Why Gordon’s Education Program Is in the Top 15 Nationwide For Early Reading Instruction

Over the last 20 years, American youth have set record-lows for underage drinking, smoking and teenage pregnancies, but they haven’t gotten any better at reading. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), it’s not their fault; scientific studies have changed our understanding of how children learn, and yet most schools aren’t keeping up with what the research is showing.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of educational institutions making these findings a central part of their teacher preparation programs—and their efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Just last month, Gordon’s School of Education received an official A+ from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) for its science-based method for training early childhood and elementary school educators to teach children how to read. It’s one of 15 programs in the United States to earn an A+ in this category, and one of the colleges leading the charge to break this 20-year deadlock on literacy.

Dr. Priscilla Nelson ’74, Richard F. Gross Endowed Professor in Education, explains, “New brain research helps teachers know with greater precision the instructional practice that will best help students, especially those who struggle to read.” At Gordon College, future teachers learn the methods and practices that have been shown to yield a benefit to all learners.”

But the program itself isn’t the only recipient of a high score; Gordon students have noticed how they, too, are specially prepared when it comes to improving literacy, which often affords them professional opportunities that most undergraduate students don’t have access to.

Literacy Research for the Second-best Hospital in the Country as an Undergrad

Having an understanding of literacy far beyond that of her non-Gordon peers has put Alex Armstrong ’20 in a unique position. As a research assistant for the SAiL Literacy Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, she is one of a small number of undergraduate students who, in addition to assessing kindergarteners for a range of speech, language and reading impairments, has been selected to work in a lab alongside postdoctoral researchers and Ph.D. students.

Although it’s a lot of responsibility, Armstrong says, “My time at Gordon as an early childhood education and linguistics student prepared me well for this position. Dr. Priscilla Nelson and Professor Julia D’Onofrio taught me how to take something that seems intuitive to me and make it accessible to children at their individual ability levels.”

Field Experience in the Schools as a First-year Student

In addition to embodying this evidence-based approach to early reading instruction, Armstrong and her Gordon classmates are ahead of their peers in terms of practical experience. Before Armstrong applied to the SAiL Literacy Lab, she spent nearly four years in real public school and private school classrooms.

All of Gordon’s education majors start observing real teachers in action during their first year of college. By the time they start student teaching, they’ve already completed more than 100 hours of field experience and have strong professional connections to local teachers and principals. This is not the norm. In fact, most undergraduate education majors have to wait until their junior or senior year to get into a real classroom.

Nelson says, “When students are beginning field-based experiences, it is natural to focus on oneself; what will I say and do during a lesson. There is a developmental continuum that goes from focusing on oneself as the teacher to focusing on the students as learners. This pivotal shift from first-hand experience with tangible measures of student learning builds teachers’ self-confidence.”

This level of field experience and instructional practice is part of what earned Gordon’s School of Education an A+ from the NCTQ and is part of the reason why Gordon’s education graduates earn “exemplary” job performance ratings at more than twice the state average.

A Teaching License That Can Take You Anywhere

Gordon’s education programs are competitive in part because of where the College is located. Massachusetts has one of the most rigorous teaching licenses in the country.

Many people know that Boston is the hub for higher education, but its educational reputation spans all ages from preschool to Ph.D. Massachusetts was one of the first places in the world to require young people to go to school (back in 1647). Today it’s home to the oldest public elementary school and the best school systems in the United States.

Massachusetts is also one of the best states to be a teacher. Here, educators make the highest salaries around, enjoy low student-to-teacher ratios and benefit from affordable health insurance.

But perhaps the greatest perk is the Massachusetts teaching license, which Gordon’s education majors apply for during their last practicum class at Gordon. The license is like a passport but for teachers. Because Massachusetts is part of the NASDTEC Interstate Agreement, students can bring their teaching license and certifications across state lines (it has reciprocity in all 50 states).

Although students may have to complete special requirements to teach in a particular state, such as taking a class or pursuing an advanced degree, it’s a relief for students to know that no matter where life may take them, they won’t have to start from scratch when it comes to certification.

The Best Teachers Stay Current and Adaptable

Even though Gordon students are up-to-date on teaching methods backed by modern science, it will be important for them—and for all aspiring teachers—to continue adapting their teaching strategies when scientific discoveries inevitably change the way we understand how children learn yet again. Nelson concludes, “As our alumni leave Gordon, they are urged to stay current; to pay attention to the most recent findings and results so they can implement methods that have been proven to be effective for all children.”


Photo courtesy of Josh Applegate on Unsplash