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Published: April 2, 2019 Author: Tony Meale

Three members of The Patton College of Education – Drs. Theda Gibbs-Grey, Sara Helfrich, and Julie Barnhart Francis – served as co-investigators for a Southeast Ohio Teacher Development Collaborative (SEOTDC) research study, “Impacting 3rd Grade Students’ Reading Achievement: Exploring the Relationship Between Mentor Teachers, Professional Interns & Students Within the Clinical Model of Teacher Preparation.”

The SEOTDC is a partnership among five teacher preparation programs in Southeast Ohio: Ohio University, Marietta College, Muskingum University, University of Rio Grande, and Shawnee State University. Established in 2007, it seeks to improve teacher preparation through the clinical model of education and partnerships with local schools.

The SEOTDC received $50,000 to help fund this study, for which Patton College Dean Renée A. Middleton served as project director.

“Over the years, the SEOTDC has developed a number of initiatives that support professional development for interns, mentor teachers, and local school partner staff,” said Middleton. “This study served to uphold that mission, and I am proud of Dr. Gibbs-Grey, Dr. Helfrich, Dr. Francis, and all who contributed.”

Gibbs-Grey is an assistant professor in Teacher Education, Helfrich is an associate professor in Teacher Education, and Francis is director of the Stevens Literacy Center, which promotes literacy across the lifespan. They partnered with the University of Rio Grande, which is implementing the clinical model of education, and worked with 26 mentor teachers and professional interns across 10 schools to study their impact on 3rd grade reading achievement.

“Our purpose was to examine how the clinical model of teacher preparation, and more specifically, how professional interns influence 3rd grade students’ literacy performance,” said Gibbs-Grey. “This study was important given the small amount of research that exists in this area and specifically highlights how clinical models of teaching support elementary reading development.”

As part of the study, which began in fall 2017 and ended in spring 2018, the research team interviewed mentor teachers and interns in their classrooms, observed mentor teacher and interns working collaboratively, and administered the Teacher Sense of Efficacy for Literacy Instruction (TSELI) survey to interns, among other duties. The TSELI survey is a 22-item questionnaire designed to measure teachers’ sense of efficacy for literacy instruction.

Graduate student Samantha Goble assisted with interviews and administering the survey.

"This research allowed us to see firsthand what was happening in the classroom between students, professional interns, and mentor teachers,” said Helfrich, “and understand better the important relationship that exists between all of these individuals.

Throughout the study, mentor teachers and interns explored various co-teaching exercises to improve student literacy. They conducted observations to gather information about students’ individualized needs and taught in small reading groups of four to five students to provide individualized reading support. In fact, the mentor teacher or intern would teach the larger group while the other worked simultaneously with individual students.

“This type of all-hands-on-deck approach makes an enormous difference for students,” said Barnhart. “With more individual attention, students have a better chance of improving language and literacy development.”

During whole- and small-group instruction, interns supported students’ ability to recall information, question text, find evidence from text, and develop contextual-analysis skills to understand key vocabulary, among other skills. Mentor teachers benefited from the extra help, as did their students.

“(It) really gives us the opportunity to work in a small group,” said one mentor teacher in the study. “(Without an intern), I had 12 to 18 kids that I needed to intervene with, but (I was) working with them for either 15 minutes or once a week, depending on how I could get it done. (With) an intern, I just find that I have more time (to help individual students).” 

The research led to three major findings: (1) the clinical model is effectively supporting interns’ self-efficacy to support elementary reading development; (2) the clinical model supports multiple forms of co-teaching that strengthen interns’ reading and teaching practice; and (3) the co-teaching model supports more individualized reading support for third grade students, which is critical as they prepare to take a state-mandated test that determines grade progression.

“I always prefer to have interns in the spring because we have the state test,” said another mentor teacher in the study, “and when I have another adult in the room, I (can) really intervene (and work with individual students).”

Third Frontier provided funding for the study. Administered by the state of Ohio, Third Frontier collaborates with businesses to support innovative and technology-related projects, but also works with the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE).

With this portion of the research completed, Gibbs-Grey, Helfrich, and Barnhart are studying the extent to which The Patton College teacher candidates can improve student literacy through one-on-one work. 

“Through our observations, interviews, and later analysis of the data, we have a better understanding of the reciprocal relationship between mentor teachers and professional interns and how this positively impacts both students and professional interns’ learning,” said Helfrich. “This work has informed our own instruction and program development, and through future dissemination efforts, we hope to share our data in an effort to inform the larger field of educators focused on student literacy development and teacher education.”

Sara Helfrich

Photo courtesy of: Ohio UniversityDr. Sara Helfrich, associate professor in Teacher Education

Julie Francis

Photographer: Gabe HannahsDr. Julie Francis, director of the Stevens Literacy Center