Education professor staying on cutting edge through higher ed collaborative

PLAINVIEW – The way Patricia Herman sees it, her involvement in the Texas Higher Education Collaborative is a win-win situation.

She wins by being able to learn the newest teaching techniques from experts in the field. But the biggest win is for the education students at Wayland Baptist University, who benefit by taking those new techniques into their own classrooms.

Herman is professor of education at Wayland and serves at the coordinator of the university’s teacher certification testing. In that role, she teaches a course that includes a licensing review and other information needed to become a teacher in the state of Texas.

Her other role, of course, is as teacher and mentor to students who will eventually graduate and pursue teaching jobs. The information gleaned from participating in the collaborative benefit these students the most.

“The aim of the collaborative is that by keeping our knowledge base on the cutting edge, we’ll be able to pass that along to our students,” Herman said. “They’re really trying to impact practices in very real ways.”

The collaborative is a group of professors and practitioners from around the state who gather about five times annually for intensive meetings and information sessions, all aimed at developing scientifically-based language arts and reading teaching techniques.

According to Herman, the collaborative is coordinated by the University of Texas at Austin, who received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to fund the project. The idea stemmed from the “No Child Left Behind” federal initiative which requires public primary and secondary schools to prove that they are performing to the highest standards in passing on basic skills to students.

Collaborative members are required to submit syllabi from their courses that reflect incorporation of the new knowledge into their teaching, and collaborative organizers make visits to observe professors in the classroom setting.

Herman said she is also required to visit an online “chat room” to discuss issues with other collaborative members, and surveys are sent to her students. A stipend is provided at the end of the year to participants who fulfill all the requirements of the program.

While Herman said she’s benefited greatly from information on topics such as dyslexia, English for speakers of other languages and assessing early literacy, she notes that the collaborative is also an interactive group where she’s been able to contribute her own expertise. At the May 2004 meeting, she led a discussion group on vocabulary acquisition, the topic of her doctoral dissertation and an area of great interest.

She said collaborative members can also suggest topics on which they need information and drive future meeting emphases. While there, participants receive many resources that can be used back on their home campuses.

“I come back from these meetings with all these materials and sometimes it’s overwhelming because there is so much. But this has given me a menu of materials from which to choose in the classroom with my own students,” Herman said. “In my Early Literacy and Phonics class this fall, I was able to incorporate the Teacher Reading Academy materials I received.”

“It’s really a question of how we get the things we know work out to the people who need it,” she said. “Texas really is on the cutting edge with this stuff; we’re pretty sharp here. If we can just use this to help these kids learn to read, it’ll be a success.”