Future elementary teachers find good ideas within interventions

Courtney Rieb explains her project during the Student Research Symposium.
Courtney Rieb explains her project
during the Student Research Symposium.

Courtney Rieb could not help but notice the boy.

“He was frequently off-task,” says Rieb, a junior Elementary Education major from Antioch. “He was trying to talk to his friends, or taking laps around the classroom. I identified him as needing some help.”

The first-grader, a student in the classroom where Rieb completed a clinical placement during her first professional seminar, inspired Rieb to develop and deliver an intervention.

And she had help – from the young boy himself.

“I wanted to help him self-manage his behavior. I worked with him to come up with some goals for what it would look like for him to be on task, to keep his ‘eyes on the prize.’ Classroom rules. Doing homework. Being a model for his peers,” she says.

“We put that on a chart,” she adds, “and we used that along with a timer to check his behavior every time the timer would go off, which was every minute on the minute for 10 minutes.”

Rieb turned her work with the boy into a research project, one she shared not only at the April 18 Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day but at the College of Education’s Student Research Symposium two days later.

Eight students joined her in poster presentations.

Annie Malecki and Bill Pitney
Annie Malecki and Bill Pitney

Annie Malecki, of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE), took the undergraduate award for Outstanding Poster Presentation. Sharif Shahadat, of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA), won the graduate-level award.

Other presenters included Dalal Alfageth, Kylie Cousins, Rania Kokandy, Alexandria Patinka, Addison Pond, Kathryn E. Rupp (a master’s student from the NIU Department of Psychology) and Steven Smart.

Graduate students Joshua Pak and Wilson Hernandez Parraci, from KNPE and ETRA respectively, gave table talks.

Bill Pitney, associate dean for Research, Resources and Innovation, calls this year’s symposium “an excellent display of what is possible in every academic program.”

“Students presented studies from didactic and clinical classes as well as extracurricular engagement. I was very proud to see the expertise and effort that went into their work,” Pitney says.

“Engaging students in the process of research builds their capacity to think critically and creatively. Having them disseminate the findings of a study enhances their ability to communicate,” he adds. “These skills will transfer into their professional lives and set them apart from other graduates.”

For Rieb and Patinka, a junior Elementary Education major from St. Charles, their research projects showed what “their passion to better understand kids with disabilities who will likely be in their general education classrooms in the future.”

Natalie Andzik presents at the Student Research Sypoisum.
Natalie Andzik discusses “Research to Practice”
at the Student Research Symposium.

So says Natalie Andzik, an assistant professor in the Department of Special and Early Education.

“It was very rewarding for me to see pre-service, general education teachers take such an interest in developing interventions for students with disabilities in their clinical placements,” Andzik says.

“By having them complete a case study research project, these ladies not only were able to experience the rewards of putting an individualized intervention into place for one of their students,” she adds, “but they also got to go through the entire research process from idea, to method development, to implementation, through presentation and, hopefully, publication.”

Patinka adapted a kinesthetic intervention for a first-grade girl struggling with “sight words” – high-frequency words that young readers should recognize without sounding out or decoding.

“I looked at baseline data from the district’s test for sight words; there are 68 words, and first-graders are supposed to get 68 out of 68,” she says.

Unfortunately, the best Patinka’s student could achieve was nine of 68 – a 13 percent success rate. “There was definitely a need there,” she says.

The intervention involved a tiny sandbox that Patinka’s cooperating teacher had but rarely used because of the mess factor. Patinka asked her student to write the sight words in the sand, either with her finger or with a stylus.

“It was something very engaging and something she really enjoyed doing, which I think is really crucial in student learning,” she says. “I would work with her a few times each week. We would work together for about 15 minutes and cover 10 to 15 words that we would really focus on. I would read them, spell them with her, have her write them for me, sound them out, read them back to me.”

Sharif Shahadat and Bill Pitney
Sharif Shahadat and Bill Pitney

Eventually, she scored a 62 on the sight word test – an impressive 91 percent that took her from far below the class average to above it.

And while the child drew words, Patinka drew conclusions.

“I learned that kinesthetic learning can be a great tool for sight word recognition. I’m a huge advocate for kinesthetic learning in general because humans were born to move. That’s how we’re built,” she says. “This really captivated my student’s interest. Her attitude did a 180. She loved the sand and really looked forward to it, and I think that having a student engaged in something they’re really looking forward to is the best education possible.”

Rieb also recorded a positive turnaround in her student as he checked his attention levels at the direction of the timer.

To start the process, Rieb taught the boy how to use the timer as well as the procedure.

Whenever the timer sounded, he was to document whether he was on task with a smiley face. His data sheet also contained another table where he would report whether his self-accounts were honest ones.

Dalal Alfageh explains her work to Zach Wahl-Alexander.
Dalal Alfageh explains her work to Zach Wahl-Alexander.

She also provided incentives for good behavior, including stickers and a bouncy ball, and soon stepped away to allow him to perform the tasks on his own.

“The goal was to get intrinsic motivation after we had used the little prizes as an extrinsic motivator,” Rieb says. “The intervention worked very well. In the data I collected before the intervention was implemented, I saw that he was on task zero percent of the time. He eventually reached 100 percent of the time.”

His classroom teacher “was very happy,” she adds. “She saw how it greatly impacted his behavior and his academic performance.”

Naturally, Rieb also grew from the interaction.

“I learned how to just make a connection with a student and to work one-on-one with him,” she says. “I learned how design and implement interventions. It’s extremely important to have their needs and interests in mind, and you can’t just impose an intervention on them. They have to be invested in making the change.”

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