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Interview with Noel K. Jones, April 17, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Noel K. Jones, April 17, 2003
April 17, 2003
Dr. Noel K. Jones, associate professor in the department of curricular studies in the Watson School of Education, is retiring in June 2003. He came to UNCW in 1977. In his interview, Dr. Jones discusses his education and professional background before coming to UNCW. He discusses his philosophy of teaching and learning, and how it has evolved with his experience. He describes the Reading Recovery program, which he established at UNCW, and currently serves as University Trainer. (According to the Reading Recovery website, "Reading Recovery is a highly effective short-term intervention of one-on-one tutoring for low-achieving first graders.") Dr. Jones discusses the philosophy of Reading Recovery, his experiences teaching children and training teachers, and his travel associated with the program. Dr. Jones also comments on other issues facing American education, such as the teacher shortage.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Jones, Noel K. Interviewer: Lack, Adina Date of Interview: 4/17/2003 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 55 minutes

Riggins: Good afternoon. My name is Adina Riggins. I’m the archivist and special collections librarian here at UNCW. I’m here in the library with a very welcome guest, Dr. Noel Jones. Today is April 17, 2003, and we’re here to talk about Dr. Jones’ career and involvement at UNCW as well as in education in general.

Riggins: Dr. Jones, would you care to introduce yourself?

Jones: I call myself No-el Jones these days although I started out as Noel Jones. I’ve been here at UNCW since 1977. I’m not in the math department so I’m not going to venture how many years that is, but I think it’s about 26 years and I’m retiring this spring.

Riggins: I think I forgot to say which school you are in.

Jones: I’m in the School of Education in the Department of Curricular Studies, the department that does all the work out in the schools.

Riggins: I believe I haven’t talked to anyone in specialty studies yet. One of these days I will. We are very involved in a research and history project on the School of Education because of your move to a new building so we want to gather as much information as we can.

Jones: Unfortunately I won’t have an office in the new building, but I do hope to drop in and visit after it’s complete. We certainly look forward to that.

Riggins: Dr. Jones, can you please tell us where you were born and where you grew up?

Jones: Yes, I’m guess, like the gentleman with the checkered past you might say. I was born in South Dakota, raised through high school in Nebraska. I had a scholarship to come to the east coast and attend Harvard after that. I headed west at that point and went out to…actually I taught in Arizona for two years. I hadn’t planned to teach, I was a history major. Education came rather accidentally to me, the accident being that I couldn’t get a job doing anything else and hadn’t planned much further ahead.

I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but I hadn’t really started plans for that at that time so I took the lure of teaching on a cattle ranch in Arizona in a private prep school and taught there for two years. After another year of spending time in California looking around and doing odd things, I got into elementary teaching and got my certificate and got my degree. I got certification and so on.

I stayed teaching at the classroom level for nearly 14 years before I got a fellowship to go to Stanford for my Master’s degree. After Stanford, we left California, went for a year in northern Wisconsin and then went to Portland, Maine, where I was reading curriculum director for five years and decided I need to get a doctorate. So I went to Cornell and came down here from Cornell in 1977.

Meanwhile we bought a house in Maine while we were there. We were there for five years. We bought a house 100 miles away which didn't seem too practical at the time, but we’ve spent every summer at that house since that time and we’re going to go back this summer for the 30th year so I think we got our money’s worth.

Riggins: The house was 100 miles away from where you were working?

Jones: Right, it’s in the western mountains of Maine. It’s a small village and we really enjoy going back and forth in the summertime from here.

Riggins: Is it nearby water, a lake?

Jones: It’s near a lake. It’s in a village.

Riggins: It must be beautiful. So what is that like in the summers?

Jones: Well it’s a large house. It used to be the showplace of the village, the house of the last descendent of the family, a doctor. He built it into a three story Queen Anne house and then redecorated it as Victorian and it started going downhill after he died. It was used institutionally for some years before we bought it. So we bought it very cheaply.

When I win the lottery, we’re going to take it from eyesore to showplace after we get all that money. But it’s still a wonderful house, it’s a comfortable place. We have room for an office for me on the second floor. We have a library. We have a third floor playroom for the kids who come up and grew up there and just lots of features like that. So it’s really nice.

Riggins: What was your favorite place to live of all those places?

