The University of Iowa

How My Reading Practicum Experience Prepared Me to Be a Teacher

Emily Crandall practicum teaching

Emily Crandall taught small groups of first graders in Teacher Angie Shive’s classroom at Penn Elementary School in North Liberty during her reading practicum.


Posted on: December 11, 2018

Editor’s Note: Sustaining high-quality literacy instruction requires supporting not only the teachers currently in classrooms today, but also the soon-to-be teachers of classrooms in the future. College students training to become educators also are known as “preservice” teachers. If you are an experienced educator, you may be mentoring preservice teachers who are completing a practicum or their student teaching in your classroom. Most educators vividly remember what those first experiences were like and how the work with their cooperating teacher refined their skills. Family members of children receiving instruction from a preservice teacher may have questions about this dynamic and how it affects their children’s classroom. To provide insight on how preservice teachers learn through these mentoring opportunities to design and deliver literacy lessons, Emily Crandall, our student assistant and senior University of Iowa College of Education elementary education student from Crystal Lake, Ill., blogs about what she is taking with her from her reading practicum experience this semester.

Entering the first-grade classroom at Penn Elementary School in North Liberty at the start of my reading practicum this fall, I was very nervous. But my cooperating teacher, Angie Shive, immediately eased my nerves by making me feel welcome. She introduced me to all of the students and had them share one thing they wanted me to know about themselves. Most students chose to share their favorite color or their favorite food, but one student chose to share that his dad coaches football. The fact that this student told me something about his dad, instead of sharing one of his favorite things, immediately told me that this student looks up to his dad and wanted me to know about it. This simple sharing activity helped me learn more about each student and made being in front of the class less intimidating.

Reading practicum is the most involved practicum experience prior to student teaching. Although I was nervous, I felt well equipped to teach reading because of my work at the Iowa Reading Research Center. However, I would soon learn that no matter how much I thought I knew about teaching reading, there was always room to learn more. Being able to apply my reading knowledge through teaching lessons to actual students allowed me to learn quickly how to apply strategies to increase students’ learning. After completing this most valuable practicum experience I have had during my time at the University of Iowa College of Education, I feel confident and prepared to student teach next semester.

Practicum experiences allow preservice teachers opportunities to observe and interact with students in authentic classrooms as well as plan and teach lessons for subjects such as reading and math. This semester, I have been with Mrs. Shive’s class for 12 weeks and over 100 hours. The purpose of this experience is to prepare preservice teachers for student teaching, so it is very rigorous with high expectations. I am in the classroom for the entire literacy block, and I typically lead a small-group station during reading rotations. During this practicum experience, I am mainly learning to lead small groups in reading activities, but I also have led whole-group lessons once a week.

Lesson Planning and Teaching

Developing lesson plans is one of the most difficult parts of this experience. Practicum requirements say lesson plans must be written in a very specific format, one that is not commonly used among experienced classroom teachers. Practically speaking, most do not have several hours to set aside for lesson planning. However, this lesson plan format is intended to ensure preservice teachers have thought through the entire lesson, considered all relevant aspects of delivering the reading instruction, and articulated to our mentors and supervisors precisely what we will be doing with students. The completeness of the written plan provides assurance that the children will receive appropriate instruction while the preservice teachers are still developing their skills. The lesson plan also is the same as the one used for the edTPA licensure examination, so it is beneficial to get used to the format. Required components such as academic language, diversity, differentiation, and success criteria are all things that teachers should consider. Over time, these come naturally, so experienced teachers do not always need to rely on detailed lesson plans to help guide their instruction. However, I think recording the components on a lesson plan has allowed me to think more deliberately about students’ needs and what I want them to get out of the lesson.

After I have written the lesson plan, I get to teach the lesson, which is my favorite part. Throughout the semester, I have gotten to know each and every student and how to support their literacy learning. Although teaching can be challenging at times, it is very rewarding to see the hard work pay off when students are learning to read and write. In first grade, students are developing basic reading skills, so my lessons focus on learning phonics and sight words, building fluency, and developing comprehension skills. For example, reading comprehension instruction commonly involves doing a guided reading and then adding a written or discussion-based comprehension activity. I find that this format allows students to practice reading a text at an appropriate difficulty level and reflect on what they read. It also allows me to check the students’ understanding.

