january 17, 2003


Letters From the Classroom: NSU Changing the Way Future Teachers “Read” Students

NSU StudentsThe room was filled with nervous energy, pizza and board games as Northeastern State University education students got to know their Muskogee High School pen pals. For 16 weeks NSU juniors and seniors corresponded with students from Michelle McGee’s ninth-grade class as part of Dr. Debra Smith’s READ 4043 class.

Titled “Content Literacy K-8," READ 4043 introduces NSU education majors to classroom techniques for helping children K-8 use reading and writing to gain knowledge in those subject areas. The pen pal project with the Muskogee High School allows early childhood and elementary education majors an opportunity to gain experience with older students.

“It’s about accepting kids for who they are,” said Smith. “It gives them the authentic voice of the student. We (as professors) can only tell them so much.”

A 2001 NSU secondary education graduate, McGee was eager to join forces with Smith for the pen pal portion of her class. According to McGee, the correspondence complemented her newly revamped English curriculum, which encourages students’ taking an active role in their topics.

“We’re not doing the typical workbook, worksheet English,” said McGee. “The students are picking what they read and write about, subjects that interest them.”

A Different Kind of Mentoring. Through their bimonthly letters, McGee’s students had the opportunity to share their book reviews, hobbies and even their advice on what makes a good teacher. In return, Smith’s upper-level education majors shared their hobbies and their opinions on the same selections.

Malcolm Lee, a 14-year-old student who participated in the program, had some insightful advice to give his pen pal, NSU senior Dawn Bowman. “I told her not to be harsh on kids,” Lee said. “You know...not to give up on them.”

Bowman said she learned to see students as individuals, not labels. “It’s about getting to know them,” she said.

The pen pal exercise also awakened discussions about multiculturalism in the classroom. An admittedly conservative individual, NSU junior Marissa Morris learned much from her Gothic-style pen pal. According to Morris, the exercise has helped her rethink her teaching style. “Kids come from all different backgrounds,” she said. “I’ve learned my philosophies are going to have to change. There’s not one lesson for all.”

Though it was the first year to introduce the pen pal portion, Smith hopes to include it as a regular addition to the class. Students in her class have previously worked with after school programs. One of Oklahoma’s leading universities, Northeastern State University offers 76 degree programs and 14 pre-professional studies and the doctorate of optometry degree on three campuses. For more information on Northeastern visit the University website at www.nsuok.edu.

Jennifer Zehnder, Media Relations Coordinator, 918.456.5511, x 2851