Jones: Well I liked California. When I was teaching in California, raising six children, we worked in the summertime in cooking or running a restaurant. Three different summers we went down to Big Sur to work which is a wonderful place to be. One summer we rented a restaurant up the ______ Canyon in California and another summer we went to Yellowstone in Wyoming so we’ve spent a lot of time running around the west.

Riggins: In the summers, your family would go and work in a restaurant, run a restaurant?

Jones: Yes or at Big Sur the last time, we farmed everybody out. Kids working here, there and so on, but it was a good way to spend the summers in those times. California got so populated and the political education scene sort of took a downturn when I finished my Master’s so we decided to leave the state at that time.

I’m not sorry we did. We like Maine, we like it very much. We also like North Carolina in many respects and find a lot of people dedicated to education in this state. There’s a real strong commitment to try to make education better for the entire population that I feel a strong commitment to personally myself.

Riggins: Yes, you’ve certainly been here a long time. You’re also in northern Wisconsin you said?

Jones: I was just for one year. Very snowy up there right now. I was an instructor at the University of Wisconsin Superior and actually taught in a lab school and they did a language arts course at the college at the same time. It was certainly a multifaceted role and had a classroom as well.

Riggins: And mainly were you working a school district?

Jones: In Portland, Maine, in the largest city in the state, I was reading curriculum director so I had a reading staff of consultants who worked directly with the schools and helped protect their job roles, defined their roles, worked on special projects and worked on their professional development and my own always throughout the time I was there.

Riggins: That was with the university?

Jones: No, that was with the public school system. So I was really in public schools for nearly 19 years before I went to Cornell. While I was at Cornell, I worked with the public schools for a year and a half during the time I was in residence at Cornell. Of course I’ve worked with schools down here in this region ever since as well. So I know a lot about public schools from teaching in them to supervising to consulting and so on and so forth.

Riggins: What was your specialty in the Ph.D. program?

Jones: I’ve always had a hard time deciding for a while. I went to Cornell from reading and was really interested in literacy and reading development. Cornell did not have a department in that; however, they had researchers in reading that I worked with. My committee chair, however, was in curriculum instruction, George Posner, a fairly well-known name in curriculum. So curriculum theory was one of my specializations and literacy was another.

At Cornell, there was a good opportunity to work in language and linguistics as well so I took as many courses in psychology of language, language development, discourse analysis and things of that kind as well. So I really have taught in the areas of curriculum and language development and literacy education here at UNCW and sort of spread time for quite a while among those three fields.

Riggins: That sounds really interesting, very important too. Did you come to Wilmington after finishing your Ph.D. or did you make a stop or two along the way?

Jones: No, I came here directly. I was looking for places I’d like to live who had a good commitment to education and I think that was why North Carolina caught my eye. I actually had applied in western Carolina and thought that sounded awfully good. I applied in Denver and a school in California, actually Pomona. I received offers from those other institutions.

Meanwhile I’d put in an application here because my wife said she could see waves lapping against the shore. So Wilmington was by far the most friendly and the most aggressive and most interesting university in trying to recruit me however. The others offered a job and wanted me to come, but they sort of left it at that.

Roy Harkin here really made an attempt to make a faculty feel like they were coming to a family and that impressed me greatly and I felt comfortable and I felt this would work with us with staying on the east coast. I could use the house in Maine and so on and so forth. It just felt like a comfortable thing to do. I liked the sound of the state’s involvement with education here and the committee to education so all of those played a role in my decisions.

Riggins: However, has that changed since then?

Jones: No really. There are problems in every state of course in the state interacting with school systems for education. Of course there are multiple problems in a state that began as a segregated system working its way into equality of educational opportunity for all students. We can’t back away from those challenges.

These days I’m thinking about teaching having an underlying theme of moral imperative. Anyone who teaches in the public schools needs to believe you’re doing it for purposes of helping people and you don’t help a population in education if you work only with the upper students or only part of the students. The only way this society is going to profit from education is by serving all the students and making the poor students better because that helps everyone. So the challenge is here and the means and the opportunity and support have been here so I feel it’s been a wise choice.

Riggins: Well that’s a good story and just to repeat again, you mentioned you came here in what year?


Riggins: So you came here in 1977. You mentioned Roy Harkin was dean at the time?

