Anna Morrison loves interactions with children.
“Being around them brings a lot of joy into my life – just with certain things kids say, and the way they act, they’re a lot of fun,” says Morrison, a May 2019 graduate of the NIU Department of Special and Early Education. “Working with children doesn’t feel like a job. It’s something I enjoy going to every day, to make a difference and to be inspired by them.”
Now she’s ready to start returning that happiness as she begins her career as a kindergarten teacher at Rockford’s Lathrop Elementary School.
Going with the Early Childhood Education major is an important and mandatory stamp of approval: Morrison is one of 157 teacher-licensure candidates in the NIU College of Education who this spring combined for a 100 percent pass rate on the edTPA.
Candidates must submit video of their actual teaching of between three and five lessons along with follow-up evidence that their students were learning and achieving. Candidates also must supply examples of further support they provided to students and subsequent plans for future teaching based on the earlier assessment.
The edTPA is tough, Morrison says, but the submission process enables future teachers to become highly effective at their jobs.
“It just reminds you that there’s a lot to plan for. Assessments are important, and they’re a lot of work, but assessment can be well-managed,” says Morrison, who came to NIU from Oregon, Ill.
Students, meanwhile, “get a teacher who’s organized, who’s prepared, who’s meeting those basic guidelines to start being a teacher – a pretty disciplined person who knows how to manage, knows how to communicate and stays on top of their goals so that students are on top of theirs.”
Morrison created her edTPA submission during her student-teaching last year at Whitehead Elementary School in Rockford, where she was placed in a first-grade classroom.
Her math lesson focused on two-dimensional shapes, including their associated vocabulary and spellings. She devised and developed her original lesson with her cooperating teacher but, after watching the video filmed that day, decided to revise and deliver it again.
“I realized my students weren’t as active as they could have been,” she says.
“I put them into groups of five, and we did a smartboard activity where students threw a ball at the smartboard, which triggered a question for them. It described a shape, and students were supposed to answer. I gave them yarn, and they had to make the shape out of yarn once they knew what it was asking,” she says.
Whichever group got the right answer first was the winner, she says. “I felt like that got them up and out of their seats. They were engaged.”
The rubric Morrison designed for assessment appeared in additional videos that showed her reviewing the pre- and post-results and recording the differences. She also addressed her use of “word banks,” the extra help mechanism provided to those children who struggled with spelling.
Fellow May graduate Aaron Goodin also honed in on the edTPA’s insistence on active learning.
“edTPA really focuses on multimodal learning and the active nature of children’s learning – visual, audio, hands-on kinesthetic activities,” says Goodin, who also earned a B.S.Ed. in Early Childhood Education. “The edTPA is looking for students to be actually engaged and not just sitting there.”
Goodin, who student-taught in a second-grade classroom at Rockford’s Johnson Elementary School, based his edTPA submission on a cross-disciplinary science lesson about nature.
He had planned to take the children on an outdoor nature walk, but the bitterly cold weather in February prevented that. “I wanted to go outside those days. I wanted them to just wander around by themselves, to write things down, to pick partners and sit on the ground, talking about what they saw,” he says.
Undeterred by Old Man Winter, Goodin revised his four-hour lesson for inside delivery over four days.
“I did a slideshow of different things, and they journaled about it. They wrote down their observations and their questions about what they saw,” he says. “I also gathered a bunch of stuff myself from the woods nearby and from the yard at my house; I grabbed a couple of dormant, little wasp cone and put them in glass jars. I went to Aldeen Park as well, and got some pine cones and different kinds of plants.”
Doing so unexpectedly allowed him to restrict what objects the students had in front of them and to help them concentrate on specific academic terminology and vocabulary.
Students could consult a “word wall” in the classroom to see correct spellings, he says, and also maintained “personal word walls” on 8½-by-11 sheets of paper.
“I put the words that they couldn’t sound out where they could see them,” says Goodin, who is now a first-grade teacher at Lewis Lemon Elementary School in his native Rockford. “I gave them words they could use without having to ask me, ‘How do you spell nature? How do you spell pine cone?’ ”
Morrison and Goodin agree that NIU prepared them well for the edTPA.
Both took advantage of free workshops offered on weekends, and both were equipped with resources (“Making Good Choices” support resource and handbooks) to help guide decision making prior to their successful edTPA submissions.
“I started preparing over winter break, when we were in between semesters. I read through the manual once, again and a third, fourth and fifth time until I felt like I really had it and understood all of the components that I needed to do,” Morrison says. “I feel like I was really focused, and reading the handbook helped.”
The handbook included guidance on how to achieve the highest scores, she adds.
“After I would answer a question from a task, I would go back to the rubrics and see if my writing and explanation matched either Level 4 or 5,” she says. “If I felt that it didn’t, I would go back and add or correct what I thought it needed.”
Goodin, meanwhile, realized that many of the edTPA’s expectations for design mirrored the templates he and his NIU classmates were provided for their regular homework.
“The professors were giving us assignments over the course of the program that were set up in a way that were really similar to what the edTPA was going to ask of us. It was intentional on their part, but they weren’t always saying that to us,” he says.
“When we saw the edTPA template, it was overwhelming. When you look at it as a whole, it does seem huge,” he adds. “But I said to everybody, ‘We’ve been doing this the whole time.’ They were preparing us, and I was doing my work and paying attention. I knew what the edTPA was looking for, and it wasn’t like it was asking us things we don’t know.”