By Mitchell Krugel
Cynthia Hochstaedt gathered around a table with five teacher colleagues to diagnose and discuss what could help a student in her first-grade class at Fairmount Elementary School in Hackensack feel the need to read. The other teachers started firing questions, which led to a scientific analysis of the student’s reading abilities which led to a strategy for growing literacy skills.
Professional Development workshops or Continuing Education seminars might provide such an opportunity. Perhaps an in-service day might, too.
But Hochstaedt was actually in class at Fairleigh Dickinson University as part of pursuing her Master’s for Certified Teachers Literacy/Reading Specialist, a program that highlights the joy of teaching reading. And the round-table discussion is an example of how the program reflects what’s going on in the classroom where teachers are working on developing the literacy skills students need to become successful lifelong learners.
“It’s 100-percent relevant to what you are doing in your own classroom,” said Hochstaedt, who just finished her thesis and will get her master’s degree this spring. “I’m not just getting something my professor is printing off the internet. You’re really helping students grow, and you have five other teachers helping them as well.”
Hochstaedt is here in the Certified Teachers Literacy Program not only to help her students, but help all students. She might use the master’s to become a district-wide reading specialist or reading interventionist.
Ann Marie Spiegel, a fourth-grade teacher at Cherry Hill Elementary School in River Edge, is here at FDU to get a read on the present. Spiegel is building up her approach to get fourth graders engaged in reading, following six years of focusing on developing reading muscles for third-graders. She would like to do the same at one more grade level to impact as many learners as possible. And teachers.
“In January, I taught a class for teachers in my district,” Spiegel shares. “It was two hours every day after school, and it was so great to see them implement what you have learned works in the classroom and affect the many more students.”
The primary motivation for certification appears to be moving to a supervisory position, and there are many disciples of noted FDU professor Dr. Leslie Meskin, the Certified Teachers Literacy/Reading Specialist program coordinator, across New Jersey in such roles affecting so many students. But there is also something personal for teachers taking on in this cutting-edge education.
Spiegel embarked on challenge in 2012 as a path to helping struggling readers, especially those with dyslexia. Like her brother. “My mother told me to make sure you know how to teach a dyslexic child,” she explains. “There are so many struggling readers that are discouraged, and there aren’t enough teachers out there to help kids that have difficulty with reading.”
Hochstaedt says she was not a voracious reader growing up, and even a struggling reader when she was young. A high school English teacher sparked her love for literacy, which she appears to be intent on paying forward.
“I have been able to learn why reading was tricky for me and what I can do to make sure my students don’t struggle,” she says of her certification motivation.
Hochstaedt decided to write her master’s thesis about the phonics component of reading as a result of learning through the FDU program about the code among the alphabet: the relationships letters have with each other; the sounds they make; and how decoding that can really help initial readers.
What drew Hochstaedt to FDU were the smaller class sizes and the emphasis on how to diagnose reading problems. One of her most memorable learning events has been how to use assessments to measure growth and formulate instruction.
Spiegel adds that incorporating technology into reading and helping readers learn through venues like “Newslea” that has the same articles about current events prepped for different levels has been a great benefit of the Literacy/Reading Specialist curriculum. She also noted a class that offered a chance to design webquests to engage learners.
“If you’re not engaged, you’re not going to read, and if you’re not going to read, you’re not going to learn,” Spiegel recites. “My time at FDU has definitely shaped that mindset.”
Shaping the minds of young readers certainly is the objective of this program, which is one of many vaunted undergrad, graduate and professional development opportunities at FDU’s Peter Sammartino School of Education. So here is the shape of things to come from two masters about to have a profound impact on the need to read:
“Reading is like running a marathon,” Spiegel expounds. “If I practice running, I will be better. But you have to go at your own pace. So we must center activities to get students engaged in different types of reading.”
Hochstaedt concurs that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
“You have to have the passion,” she mentions especially with regard to teaching new readers. “It’s a big deal. I am responsible for getting them ready for life as a student, for their job as a student the next 12 years. You have to have the passion to teach the basic foundations of reading that will make them lifelong learners. We constantly must find a better way to instruct something that is considered to be unbelievably important.”