Jones: He was chair of the Department of Education in the school. When Roy came here, there were only five members on the faculty. All of them were still here when I came. Just about the time I came, very soon before I came, ______ and Jim Applefield had joined the faculty. The same year that I came Grace Burton and Marcie Steele, Dr. Marcie Steele joined the faculty. So we suddenly increased from five to ten and kept adding from that point.

The deanship occurred, I don’t know what the year was, but it was within three or four years of that time I believe.

Riggins: Right, it was pretty soon, I believe when Roy Harkin came, it was known that he would be dean and in the interim he’d be chair.

Jones: So the school split into two departments at that time, a rather unusual separation because usually curriculum instruction is one side and administration is on another, but we’ve done it in a somewhat different way, a way that I think so far has worked quite well for us but may need to be reconfigured as we deal and work into the 21st century and growth of the university, growth of the School of Education and more challenges.

Riggins: Right because the Department of Specialty Studies includes instructional technology.

Jones: It deals with administration, supervision which is in a sense affiliated with that, but it also includes our foundation courses, the introductory course to education and the instructional design courses which establish a base for thinking about methodology and so on and technology as you mentioned.

Secondary subjects are also in there which means when we talk about literacy, K-12, we really have to expand both departments in terms of personnel to deal with people who are knowledgeable about middle school or have an expertise in middle school and high school literacy. The same is true with most any subject. Mathematics is represented in the School of Education. We have middle school and elementary math, but high school math is dealt with out of the math department itself.

Riggins: What did you think…you mentioned when you first came and interviewed and all that you were very impressed with the friendliness of the department. What else did you observe about the school?

Jones: Well UNCW was quite small at that time. I think it was about 3600 students when I came. What was most shocking to me was the public schools. The teachers here had very little acquaintance with what was going on nationally in terms of educational currents. I mean there were certainly some very excellent teachers here that were plugged into things beyond the state.

As a rule, the teachers were pretty much very traditional in their notions. They were doing things that came pretty much out of the textbooks that they taught from and they had very little awareness of themes or currents beyond the region. It wasn’t until UNCW began graduate studies in education that I think that began to change. The UNCW graduate program has been a major factor I believe in increasing the horizons of teachers about what’s going on.

Of course that’s been part of a national scene of professional organizations, conferences and other things that naturally begin to impinge upon the local teachers as well. I credit the UNCW graduate program as having a significant role in all that as well.

Riggins: In helping the undergraduates as well?

Jones: Yes, undergraduate preparation has been quite strong here all along the way, but it has been heavily dependent on the teachers in the field. I mean everyone has known that student teachers tend to learn to teach from their mentors in the field. We tried to influence that in some strong ways and I think we have. We have a good reputation for producing teachers.

We have good selectivity in our enrollment. We continue to draw young teachers or young would-be teachers from a wide network much beyond our southeastern Carolina region. Although we still have a lot to do, I think we’ve done a very good job compared to other institutions overall.

Riggins: It sounds as though you have. When you came on board, were you expected to teach in a wide range of areas?

Jones: Well I did to begin with. I taught secondary reading for a year. I taught one of the foundation courses for a year or two, then moved into…we redid our reading courses to a reading and language arts course that I taught in the reading course and taught intermediate language arts for a number of years. I taught the curriculum course of the graduate program and I taught child language development. When we began a reading process course, I took that over and taught a reading process course.

When we redid the Master’s program, we combined language development and reading process into one course with a one hour seminar. I’ve been teaching that since that time. Our notions about presenting information to students at least at the graduate level began originally with the idea that they would take core courses followed by methods courses. But we have immerged into a view that we have to get our students engaged with children learning or learners I should say at the same time that we’re teaching theory.

So we try to combine opportunities for students to get engaged with learners in schools throughout the program and have projects that involve being in the schools or intense engagements with students. We’ve kind of restructured our course to go from a heavy concept load only followed by methods to an engagement with students and learning throughout the curriculum which I think has been a big help in they’re really changing them as learners as they go through our program.

Riggins: You mentioned that one think you’d like to touch on which I see is fitting in well now is what have you learned about teaching and learning over the years?

Jones: Well I hope it’s been a lot. I knew nothing when I started in a private school with no education background and made all kinds of mistakes. But everyone continues to make mistakes as you teach. It’s kind of hard to avoid them. One of problems of teaching is that people start out thinking that you teach what you know.

When I was at Harvard I sat in history courses where the instructor simply told us the history of whatever. Now these were major researchers and what they were telling us was their own research that they had done. One professor never used notes, he just lectured out of what he knew, but it was all memorization material.

