase success within other subjects. 

Understanding the Importance of Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction Through My Job

However, I know that just realizing the importance of literacy learning is not enough for me as a future teacher. I am going to be relying on best literacy practices when I graduate and start teaching. It is important for me to be aware of what these practices are, and how to implement them so that my students benefit from my instruction. All of what I do in my role as a student assistant at the Iowa Reading Research Center is very beneficial to me in this respect because I am exposed to all different kinds of evidence-based literacy instructional practices at work. From working with our blog alone, I am learning about practices such as students’ use of higher-order questions, explicit vocabulary instruction, active reading, and many more.

The content I am working with at the Iowa Reading Research Center, whether it is content created by IRRC staff or other literacy resources I am searching for to share through the IRRC’s social media, has a direct connection to literacy practices I will be responsible for using to teach to my future students. Although I am learning about some of these literacy practices in my classes, seeing how they can be applied through my work is very beneficial. For example,  a recent blog post goes into detail about using repeated writings to promote sentence writing fluency. Although I have learned about sentence writing fluency in the past, I was not prepared to teach students how to improve their sentence writing. Reading this blog post allowed me to learn about an evidence-based practice to help students increase their sentence writing fluency as well as see a sample plan for how to implement it. 

Furthermore, my unique position at the Iowa Reading Research Center editing and gathering this content allows me to learn about and envision these practices from multiple angles―not only from my perspective of a teacher education student, but also from the point of view of those we serve at the Iowa Reading Research Center, namely families and in-service educators. This helps me think about and more fully absorb these best literacy practices better than if I were only learning about some of them in class. To understand what the in-service educator audience might want to know about a literacy practice, I envision how these practices may work in my future classroom. An in-service educator also needs to be aware of how to help students’ families foster literacy learning in their children. Things such as having books in the home or reading with your child help them grow as a reader and learner. Learning about these approaches early on is valuable to me because many teachers have to learn how to help their students’ families after they have already started teaching. By working with our posts through multiple lenses, I get to take a step back and see if I can understand the content from each point of view.

Expanding My Personal Range of Writing and Editing Skills

Not only do I learn about evidence-based best literacy instructional practices to do a better job teaching children, but I also have multiple opportunities to improve my own literacy skills. In a typical day at work, I might write a few of our social media posts and proofread and edit a blog post. These tasks have improved my reading, writing, and editing skills. I did not have a lot of previous exposure to professional pieces of writing, such as our blog posts, which are written to be accessible to educators and families while also explaining important technical aspects about literacy practices. In the past, the only reading and writing of evidence-based content I had done was for research papers for class. Through practice working with an initially unfamiliar type of writing and learning how it is structured, my own professional writing and editing skills have gotten stronger. These skills will be very advantageous to me as a future teacher. Teachers are expected to teach students how to write for a variety of audiences and purposes. By expanding my range of writing skills, I am better equipped to teach students to do the same.

Another way I have expanded my personal range of writing is through writing social media posts. I need to be able to summarize the resources we share via social media in a limited number of words, which can be very difficult at times. This unique and succinct form of writing has helped me develop my summarization skills, another valuable ability for a teacher. Teachers expect their students to write summaries about things they read, so I need to be able to do that myself. Teachers also need to be able to explain many things during a busy school day in a way that is concise, direct, and understandable. In this way, the ability to summarize is vital to daily instruction. Although social media writing is an unconventional practice for most teacher education students, because much of the writing required in college consists of longer formal essays, the opportunity to practice condensed writing outside of class has allowed me to sharpen this important skill.

As you can see, my work at the Iowa Reading Research Center is having a powerful impact on my future career as an educator. Working with evidence-based literacy instructional practices, exposure to a wide range of reading and writing through our blog posts, and enhancing my summarization skills by writing for social media have all helped increase my knowledge of best literacy practices. This is something I will always value because I would not be able to gain experience like this working anywhere else on campus. I am grateful for the above-and-beyond literacy experiences I have had working at the Iowa Reading Research Center and will carry them with me as I embark on my career as an elementary school teacher in just one short year.