My favorite activity I led with the students this semester was a cut-and-paste sequence of events worksheet used as an assessment of their learning. After discussing narrative sequencing in several whole group literacy lessons, explicitly modeling how to identify important events in a story, explaining why identifying the sequence of events is important for comprehension, and giving students multiple opportunities for guided practice, they were prepared to attempt this activity independently. Students read a selection from their textbook two times: once with a partner and once individually. They then received a worksheet with six events from the story listed out of order. Students had to cut out the events and then glue them on their paper in the order that they happened.

As with most classrooms, there is a wide range in first-grade students’ abilities. I knew the cut-and-paste version of the activity would be too simple for students in the highest-achieving group and it would not challenge them much at all. Therefore, to differentiate, I created a worksheet with six blank boxes. The students in this group had to fill in the boxes independently with their own recollection of events from the story in the order that they happened. I enjoyed doing this activity because I was able to include a lot of differentiation. I also was able to practice modeling and using guided practice to prepare students to be successful during their independent practice. Students loved this activity because it was different from anything they had done so far in reading groups. The students performed very well on the activity, which told me that they were learning the concept of sequencing events in a story. Using the two versions of the worksheet as a formative assessment allowed me to use the results to see if any students needed reteaching of the topic. This lesson had several components that teachers use daily as part of delivering effective literacy instruction and was great practice for me as a teacher.


In my opinion, the most important part of the teaching process comes at the end: the reflection. As a new teacher, it is so critical that I take time to reflect on how my lesson went―not only for the students, but for myself as well. The most important thing I ask myself is, “If I had to teach this lesson again, what would I change?” This allows me to look back and see what went well and what did not. Often my self-critiques have to do with pacing and timing. With reading rotations being only 15 minutes each, it is difficult to fit everything I want to do into one lesson. However, throughout the semester I have learned how to condense lessons or split them up into two days. That way, I am not rushing to get through all the components.

It is also important to reflect upon student learning, so I pay close attention to how students receive the information I am giving them. If I see many confused looks, I know they do not understand, and I could try changing my explanations to be more student friendly. To do this, I put things in terms students would more easily understand. For example, after several practice opportunities, one student still had a hard time answering the question, “What is the author’s purpose?” To help that student, I reworded my question and said, “Can you give me one reason why the author may have written this story?” Sometimes, the academic language can be too complex for a first grader to comprehend, so I reworded the question. I then clarified that the student’s answer was called the author’s purpose. Likewise, if I see a student not paying attention, I may need to do something to increase engagement, such as offer more opportunities to participate, or the student may need to move around for a minute. In all these scenarios, I also need to assess whether the students are having difficulty because they do not understand what they are reading or have not yet mastered the literacy skills I am asking them to demonstrate. It could be that I need to provide more explicit instruction in the foundational skills that will help students read the text, in the vocabulary words used to communicate the ideas, or in the concepts involved in comprehending literary or informational text.

Another area I like to reflect on is my behavior management skills. I am always looking for new strategies I can use because good management means students spend more time on literacy tasks and teachers can focus more on their literacy instruction. Behavior management is difficult as a practicum student because I am only in the classroom for two hours a day. I may want to try a strategy I learn about in my college classes, but it is difficult for students to adhere to the strategy if I am not there all the time to practice and reinforce it. As a solution, I work closely with Mrs. Shive to learn from her management strategies and coordinate with her when I want to try something new. That way, students have the same expectations whether they are working with me or working with their teacher.

Overall, this practicum experience has allowed me to gain a better understanding of what I want my literacy instruction to be like when I am a teacher. Planning for and teaching small groups has made me realize how important it is to cater instruction to individual students. Not every student will learn in the same way, so finding ways to differentiate instruction will be important for me in my future classroom. Planning lessons that target what each student needs was difficult at first, but with much practice, I have the confidence to do it. This practicum experience also solidified my passion for teaching. I want to become a teacher because I love learning, and I love teaching because I can have an impact on other peoples’ learning experiences. Working with mentors such as Mrs. Shive, seeing the impact I made on students through my relationship with them, and reflecting on how I can better support students’ learning will lead me to become an effective teacher.

Editor’s Note: If Emily’s experience has inspired you to pursue a career in teaching, you can seek additional information from any of the teacher preparation programs in Iowa.