However we were expected to synthesize on our own, write papers and exams that would synthesize ideas and see patterns and continue on later. It was hoped, I suppose, into researching the subjects ourselves. But Ph.D. programs don’t really prepare people or teach them how to take that knowledge and use it instructionally as an instructor yourself. So people come out of Ph.D. programs and telling students what you know.

Well that doesn’t work for teaching learners that don’t have an established learning mechanism when you get down to high schools, middle schools, elementary schools or lower. Particularly you have to know a great deal more than content in order to teach. You have to understand learners and how they think, how they develop. You have to understand sequences or possible sequences, potential sequences of organization material and be able to structure within those organizations.

You have to understand instruction which takes a great deal of time to learn to do especially for younger children. Instruction involves close observation of students and their responses as you go on. It involves different ways of presenting material. It involves reading the students to see if they need any more intensive demonstration or a less intensive demonstration than just prompting.

It involves the ability to design assignments of a variety of kinds and ways and ways to assess not only during instruction, but post-instruction to get valid information on what’s going on. It’s taken a number of years to really get good at that sort of thing.

Riggins: That’s amazing. It’s true so you have to constantly be watching and evaluating because they won’t tell you. Students won’t tell you well if they’re very young because they have different ways…

Jones: Right, of course when they’re real young, they do, which makes it a wonderful time to learn to teach, although it’s difficult because you have to make many more adjustments. You get a better sense of what’s going on in the child’s head when you’re teaching very young children. High school children try to disguise what they feel or think or know.

Another thing I’ve learned about teaching is that there’s no such thing as cognitive development without emotional and affective development. I think our schools have really missed that point for years. In fact when I was at Stanford in my Master’s program, we introduced the cognitive skills and affective skills and psychomotor skills as if those were separate components and that you taught differently for each one.

Now I know that you have to be very concerned about the context of learning for every learner. If the context is not emotionally supportive, the cognitive learning cannot be either activated or go on appropriately and so on. It involves the whole child in a way that many people talk about, but don’t fully recognize in how they need to teach.

I probably taught from a transmission model when I began. In other words I was telling people what I knew about certain subjects or at least it was often common to fall into that kind of trap. Of course teaching in public classrooms for years, I did design lots of activities where students would engage with materials, but you can’t do quite the same things with university students so you tend to do things that tend to be more telling, teaching by telling.

However the more I became engaged with students, the more I began to start to change that. In the 1990-91 time, I had an opportunity to specialize in literacy which has really affected my teaching even more. I went away to be trained as a trainer for the reading recovery program and have worked in reading recovery for the time since then which has been another 14 years I believe.

Reading recovery is an international program, an intervention for children early in their school career during their first grade, taking the children who are having the greatest difficulty getting started as learners and giving them a very strong intervention for short term. The idea is to accelerate the learning for those children so that they catch up with the other children in their class and are then capable of being classroom learners from then on without special major accommodation or support beyond that point.

Of course nothing works for all children, but reading recovery success has been far superior to almost anything else anyone else has tried for the lowest quartile or quintile of students with whom we work. Reading recovery over this time in the United States has served over a million children and the results have shown that when you talk about every child that we’ve served, and sometimes we had children for just a very short time. Then they move away or the end of the year comes or so on.

Sixty percent of those children have actually been brought up to an average performance so that they can go on and learn in classroom situations. When you take the children that have had an opportunity for the full treatment, at least what we would call an adequate treatment, it’s been 80 percent of those children. Those are the children from the very bottom without any exclusions for what you might suspect to be learning disabilities or other special education needs.

What we find is that reading recovery is a wonderful pre-intervention for children and it really separates out the ones that need to be referred for special long term learning assistance versus those who can accelerate and move up to be supported in classrooms. Now that doesn’t mean that they’re past any risk of vulnerability. I mean many of these children have come from homes that don’t supply good literacy models or a good support for literacy or just all kinds of risks of vulnerability.

I don’t want to disparage parents of poor children. They do want their children to learn to read and when you ask them to support children, they do that almost invariably, not always, but almost invariably. One example is a child that was served here by a teacher leader who was in training, a beautiful, brilliant young boy that accelerated.

I actually was the one that tested him to say that he had successfully completed the program. He died on Dawson Street in a random drug shooting at age 9 or 10. So the vulnerability is extreme as you know for many young children.

Riggins: Was he the one who a few years back, the Carter…

Jones: Yes, it was in the news. Very, very sad for everyone, but for those of us who had been engaged with him at all, it was particularly depressing. But reading recovery has taught me a great deal more about teaching. One of the nice things about reading recovery is that everyone who’s engaged with this program continues to teach children.

So even though my responsibility is a trainer of what we call teacher leaders, I continue to teach one or sometimes two children at a time in a public school or wherever I can teach them as often as I can through the year. This year I’m working with my third child in succession. I finished one before Thanksgiving and am just about to finish with another and I’ve started a third. I get to see them for half hour lessons.

Riggins: And it’s at the university?

Jones: No, I see them at a school near the university. The school staff is very accommodating and likes to have the help of course and have been very supportive and very friendly. One of the things we do in learning to teach in reading recovery is to bring children to an observation facility.

A teacher is behind a one way screen with a child and the rest of the class is outside looking through that screen, listening to the lesson, watching the lesson and the child doesn’t know he’s being observed. They suspect things at times, but they don’t really know. The real learning occurs on the outside of the glass with someone leading those teachers to discuss what they see and talk about teaching and learning as it goes.

Riggins: And discussing how to respond in situations like this and how to help that child.

Jones: Right, so for 14 years I’ve been involved in discussions about children and their acquisition of literacy and reading many of the same books over and over and over which one would think would get terribly boring. I know them by heart, but what’s fascinating is the children’s learning processes.

Each child is unique. Every combination of things that supports him as a learner or impedes him as a learner is sort of a slightly different combination from anyone else. What works is the very contingent teaching that you do for that child. You get to know what he knows. You get to prompt him on the basis of what he knows and you then decide whether you need to move into demonstrate something he doesn’t know or to simply prompt him to use what he knows.

You’re sort of a coach sitting beside him as he reads a lot of books and writes messages. Then you do some very direct teaching at times within that framework.

Riggins: You mentioned this is an intensive short term program?

Jones: Yes it is.

Riggins: How long is a child enrolled?

Jones: Well we start as early as we can in the year and teach the first round of children for as long as 20 weeks. Hopefully some come out even before that time. Then we test those children at midyear or the just passed year and take in a second round. Those children have less time so they only have 15 weeks or so, 12 to 20 weeks is the time the children have in the program.

We have some children that start to make this acceleration a little later on and need more time. So we’re always trying to figure out how we can maximize and optimize the learning time that we have or the teaching time I should say as well for the school. What we find is that in any program of studies that you arrange for young children to learn to read, there’s going to be a percentage that does not do well.

The usual estimation is 80% can learn under almost any conditions and 20% will have difficulty learning under most any conditions. So we work with the bottom 15% to 20% or more. In some schools, those figures become extremely high. One of the things that’s really unfortunate these days is that there has been a return to de facto segregation in many schools. It isn’t necessarily the ethnic or racial segregation that’s so bad, but it tends to be the same as socioeconomic segregation.

So what you’re ending up with is schools like Charlotte where the lowest performing children are centered in six or seven schools. All the students are from very poor families with poor support and the living conditions they come from are not conducive to learning and study outside of school and so on. So it becomes extremely difficult to help such children.

We have had the opportunity in reading recovery to continue professional development throughout my tenure. Another thing about reading recovery that makes it really interesting is that everyone in the program, not only does everyone teach children, but everyone is in continuous professional development. What the program is all about is teacher development, professional development, learning more about teaching and becoming better at it.

We don’t sell anything, but what we do do is the leaders who want to train go back to their district and actually become the people who deliver a graduate course to their teachers for a year long six hours of credit. This of course is affiliated with the university which gives graduate credit and the university person becomes the professor of record, but is the person who has a Master’s degree plus 20 units who is actually delivering that course.

Now those teacher leaders in the North Carolina and a group in Virginia also continually engage with me in professional development. Some of them have been doing that for 11 years now. So we spend at least four days a year in professional development time with those folks every year. Meanwhile I go to meetings nationally of all the trainers and for every three years international meetings where we interact with major theorists in language development, curriculum development, learning development and so forth. It’s been an exciting time and a very stimulating time educationally.

Riggins: That’s wonderful. Is this a federally funded program?

Jones: It utilizes federal funding at the school level, yes, but the funding at the university levels has been actually the training fees that we generate primarily, although some universities have gotten grants from foundations to help support what they do or support research that we’ve done. Reading recovery is based upon a very strong research base and strong theory.

There’s also a group of people who have resented reading recovery or felt that perhaps it can’t work that well so there is research that wants to pay reading recovery in a negative light. This is not too hard to do when what you’re doing is achieving what is possible by working very hard. In those cases, there are systems which don’t implement the program as it was intended and have what we call poor implementation, get fairly poor results and become easy to portray and research study is not working very well.

There’s a tremendous amount of evidence to show that reading recovery not only does accelerate these first graders, but their results do hold up into the third and fourth grade. Most of the systems in North Carolina are showing that these children are passing the third and fourth grade achievement tests two and three years later and doing well in school.

It works better, much better when you have classrooms that support these children from then on, you know. There’s a very positive benefit for many of these children that has actually turned around their whole orientation to school, their ability to learn and in many cases, even their life prospects.

One of our stars is a young man in Ohio who is just about to graduate from law school that was written up in the Reading Teacher when he was young back in 1990-91 as a reading recovery student and the difficulties he had learning, but now he’s graduating from law school and surviving the conditions that have caused so many of his own friends and family to succumb to drugs and things of that kind. It’s interesting to see events like that occur.

Riggins: How much time do these children spend in reading recovery activities?

Jones: It’s a 30 minute session per day and we do take them out of the classroom for that 30 minutes time. We have a format of lessons that we follow, but every lesson is very individualized for that child because the lesson features we utilize are what we call activities with high scope.

In other words, the child rereads familiar books, books he’s read before, but there’s a wide choice he has to choose from and the teacher can narrow that choice as she needs to to work on fluency or work on comprehension or work on word analysis skills at a high level or something of that kind. So each activity has a range of potential. One of the activities is writing. The child generates and creates a story and works with the teacher to learn how to write that down. To start with they may be very simple stories, but by the time they’re finished we expect them to write two or three sentences and to do it almost all independently.

The format is the same pretty much for almost all children, but the lessons are quite individualized. It’s 30 minutes of high engagement activity, fast paced and very upbeat for the children. They like it almost all the time. We try to keep it easy for them so they feel I can do this. That makes all the difference.

Riggins: That’s great, that’s interesting. Who will be doing this after you retire?

Jones: Well that’s a very good question. I’m really very pleased that the university has chosen to continue as a university training center for reading recovery. There’s only 23 universities in this country that have that rule. Some of them are centers that have a collection of people working there such as Ohio State University, Texas University or New York University. Many of the others are places that have a single trainer working on the program such as Kansas, South Dakota and several others.

UNCW has decided to hire a person for my replacement and we’ve hired Dr. Barbara Honchell. Before I finish my tenure here, she was hired this January and has been working with me in the reading recovery classes as well as teaching two undergraduate classes on her own. She will be in training next year away from the university and supported by the university during that time. The extra training costs we’re getting through a grant from the reading recovery counsel and she’ll continue on as trainer then from that point.

Riggins: She’s new to the faculty as well.

Jones: She is; however, she had worked here back in the late 80’s, ’89, she was still here in 1992 I believe. As a matter of fact, she took the teacher leader training when I first came back from Ohio State. I trained her as a teacher leader while she was still working as the ____ director and she worked as a teacher leader then in Moore County for several years doing an excellent job.

Then she got her doctorate through Chapel Hill and became a reading specialist with the State Department of Education. So she has the background within the state, the background in reading recovery and knowledge of any of the school systems around the state to draw upon as well as some acquaintance with UNCW.

So it makes me feel good that the university has chosen to support reading recovery as an operation. One of the reasons they’ve done so has been to see the benefits to the university program itself and I think there have been several and will be more as we continue. For one thing, reading recovery puts a lot of emphasis on training teachers to observe children and I have used…I trained my students when I taught the reading course in the observation survey _____ plays instrument for observing young leaders, children at the beginning of literacy.

The idea is to have children read something and write something the best they can to see what they can do in reading and writing. It also explores all of the aspects, all of the things that would go into reading and writing skills such as letter knowledge, letter sound knowledge with the ability to read words in isolation, their understanding of concepts of print and things like that.

North Carolina has developed a K2 assessment profile which is similar to that observation style so we are doing more training for our undergraduates now in both K2 assessment or in observation survey. So they know how to look at children’s performance and read it not as what the child knows and doesn’t know, but in terms of strengths, partial knowledge and beginning knowledge as well.

For example, you can look at a letter, how a child responds to a single thing like identifying letters and find out which one he partially knows or which ones he confuses or which ones he has to search his memory for versus those that are known automatically and quickly. Training our students to see those kinds of differences is very valuable.

We also are teaching our students to learn how to make instructional moves for students that are consistent with what we do in reading recovery. When you coach a child to read, you do him no favors by just telling him all the words he doesn’t know, nor do you do him a favor by telling him to sit there and try to sound it out when he doesn’t know how to do that for example. So there are various ways to help a child to learn to solve words without doing the work for him and we’ve worked that into our reading curriculum.

Another thing that students need to know which reading recovery has contributed is a sense of a gradient of text difficulty in very fine steps for children who are beginning this process of learning to read. What we found out is that children learn a lot from the text that they read. They learn a lot about the language structures. They learn about how sentences are divided into words. They learn a lot about how words represent the language and so on.

If you simplify that for them, it’s become quite popular these days to do what we call decodable text, to write text for children that utilizes just the elements that they’re learning to decode like Dan, can, fan, man or nip, hit, pin, with a bip or something like that, but they don’t learn about language from that. They learn only what you present. What we find is that with careful coaching, children learn a way to learn so that they learn more than we teach them by engaging with richer language as they go.

So teaching our children how to make assessments of texts and see what’s difficult, what’s easy for children has been part of what we do. We teach them to observe children reading and take notes on how they read and interpret those notes to see what strategies the children are learning. Teaching our students how to teach children to be strategic learners so that the children begin to have a sense of monitoring their own reading or their comprehension, you know.

One thing we find is with older readers is that children in the middle school and high school can read the text, but they have no idea of what they’re reading. They’re not monitoring and having that sense that this is not making sense, therefore I need to stop and do something about it, nor do they know exactly what to do. So even from early on, we want children to be thinking of monitoring their comprehension as well as monitoring their word recognition and monitoring the language structures they’re creating as they read, as they go.

So all of those notions are things we are introducing into the reading and language programs both at the undergraduate and graduate level. This semester I’m teaching a course called tutoring the problem reader. These graduate students are from kindergarten to high school teachers and each of them is assigned to work with students for at least 20 hours during the semester and they much bring them to the university and teach them behind the one way screen so the rest of us can observe and talk about what’s going on.

It’s been a fascinating process because we’ve seen children from 5 to 15 behind the glass this semester. A 15-year-old struggling reader that’s reading no better than a mid-year first grader for example. All the different patterns of responding and children who are reading with that same profile of word calling with no comprehension and suggesting things to try to them and watching what happens and so on. It’s been very instructive for all of us. The observation technique has been very helpful.

Riggins: Is that part of the language and literacy graduate program?

Jones: It is, yes. One thing that we’ve done with reading recovery here is instead of my being just simply a separate professor, separate from the rest of the program, I have always taught my theory class with the reading and recovery folks as a graduate course with other graduate students enrolled so the affiliation between students with different focuses and expertise has been very helpful to our graduate students themselves.

It’s been helpful for the teacher leaders in training to watch other teachers take on new concepts and theories and struggle with that as they go. It’s been useful both ways. But I’ve also taught, when I’m not training teacher leaders, I teach an undergraduate course. It’s not easy to make that switch because our undergraduates have very different expectations when they come to the School of Education.

They’re still wanting to learn by a very structured method. They want to know exactly what to know and they want to know how many points they’re going to get for it. They want to know what to study when they take the exam. So when you give them activities that cause them to reflect and think and try to discuss and explain what they know, it’s not as easy for them.

Riggins: Yes, it throws them off.

Jones: But it’s important for them to make those switches in order to become teachers. We continually work with that within the whole school.

Riggins: You mentioned the teacher leaders. Do they all have graduate degrees by the time they qualify for that?

Jones: They must have a Master’s degree coming in and then they take 18 hours of work beyond the Master’s degree.

Riggins: Do they get bonuses from their school district or reduced teaching load or something?

Jones: That depends. They should be released to be teacher leaders, but they have to teach children themselves. The first year or two out from here, they teach four children themselves just as any reading recovery teacher does. I need to explain. Reading recovery teachers work only half day usually in reading recovery. So they teach four children individually for the first half of the year and four more the second half of the year. They get to at least eight children individually, sometimes some of them get to 12.

Meanwhile they’re using the rest of their day teaching small groups of children or going into classrooms and working with groups within classes and so on. So they really see as many children as a classroom teacher if not more. Many of them have become leaders in their own schools as literacy facilitators and providing professional development for teachers with their own peers and colleagues. It has enriched the school with understanding of teaching and learning in ways that can be capitalized in powerful ways by systems that know how to use that knowledge.

Riggins: Did other UNCW faculty get involved with this program?

Jones: No, none of them have been trained in reading recovery. They’ve all been interested. They’ve come and watched lessons. Paz Bartolome and ______ Hayes went with me to Ohio State when we investigated the program as a matter of fact. We were all trapped in the same blizzard when we got there (laughter). They’ve listened and they’ve shown students how to do things like learning records in their classes, but they have not done the same kind of work with children.

Riggins: Just talk a little bit about in the state, you mentioned earlier graduate education. Are the teachers in North Carolina encouraged to get graduate degrees?

Jones: The situation has changed. Within the current legislation, no child left behind has been promoted by the Bush administration, it’s going to require what they call high quality teachers in every classroom. Now it’s going to be very difficult to meet the challenge with the same challenge of teacher shortage that we have, that we’re now undergoing.

But the no child left behind legislation means that every teacher in order to be recertified must complete 30 hours of graduate work in reading methods. So the ones that are doing reading recovery are getting that kind of training in their initial training and we continue that in professional development for those folks. As a matter of fact, the professional development consists of continuing to teach behind the glass and talk about children’s learning issues at a deeper level as we go. When I say deeper level, I mean dealing with children who are the hardest to teach and different issues of teaching and learning and so on.

All teachers within the state, even those that teach content subjects in the middle grades, are going to be required to meet this requirement of a highly qualified teacher with some graduate study. So there’s going to be an increasing demand for graduate education and professional development in the area of reading. Many of the teacher leaders around the state will be suppliers of that education for folks. Even some of the reading recovery teachers will.

Reading faculty at almost every institution in this state will also be called upon I’m sure. So that will be a flurry of activity. It is difficult to insist on these things though and retain teachers in the field. One of the things that was quite interesting just this last trip that I made for professional development to meet with Michael Fullen and hear him talk about what needs to be done for teacher retention and so on.

He says that we pay attention to things like teacher professional development, high standards, even salaries in some cases, but the one thing that we haven’t really attended to are the contexts in which teachers teach, the conditions under which they teach. That, he says, is the reason that teachers leave the profession so quickly, because the conditions in which they enter the profession are abominable for so many.

Riggins: Such as support?

Jones: Well all kinds of things. When I began teaching public school, I was the new teacher on the block and of course I was given the low group of kids. They were a real nice group of kids. I had a real nice induction with that class except for Eddie. I don’t want to talk about Eddie. But most of those kids were really very enjoyable to work with. They didn't learn very well and probably some that didn't learn very much. But that’s what beginning teachers get. They get the poorest teaching conditions usually.

The mentoring that they get in many cases these days, I should say in a few cases or some cases, has been exemplary because our state has tried to develop a mentor program that inducts people into the profession well. Unfortunately that doesn’t work well in probably the majority of the cases and it’s mentoring in name only. It works well in good schools. It works very poorly in poor schools. No one is taking the time to go into schools and make sure that those conditions for good teaching exist.

One of the things teachers need is time for professional development and reflection of learning on their own. I mean it’s extremely difficult to be in contact with children six and a half hours a day and put on top of that contact with them on the playground and the cafeteria and so on and expect thoughtful reflective teaching. What you do is you go home and try to forget what’s happened during the day. That’s what happened to me when I was a beginning teacher.

You don’t learn that way. You don’t feel good about what you’re doing that way. The stress becomes so powerful that people just want to get away from it. Of course the standards that are being imposed on young teachers puts a lot of pressure on them to do well. When the conditions are not good, it becomes something they’d just as soon get away from. We’ve got to pay attention to that type of thing. We’ve got wonderful young people going into the profession and we need them badly and we’ve got to keep them there by attention to things like conditions for teaching as they go and so on.

Riggins: It sounds like a wise suggestion.

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